Last season, Eddie Sutton won the Big 12 Conference regular-season and tournament titles and took the Oklahoma State basketball team to the NCAA Final Four. He did it with a wide array of transfers from junior colleges and other schools.
The coming campaign, Eddie may have a team known as OSU's Expatriate Haven and Home for Wayward Boys. Meanwhile, Bill Self at Kansas University will feature a club of strictly high-school products. The departure of Jeff Graves removed the lone juco from the Jayhawk roster. Barring the unforeseen signing of some "outsider", there'll be no such player with Kansas.
You could say that C.J. Giles and Alex Galindo are not exactly simon-pure. C.J. committed to Miami and shifted to KU when the coach he favored was fired. Galindo left Texas-El Paso for Lawrence after the tutor there was booted. But that's pretty faint lineage. They're still four-year types.
It will be interesting to see if Sutton's foreign legion or Self's purebred coterie can accomplish what OSU did the past season. This could be 67-year-old Eddie's last season. The machinery reportedly is set to move son Sean into the job after 2004-05.
Sutton so far has added 6-foot-10 Aaron Pettway from Hutchinson juco and 5-10 Jamaal Brown from Dixie State to his corral. Then he returns experienced shiftees such as John Lucas, Daniel Bobik, Joey Graham and Stevie Graham. With battle-tested Ivan McFarlin due back for another year, OSU will be ferocious again if Pettway and Brown provide the help Eddie is looking for.
But the huge project for Sutton will be keeping another recruit in school and out of jail, even after he's retired. The challenge is JamesOn Curry, the North Carolina high school whiz who had committed to UNC. Curry had his offer rescinded by Roy Williams after pleading guilty to six felony drug counts. The 6-3 guard scored 3,307 points in his four-year career at Eastern Alamance High in Carolina.
Sutton overcame alcoholism to build a successful program with the Cowboys. He says he discounts Curry's criminal activity after meeting with him face-to-face.
"I have looked in his eyes and seen a very remorseful young man who is looking for a second chance," Sutton said. "He understands fully there is no margin for error. We are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, to provide an opportunity to better himself, eventually earn a degree and improve as a basketball player."
The highly ranked Curry averaged 40.2 points in his senior season. He also averaged 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.3 steals.
Curry, 18, pleaded guilty last April 5 to six felony counts: two each of possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana; two each of the sale of marijuana; two each of delivering marijuana. UNC's Williams dropped him fast and before long he committed to the Cowboys. Curry was sentenced to 36 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and monetary fines. How he'll deal with all that from Stillwater remains to be seen.
Sutton stands firm. "We were contacted by people who said this was a very good young man who made a mistake," the coach said. "He is without question a person of extraordinary basketball ability who also has strong character and has had strong family guidance."
Oklahoma State athletic director Harry Birdwell supports Sutton's decision to help Curry " ... grow, learn to forgive himself and to be forgiven."
Kansas's four-year senior class of Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee has a chance to prove it's on a par with the famed 1952 title quartet of Clyde Lovellette, Bob Kenney, Bill Lienhard and Bill Hougland. Truth is, the coming senior group may have far more bench support than the Lovellette foursome enjoyed.
J.R. Giddens could be primed for a brilliant sophomore campaign, and Jeremy Case and Christian Moody may not be too shabby as spear-carriers. Junior Moulaye Niang will have a tough time getting court time after deciding to stay.
The incoming freshman crew of Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Giles and Galindo could more than compensate for the loss of Graves and David Padgett in a hurry. When you have a yearling crew with such potential, four outstanding seniors and elements such as Giddens, you legitimately can think in terms of the two league titles and Final Four status Oklahoma State achieved.
OSU's Sutton has said he was inclined to sign jucos and transfers because they realized they may have only a year or two to prove their mettle. They may be more coachable. In contrast, too many high schoolers plan on or two years and out, to the pros. Do you load a program from the front end as Self is doing so impressively at Kansas, or do you come in the back door as Sutton did with such success last season?
It's not difficult to see why a guy who's fallen and risen to overcome a problem as Eddie did with his alcoholism would be sympathetic to a kid like Curry. But this guy will take a pretty gross rap sheet to Stillwater.
Williams is noted for helping kids develop and excel after overcoming personal problems. He doubtless had a long time and good chance to assess Curry's prospects and chose not to take on the Father Flanagan role.
More power to Sutton if he can swing it with Curry. He's worked a lot of miracles over the years. But you can bet Roy's glad Curry is at OSU, and Self can only hope the young North Carolinian doesn't become the superstar Sutton thinks he can be.