Sampson turns to sophomores for leadership

Updated: November 5, 2003, 8:38 PM ET

NORMAN, Okla. -- It didn't seem like such a big deal at the time, but a couple of freshmen paved the way for Oklahoma in last year's NCAA tournament.

Kevin Bookout and De'Angelo Alexander led the Sooners in scoring during a postseason run that ended in the East Region final against eventual national champion Syracuse. Their breakout performances seem even more improbable now, considering that seniors Hollis Price, Ebi Ere and Quannas White had been Oklahoma's go-to players over the past two seasons.

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson now hopes that was a sign of things to come this season, a year in which Bookout and Alexander -- both sophomores -- are two of the most experienced players on the team.

"They're known commodities," Sampson said Wednesday at the team's annual media day. "That shows you where our future is."

The future is now for the Sooners, who must replace 56 percent of their scoring, 62 percent of its assists, 52 percent of its steals and 76 percent of its 3-pointers from last year's 27-7 team that won the Big 12 tournament.

Price, Ere and White were responsible for most of those numbers. To Sampson, though, the hardest thing to duplicate will be the leadership that they provided.

Price, last season's Big 12 Player of the Year and a second-team All-American, was a four-year starter at Oklahoma and ultimately became the poster boy for Sampson's program.

"Those guys deserve a lot of credit for our past success," Sampson said. "You don't get to coach a guy like Hollis very often in your life. I don't know that we'll ever truly replace him."

The presence of Bookout and Alexander gives Sampson confidence, however, that the Sooners will be able to reload, not rebuild.

Bookout, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound power forward, became only the second freshman to start the opening game of the season in Sampson's nine years in Norman. By the end of the season, Bookout had become the team's only true low-post scoring threat and also led the team in rebounds (5.9 a game).

Sampson is counting on Bookout building on his summer performance, when he led the team in scoring and rebounds during Oklahoma's four-game Labor Day weekend tour through Costa Rica.

"It's a totally different feeling around here," Bookout said. "I think I can do a lot more this season. I'm really feeling comfortable in this role."

But the team's leading scorer in the NCAA tournament was Alexander, who began the season as a top reserve and eventually replaced Ere in the starting lineup.

After learning the ropes from Price and White as a freshman, Alexander looks forward to stepping into more a leadership role.

"We've talked about keeping this tradition alive," said Alexander, who averaged almost 12 points a game in the tournament. "I think I'm much better than I was last year and I'm a lot more confident."

Bookout and Alexander will likely be joined in the starting lineup by freshman point guard Drew Lavender and seniors Jabahri Brown and Jason Detrick, who was redshirted last season.

Sampson said he expects some rough times early in the season because of his team's inexperience. Still, the challenge of grooming such a young team has reinvigorated him.

"We're not nearly as good as we've been," he said. "They're going to get much better. I don't even know where our ceiling is now."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES