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Character: The best piece of Mike Boynton’s arsenal

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Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton looks on as his Cowboys take on Houston in Gallagher-Iba Arena. 

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, OSU coach Mike Boynton is no stranger to struggle and adversity. His time at the helm of the Cowboys has proven just that.

It’s shown that he’s equipped to deal with anything thrown his way. He’s faced so many adverse situations including cutting players and an FBI probe. The NCAA one-year postseason ban is just the latest thorn in the side of Boynton and this OSU program.

When the news of the sanctions hit the wire, the media and basketball world burst into a frenzy. The news brought a lot of speculation about the roster and seemingly brought more questions than answers. Most media outlets thought the roster was going to be gutted.

But it wasn’t. For most schools in a situation similar to this, players — especially of this caliber — would take the opportunity to flee to greener pastures. But this program stayed intact. Which is a shock to most fans considering Boynton doesn’t even have a winning pedigree to his name.

If a coach doesn’t have a winning culture to entice players, why did he put together a top-5 recruiting class? How did he retain that class despite harsh sanctions? What does that say about Boynton’s character?

“I really thought when this happened, ‘Alright he’s going to be pillaged,”’ Stadium’s Jeff Goodman told the O’Colly. “Because every kid can go and play right away. It’s that rule if you have a postseason ban everybody can go. And I thought Isaac Likekele was history and now he’s going to come back.”

However, as is with many NCAA decisions, people stood on different sides of the aisle when it came to the effects on OSU’s roster.

“It didn’t strike me that a one-year postseason ban was going to lead to a mass exodus,” Fox’s Aaron Torres said. “I know that was the reaction of other college basketball writers and experts, but that was never really my thing. I think most of these guys are in it for the long haul. A lot of them are two, three or four-year college players and I think part of it is the respect out of coach Boynton too.”

Because of the sanctions, Boynton effectively had to recruit his highly touted class twice. But he did just that without backing down. OSU’s 2020 recruiting class is ranked inside the top-5, according to Rival.com. Boynton kept every one of his recruits, but he did lose two returning players.

The biggest name was No. 1 recruit Cade Cunningham. Everyone wanted to know what he would do, but the only person who knew what Cunningham would do was Cunningham.

“I kind of had different reactions than other people, and I’m not saying they are wrong and I’m right or anything like that,” Torres said. “Kind of the initial reaction was just I think Oklahoma State will be OK in the long run, but I didn’t think we were going to see Cade Cunningham on (OSU’s) campus.

“I think I am right on one and obviously very wrong on the other. I am very happy to be wrong on that one. I am really excited to see Cade in a Cowboys’ uniform next year.”

Despite keeping all of the recruits, the two aforementioned returning Cowboys decided to take this chance to transfer from the school. Center Yor Anei and forward Hidde Roessink both announced that they would be transferring. Anei lost minutes this season due to foul trouble and lack of consistency. Roessink was in his first year with the program and saw limited action due to the cast of bodies in front of him.

“When I saw Yor (transfer), I was a little surprised,” Torres said. “Listen, there are a couple of things to remember, right? They could still win an appeal. They seem more confident than I am at Oklahoma State. I saw coach Boynton talk about it (on June 22) when Cade made the decision to come to school. They could still play in the postseason.

“You know, coach Boynton believed in Yor before anyone else did, and coach Boynton has done pretty good developing him. I was a little surprised by that, but the second kid, whatever. Guys are going to transfer especially knowing that they don’t have to sit out. I didn’t expect everyone stay, but it might be guys at the end of the bench.”

During every year of Boynton’s tenure, it seems bad luck strikes at the most unfortunate times, but in his short time at OSU, Boynton has met that adversity head on each time it has poked its head out of the shadow. This time seems to be no different.

“I think he’s handled things really well,” Torres said. “Last year — he isn’t one to promote it — they were 7-0 with Isaac Likekele then he goes down and he misses four, five or six games, and he isn’t really the same player until beginning, middle or end of February. By then you’ve lost so many games and you’re in a big hole.

“I only bring this up to say when I talked to him, on my podcast, it would be easy (to bring it up). And there are plenty of coaches who — believe me that if their best player basically wasn’t himself for two months of the season — that coach would make sure everybody in America would know that… and Mike never did that.”

During the tough start to Big 12 play, a lot of outside noise began to rang wondering if Boynton is the answer to take the Cowboys back to the level of Eddie Sutton and Henry Iba led teams. Not only did Boynton not bow to the noise he began to turn the ship around.

“I think Boynton has handled adversity fairly well,” CBS’s Matt Norlander said. “He hasn’t been as successful on the floor as he had hoped. He hasn’t been a failure that’s for sure.”

The OSU program could go many places from this point due to the sanctions, but it looks like the program will stay on course and continue its rise.

“One way or another it’s difficult and it’s not easy, you just have to stay the course,” Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo told the O’Colly’s Ryan Novozinsky. “And do what you’ve got to do. It doesn’t hurt when you got a (Cade Cunningham) like he’s got coming in. I am excited to see what they do, and I was happy that he stayed with his commitment. I think that speaks volumes about the university, the basketball program and the fanbase to be honest with you.”

Although the sanctions around the basketball team and Boynton seem negative, some positives can be taken. Boynton’s character and strong bonds with players and recruits have shown through to even the highest levels of national media.

“(Boynton) talked about the fact that Mike Boynton built a relationship one, two and three years with Cade Cunningham before he ever talked to Cannen (Cunningham) about being part of the staff,” Torres said. “I bring it up to say, I think he’s a guy that builds real relationships. He cares about the kids. He’s going to do what is best for the kids, and I think that was an important element of that too. We all saw his comments when all of this happened he said, ‘I didn’t recruit Cade for four years to not do what’s best for him.’”

Since Boynton took over the Cowboy program he has preached two phrases to OSU fans: “Let’s work” and “Commit to Excellence.”

Boynton and his team do just that.

“The fact Cade Cunningham decided to stay, Isaac Likekele and most all other except two have decided to stay or stay true to their commitment; it speaks to Boynton’s character, but not just that but it says about the infrastructure of the program,” Norlander said. “Oklahoma State is not a blue blood basketball school, they’re just not.

“It speaks to how sturdy and how encouraging an environment he has there in a short amount of time and is still continuing to build. Because he can not yet point to six NCAA Tournament appearances, two Sweet 16 runs or anything like that. Keeping the roster as is, shows really how strong the culture is at Oklahoma State."

sports.ed@ocolly.com