Growing pains

Originally Published: January 2, 2004
By Kelvin Sampson | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note: Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson chronicles part of the 2003-04 campaign for ESPN.com as part of The Season: Oklahoma Basketball, presented by Capital One (ESPN2, Tuesday, 11:30 ET).

The University of Oklahoma men's basketball season is well underway with almost a third of our schedule now complete. It has been a season filled with new challenges, but they are ones we must overcome because of the standards and expectations our program has set for itself. First and foremost is the youth movement now under way.

Watch The Season: Wisconsin Basketball, presented by Capital One, Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The current makeup of our team reminds me of Noah's Ark ... we have two seniors, two juniors and two sophomores. And then we have six freshmen. We are young and inexperienced and have not yet found our identity on the court, especially on offense. At times our defense plays exceptionally well, and individual players will have great performances. But we have a long way to go before this team resembles past Oklahoma teams that have had the tenacity and competitive nature I have become accustomed to coaching.

Although we are undefeated at 9-0 and ranked in the top 10 nationally, I am not yet convinced that this team is worthy of such high acclaim. Aside from our youth, we have been hampered with injuries. Three of our starters, Kevin Bookout, De'Angelo Alexander and Jason Detrick have participated in a small percentage of practices which has stymied our growth as a team. But can we be a top 10 team? That's another challenge that faces this team.

We are nearing the end of our non-conference schedule and will soon dive into the highly competitive Big 12 portion of our season. I try to impress upon my players that their next game is the most important game on the schedule. And this is certainly true of our next opponent, Princeton, a team we will face Saturday evening (ESPN2, 5 ET) in the Touchstone Energy All-College Classic in Oklahoma City. They played a great game on the road against Duke, trailing by only three points going into the half. In the five games that they have won, their team has shot over 50 percent from the field. Princeton is a well-coached, disciplined team that will be a tough opponent.

On Sunday night, our basketball family will take great interest in another OU athletic event. The football team will play for its second national championship in four years and eighth overall when it takes on LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Bob Stoops has built a program that is in the hunt for a national title every season and it goes without saying that everyone at the University of Oklahoma is proud of its football players and coaches. I'm sure everyone on our basketball team will be glued to the TV Sunday evening.

Thank you for your continued support of Oklahoma Basketball and I look forward to writing again. Go Sooners!