Consistency in practice lays foundation for Cowboys’ early success

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OSU forward Jonathan Laurent dunks during a men's basketball practice on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in the practice gym of Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater.

Mike Boynton realized the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team would benefit from a bad practice.

Through the first two or three weeks of practicing as a group, every session went well. Coach Boynton said he then attempted to create a bad one so the Cowboys were forced to deal with challenges, but their early progress had showed him something unusual about his team.

“It’s not normal for a team to be consistently good in practice,” Boynton said. “Usually, you get past the first week or so, and guys kind of lose interest in practicing just because they want to play, they’re natural competitors.”

In the midst of the season, the Cowboys are maintaining their high level of focus in practice, and the results have spoken for themselves. OSU is 7-0 after winning the NIT Season Tip-Off with a 78-37 smackdown of Ole Miss in Brooklyn, New York. The Cowboys squeezed into the USA Today Coaches' Poll at No. 25 after the victory.

Their next test is against Georgetown (4-3), the team NBA legend Patrick Ewing coaches. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Although the season is young, the Cowboys have established an identity as strong-willed defenders and persistent workers, personifying Boynton’s phrase “Work wins.”

Jonathan Laurent, a graduate transfer guard/forward, said he thinks they have had only two bad practices among many strong ones. As a first-year OSU player, this general pattern of consistency is new for Laurent, who was previously at Rutgers and then the University of Massachusetts.

“That’s pretty incredible coming from what I’ve seen and the programs I’ve been in,” Laurent said. “It’s hard to string a lot of good practices together.”

It doesn’t matter where the Cowboys are. In Brooklyn, they climbed several flights of stairs to practice in the Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School gymnasium, Boynton’s home venue before his college days at South Carolina. Laurent and point guard Isaac Likekele said they enjoyed seeing Boynton get active on the court with them.

“I wonder, sometimes, the guys don’t necessarily believe that I actually played,” Boynton joked. “But my name’s on the wall, so there’s some proof.”

Although Boynton said he doesn’t usually run up and down the court with the Cowboys, he sometimes interposes himself in half-court practice scenarios. Boynton’s involvement can light a fire in them, but with a combination of seasoned leaders and enthusiastic freshmen, practices are filled with energy whether Boynton is playing man-to-man defense or observing from the sideline.

Of course, no practice is perfect. Newcomers such as Laurent are still adjusting to the stifling defensive style that is exemplified in sophomore Yor Anei’s authoritative blocks, but the Cowboys’ dedication to their craft gives Laurent hope for the rest of the season.

“People are still working in and out of practice,” Laurent said. “Coming in early, staying late, getting the shots up after practice, so I feel like we could be a really special crew. We just gotta keep on fighting and keep on doing what we’re doing right now.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com