Key Losses: F Johnnie Gilbert (3.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), G Drew Lavender (9.7 ppg, 3.2 apg), G Lawrence McKenzie (9.5 ppg, 1.0 spg), G Jaison Williams (6.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Postseason: NCAA: Defeated Niagara 84–67, lost to Utah 67–58 in the second round
San Diego, CA/Transfer from UC Riverside
Oklahoma City, OK/Oklahoma Christian School
Amarillo, TX/Palo Duro
Mesquite, TX/Lon Morris (TX) College
Sacramento, CA/San Joaquin Delta (CA) College
Carter, a transfer from UC-Riverside, drew rave reviews for his performances during practices while sitting out last year. He should help immediately. Neal, a junior college All-America, will be counted on to step in at guard; he shot almost 41 percent from 3-point range last year. Walker might fill OU's need at the point. Johnson is the leading scorer in Amarillo history -- the city, not the high school. Griffin averaged 18.9 points and 10.1 rebounds en route to winning state Player of the Year honors as a senior at Oklahoma Christian.
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Forgive Kelvin Sampson if he's pretty darn excited about the possibilities for this year's Oklahoma team.
The Sooners, after all, return four starters from a unit that won a share of the Big 12 championship. The top three scorers and rebounders return, including 2005 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Taj Gray. And Sampson believes the addition of several talented newcomers will more than offset the loss of guards Drew Lavender and Lawrence McKenzie, who transferred out, as well as two senior reserves.
Unlike last season, when they were picked fourth in the Big 12's preseason poll, the Sooners are one of the league favorites. Sampson doesn't shy from the expectations.
"This team has the potential to be really good," Sampson says. "Our goal is the same as it is every year. We want to win the Big 12 Conference."
Gray and Kevin Bookout give Oklahoma one of the league's most imposing frontcourts. At 6-foot-9, Gray is a bit of a tweener -- not quite a power forward, not quite a small forward. But his offensive skills and his defensive presence give OU a formidable weapon inside. Gray earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after leading the Sooners in scoring (14.6 ppg), rebounding (8.2 rpg) and blocked shots (1.8 bpg).
Bookout (6-8, 259 pounds) is a throwback postman. His back to the basket play is reminiscent of another era, and his mass makes him tough to move. That combination allowed Bookout to average 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 59.2 percent from the field last season.
A key addition is Nate Carter, a 6-6, 220-pound junior who sat out last season after transferring from UC-Riverside. Carter was named the Big West Freshman of the Year in 2003. He can also play guard, but he will likely spend more time at the 4.
"Nate's strength is his strength," Sampson says. "Pound for pound, he's the strongest player on the team. He's just a bull."
OU would like more from 6-11 Longar Longar. In limited duty last year, the still-raw center averaged 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds. Freshman Taylor Griffin will also get a chance in what appears to be a crowded frontcourt.
OU lost two members of a ballyhooed recruiting class when Lavender and McKenzie transferred. But Terrell Everett and David Godbold both return after making key contributions last season.
Everett was a consistent threat despite playing out of position at the point. He led OU with 5.0 assists per game and ranked second on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg), and third in rebounding (4.8 rpg). "He's so versatile," Sampson says. "He's good at everything. He's got a good I.Q., he sees the floor, he's a good passer, he gets to the rim, he gets to the free-throw line."
Though Godbold's numbers weren't flashy, he demonstrated the kind of hard-nosed versatility Sampson prizes. As a sophomore, he'll be counted on for even more.
Michael Neal, a junior college All-America, brings a long-range offensive threat the Sooners lacked a year ago. And Chris Walker, another junior college transfer, will be given every chance to win the point guard's position shared last year by Everett and Lavender.
Austin Johnson was a prolific scorer in high school and might be the Sooners' most athletic guard, but he'll have to find a role among the more experienced guards.
OU surprised many last year by winning a share of the Big 12 regular -eason crown. The '05-06 Sooners might end up being Sampson's best -- surpassing the teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in recent years.
But even though the Sooners return the nucleus from a year ago, several talented newcomers must mesh quickly if OU is to reach its potential. Sampson's goals for the Sooners are simple but ambitious.
"We'd like to win the Big 12 again," says Sampson. "Then advance in the NCAA tournament as far as we can."
Make no mistake, the coach believes that this year's Sooners have enough to advance a long way come March.