Two years ago Oklahoma was sitting in college basketball heaven. They had the most exciting player in the nation, Blake Griffin, they were a number two seed in the NCAA tournament, and had a stable of high-ranking recruits on the way. Jeff Capel was in position to contend with the Big 12 elite for a number of years.
Then it all fell apart when Griffin left. All those stars next to Capel’s prized recruits turned out to mean nothing. The team had bad chemistry, couldn’t work together, and fell apart completely. They finished the 2009-2010 season with a 13-18 record, including a 4-12 conference mark.
To make it worse (or at least that’s how it seemed at the time), former five-star recruit, and the team’s leading scorer, Willie Warren, left for the NBA. So did freshman Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon. Suddenly, a bad team was left without its three most talented players. Everyone expected this season to be the new low for Capel and the Sooners, and legitimate questions about his ability to succeed without Blake Griffin arose.
Now though, Capel has his team flying high. After winning their last four conference games, they sit at third place in the Big 12 standings. Sure, these four wins have come against the bottom teams in the conference, but OU was supposed to be THE bottom team. Capel deserves a lot of credit for turning the Sooners around, and doing it so quickly.
What is most impressive to me is the way he’s developed some of his players. Sure he had trouble developing a lot more talent last year, but as time goes on it is clear Capel never really had a chance with them. He’s helped Andrew Fitzgerald turn into the team’s leading scorer. Cameron Clark, just a freshman is making huge strides. He’s now the team’s horse, playing a ton of minutes, and rewarding Capel with a solid performance nearly every game.
Last year, Oklahoma had a ton of talent, and probably should have competed for the Big 12 title. The blame for that belongs to Capel, though he should be blamed more for recruiting knuckleheads, not for his inability to reach them. He’s showing this season that he is a very good coach, one that will have OU back competing at the top of the conference in no time.
This is his finest coaching job yet, and while OU is still going to be no better than .500 in conference play, that is an insane improvement over their projected finish.