It's a new beginning for Sean Sutton, Oklahoma State

Thursday, October 12th 2006, 5:24 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Sean Sutton thought a bit before answering the question: How long had it been since he'd not been with his father at a basketball season's opening practice?

From the time Sutton, Oklahoma State's new coach, began his collegiate playing days in 1987, he'd always shared that initial practice with Eddie Sutton, first as a player at Kentucky and OSU, then as an assistant coach with the Cowboys. Only once, in 1992 _ when Sean was an assistant at Mississippi _ had father and son not been together for that opening night.

Until Friday.

When the Cowboys began drills shortly after 7 p.m. _ the earliest practice could begin under NCAA rules _ Eddie Sutton wasn't among the dozen or so people in the stands at Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the court bears his name. Sutton retired in May after 16 seasons at Oklahoma State.

Did it seem a bit strange to not have his dad around? Sean acknowledged it was ``different,'' although he said he didn't know just how much. But he gave an indication a few moments later.

``This is always one of his favorite times of the year, because there's a lot of teaching involved,'' Sean said wistfully, watching his players warm up. ``That's something he really enjoyed.''

It's not like Sean Sutton wasn't prepared for the moment. In recent years, Eddie Sutton frequently let his son run practices and gave him much responsibility, so much so that Oklahoma State took the unusual step of naming Sean as ``head coach designate'' in May 2004.

Last February, Sean stepped in as the Cowboys' interim coach after Eddie Sutton took a medical leave following a Feb. 10 accident that resulted in charges of aggravated DUI, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road. Eddie Sutton later pleaded no contest to the charges, received a one-year deferred sentence and was ordered to pay a fine.

Eddie Sutton said chronic back and hip pain led to a relapse in his fight against alcoholism dating to his days as Kentucky's coach. Since the accident, he's had back surgery and undergone alcoholism treatment. He's now working in a new alcohol education and support program at the university.

Amid the turmoil, the Cowboys stumbled to a 17-16 finish and lost in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament to Miami, ending a streak of eight straight NCAA tournament appearances.

``There was a lot of disappointment in how that season went, so many missed opportunities throughout the year, a lot of tough losses,'' Sean Sutton said. ``It's something that hopefully we've learned from and put behind us. We're looking forward this year to not making some of the mistakes we made in those games.

``I think you get better with experiencing anything. Certainly that was not the way I envisioned or wanted to be in that situation, but I had to make the best of it. I feel like I learned a lot from that experience.''

As much as he respects his father, Sean Sutton said he plans to put his own handprint on the Oklahoma State program. On-the-court changes could include more up-tempo play, more pressing and more zone defenses _ although not too much, he noted.

But despite those changes, Sean did, after all, learn a lot of basketball from Eddie.

``Ninety percent of everything that I've learned from him will continue here, because it's proven and it's been successful,'' Sean said.

``The same philosophy that he believes in that makes a good college basketball team are what I believe in _ playing tough, aggressive defense, taking care of the basketball, having good shot selection, not making mental mistakes to beat yourself and competing at a high level and playing as a team.''

Senior forward Mario Boggan said the players are looking forward to most of the changes _ but not necessarily all of them.

``Coach Sean ... he lays down the law,'' Boggan said. ``His favorite thing is running _ 'Get on the line.' We dread that more than coach (Eddie) Sutton, who might just talk to you and just call you something you might not want to hear. Coach Sean is going to say, 'Get on the line.' You'll learn faster from getting on that line than the other things.''