This is a team that would be a joy to find among the Final Four next spring. The Sooners have a witty coach in Billy Tubbs, college basketball's friendliest superstar in Wayman Tisdale and an entertaining, fast-break style.
But can Oklahoma get there?
Guaran-damn-tee you they can, son, as Tubbs might say. But before they do, they're going to have to start playing a little D. "Well, I don't know about that," drawls Tubbs, flashing his Jack Nicholson grin. "I judge defense differently than most people. The way I see it, we were the third-best defensive team in America last year."
In a way—his way—he may be right. The Sooners averaged 86.9 points per game last season, third best in the country, but they also had the third-highest average victory margin, 14.3 points, after Georgetown and North Carolina. The only problem was that when Oklahoma had to stop someone—namely Roosevelt Chapman of Dayton in the NCAA West regional—it couldn't. The high Flyer went for 41 points, and the Sooners crashed 89-85. Oklahoma players say they're concentrating more on defense this season, and even Tubbs concedes he would like to get his opponents' scoring average down into the 60s from last year's 72.6. "But, basically, we're still a team that can outscore you," says Tubbs. A maniacal grin appears. "I like to crush people."
Most of the crushing, as usual, will be done by the splendiferous left hand of junior center Tisdale; it's the one with which he releases his soft turnaround jump shot from the paint, which might be the prettiest sight in the college game. But can he be the dominant big man Oklahoma will need to win the national title? Though he's usually listed as 6'9", Tisdale is really only 6'7½" barefoot, and he's the Sooners' tallest starter. In Tubbs's man-to-man defense he'll have to guard bigger people, like Efrem Winters of Illinois and Jon Koncak of SMU. And can anyone really imagine Tisdale keeping Patrick Ewing off the boards if the Sooners and Georgetown meet in the NCAAs? "I can imagine Wayman doing anything," says Tubbs. "I've already promised him a shot at point guard when we're 50 ahead."
Tisdale has scored 1,729 points in his first two college seasons, and don't forget who led the U.S. Olympic team in rebounding—Wonderful Wayman with 6.4 boards per game. Coach Bob Knight even taught him to set picks. "I mean nasty ones," says guard Tim McCalister. Tubbs's gag this preseason was to go to the blackboard and draw Tisdale furiously running from one spot to another, setting picks for his teammates and never once posting up and looking for the ball.
Olympic references are frequent among the Sooners. "I've been talking about Michael [Jordan] a lot, I guess," says Tisdale with a smile. For instance: Forward-center David Johnson does a reverse stuff during a drill. "Michael! Michael!" shout several of his teammates. "Stick your tongue out, D.J.!" Junior Shawn Clark, a 6'2" guard who tied with Tisdale in Tubbs's jumping test—they both touched the backboard 11'9" from the floor-gets Tisdale's highest accolade: "Shawn reminds me of Michael."
And Clark, who came off the bench to score 37 points against Arizona State last season, might not even start. More important to the Sooners' destiny is McCalister, who averaged 16.1 points a game in '83-84 as one of the nation's top freshmen. McCalister was hampered by a stress fracture in his right shin during the final six weeks and has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left knee twice in the last six months. His status is iffy, but, says one Sooner, "If he can breathe, he'll play."
Anthony Bowie, a 6'6" swingman, was perhaps the second-most-coveted junior-college player in the nation after St. John's Walter Berry. "People will get to know him real fast," says Tisdale. Another top all-juco transfer, Linwood Davis, got off to a slow start in practice, but may now be ready to take over at the point in Oklahoma's one-guard offense.
Oklahoma's success will also depend on how much scoring and rebounding help it can get from the 238-pound Johnson, who was slowed during the preseason by two badly sprained ankles, and 6'5" Darryl (Choo) Kennedy. But the presence of Tisdale alone should carry the Sooners through the Big Eight. And where there's a Way-man, there just might be a will to win it all, too.
Tisdale can now do some nasty pickin'.