Okla. State Crash Still in Minds

Thursday, March 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — The lines in coach Eddie Sutton's face, carved by 31 years on the sidelines, seem etched deeper than ever after the tragic crash that killed two players and eight other members of the Oklahoma State traveling party on Jan. 27.

``It was difficult for all of us,'' Sutton said Wednesday after his team practiced for its NCAA tournament game against Southern California. ``It's hard to describe. I've told friends I hope this never happens. They don't prepare you for this.''

The team was on its way home after losing at Colorado when a chartered plane crashed, killing all 10 people aboard. Among those killed were redshirt freshman Nate Fleming and reserve Dan Lawson.

In the hours and days after the tragedy, Sutton battled to hold his young team together.

``They focused in and displayed a lot of courage to get to this tournament,'' Sutton said. ``It was very difficult the first few days. They displayed a lot of character and fought their way through it.''

Teammate Fredrik Jonzen recalled Lawson's friendship.

``Because I came from Sweden, I didn't have many friends,'' he said. ``Nate became one of my best friends. I broke his nose in practice two years ago and this season he had two of his teeth knocked out. It was always a war with Nate.

``Dan always had a smile on his face. Those are the things you remember.''

Andre Williams roomed with both Fleming and Lawson. He said Sutton guided the team through its loss.

``Coach Sutton was the guy who had to lead us through this,'' he said. ``He did a remarkable job.''

Sutton said the team dedicated the season to those who had died in the crash and that it helped the players gain the strength to go on. There also was an outpouring of support from around the country.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys pressed ahead.

``In the early days, they were like zombies,'' Sutton said. ``We had very few normal practices for a team in midseason. I don't know if you ever get over something like this. It seems like it will be with all of us a long time.

``I think I tried to drive home that life is precious and to appreciate it every day. I told them to call home and tell your mom and dad how much you love them. An accident can happen to any of them at any time.''

Still ahead is the offseason, a worrisome time for Sutton. He knows that basketball has served as a diversion from the accident. He also knows one more loss and the Cowboys season will be over.

``It concerns me,'' he said. ``We need to make sure we keep a close look at our players when the season ends. Now we have basketball to focus on, something we love.''

The players recognize the problem.

``We'll think about it a little more after the season, when there's no more basketball,'' Jonzen said. ``I think about it every day. It's good to have basketball.''

``We needed a way to get out our feelings,'' Williams said of the aftermath of the accident. ``Basketball was a way to get it out for us.''

Sutton is confident his players will find a way. They have so far.

``I'm not sure a coach could be any prouder of a team,'' Sutton said. ``They battled adversity. The fact that they got here with all the things that happened is a tribute to their character.''