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Mike Boynton’s Only Path Forward? Just Win, Baby



What a difference one year makes for Oklahoma State hoops.

Around this time last year, Brad Underwood and his new coaching staff (including Mike Boynton and Lamont Evans) and his sparkling 89-14 head coaching record were preparing for year one of what looked to be a new era of Oklahoma State hoops. You could feel the buzz from Guymon to Broken Bow.

Underwood lauded the tradition of the program, shouting out Henry Iba and Eddie Sutton, calling a full Gallagher-Iba Arena “the best in college basketball”, and referencing the goosebumps he felt every time he walked onto Eddie Sutton court. Orange Kool-Aid for all of us!

The ‘Old Lady’, as Doug G. lovingly refers to GIA, was ready to rock again. We as Oklahoma State hoops fans, chomping at the bit to compete with Mr. Self for Big 12 titles and deep runs into March akin to the Sutton era of Cowboy basketball, ate up every word Underwood said.

Fast forward to today, a year later. Gone is Underwood, who took his show to the University of Illinois a day after getting bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Gone are the promises of a new dynasty as a college basketball power in the Big 12. In his stead is a 35-year-old, first-time head coach who finds himself (unintentional or not) squarely in the middle of an FBI investigation that looks to rock college basketball to its core, while simultaneously trying to regain the momentum last year’s Cowboys took into March.

Last year seemed like a loooong time ago as Boynton faced reporters at Gallagher-Iba Thursday afternoon, expressing shock and disappointment at his close friend/colleague Lamont Evans’ charges. There wasn’t much that Boynton said that was surprising — he checked his boxes and crossed his T’s, saying we would “find out a lot” over the coming months about the investigation.

It’s apparent that he’s in the dark about how all of this will end just like we are. There’s no precedent for this kind of FBI investigation into NCAA basketball. There is a long and shadowy trail that Adidas (and who knows about Nike/Under Armour), head coaches, assistant coaches, players, families, AAU and high school coaches have walked for years and years regarding the dealings of player commitments.

The sport of college basketball has a dirty underbelly, and it’s may be coming into the (true) light for the first time. Who knows what will happen to Boynton (or what he knew), Evans, Oklahoma State’s basketball program and its players.

Additionally, in a pragmatic sense, MBJ’s coaching staff is now down its ace recruiter and second-in-command for good. As Boynton enters year one in the Big 12 as the head dog in Stillwater, he’s going into battle against the likes of Bill Self, Lon Kruger, and Bob Huggins for the first time without his right-hand man and a whole lot of uncertainty on his staff. He has no control over the timeline of the FBI’s investigation, the ensuing penalties, and the way Oklahoma State leadership and fans view him and his future as a head coach.

The fan base is frustrated by the series of allegations, reeling from the loss of Underwood and his gaudy promises, and uncertain about the prospect of a first-time head coach walking into the lion’s den that is Big 12 basketball. As the new season fast approaches, the crowds at Gallagher-Iba will be smaller than a year ago and the talk around town will be centered around the FBI investigation and potential impacts to the once proud Cowboy basketball program, looking to return to its former glory.

So how in the world is Boynton going to succeed? A former Oakland Raiders mantra comes to mind. Just win, baby. It would be an enormous success for Boynton to steady the rocky ship and guide this year’s squad back into March. It’s the only way forward for a program that teeters in the balance. It would also give him leverage with a fan base and possibly administration that has its doubts.

Boynton will need to cope with the loss of the All Big-12 point guard Jawun Evans to the Los Angeles Clippers and the school’s leading 3-point shooter, Phil Forte on the court. Off the court, he needs to win our trust as the man for the job if he wants to see the Old Lady rocking like it can and should. MBJ knows he has to go to work and win … quickly.

The good news for Boynton? The cupboard is not completely bare.

Back is All Big-12 performer Jeffrey Carroll at forward, who should be a leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the year. Back are promising sophomores Brandon Averette, Lindy Waters, Thomas Dziagwa, and Cameron McGriff, who showed potential in their first years and look to play a much bigger role.

Back is Davon Dillard, who came on incredibly strong in Big 12 play a year ago and looks to be one of the most athletic players in the Big 12. Back is Mitch Solomon for his senior campaign with help in the paint from a 6’11 shot-blocking presence in the form of Yankuba Sima, set to become eligible around the start of Big 12 play.

In comes a pair of dynamic guards, one in the form of a senior graduate transfer in point guard Kendall Smith and his impressive scoring resume. The other is four-star pogo stick/combo guard recruit Zack Dawson, who spent his high school career in South Miami destroying any high school guard in his path. Dawson adds another serious threat to an already deep backcourt, and looks the part of the next great guard to come through Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The road ahead is uncertain for the program, with judgment from the NCAA (and more importantly) the FBI pending. Boynton’s focus has to be locked in on his team and his team alone, controlling the only he can — winning basketball games and guiding the Cowboys back to March Madness. It’s the only way forward.

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