For the second-straight season, Mike Boynton has begun preseason practice with a roster filled with a lot of new names.
Last year, only four of 13 Cowboys who began the season had played for the Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach. Seven of those players are no longer with the program.
When the Cowboys held their first official team practice Wednesday, there were seven new players on the roster. The four returners were back to begin their senior seasons, along with two sophomores who combined to miss only three starts as freshmen last year and a pair of Cowboy who made the team after Boynton held walk-on tryouts in January.
Senior J.K. Hadlock, a Glencoe High graduate, and sophomore Dee Mitchell, have returned after earning the walk-on status last year. They became vital practice players last year and even saw action in six games.
“It’s been awesome,” Hadlock said of his time as a Cowboy. “I’ve been part of the team for the whole summer and I’ve put in a lot of work, so I’m ready to see how the season goes.”
Hadlock and Mitchell are no longer the new faces at practice. There are six freshmen and one graduate transfer on this year’s roster.
The freshmen are Avery Anderson, Chris Harris, Marcus Watson, Keylan Boone, Kalib Boone and Hidde Roessink. Jonathan Laurent transferred from UMass for his final year of eligibility.
For Boynton, the past few months have fun watching his talented newcomers adjust to college and playing for a Power Five Conference squad.
“Just like all the other 350 division one coaches, I feel really good about what we’ve done over the summer and this fall leading up to our first practice,” Boynton said Tuesday during the OSU basketball media day. “I’m really having a great time getting the freshmen acclimated. One of the things I’ve been most impressed with is the balance of the upperclassmen trying to help the young guys learn, but also the competitiveness that we’ve had in those situations. It gives me a lot of hope that we’ve got a chance to take step forward with our program this year.”
Before the Cowboys began practice Wednesday, they completed boot camp, which tested their minds and bodies. The newcomers have especially been tested throughout the summer in the weight room and on the court.
It’s not even October and the season doesn’t begin until Nov. 6 when OSU hosts Oral Roberts for its official season opener, but the Cowboys’ coach has already seen progress in his batch of new talent.
“You can visibly see the differences in their bodies,” Boynton said. I think Avery Anderson is up somewhere close to 20 pounds, Keylan and Kalib Boone have added some good muscle and Chris Harris is down 20 pounds. But it’s not just those guys, you can see it in our returners, too. Cam McGriff put up 23 bench press reps with 185 pounds in the weight room the other day.
“All those guys made it a point to be in the weight room. Cam and Thomas Dziagwa both stayed here through the entire summer; they didn’t go home in that May break. I can just see their level of commitment. To see them focus on trying to make this season a great one, that’s something I’m really excited about.”
McGriff and Dziagwa return as starters, along with senior Lindy Waters and sophomores Isaac Likekele and Yor Anei. The three seniors averaged more than 32 minutes per game last year, while Likekele played nearly 29 minutes a contest.
Anei finished the season averaging 23.5 minutes per game. His minutes was up and down until mid-January when the roster was depleted following the departure of three players, two of whom were also forwards like Anei.
All five of those returning players will be counted on again this year, but the class of newcomers should lessen their workload. How will those minutes be split? That’s something Boynton said he and his staff will have to figure out during the next month and as the season progresses, because he knows the returning starters want to play, as do the talented newcomers.
“I don’t know. I’m curious to find out myself,” Boynton said. “Those are decisions that will be determined as we go through practice. You’ll see some guys who can pick up things quicker – maybe have earlier opportunities than guys who learn a little slower. Their opportunities may come later as we get more comfortable with how we do things. But I do think it’s a great thing to have that competitive atmosphere in practice every day, but also, it’s something you have to talk with your team about. If you want to be successful as a team, everybody has to sacrifice something.
“I had conversations with those five guys at the end of last season and the beginning of this year. I told them you may not play 35 minutes a game. You may never play 35 minutes in a game, but every time you’re out there, you’ve got to have the right type of effort and communication. And, the young guys have to understand those guys aren’t trying to give away their minutes. If they’re coming in to play, they’re going to have to work and earn it. I think that’s what we’ve seen.”
Boynton continued by talking about his point guards. Likekele is returning from offseason knee surgery, but he’s already showing Anderson, who took over the role during the summer, that he wants his minutes on the court.
“Ice hasn’t been able to practice a ton so far, but when he’s got out there, he’s made it known to Avery that I know you expect to play a lot, but I was the point guard so I expect to be the point guard. Just having that competitiveness – and those two guys for example will be great for each other on a day-to-day basis.”
It’s that type of competitive nature Boynton believes will benefit his team moving forward. He knows everyone wants playing time, but they also want team success.
“I think it’s a great component to what we want our program to look like on a day-to-day basis,” Boynton said. “We have a group of guys who relish in the opportunity to compete against some of the best people possible. We’ve seen that from day one; there’s a little bit more chatter around the gym and in those environments. That’s healthy competition.
“We tell them when we recruit them that we’re going to put them in competitive environments. We tell them this isn’t going to be easy, but if you buy in and believe in what we’re doing, it will certainly be worth it. So, I think that competitiveness can spill over into practice and have us headed in the right direction.”