Oklahoma basketball is ready to begin a new chapter after the departure of two All-Americans in consecutive seasons, e.g,Buddy Hield and Trae Young. Lon Kruger has faced many challenges in his long coaching career, but replacing what those players brought to the table isn’t easily done.
The team returns many of it’s veteran players, including Forwards Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek, and PG Christian James, who were instrumental to the Sooners success last season. SG Rashard Odomes and C Jamuni McNeace round out the groups returning players with significant roles last season. This roster is very similar to the 2016-2017 team that struggled to win games, but look to improve on what was a shaky second half of the season.
Lon Kruger made some splashes in the off-season that will surely help the Sooners when the season beings. He brought in Aaron Calixte, a transfer point guard from Maine who hopes to crack the starting five. Last season he was a big producer for Maine, averaging 17 points per game, along with three rebounds and three assists. He’s a solid shooter from the three-point line, free throw line, and conditioning is no issue as he logged over 1000 minutes last year. If Calixte meshes well, he can really bring some much needed offensive firepower to this group.
Calixte wasn’t the only big addition to the roster, Kruger also added JUCO transfer forward Kur Kuath. Kuath has a chance to make a splash in Norman as a lanky forward with the ability to shoot and rebound the basketball. Not much of a shooter outside the 3-point line area, but a 61.2 percent field goal percentage in the paint shows he’s pretty good at mid to short-range. Another incoming transfer to the roster was Miles Reynolds from Pacific College, who averaged 13 points per game in 2017. Behind him is hopeful star guard of the future Jamal Bieniemy out of Houston. He’s a 4-star recruit according to Rivals, and was a top 130 ranked prospect last season. He won’t need to play right away, but his ability to score and play defense could be an asset, especially if Oklahoma gets off to a slow start.
They lost more than Trae Young during the offseason. Khadeem Lattin graduated and finished up his time in Norman, while Kam McGusty and Jordan Shepherd transferred elsewhere to start their college career fresh. McGusty is headed to play for Miami, where he will fight for minutes among a talented group of guards. Jordan Shepherd is headed back home to North Carolina to play for the Charlotte 49ers. The experience the Sooner’s lost when these player’s departed could really hurt the team’s chances to make the tournament this year.
Lon Kruger and his staff will have their hands full getting through an extremely tough schedule this season. Basketball in the Big 12 is a dog fight every night, and it really slowed down the Sooners’ momentum in the second half of the season last year. Adding to that, the Sooners will be taking on the challenge of non-conference teams like Wichita State, USC, Notre Dame, Creighton and Northwestern. They also will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, where they start off against Florida, and could end up playing powerhouses like Butler, Wisconsin or Villanova.
If the Sooners have any chance to make this a strong season, they will have to power through this brutal non-conference schedule, and follow that up with a strong performance against the Big 12. It will be interesting to see how Lon Kruger’s team will fair this season.