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Leadership From Romero Osby Has Made Oklahoma Relevant Once Again

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

It's a story Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger tells often.

Two years ago, after meeting with his new team for the first time, Kruger was approached by a single player who expressed a desire that would not only help him be successful, but would put the program on the fast track to recovery.

"The first day I met with them, Roe came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Coach, you don't know me from anyone else, but I want to be a guy you can bank on, depend on and be a leader for you,'" Kruger recalled. "He very clearly said that exactly like that. I said, ‘That's great let's hope it works out that way.'"

Since that day, Romero Osby has put everything he has into leading the Sooners out of some of the darkest days the program has seen since the 1950s. Osby's first year in Norman coincided with former head coach Jeff Capel's last season, and the Mississippi State transfer knew there was a lot that needed to happen.

"We were just struggling, trying to find our way," Osby said. "We had a tough couple of years—Coach Capel's last year was a really tough year. I just saw we really needed someone in here to come help us out."

That someone happened to be Kruger, a man very familiar with taking programs struggling under the weight of mediocrity and NCAA sanctions and turning them into winners. That set very well with Osby.

"Me and Coach Kruger wanted the same thing," Osby said. "I wanted to build on my basketball career and get my confidence back and he wanted to rebuild a school, a program. We kind of wanted the same thing in the fact we wanted to win and we needed each other to kind of get there. He put the leadership role in my hands and he let me do it."

Before Osby stepped up into the leadership role, the Sooners were sorely lacking in that department. In fact, the main reason behind OU's miserable two-year run before Kruger came in was that Oklahoma had no true leadership on the court.

Andrew Fitzgerald experienced both of those years along with fellow senior Steven Pledger. Fitzgerald confirmed those last two Capel-coached teams didn't have many leaders.

"It was kind of all about individuals really," Fitzgerald said. "You just went out there and looked out for yourself; there wasn't much of a team concept."

Fitzgerald admits he and Pledger tried to be leaders on those teams, but their personalities didn't allow them to have a huge impact.

"Me and Steve, both of us tried," Fitzgerald said. "We don't talk at all when it comes to leading. We just lead by example; that's what we thrive on. We needed a real vocal leader and he (Osby) really thrived on that.

"Our teams would listen to us, but the way Roe talks and gets the guys pumped, that's not in our character traits. We let him get us pumped up but we're right behind him."

Leadership is a tricky thing. Not everyone has the capabilities to lead, even if they have the desire to. Kruger said most people who want to be leaders simply do not understand the sacrifice and investment it takes to be one.

"To be a good leader, every day is about everyone else; it's not about you," Kruger said. "You can come not feeling great, but you still have to practice, you have to set the tone, you have to be the guy. If you're not a leader and you have a bad day, it affects only you.

"The team voted Romero, Amath (M'Baye) and Drew (Fitzgerald) as captains early on because of their investment and their big picture about the team and Romero has certainly been the leader of that."

Osby wanted a leadership role, and also had the capabilities to be a great leader for the team.

"It's just the fact I had been a leader before and I felt like at my last situation (Mississippi State), I didn't really get the chance to show my leadership because I was a freshman and sophomore and I wasn't really playing very much," Osby said. "I knew with Coach Kruger I'd have the opportunity to play so I tried to come out here and work everyday and take that leadership role. It was just something I felt comfortable doing naturally."

It hasn't always been easy for Osby as a leader. Initially Kruger asked him to lead by example. That didn't go so well.

"When I first started, I kind of talked a lot and didn't really back it up," Osby admitted. "Now I'm starting to be able to back up what I talk about and the guys respect that and Coach respects that as well."

The best part is the players already on the team weren't put off by Osby coming in and taking hold of the primary leadership role. In fact, they were very open to it.

"We openly welcomed that," Fitzgerald said. "He does all the talking for me really. I may go up to him and say something, but I lead by example. It was great to have him come in last year."

Osby knew he had as much to prove as the younger players when he joined the Sooners.

"I didn't want to step on anybody's toes either because what had I done?" Osby said. "I hadn't done anything. I hadn't played in two years so I was just trying to do my part about talking and leading and doing it by example."

There's no doubt the biggest key to the Sooners' resurgence has been the coaching of Kruger, but without the leadership of Osby, Oklahoma wouldn't be where they are today. Everyone bought into what Kruger was selling, but Osby led the charge, encouraging his teammates to give everything they had to make Oklahoma great again.

It's not terribly difficult to argue Osby has been as important to the resurgence in Norman as Kruger has been.

Even though Osby won't be back next season, there are several other players waiting in the wings to take his place, no doubt inspired by the type of leader Osby has been the past two years.

"Buddy Hield is a natural born leader as a freshman," Osby said. "Amath (M'Baye) is a natural born leader. Ryan Spangler is a natural born leader. They've got guys on this team for the next three years that hopefully will get deeper and deeper into the NCAA tournament. Then when you have a great leader like Coach Kruger behind all that, you've got an opportunity to do some great things."

Osby said he hopes people remember him as one of the best to ever play at Oklahoma. While that may be up for debate, the fact that Osby is one of the most important players to don the Sooners uniform is not.

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