Things are falling into place inside of Gallagher-Iba Arena for the Cowboys.
Coach Travis Ford has brought in mega-recruits in sophomore Le’Bryan Nash and freshman Marcus Smart, while surrounding them with solid players like Markel Brown and Michael Cobbins. With that in mind, the forecast looks good for the Pokes as they head into the 2012-13 season.
Even with the solid players, there’s one lingering thing that any fan could tell you. Pressure is building around that Oklahoma State program. The fans want wins, and they want them now.
With every Cowboy defeat, that pressure climbs just a hair higher, and this is the year that the Cowboys have to put up or shut up.
No one is capable of releasing that pressure except for Le’Bryan Nash.
By all accounts, Smart is a solid player. He won a gold medal in Brazil with the U-18 Team USA squad this past summer, and won back-to-back Texas State Championships at Marcus High School. Even without playing a game, Ford and the team is already sold on his recruit.
“He’s 6’4,” Ford said at OSU’s media day last week. “He’s big and strong, and is going to bring it every day no matter what.”
So if Smart is all he’s hyped up to be and the surrounding players turn in another solid year highlighted by Brown dunks and Cobbins’ blocks, that leaves Nash, the wild card, on the table.
Coming into last season, Nash placed the pressure of college basketball squarely on his shoulders. Upon arrival, and even before, Nash spoke of Big 12 Championships and NCAA tournament trips, setting expectations high for the Pokes. That’s something he’s continued into this season.
“I’m on a mission to win a Big 12 Championship,” Nash said. “I think it starts with me, to be the best player that I can be, being an All-Big 12 player and backing it up. Showing people that I’ve improved since last year.”
When the season began, he entered an adjustment period. In one game, he’d show up with twenty-something points, then contribute hardly any in the next. It was obvious that he needed time to adjust to the speed of the college game.
By the time the season began winding down, Nash reeled off nine-straight double-digit scoring games that he coupled with solid rebounding and assist statistics before suffering a season-ending injury that chained him to the bench for the last five games of the year.
“You could say he’s matured,” Ford said. “The difference is at this time of year last year, I couldn’t tell him. It’s hard to tell someone with his reputation that it’s not going to be like it was in high school and he had to go through that.”
This season, the pressure is on. Oklahoma State longs for the basketball program they grew up watching as former coach Eddie Sutton patrolled the bench. Everyone knows Ford puts in the work, as he’s cited multiple overnight stays in his office during the season, but this is the year his squad has to put it together.
When you look at the roster, there’s no name more mysterious than Nash. Smart hasn’t stepped on the court yet, but reports say he’ll be a solid player that wills his team to wins. Brown and Cobbins will be the solid, reliable Cowboys that they’ve always been while Phillip Jurick, Kamari Murphy and Phil Forte look to prove something.
The key to the season is Nash. If he can do what he’s talked about doing since his wheels hit the red dirt of northern Oklahoma, the Cowboys will be a force by the time conference play rolls around, and will almost certainly be in the thick of it all when the Big 12 Championship is being decided.
The pressure rests squarely on his shoulders, and his shoulders only.
“I want the team to look at me and say ‘LB is trying to win a Big 12 Championship, so we need to too’,” he said. “I’m going to bring it every day.”