STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Oklahoma State is used to being the underdog.
Last season, the Cowboys were picked to finish last in the Big 12, but they far exceeded expectations under first-year coach Mike Boynton. Oklahoma State tied for sixth in the conference, went 21-15 and reached the NIT quarterfinals. The Cowboys beat six ranked teams and helped Boynton get an extension. Now that starters Jeffrey Carroll, Kendall Smith, Tavarius Shine and Mitchell Solomon have moved on, the coaches have picked the Cowboys to finish last again.
The Cowboys hear the naysayers and enter this season with something to prove.
“It drives me every day,” forward Cameron McGriff said. “One thing that I enjoy is to prove people wrong. We know that if people could pick us 11th in the (10-team) conference they would.”
Part of the doubt about the Cowboys comes from the fact that nine newcomers dot the roster, including six freshmen. Boynton said they are the kind of newcomers he wants.
“I love the group,” Boynton said. “I think they have potential long-term, but we’re at a phase where this is a team that will look much different from last year’s team due to experience. But we feel like they’re the right type of kids that we want to build the program with.”
McGriff joins Lindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa as captains. They’ll fill in some of the void left from Solomon’s departure. Solomon led regular contributors in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocked shots and he was a leader who brought out the best in his teammates. Boynton said his new captains have been following Solomon’s example.
“I spent a lot of time with those guys throughout the summer and even into the fall of explaining to them what we need,” Boynton said. “They’ve really embraced that. They’ve been able to pull these guys together.”
Boynton said the players picked the captains.
“It was actually a team decision,” he said. “That’s not something I believe is my responsibility. Every team that I’ve been on that has had great success has been led internally by the players.”
Shine and center Yankuba Sima both left to go pro with eligibility remaining and Davon Dillard, Zach Dawson, Brandon Averette and Lucas N’Guessan transferred, forcing the Cowboys to bring in nine new faces. Boynton said he has no problem with the players who left.
“At the end of the year, and this is no secret, I had a conversation with every player on our team,” he said. “I wanted to know if they wanted to be here. I explained to them what being here meant and how that looks for them and how it looks for our program as it relates to what the expectations are. And so we only had three of them on scholarship that made the decision that this is what they wanted to do moving forward.”
WEATHERING THE STORM
Michael Weathers, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Miami, Ohio, has been charged with grand larceny, and the school has suspended him indefinitely as he awaits a court date. He was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2016-17 after averaging 16.7 points per game.
Curtis Jones, a transfer from Indiana, is supposed to become eligible at the end of the first semester. The junior played in more than 40 games for the Hoosiers. He scored 15 points against Kansas in his first collegiate game. Mike Cunningham, a graduate transfer, scored 1,227 career points for USC Upstate.
Boynton said freshman guard Isaac Likekele has stood out. He was ranked as a top 150 player nationally by 247Sports and Rivals. Boynton said Likekele only lacks experience.
“So Isaac is going to walk in there at some point this year, and his eyes are going to be wide open and his ears are going to be ringing after they announce the opening lineups,” Boynton said. “So I can’t teach him that, but ability-wise, he stands out in practice.”
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