CNHI News Services
Oklahoma goes on one-mile runs as part of its offseason conditioning. Those five- to six-minute sprints are designed to see who is truly willing to push themselves to the point of exhaustion.
According to freshman guard Je’lon Hornbeak, the top three finishers were typically Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and himself. The three freshmen guards were always at the front of the pack
“We all push ourselves,” Hornbeak said.
The trio will do the same on the court and that should be obvious when the Sooners open exhibition play at 7 tonight at Lloyd Noble Center against Washburn.
The young backcourt trio was not recruited to simply blend in. Cousins, Hield and Hornbeak are the future of OU basketball and their time is now.
“They’re all going to play quality minutes, for sure,” Kruger said.
That will be obvious from tonight’s opening. Cousins will start at point guard and Hornbeak has earned the nod at one of the guard spots. That means Sam Grooms, who averaged 6.0 assists per game last season, is coming off the bench. Hornbeak is starting ahead of Cameron Clark, who averaged 27.2 minutes a game last season as a sophomore.
Tonight is the first of two exhibition games. Circumstances can quickly change. A stocked bench is a luxury OU didn’t have in a Kruger’s initial season. He plans on using it in his second year.
That starts with shifting roles. No one has been promised anything.
“Coach Kruger told me from the beginning that I have to work for everything,” Hornbeak said. “I try to be first in everything. I can’t run a 4:58 mile like Buddy, but I’ll be up there. “
What Kruger wants more than anything is a team that has an internal drive. The three freshmen can help drive that from the backcourt.
“We have to bring intensity and aggression,” Cousins said.
The hope is the three will give the team the extra gear the Sooners lacked last season. Kruger wants to play an up-tempo style. It cannot happen unless the Sooners have a bench that goes three or four deep.
How well the freshman guard trio handles the transition to major college basketball will have a major say in whether the Sooners are successful. It’s not just scoring, which all three have shown that they can do, that will be the difference.
“All three of them have shown the ability to guard, but we’re encouraged by what they’ve done and what we think they’ll be able to do,” Kruger said.