Coaches counseling their players in wake of Oklahoma St. crash

Monday, January 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- In the emotional aftershock of the tragic Oklahoma State plane crash, Big 12 coaches are worried their players may be more reluctant than ever to get on team flights.

In squad meetings and private one-on-one sessions, they're talking with players who've been shocked and shaken by the sudden death of 10 people, including two of their fellow athletes.

"We've had kids talking about getting back on planes and taking buses," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said Monday during the league's weekly conference call.

"The fallout from this will affect certainly us all."

In addition to players Dan Lawson and Nate Fleming, eight other members of Oklahoma State's traveling party died in the crash of the small aircraft near Byers, Colo., Saturday evening.

Texas coach Rick Barnes gave his players the bad news just after the plane landed that had flown them back from their game in Arizona.

"It took the life right out of them," Barnes said. "It hit so close to home. It could be us. They all went right to the phone and called their parents."

Many young athletes come to college with little or no flying experience and are already apprehensive about planes.

"I assured our players they should know we would never, ever do anything to jeopardize their safety. And I would never, ever ask them to do something I wouldn't do," Barnes said.

Oklahoma's next game is Wednesday against Baylor in Waco, Texas, and many players have asked Sampson if they could bus instead of fly.

"I told them we'd talk about it," said Sampson. "We're going to fly."

Because so many Big 12 schools are in small midwestern towns far from large metropolitan airports, they frequently take private or charter flights instead of commercial aircraft.

The Sooners were trying to fly out of Lubbock, Texas after playing Texas Tech last year when inclement weather delayed their plane's arrival by almost two hours. Rather than fly in the bad weather, Sampson put his players on a bus and made an 81/2-hour drive back home to Norman, Okla.

"There is nothing convenient about an 81/2-hour bus trip," said Sampson.

The Oklahoma State crash hit Missouri particularly hard. Last year after taking off from Columbia, Mo., en route to Texas, their plane made an emergency landing in Springfield.

"Obviously, (the Oklahoma State crash) could be us," said Tigers coach Quin Snyder. "A lot of kids haven't flown (before getting to college). They are concerned about flying."

A light snow was falling when the Oklahoma State plane took off from Denver. There has been speculation that ice on the wings may have been a factor.

"I'm supposed to get on a private plane tomorrow and go recruiting," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "I don't think I'm overreacting when I say if there's any problems in weather, I'm not going to get on it."

Texas A&M coach Melvin Watkins sensed that his players were unnerved by the news before they took the court against Iowa State on Sunday afternoon.

"Here I am worrying about being 0-7 in the conference. But it compares not at all to the tragedy that just happened," said Watkins. "We've got some kids who don't particularly care to fly anyway. Any time a tragedy like this happens, across the board people get concerned about flying again."

Texas Tech coach James Dickey discusses the safety of flying with his team every year.

"There's no question there are a lot of these young people who have fears about flying," he said.

Dickey also doubts that people around the country will fully understand how the tragedy has affected every other team and school in the conference.

"There's a closeness that most people do not know exists," he said. "This conference as a whole, as far as basketball is concerned, is pretty close."

Colorado players were probably as rattled as any since, they had just played the Cowboys a couple of hours before the crash.

"We had a team meeting to talk about their emotions and feelings," said coach Ricardo Patton. "I think we're going to go back to commercial (flights) just to put our guys' minds more at ease."