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Freshman Surge Coupled with Strong Recruiting Means Hoops Optimism in Stillwater

Some added perspective for an otherwise disappointing 2018-19 season.



Can you feel it? That buzz tiptoeing around your brain isn’t Mike Gundy talking defensive end strategy at spring ball today. No, it’s Mike Boynton — miraculously? — nearly guiding a Big 12 basketball team to a conference win for every scholarship player he ended the season with. The Pokes finished 5-13 in the conference this year, but it was about the most optimistic way you could finish 5-13 in the Big 12.

Some caveats before we get to the good stuff:

• I know 5-13 is neither good nor acceptable.
• I know that part of the reason he had so few scholarship players is his own fault for recruiting or bringing in guys who couldn’t walk the straight and narrow.
• I know the statistical evidence says he’s nothing more than Travis Ford 2.0 right now.
• I know two of those wins were against the worst team in the league.
• I know OSU will probably get drilled in Kansas City.

And yet … the buzz remains for me.

This season for Mike Boynton, if he amounts to a successful head college basketball coach, was always going to be the toughest, most tenuous one. Get it rolling at O-State, and hopefully they’re never this lean again. Parlay it into a bigger job, and those types of schools don’t go 5-13 in conference play. So there was a storm to weather, even if there was no Weathers when the storm hit.

How many times could OSU have rolled over this year? How many times did they have to answer the question, Is it worth it? at the start of a week? How long was an already-grinding season with the only hope in sight not arriving in Stillwater for several more months?

And yet they were six regulation points from sweeping (!) their final four Big 12 games over Texas Tech (the champs), Kansas (the nearly-champs), Baylor (a top-four Big 12 team) and lowly West Virginia. I have no idea how this happened either.

“Most of the guys are banged up, but they had a collective toughness and spirit of competitiveness about themselves and they found a way to get the job done,” Boynton noted after Saturday’s win over WVU.

But it’s not just the way the team ended the year on the court that has me fired up. It’s that a noted ABCer* in Boynton is leveraging every last W to his advantage on private planes and in gyms across the country. It — I can’t believe I’m about to say this — kind of reminds me of the coach of a different sport a little south on I-35.

Riley always wears his recruiting face. He’s got the energy and the inclination to do so. Most younger coaches are that way. It’s just that few have the maturity and wisdom to be head coaches as well. That’s what makes Riley different. That’s why Riley embraces the spring game not as a pain in the butt, having to let fans watch a glorified practice, but as a chance to show recruits the importance of Sooner football. [NewsOK]

Boynton obviously hasn’t had Riley’s results, but he also didn’t inherit a program that had won consecutive Big 12 Championships.

And the recruiting has paid off, at least on paper. OSU has, at the very least, a top 25 class heading to Stillwater with the potential of turning it into a top-15 or even top-10 class if a couple of dominoes fall. OSU would slide in just behind Texas if Christian Brown commits to the Pokes.

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Toss in Marcus Watson, Avery Anderson, the Boone bros, seniors in Cam, Lindy and Dizzy and two true freshmen who have been through some battles (more on them below), and you actually have something you can build on.

Part of this excitement is that two of Boynton’s true freshmen (from what will likely be the worst class he ever brings in) might be future stars. Isaac Likekele and Yor Anei singlehandedly took down Baylor, and then Anei continued his tear against West Virginia to end the season. It took a full year to see it, but they clearly can both be pieces on a good Big 12 team. This is unquestionably the best thing to come out of the last part of the year.

So yeah, another March with no dances and certainly no wins is a bummer, and the future isn’t ablaze with optimism like some have made it seem. But these last two weeks of OSU hoops have felt important even if, statistically and myopically they are not. They have mattered because OSU has said they mattered. Because two freshmen have emerged. Because momentum counts, and OSU is one recruit away from me really getting hyped about 2019-20.

Anei, of all people, summed it up best after his 16-point, 6-rebound, 8-block performance against Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, the last game in GIA until November.

“I know it has been kind of a bumpy season,” Anei said. “But I just want to salute all of the fans that have stuck with us throughout this roller coaster ride.”

Next year will hopefully be a lot more steady.

*ABC = Always Be Crootin