End of an Era
1:50 PM EST on December 15, 2008
The summer of 2005 was huge for the Oklahoma State basketball program. After an unexpected Big XII title and run to the Final Four that came a Will Bynum miracle shot from making the championship game, the outlook for 2006 was just as bright. Despite the loss of Tony Allen as a first round pick of the Boston Celtics, the program returned the other four starters, and brought in Tar Heel cast off JamesOn Curry, the all time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history. Eddie Sutton's first national title was on the way.
Of course, that's not where the bulk of optimism was linked to for OSU fans. After years of belly aching about how Coach Sutton relied on junior college transfers or cast offs from other schools for talent, the Sutton recruiting team finally hit a stride. Parlaying the incredible results of 2004, the promise of a succession plan of Sean replacing Eddie (ending the competitor recruiters from scaring players that a Eddie's pending retirement would leave the player in the lurch), and an abundance of playing time available for the new recruits due to the team having seven seniors in 2005, the Cowboys got five of the top-100 high school seniors (including two McDonald's All-Americans) to sign letters of intent. To bolster the class, the basketball program signed three more JUCO All-Americans.
The internet message boards were loaded with fans pumping sunshine. Those anonymous commenters (I one of them) who usually find the most minuscule reason to bemoan the fate of their favorite team, were proclaiming how OSU was building a dynasty to close out the Eddie Sutton era and usher in the Sean Sutton era.
How wonderful those predictions turned out.
Four seasons later, the class of 2005 is entering their last season. Before it even hit campus, the jewel of the class, Gerald Green (ranked as the #1 recruit by most services) chose to enter the NBA draft rather than show up in Stillwater. His scholarship was subsequently handed to, arguably, the second best recruit the team sewed up, Keith Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh, who was named "Mr. Basketball" in Florida, was a troubled, but talented scorer with incredible length. Then, before he stepped foot on Gallagher-Iba's floor during a game, Brumbaugh was arrested shoplifting at the Stillwater Wal Mart. Then, it came to light that the ACT score that made Keith eligible to play had improved significantly over the other efforts he had made on the test. Unsurprisingly, the NCAA ruled him ineligible and Mr. Basketball was exiled to junior college.
Those that remained proved to be lacking the star power their recruiting rank suggested. Byron Eaton, the second best point guard recruit (behind Duke's Greg Paulus), showed up to campus looking more like an offensive lineman than a basketball player. Terrell Harris had the opposite problem. The lone center of the class, Kenny Cooper, was just as much of a project as the projects that fans had grown tired of bringing in. The final freshman of the class, Rodrick Flemings, committed the sin of playing like a freshman, and was banished to the bench.
The juco's were just as disappointing. Torre Johnson, played more like a playground baller who cherry picked on the offensive side of the floor, often failing to even attempt to join the rest of his team on defense. This did not go over well with defense, discipline, determination-minded Eddie Sutton. The only point guard in division one basketball who weighed more than Byron Eaton might have been Jamaal Brown. Finally, Mario Boggan was probably the best player on the team that season, but he was a selfish player who poisoned the locker room.
Here's a quick (for Clark Matthews) synopsis of this golden era of Cowboy basketball:
Freshman Year (2005-2006 Season):
Without Brumbaugh or Green to be the alpha scorer of the group, this Cowboy team often went through stretches that seemed like hours without scoring. The Sophomore slump of JamesOn Curry exacerbated the problem.
Mario Boggan, a 6'6" power forward, and naturally the after thought of the recruiting class, was the best player on the team. Of course, his effectiveness was generally limited to the five minutes a game he played without being in foul trouble.
The root of the problem was probably the point guard play. While Jamaal Brown trudged around in his roly poly way and grabbed his knees during play stoppages like the middle aged smokers who try to re-live their glory days in The Lighthouses' rec league, Byron Eaton spent more time tracking down the headband he refused to pull all the way onto his head than helping teammates score. The Mickey D's all american ended the season with 116 turnovers, compared to 104 assists and, I'm convinced, was the number one catalyst behind Eddie Sutton's return to the bottle.
Oh yeah, that happened during this season, too. On Friday, February 10th, Sutton headed to the airport to catch a flight to College Station. Before heading to the car, though, he polished off a bottle of, I will just assume, scotch to help him down some codeine. Then he drove something like 80 mph through Stillwater, a town that rarely allows cars to go more than thirty and plowed into some (temporarily) poor, unsuspecting lady. By Monday, the Eddie Sutton, sixteen years of glory for OSU, was over.
The team ended the season 17-15 after a loss in the first round of the NIT. Rodrick Flemings didn't last that long. He quit the team during the Big XII tournament.
SOPHOMORE YEAR (2006-2007)
This was the first official season of the Sean Sutton experience, or as Patrick refers to it: "The Golden Era of Unintentional Comedy at Oklahoma State." Coach Sean, as the players called him, was designated as the successor to his father Eddie two years before taking the reigns. This unorthodox approach was designed to avoid a rough transition. Like the best laid plans of mice and men, this was a complete cluster****.
The players who were supposed to take heart that no major shift in playing dynamic would take place spazzed out just like every other team who has a coaching change. Torre Johnson was dismissed from the team during the off season and Jamaal Brown was asked to leave before the first game. The team's other two seniors, David Monds and Mario Boggan, were distractions for the entire season.
Somehow, this all started out promising. When Big XII play started, the team was 14-1 with their only loss a two point heart breaker against Tennessee. (Yes, at one point Sean Sutton's winning percentage as head coach was .933.) Things rapidly deteriorated. Despite four wins in their first six conference games, including a classic win over Texas and a Bedlam victory, the Cowboys ended near the bottom of the Big XII standings at 6-10. Two wins in the conference tournament were not enough to get them into the Big Dance, and the season ended with another first round loss in the NIT.
With the graduation of Mario Boggan, all the JUCO players from the recruiting class of 2005 were gone. His final contribution for the team was getting ejected in the closing moments during one of the team's few late season victories. During the NIT game, he watched the entire second half from the bench.
JamesOn Curry also chose to get out of Dodge by entering the NBA draft a year early.
JUNIOR YEAR (2007-2008)
When school started in the Fall, Kenny Cooper had become another casualty of the 2005 class. Supposedly homesick, the big man did not show up for class and only Byron Eaton and Terrell Harris remained from the class that was going to usher in the OSU basketball dynasty.
And don't let the team's 10-5 non-conference record deceive you, they stunk. Among the five losses was a blowout against Sean's brother's Scott's Oral Roberts team. The wins included such dominating performances as the five point win against Texas-Arlington and a dozen point differential against Texas-San Antonio. Conference play brought the real carnage.
After somehow beating Texas Tech by nineteen to open Big XII play, the Cowboys then rattled off six straight losses and lost seven of their next eight. The calls for Sean's job were deafening.
Before Boone could give the thumbs down, though, something incredible happened. Byron Eaton suddenly became the player everyone expected. The Cowboys stopped trying to play a running offense. Instead, they ran an offense consisting of Eaton dribbling for the first thirty seconds of the shot clock. Then, in the closing seconds, Eaton would drive to the basket and either make a tough shot, get fouled (sometimes both) or pass to an open teammate. And it worked. The Cowboys managed a five game winning streak before closing out Big XII play with two unembarrassing losses to OU and Texas.
Many felt that Coach Sean had turned a corner and figured out the secret to success. Even Athletic Director Mike Holder assumed the team would be a tournament team in 2008-2009. So he did what anyone expecting major improvement would do. He axed Sean before it would be impossible to fire him.
SENIOR YEAR (2008-2009):
On the third coach of their tenure and learning a new offense geared toward players with entirely different skill sets, Eaton and Terrell Harris close out their OSU careers playing on a team that starts a four guard line up and counts on a 5'9" freshman who played 2A Oklahoma high school basketball last season for any hope of success. Their careers are not unremarkable because really this has been the most tortuous span of time to be a fan of the program and it coincides with the time frame we as fans expected to be spoiled by amazing success.
In closing, a rundown of the players who did not make it to this point:
Gerald Green: Was drafted with the #17 pick in the 2005 draft by the Boston Celtics. Described by many scouts as a Tracy McGrady clone, Green had been projected to be the #2 pick, but refused to tryout for the Portland Trail Blazers who held that pick and free fell. Boston felt they got a steal by picking him up 15 selections later, but Doc Rivers (a guy criticized for having too large of a player rotation) could not find minutes for Green. He was traded to Minnesota as an after thought in the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. Minnesota couldn't use him either and waived him near the end of the 2007-2008 season. Green's hometown team, the Houston Rockets, gave him a shot in the closing month of the season, but he was cut again a few days later. This season, the Dallas Mavericks signed him and have actually started him ten times in the first sixteen games of the season.
Brumbaugh's life post Stillwater was a lot like his life in Stillwater. Arrested for shoplifting and kicked out of school for academic dishonesty while at OSU, during the next year of his life, Brumbaugh had some more problems. He was kicked out of Chipola Community College for marijuana possession. In all, he was arrested six times over a thirty month period, with crimes including grand theft auto.
As is the case with most players who have incredible talent, though, Brumbaugh was given another chance at Hillsbrough Community College where he averaged around 40 points per game and entered the 2008 NBA draft. He was not drafted, but was signed by a team in Turkey.
After sitting out a year, Johnson re-surfaced at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he was leading the team in scoring and rebounding when he was suspended from the team after punching a woman in the mouth.
Originally transferred to North Texas, but likely because of tampering accusations leveled at the Mean Green, ended up in Junior College. Currently a junior according to eligibility, Flemings is now the leading scorer for the Rainbow Warriors of Hawai'i.
Supposedly left OSU for homesickness and the Monroe, LA native is now closer to his mommy by playing for Louisiana Tech. He is averaging 13.8 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Bulldogs.