Originally Published: Jan 8, 2010 9:36 AM CDT
NORMAN, Oklahoma -- Willie Warren sported an all-black jersey over a white T-shirt. Tommy Mason-Griffin put in extra work wearing a black Air Jordan T-shirt. Tony Crocker had on a grey Nike hoodie.
Even coach Jeff Capel wasn't in Sooners apparel Thursday, instead wearing a long-sleeved, black thermal shirt.
This is still the Oklahoma basketball team. But until the players start behaving the right way off the court and playing the right way on it, Capel has his group preparing in anonymity.
"We're not playing like an Oklahoma team, so we don't deserve an Oklahoma locker room," Warren said. "But everything he's done for us has been for him also. We can't wear Oklahoma gear. He's not going to wear Oklahoma gear because he's a part of us."
The Sooners (9-5) lost their privileges after suffering their fifth defeat of the season against Gonzaga on New Year's Eve. If he could, Capel says, he'd have the Sooners wear nondescript jerseys for their Big 12 opener Saturday at Baylor.
His main complaint has been about his team's failings on defense, but he said many of the problems boil down to intangibles such as passion and giving an all-out effort.
"It was like a whole new ball game after the Gonzaga game," point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin said. "We were playing 2-on-2, 3-on-3, full court. You've got to defend and pick up baseline to baseline just to show that you've got heart and you want to compete."
With Big 12 play set to start, Oklahoma is wiping the slate clean and looking for a fresh start without the issues that surfaced earlier on.
That includes two freshmen being dropped from the starting lineup for showing up late after Christmas break. It also includes Capel's criticism of Warren -- considered in the preseason to be a candidate for national player of the year -- as an inadequate leader, with him saying after one game that he was "tired of trying to figure him out."
"One of the things with being a leader -- even if he may be upset or he may be frustrated -- when you're leading a group, you can't let that get the best of you," Capel said. "You have to be solid all the time. Also in order to be a leader, you have to be on all the time. I think that's one of the things that's a challenge for a guy that's never been in that role of the magnitude that he is now."
Last year, Warren didn't have to be the go-to guy on a nightly basis with national player of the year and eventual No. 1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin there. He had to take over a true leadership role when Griffin was out with injuries, but now he has become the focal point for the Sooners.
"We had a lot of veterans last year on the team to help mold the guys up quickly," Warren said, admitting that he has to be one of the veterans after a run to the NCAA tournament's regional finals last season.
"We're just trying to pull them, get us all together, find the right pieces, find the right lineups to be in and work together," he said. "But as long as we defend, I think we'll be fine because we're going to be able to score points."
Capel said Warren hasn't been the only one who has been inconsistent. He credits only upperclassmen Cade Davis and Crocker with giving their best effort in every game, and he wants that to change.
"I don't care how good you are. You're not going to play at a high level every night," Capel said. "But the thing that you can do is that your effort can be at a high level. That's where we have to get. Our effort has to be at max level every time from here on out."
If his players do that, then maybe they'll be able to put on their Oklahoma practice gear.
"I'm looking for a lot of stuff, just how we approach things, how we practice, our attention to detail on stuff. It's not necessarily about just winning," Capel said. "It's about doing things the right way and conducting ourselves the right way and having pride -- having pride in what we do, having pride in everything that we do.
"If we do that, then we'll earn the right to wear that on our chest again."
News On 6
303 N. Boston Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74103
Newson6.com is proud to provide Oklahomans with timely and relevant news and information, sharing the stories, pictures and loves of Oklahomans across our great state.