NORMAN — Shortly after the final buzzer, an elderly fan grabbed Joe Castiglione by the arm. "Great coach,” the fan said. "Great coach. You did a great job.” The athletic director just smiled. And nodded. Oklahoma's 67-60 Bedlam win was the Sooners' latest over a more talented team. And the latest reason Castiglione is feeling pretty good. Jeff Capel is working out pretty well, don't you think? Admit it. When Castiglione announced the hire last spring, you wondered if Capel still had some eligibility left. And otherwise, just what Castiglione was doing handing the reins to a 31-year-old. Well, Capel turns 32 on Monday. And his basketball team is growing up in a hurry. With a short bench and long odds, the Sooners have scratched their way above .500 in Big 12 play. No, this team isn't headed for the NCAA Tournament — although its first win over a ranked team, even a fading one, is a very good development. The NIT still beckons. Just don't tell the Sooners. Don't tell them they don't have enough talent to compete in the Big 12. Don't let them hear Kelvin Sampson left a bare cupboard, that they're a year away. "Get the most out of what you have,” Castiglione said. "He's got 'em believing they can win.” And somehow, winning games they probably shouldn't. We've heard and said a lot about how thin Oklahoma State's roster is — and no question, it's skin deep. But OU doesn't have a lot of guys in uniform, either. Just nine on scholarship. And there are fewer, well, players. But Capel keeps getting something out of a very limited roster. And his team keeps changing. "It's a learning process,” he said. "I try not to put roles in stone, because it's an evolving thing. If I'd put Nate Carter's role in stone at the beginning of the year, you wouldn't see what he's doing right now, because it wouldn't have been a big role.” Now, Carter is OU's undisputed go-to guy. And, in keeping with the theme, Capel said his role continues to evolve. "I'm still figuring out different ways to use him,” Capel said. Speaking of roles not being etched in stone: How about Chris Walker? Five minutes ago, the senior guard seemed set to finish his short Sooner career without taking off his warmups, at least not when it mattered. But in the last couple of games, Walker has become an improbable option off the bench. When Capel needs perimeter defense, he's begun calling on Walker. We first saw him in the role last Saturday against Texas Tech. Down the stretch, Capel swapped offense (Austin Johnson) for defense (Walker). And there he was Wednesday, playing even earlier — 17 minutes for a guy who averaged three minutes in Big 12 play. Walker's got about as much business bringing the ball up the floor and running the offense against Byron Eaton as I do. But defending Eaton, whose offense had been key to a run midway through the second half that gave OSU the lead? Now that, he can do. "I can give energy and defense, and cause problems for the opposing point guard,” Walker said. Had Walker's role been set in stone — even two weeks ago — "he wouldn't be playing right now,” Capel said. And now, Walker is a pretty good symbol of this team. He's limited. But he plays hard. His role isn't etched in stone. And it's still changing. "We've got so much room to grow,” Capel said. True enough, but OU's new coach has already shown he doesn't need to.
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