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What Mike Boynton Said After His Team’s First Official Practice of the Season

On newcomers, being able to recruit again and more.

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[Jackson Lavarnway/PFB]

STILLWATER — The Cowboys have officially started practice in the post-Cade Cunningham era.

Mike Boynton’s squad held their first practice of the 2021-22 season on Tuesday. He met with the media afterward. Here is everything he said.

Opening Statement

“Welcome back everybody. Obviously it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do this. So I’m excited to get started and see where we can take this team.”

On the team identity with the new transfers

“After Practice No. 1? I don’t know. I’m a film guy, so I don’t know if I can give a whole lot based on practice thoughts, but obviously having those guys around here for a while now, I think they’re gonna fit in nicely with us. I think they are all going to bring something different to our team, of great value, and address maybe some of the things that hurt us from having a better year than we had last year. They’re all really good kids, hard workers and I’m excited to have an opportunity to coach them.”

On if the process is different without any freshmen

“Yeah, undoubtedly so. It’s different. I don’t know if I can honestly say it’s easier, yet. I’m still teaching those guys our system, our style, their teammates, the expectations of the program, the standards if you will. That’s still going to take some time, but the advantage is they’ve been through something similar already, right? Maybe in a different way, the way other people play or the way the coach or the way they develop, but they’re not coming from high school and that’s certainly a significant differential point.”

On what Moussa Cisse brings to the team

“Did you watch practice? He looks different. He makes you look different all by himself. The thing that I’ve been most pleased with is that he’s like a sponge. The kid just wants to be coached and challenged to be his best, and we’re pretty intentional about trying to find guys who have those types of characteristics, who have that mentality and we feel fortunate that as talented as he is, he still knows he’s got a lot of room to grow. Certainly look forward to his presence as an interior presence defensively for us and as a lob threat potentially and somebody who can also be a force on the offensive end in the paint for us.”

On his relationship with Cisse

“So Moussa actually, when he first came to the States, he went to New York and played at what is the rival of my high school. For you guys that don’t know, this is another Brad Underwood kind of connection, him and Kofi Cockburn were high school teammates. And both of them looked about the same as they look now. I think Moussa was a freshman when Kofi was a sophomore. I think they were together for two years, and they were really good friends. So, I’ve known both of those kids for a long time and just kind of watched them develop. Obviously, he moved around a little bit, ended up with his high school career in Memphis and played for Penny Hardaway. We’re just glad he’s here.”

On Cisse’s transfer process and when they had a good idea he was going to pick Oklahoma State

“He was one who we actually tracked for a long time. He went through the draft process, and like all the way through it, actually had some really good workouts. So part of his recruiting process for me, this sounds crazy, was talking to NBA guys about what they saw, when they had a chance, because we didn’t see that. We couldn’t bring him to campus still, and obviously just had to go off film from his time at Memphis. So talking to those guys about what they saw most recently during that time frame in April, May and June, was really, really pertinent for us as we tried to pursue him. But he was somebody that we identified early and just had to kind of wait out, that we weren’t sure he would return to school until pretty late in the draft process and we’re sure glad that he did.”

On what NBA teams said about Cisse

“I probably talked to eight teams who either interviewed him or brought him in for workouts. First of all, he just turned 19 like two weeks ago, so the truth of his story is he’s supposed to be a freshman now. He left high school a year early, I think kind of in hopes to expedite the process of getting drafted. What we’ve talked about is, don’t worry about skipping steps. Like let’s let the process play out, and I think that’s some of the things he heard from the scouts and GMs that he worked out for and talked to. He’s still young. There’s a lot of upside here, 6-11, 250 pounds with like 3% body fat and 7-6 wingspan, you got a really good shot of at least somebody given him a chance. Let’s just keep watering the grass, let’s keep taking care of things day-to-day and make sure that we don’t try to rush the process because as long as he doesn’t do something crazy, he’s gonna have a shot. It is what it is, and so we want to make sure that he’s most prepared when that time comes, and that his time here is a benefit to that experience at the next level.”

On Cade Cunningham’s success helping land Cisse

“I don’t think it hurt. I spoke with Marshall early in the summer; if you combine the guys who finished in the 2020 high school class, guys we’ve gotten, obviously including Bryce (Thompson) and Woody (Newton), may be one of the best recruiting groups of people ever. We didn’t have them all at once, but those guys all knew each other, right? Bryce knew that recruiting class, too, because he should have been a part of it. But, yes, I think Cade’s impact here helped open more eyes of guys who play at that level, guys that kind of hang in that circle, because they go to the same camps, go on visits together, they get recruited by the same schools. So, his experience here and then his willingness to talk honestly and openly about how he truly felt, not just on the court but how he was treated off, how he was challenged, I think he feels like he got better here. And then ultimately was able to achieve what all those guys want as the ultimate goal at the level where very few can, right? Not just getting drafted as a lottery pick, but being the No. 1 guy certainly has helped us.”

On being able to go recruit and hosts prospects again

“It’s been good. I’ve had to get my recruiting wind back again, if you will. Never really got used to the Zoom stuff, but not being on the road for multiple days of flying and traveling around, takes a different kind of toll on your body, and I remember being exhausted like the first time I was in the gym for six hours. I had to readjust my body. But it was good. I really enjoy that process, evaluating kids, get to know them, visit with them and their families and so I’m glad to be able to get back out there.”

On how his new assistant coaches have adjusted

“I’m not sure I could be much more pleased than what I am now. They’ve accepted every challenge I’ve thrown at them. They’re coming in our program at a different time, from the staff that I had when I first started, but the expectations are much higher. The recruiting exposure is probably a little more greater, and its incumbent upon them to not compromise our values in the recruiting process, meaning we want to recruit higher-caliber players if that’s a real thing and we’ve got those guys available, but part of the reason we’ve been able to have some level of sustained success is because we feel like we’ve gotten the right people in here, for the most part. And I think that’s evident in the fact that we haven’t had a bunch of guys choose to leave here. We certainly have had to dismiss some guys for behavioral problems, but for the most part, if you kind of look at our track record of guys we’ve lost, I think I’ve only had one kid come into my office in four years and say, ‘This isn’t working out for me.’ Actually two. And I like both of those kids, they wound up going different places. Brandon Averette, my first year, who I recruited twice, and then Yor (Anei) leading into last year. Not sure either one of them were necessarily better off having left, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have decided to stick around here, building blocks, got to make sure we continue to do the job of guys who want to be here for it.”

On the team’s vaccination status

“As far as I understand, I think we’re 100% vaccinated, which is a pretty strong indication that our guys understand the seriousness of it and have all made a choice. Our job is just to provide information just like we do with anything else is. This is what we understand the options to be, and I certainly was one of the first people to be vaccinated within our program, and happily so. Didn’t have any ill effects from it, and I don’t think anybody else did. I think that will be something helpful for us moving forward.

“You know, there’s some individualism here. There’s no doubt about it, right? Everybody’s situation is going to be somewhat unique, depending on what their family history is health wise, right? So you got to take that into consideration, there’s no question, but I commend these guys for doing the research and feeling like it was important for them to do what they thought was best, a) for themselves but also for our team, to be able to get through another season and have a chance to play as many games, move forward, and continue to deal with the virus at the same time.”

On Isaac Likekele focusing on his mental game

“It’s no question, Ice had a year that was probably below his standard, below our standard, not only just from a production standpoint, obviously he was not healthy all year. I think it maybe affected him mentally kind of taking a backseat, not just to Cade, but we have a lot of young guys come in our program and have an impact. For a guy who was really the only true ball-handler we had for two years and started every game he was healthy to start and really kind of be the primary decision-maker to kind of take a different role, I think he’d be the first one to say he didn’t handle it best, the best way possible. But, I think he learned from it, and I think he’s, going into his senior year, wants to make sure that that’s something that was a one-time deal, that he’s back as a leader, somebody who we can count on to not only help us win but send the right messages in the locker room about how it works at Oklahoma State and why it’s important to care about winning, to work as hard as you can and to understand when your opportunity comes to be ready. I feel confident in saying that we have more depth, quality depth from a talent standpoint, that we have at any point since I’ve been here, including my year as an assistant. That means that 200 minutes isn’t easy to come by, and they’re not changing that rule for us, I don’t think.”

On if he starts the season with preconceived notions on how he thinks minutes will be distributed or if he starts with an empty mind and sees what happens

“I come into the process, knowing that we have 17 guys on our roster, 14 on scholarship with Bryce (Williams) on COVID (waiver) and three walk-ons, and everybody wants to play 40 minutes. I think that if my math is right that adds up to about 680 minutes, 480 of which aren’t available. So, guys have to work hard and separate themselves. It’s great for competition in practice, to find out who you could trust. Obviously as you go through the year, maybe some guy plays a little bit more early and maybe some guys play a little bit more later. You just got to go out there and practice and see how it works out.”

On Avery Anderson and Bryce Williams guarding each other and competing hard in practice

“I do think we have a really good roster. It was obviously a key to us feeling like we can have sustained success, that was the message for three years. We talked about recruiting every day we could because having a chance to have success at this level, consistently requires having some real depth. We had some of it last year, but we were still pretty young. We had a lot of guys who were playing college basketball for the first time. Now we don’t have anybody playing college basketball for the first time. Gives you a different element, but I think that helps you as you go through a season, right? Dealing with whatever, slumps or whatever you might deal with. We were caught two years ago, Ice got sick, and we just weren’t ready to handle that. Now, we’re in a different place and I feel good that we can go into the season feeling confident we can absorb some of those things like that.”

On Avery Anderson working out at 6 a.m. and if it’s earlier than when Mike gets to the gym

“I never notice him beating [me] here. We have a lot of really hard working guys in our program, these kids, they’ve really taken on that mentality, but I’m still the hardest hardest-working person around here. … It’s a habit that I’ve built. It’s taken me a while to get to this point where it’s just kind of my nature to get up at 5 and come and work. But I appreciate him also understanding that that’s the ultimate separator. You’ve heard me say it: work wins. That doesn’t change, and that’s not going to change this year. And now that Avery’s a junior, he’s now asked to kind of carry someone a load of leadership and sending a message to, not that we got a bunch of young guys, but to Bryce Thompson and Woody (Newton) and Moussa (Cisse) and Tyreek (Smith), who haven’t been here. They’ve been other places where things may have been done differently, but sending a message about how you have success at Oklahoma State. For a guy like him, who had, I don’t even know if you can say minimal success as a freshman. He may have shown some flashes, but to make the jump he did to have some consistent success as a sophomore, he can really speak to that experience and help with some of these other guys coming into the program now.”

On OSU’s length, athleticism and strength

“I hope that we’re able to really continue to hang our hat on our defensive presence. I think Moussa, obviously, from a length standpoint, I think we had the leading returning shot-blocker in the league already (in Kalib Boone). I think Moussa was, maybe from a percentage standpoint, a more efficient shot-blocker than even Kalib was last year. Then Tyreek, maybe not as tall as those guys, but physically able to hold his own. Then we still got Bernie (Kouma). We still got Ice. We still got MA (Moncrieffe), who can move down some. Just having that across the board, and we still have pretty good size in the backcourt. Woody (Newton) is all of 6-8.5. Bryce Thompson’s a full 6-5. Avery (Anderson) is not small, he’s thin, but he’s not small. Rondel (Walker). We got it across the board. I think defensively is where you’ll see it translate the most in terms of our style of play. Then you’ve got some versatile pieces on the offensive side that you could move around as well.”

On being able to interact with the student body again

“I love it. That was one of the things I feel bad for Cade because I think part of the reason, obviously he came here to play college basketball, but I think he also wanted to do the college thing. He had options to not do college, but he wanted some of that experience. Not just him, but obviously MA, Donovan, those guys who were freshmen last year haven’t had that. So to be able to get back out there and just how important our students are to just the energy around our program, continue to invest in them. I love the people in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We’ll be glad to go over there (for open practices), but I’m most excited to get over to the Colvin and make sure our students know how important they are to coming to these games and building an atmosphere where teams don’t want to come and face us, kind of like it was back in Coach (Eddie) Sutton’s days, I guess.”

On how Bryce Thompson has integrated into the team

“I gotta brag on Bryce a little bit, even from my own standpoint. Obviously I recruited Bryce really aggressively for a long time. He made a decision that he thought was best for him at the time. So, I was a little bit concerned how he would handle coming back from the standpoint of did he think it was just going to be easy to come home? And that he wouldn’t have to work as hard? He’s been the exact opposite. We have hard workers. He may be the hardest-working guy we have. I don’t know that. Him and Avery, I mean there’s a battle up there for guys getting in the gym and spending time working on their games, but he’s just embraced the process in being a part of his program. Hasn’t complained about anything, shows up on time. He has a good attitude. Takes care of his things academically. I’ve been really, really pleased. From a guy who probably could have come home saying, ‘I’m the man. I’m from here, and it’s my show.’ He’s really been embraced by his teammates because he showed some humility. I think he has a little bit of the edge again to prove that he does still have the ability to have an impact as a Big 12 player.”

On how he has seen Chris Harris grow the past two seasons while being injured

“I think what happens with a guy who has an injury is they don’t really know how they get all the way back to themselves. I think he’s accepted that he’s gonna have to find a role more than he’s going to be a star player. He’s going to be a star for our team, but he may not be the guy that gets all the headlines. He has tremendous value from an experience standpoint now. He’s wants to win. He’s a great teammate. Just getting the confidence that the physical is going to be OK and that he’s in a much better place mentally, having gone through what he has the last two years. I think at some point, that guy’s going to be a coach, and maybe I’ll work for him one day. But in the meantime, he’s going to continue to be a solid contributor in practice until we figure out what role he needs to play on the court for us.”

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