STILLWATER — The quartet of Thomas Dziagwa, Cameron McGriff, Trey Reeves and Lindy Waters had 36 different teammates in their four years in Stillwater.
Enough players have donned an OSU uniform over the past four years to organize an eight-team, five-on-five tournament, and only four players were there for it all.
Waters, Reeves, McGriff and Dziagwa will make their senior day march across the white maple of Eddie Sutton Court on Saturday after four of the most chaotic years a program could possibly face.
Here are some of the most trying days in the past four Cowboy basketball seasons and why the Cowboys’ four seniors stuck through it all.
March 18, 2016 — Gone Before They Got Here
Dziagwa committed to OSU in late September of 2016. McGriff committed the next day, and Waters came in early November.
Travis Ford was on year seven of a 10-year deal in Stillwater that was designed to keep Ford as OSU’s coach through the 2018-19 season. But while McGriff, Waters and Dziagwa were seniors in high school, things weren’t going well at OSU.
The Cowboys finished the year before that class was set to arrive with a 12-20 record. OSU had nonconference losses to George Mason, Tulsa and Missouri State and finished their campaign on a seven-game losing streak.
On March 18, 2016, OSU and Ford “mutually agreed to part ways,” meaning the Cowboys’ latest recruiting class lost its coach before it even got to campus.
Ford called the three when news started to break. McGriff said his talk with Ford probably lasted 45 seconds, but it felt like an hour.
“You’ll understand once you get a little bit older that it’s business and you’ve got to win,” Waters recalled Ford telling him.
March 21, 2016 — Highly Touted New Coach
OSU was coachless for three days, but in that time, McGriff was doing all the research on possible replacements he could as if he was going to interview the candidates.
“They always have that list at the end of the year, ‘best available coaches,'” McGriff said. “I was just doing a whole bunch of research that I probably shouldn’t have been doing. I was driving myself crazy.”
McGriff was also keeping up with the NCAA Tournament. He noticed when 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin beat third-seeded West Virginia in the first round. The Lumberjacks then lost to sixth-seeded Notre Dame in the second round 76-75.
“Everybody was just talking about how popular (Brad Underwood) was as a coach,” McGriff said. “Even the analysts were just saying like, ‘Yeah, this is probably his last year there.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t have a coach. What if he’s my coach? That’d be crazy.’ I saw pictures of him. I started looking him up. It was just crazy. I started looking him up, and I noticed in no picture was he smiling. None of them.”
The day after SFA lost to Notre Dame, it was announced Brad Underwood would be the OSU basketball program’s 19th coach.
The transition was somewhat smooth for Waters and Dziagwa. Underwood (and Mike Boynton) recruited the pair of sharpshooters while at SFA (Boynton said they didn’t have a shot to land McGriff). The Lumberjacks even made Waters’ top five.
Underwood visited McGriff at his high school within the week of taking the job.
“My foundation and my family, people that I trust a lot, they were like, ‘Yeah, he’s a good coach. You’ll be in good hands,'” McGriff said.
July 21, 2016 — The Last Day of Summer Conditioning
McGriff didn’t know Tyrek Coger all that long, but the two hit it off quick.
Coger was an incoming transfer from Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina. McGriff was an incoming freshman from Dallas. McGriff said he took Coger out on his visit, the start of their friendship.
Once they got to campus together, McGriff said the two played a lot of “intense” games of NBA 2K. It’s what they were doing the morning of July 21, 2016, the day of the team’s last summer conditioning workout.
McGriff said they were excited to get the workout over, with it being the last one. The team still had one more on-court workout the next morning: one that would take place without Coger.
During the conditioning workout in Boone Pickens Stadium, Coger collapsed. McGriff was in the group of teammates who went to help him up. McGriff said usually when someone is getting helped up the grounded person helps a little bit. He said Coger hardly helped at all.
At 5:08 p.m. an ambulance was called. Coger arrived to Stillwater Medical Center at 5:48 p.m. and was pronounced dead less than an hour later from what was later determined as an enlarged heart. He was 22. McGriff, Waters, Dziagwa and Reeves were among his last teammates.
March 18, 2017 — Underwood Jets
As a freshman McGriff didn’t know any better, but he was told it was odd that the team was heading home as quick as it was after their NCAA Tournament loss to Michigan.
About 24 hours after their 92-91 loss in Indianapolis, the Cowboys had a team meeting in their film room in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
McGriff said he had no idea what was going on, but he remembered the wording Underwood used to tell the team he wasn’t going to be its coach less than a year after he took the job.
“I’m gonna sign my letter of resignation,” Underwood told the team.
Originally not knowing why the meeting was called, McGriff and Dziagwa said it took a few minutes to comprehend what Underwood just said. He went on to tell the team he was taking another job, and then he left.
A year to the day that Ford was fired, Underwood was gone, and Waters, McGriff, Reeves and Dziagwa were again without a coach.
“It’s kind of made me who I am today but not really dwelling on it,” McGriff said. “The man found an opportunity, a better opportunity for his family. I mean, I can’t be mad at nobody for that.”
March 24, 2017 — Hired From Within
After Underwood’s departure, members of the OSU basketball team heard names all the way from former OSU assistant James Dickey to former OSU player Doug Gottlieb as to who might be their next coach.
One name Waters said he hadn’t heard: Mike Boynton’s. That was until Waters’ roommate, Mitchell Solomon, returned home one day after a meeting with OSU athletic director Mike Holder.
Solomon went into the meeting not knowing what he would be asked, and he came back to tell Waters he was asked about Boynton. Underwood brought Boynton over from SFA. Boynton interviewed for the SFA job when Underwood left for OSU, but he didn’t get it.
McGriff said he went into Boynton’s office not too long after Underwood left. McGriff said Boynton told him, Dziagwa and Brandon Averette that he would help them get to wherever they wanted to go, but warned them that they would likely have to redshirt after transferring.
McGriff said Boynton also mentioned to them that he interviewed for the job, but after not getting the SFA gig, it seemed unlikely. That was until March 24, 2017, when Boynton was introduced as the program’s 20th coach.
“He is the most loved, unconditionally, coach on the staff as far as relationships go with the team and the players individually,” McGriff said. “There’s no secret why he’s able to get the recruits he gets now because it’s all about relationships. I think that’s what has got him to this place, relationships and work.”
Sept. 26, 2017 — FBI
Waters was sitting in a class in the theater room of the OSU Student Union when he got a text from the team group chat.
“What’s happening?” the text read.
Waters dismissed the message figuring a few teammates were doing something together. Then another text came in about the FBI showing up at then-OSU assistant Lamont Evans’ door.
Waters, still clueless to the situation, said he wasn’t freaking out about anything because he didn’t know anything to freak out about. Then Boynton told everyone to come to the gym and not to talk to anyone on the way so he could explain what was happening.
Evans was arrested for his involvement in a bribery and corruption scheme after an FBI investigation. He was one of four coaches from around the country arrested and 10 individuals overall involved in the scheme. Evans was suspended, fired and has since been sentenced to three months in prison.
Before the Cowboys’ third coach in as many seasons had even coach a game, a new dark cloud loomed over the program.
“I never really second-guessed what the process would be like because I knew where my morals were,” McGriff said. “Some people get caught up in unfortunate situations, but I don’t think God makes mistakes. So I knew that I was fine.”
Related to Evans’ misdeeds, Oklahoma State received a notice of allegations from the NCAA last fall. South Carolina, where Evans coached prior to Oklahoma State, also received a notice of allegations. Both programs face NCAA scrutiny at a later date.
Dec. 14, 2017 — Initial Dismissals
It was supposed to be a routine media availability as the Cowboys were about to head to Florida to play No. 19 Florida State in the Orange Bowl Classic, but as Boynton stepped into the media scrum, surrounding reporters were handed a piece of paper.
The sheet read that junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson were dismissed from the team for continued violations of team rules.
The FBI announcement a few months earlier still weighed heavy, and now players within the program weren’t following team rules. Coaches were getting fired, players were getting booted and chaos was beginning to be a normal thing in the college careers of Dziagwa, Waters, McGriff and Reeves.
“Davon was really a guy that took me under his wing my freshman year,” McGriff said. “I sort of looked up to him. He was a good friend of mine, still to this day. Zack Dawson was a guy that we also tried to keep around us in the right direction. It’s just unfortunate that things didn’t go well. It happens. People come and go.”
March 11, 2018 — Meeting at Mitch’s
In Boynton’s first season, the Cowboys went into Selection Sunday with a 19-14 record but finished the season particularly hot.
In January, OSU beat a Trae Young-led Oklahoma team that was ranked fourth in the country in overtime.
A few weeks later the Cowboys traveled to Lawrence and beat No. 7 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
A week later, the Pokes went to Morgantown and beat a ranked West Virginia team.
On Feb. 21, they beat No. 6 Texas Tech.
On March 3, they beat Kansas a second time. The Jayhawks were the No. 6 team in the country in that meeting.
The Cowboys got matched up with Young and OU again in the Big 12 Tournament and beat them again.
It was a ridiculous run, one many deemed worthy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament, a spot that would’ve been OSU’s then-sophomores’ second in two seasons.
The team got together in Gallagher-Iba Arena to watch the selection show. There was hope circulating the room with the only knock the Pokes being a thought-to-be weak nonconference schedule.
The selection show announced the at-large bids to the tournament in alphabetical order. It inched closer to where the OSU would be. Michigan State … Missouri … NC State … Nevada … North Carolina … Ohio State … Oklahoma.
There were two schools of thought between the brief moment the interlocking O and U appeared. One being OSU was of course going to be next as the Cowboys proved better than the Sooners in the teams’ two most recent meetings, the latter of which being less than a week before the selection show.
The second school of thought was that the committee chose Young and the Sooners to the demise of OSU.
The next school that got announced was Providence.
McGriff said the room dropped to silence. Waters said an angry Jeffrey Carroll asked if they could leave.
Boynton called a meeting after the team received its bid to play in the NIT. The first-year coach left it in the players’ hands to decide whether the Cowboys accepted it.
Boynton said he learned to do that in 2009. He was an assistant on South Carolina’s staff. That year the Gamecocks went into Selection Sunday 21-9 but were left out. The staff accepted the team’s NIT bid, but the team didn’t want to play after the disappointment of winning 21 games and not being selected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina drew Davidson in the first round of the NIT, a Davidson team that had Steph Curry in his final season of college basketball. Curry dropped 32 points, and South Carolina lost 70-63.
“So much of it is psychological,” Boynton said. “Especially that first (NIT) game. It’s the disappointment of not making the tournament. I wanted to make sure that those guys really wanted to compete, not just put the uniform on one more time.”
When Boynton asked his players if they wanted to play in the NIT, no one said yes, but no one said no either, Waters said. The team held a players-only meeting at Mitchell Solomon’s apartment. They came to the decision to play in it. The Cowboys won two games before losing to Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals. Four of the teams that made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament were on OSU’s schedule. OSU went 4-4 against those Elite Eight teams.
“We felt that we did get snubbed, but we thought it was a prime opportunity to go out and try to win the NIT,” Dziagwa said. “Anytime you get a chance to put on the Oklahoma State uniform, regardless if it’s a preseason game, a regular season game or any post tournament, we feel that it’s a blessing. God has blessed us with the opportunity to play basketball. So to play it at a high level in the NIT, we felt that we are pretty, pretty blessed, even though we did get snubbed.”
Offseason 2019 — Classmates Eject
In college basketball’s current landscape, transfers aren’t all that big a deal, but they can hit a little harder when players haven’t known college basketball without those transferring.
After their sophomore seasons, Brandon Averette and Lucas N’Guessan transferred from OSU — Averette to Utah Valley and N’Guessan to East Tennessee State.
There were no hard feelings among the now-fractured class, but McGriff said it still hurt when two of his friends left. McGriff roomed with Averette when they were freshmen and N’Guessan when they were sophomores.
Dziagwa was in Dallas with Averette and N’Guessan when they found out Boynton got hired.
“They left because they thought that was what’s best for them,” Dziagwa said. “People have transferred and have had success, and they are having success at the places they are at. Everybody deserves a second opportunity, and they were granted a second opportunity at their new schools and thriving in their situation. All love to them. I have no hard feelings or anything to them. I still talk to them, and they’re really good people and I’m happy they’re having success.”
Jan. 16, 2019 — More Dismissals
OSU finished the 2018-19 season with seven scholarship players on the roster after Michael Weathers, Maurice Calloo and Kentrevious Jones were dismissed five games into Big 12 play.
The three were linked with a vandalism investigation that involved BB gun pellets being shot at cars.
“I wouldn’t say shocking because I’ve been through a couple of things, but it was just like, ‘Man, really? They would actually do something like that?'” Waters said. “I really had nothing to say like, ‘Man like that’s kind of dumb? Why would you put your career on the line for something that dumb?’ Once that happened, I was really more focused on what we were going to do after that, like how the rest of season was gonna go.”
Lacking depth, McGriff, Waters and Dziagwa played an exhausting amount of minutes. Dziagwa played under 30 minutes in only one game after the dismissals, and he played the entire 40 once. McGriff never played fewer than 30 minutes after Jan. 16, putting up three 40-minute performances. Waters likewise didn’t play under 30 and had two games of 40 minutes.
The day after the dismissals, the program announced it would hold walk-on tryouts that night in GIA. The Cowboys needed to add some bodies so they could at least practice five-on-five.
The remaining Cowboys could’ve been frustrated with the fact that they were about to be on a Big 12 basketball team with guys who were playing at the Colvin Recreation Center the week before, but Boynton’s willingness to give up his birthday evening gave them a positive perspective.
“Coach Mike had (the tryouts) on his birthday,” Waters said. “We thought that was big time, for him to hold walk-on tryouts for his OSU basketball team on his birthday. We all showed up and supported. We watched the kids, and of course J.K. (Hadlock) and Dee (Mitchell), those two guys stood out. Sometimes you find diamonds in the dirt, and I guess that’s what he’s trying to do.”
Late January 2019 — Injury to Insult
There was evidence to suggested that Mike Boynton would use Reeves, a walk-on, in an undermanned situation.
The season before, OSU traveled to Arkansas for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but the Pokes came in thin. Starting wing Tavarius Shine was out with a back injury, and starting point guard Kendall Smith was out with the flu. Reeves checked in with 12:13 to go in the first half. He scored the only two points of his career to this point in the three-minute span he was in.
Boynton didn’t have the chance to use Reeves after the Cowboys lost Weathers, Calloo and Jones, though.
Reeves had dealt with a foot injury for the better part of three weeks, but he knew looking too far into it would likely result in surgery. So, Reeves was going to play on the hurt foot for as long as he could.
One day in late January, Reeves planted in a drill and felt a pop. He suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and had to have a screw put into it. Reeves missed the rest of the season, and the nagging injury has limited him some in his senior season.
“In a sense it was tough, but not really,” Reeves said. “While I do recognize that may have taken me out of potential opportunities on the court or potential opportunities that hadn’t quite arisen or whatever, I just kind of embraced learning a different role. … I’ve tried to lead all the way through my career here, but that helped me embrace being more of a vocal leader, more of a teacher to these freshmen and try to help them along. It just kinda helped me grow as a person and as a leader in that way.
“There was nothing I could do about it. It was nothing I could change, so I just took it and made the most out of it.”
February 29, 2020 — The Culmination
Graduate transfer Jonathan Laurent’s family can’t make it to senior day on Saturday, so instead of having him walk alone, the rest of the seniors got together and told him they were going to walk with him.
Reeves, Waters, Dziagwa and McGriff have gotten used to welcoming people quickly, and it wasn’t any different with the team’s newest senior.
The seniors said they aren’t sure what emotions will be like Saturday when they make that walk with their families (or in Laurent’s case, teammates), embrace Boynton at center court and take in cheers from the Gallagher-Iba crowd. Dziagwa said he might laugh or he might cry.
Better days are ahead for this program with it’s top-10 recruiting class inbound. When those days come, names like McGriff, Waters, Dziagwa and Reeves might be in the rearview, but they were important bridges in getting the program to where they want it to be.
When this program was going through some of its toughest times, Trey Reeves, Lindy Waters, Thomas Dziagwa and Cameron McGriff were there filling up holes as they prepare to hand it over to the next generation to run with.
“I’m a loyal guy,” McGriff said. “I’ve never switched high schools, don’t need to switch colleges. It’s just not me — whatever it is. I could have in many cases. A lot of people would have, as you can tell, but it just hasn’t been me. I’ve been a guy that wants to leave my mark everywhere I go. I feel like the best way to do that is by like staying there through thick and thin.”
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