Early signing period keeps Oklahoma schools busy

Thursday, November 11th 2004, 11:18 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma schools have been busy during the NCAA's early signing period, lining up high-school players to mold into their stars of their future.

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson announced Thursday the signing of junior college guard Mike Neal and two players from high school _ guard Austin Johnson and forward Taylor Griffin.

Neal, a 6-4, 185-pounder, averaged 21.1 points and shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range for Lon Morris last season and was picked as a first-team preseason National Junior College Athletic Association All-American this year. Sampson said Neal would be able to play upon arriving on campus next year.

Johnson, at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, averaged 27.2 points and 7.7 rebounds as a junior at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. Sampson said he and Griffin, a 6-foot-7, 225-pounder from Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond, would be versatile players for the Sooners.

``We're ecstatic about this class,'' Sampson said. ``This was a little bit of a tricky recruiting class because we're going to have five starters back next year. We had to plug holes where we think we're going to need players.''

Oklahoma State, which expects to lose seven seniors after this season, found itself in a far different situation and signed four highly regarded prep players _ point guard Byron Eaton from Lincoln High School in Dallas, and wings Gerald Green from Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, Roderick Flemings from DeSoto (Texas) High School and Terrell Harris from South Garland High School in Dallas.

``We felt like this would be one of the most important recruiting classes we've had here in a long time,'' said Sean Sutton, Oklahoma State's associate head coach.

Sutton said he thought Eaton _ who averaged 19 points and seven assists last season _ was the best high-school point guard in the country to fit into the Cowboys' offensive system and all four players had a nice scoring touch.

Last season, Green averaged 29 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks, Flemings averaged 16 points and nine rebounds and Harris averaged 17 points and seven rebounds.

``They're all great athletes who can shoot the basketball,'' Sutton said. ``That's one thing we've tried to incorporate in our recruiting. Sure, we want athletes who can defend and get up and down the court. But we want guys who can make shots. That makes coaching a lot easier.''

Oral Roberts has only one early signee so far _ point guard Daren Jordan from Trevor Browne High School in Phoenix. Jordan, who's 6 feet tall, averaged 24 points and 4.5 assists in his junior season.

``Were thrilled to have Daren join our program,'' Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton said. ``Signing a point guard was a priority for this class since were losing (senior) Luke Spencer-Gardner and Jonathan Bluitt (is) becoming a senior next year.

``We feel like Daren has the ability to come in and play immediately.''

Across town, Tulsa signed high-school players Ashton Hall, Ryan McCoy and Antonio Hansen.

``Athleticism, basketball savvy and skill were priorities that we were looking for in this class, and all three of them definitely give us those characteristics,'' Tulsa coach John Phillips said.

On the women's side, Oklahoma signed highly-touted twins Courtney and Ashley Paris from Piedmont (Calif.) High School.

Courtney Paris, a 6-foot-4 center, averaged 27 points and 19 rebounds last season while Ashley Paris, a 6-foot-2 forward, scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds per game.

``It really is a recruiting victory that puts us in a position to potentially vie for a national championship year in and year out for the next four years,'' Coale said. ``There just aren't many players like Courtney and Ashley out there. They give us the inside power and presence which we have needed to complement our skill and speed.

The twins also took recruiting trips to defending champion Connecticut and the Big 12's regular-season co-champion, Texas, but chose the Sooners.

Oklahoma State added five high-school players _ guards Amanda Brown, Taylor Hardeman, Jacie Hoyt and Tiffanie Johnson and forward Shaunte Smith.

Cowgirls coach Julie Goodenough said she liked each for different reasons _ Brown for her athleticism, Hardeman for her physicality, Hoyt for her scoring ability, Johnson for her confidence and Smith for her versatility.