KANSAS CITY, Mo., — The Oklahoma State Cowboys will be challenged in more ways than one this season. Forget that the Big 12 is the best basketball conference in America. Forget the fact that Kansas has won 12 straight Big 12 championships, and this might be their best team yet. All of that is important, but for Oklahoma State, continuity and leadership could be the anecdote to successfully overcome those other-worldly obstacles.
Head coach Brad Underwood is just over seven months into his tenure as the new Oklahoma State head coach, and is embracing his new role for the Cowboys.
New to Stillwater, he has spoken constantly about the home-town feel of his new home. He has raved about the tradition at Oklahoma State, and today, he spoke of what Gallagher-Iba Arena means to him during his media press conference this morning at Big 12 Media Day.
“I still get goosebumps on and the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I walk into Gallagher-Iba Arena every day ... I’ve always said that Gallagher-Iba Arena is one of the elite basketball arenas in the country, and that excites me,” Underwood said.
Underwood also spoke with admiration about the players who have bought in to the system in the coaching transition throughout the offseason:
“Our guys are both feet in. They’re committed. Understanding how hard you have to work, understanding the nuances of a new offensive and defensive scheme, all those things take time ... We’ve got good kids and we’ve got really good guys who are trying every day to be successful,” Underwood said.
One of those guys who finds himself two-feet in is fifth-year senior, Phil Forte. He is the only fifth-year player on the team, and one of two seniors on the team. As such, he has quickly earned the respect of his head coach. Underwood spoke about Forte’s widely-respected work ethic today, saying:
“I don’t know how any coach could be luckier than what I am to have a guy that works so hard every day at his craft ... Here’s a guy who shoots 600 balls a day. No matter what our practice schedule is, this guy works. He’s committed and dedicated his life to be the best he can be at it,” Underwood said.
Forte sat out the majority of last season due to injury, but is healthy and prepared for the season. A seasoned veteran, and the most experienced player for the Cowboys, he now finds himself thrust into a leadership role this season. Underwood says he has embraced that, and it’s rubbing off on the younger players in the program.
“We have a group of freshman that I’m extremely excited about. Part of that reason is because of Phil and the work that he has shown them how you have to be successful ... To have a fifth-year senior, to have a guy who’s had the career he’s had, I want more than anything for him to have the senior year that he is deserving of,” Underwood said.
Forte understands quite well what it is like to be a freshman in a new place. He came in as a freshman in 2012 with Marcus Smart, and now he’s the last remaining player from that team. His leadership role is something he’s new to, but is prepared for by the players that helped him through the same situation.
“I’m trying to teach them anything I can, whether it’s on the court or off the court. I’ve been in their shoes before. I remember when I came in, Markel [Brown] was that way for me. I remember how overwhelming it can be. When you first get here in summer there’s class, then there’s the first practice, ... then conference play starts. There’s so much that goes on that first year. I just try to help them any way I can and help build that culture that Coach Underwood wants,” Forte said.
Stick with CRFF as we will be bringing you live coverage from Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City all afternoon.