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It was the summer of much content in Norman, Okla. First there
was Ryan Minor, the Big Eight Player of the Year last year,
extolling the virtues of staying in school. Then there was
Kelvin Sampson, Oklahoma's coach, making like a traffic cop as
he directed recruit after top recruit into the Sooner state.

"It really was a good summer," says Minor, who passed up the NBA
draft to return for his senior year. "We have a great recruiting
class coming in. And we'll have plenty of motivation from the
Manhattan loss."

The Manhattan loss. Those three words have been lodged in
Minor's throat since Oklahoma's 77-67 upset loss to the Jaspers
in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Sooners, who went
23-9 and finished third in the Big Eight, headed into the
Manhattan game as the fourth seed in the Southeast Region but
drowned in a flood of poor shooting and questionable calls.

Even before that game Minor had weighed his future. The 6'7"
forward averaged 23.6 points and 8.4 rebounds last season, and
he most likely would have been a mid- to late-first-round pick
in the NBA draft. In the end the diploma proved mightier than
the dollar.

"I really wanted to graduate and get my degree in sociology,"
says Minor. "Plus I'm from Oklahoma, and I felt like I wasn't
ready to leave college yet."

Sampson, who won a number of national coach of the year awards
last season, certainly won't be leaving Oklahoma anytime soon.
Last season was his first with the Sooners--after seven years at
Washington State--and he had his work cut out for him, taking
over a team that had just failed to win 20 games for the first
time in 12 seasons and that, other than Minor, seemed short on
talent. Sampson promptly implemented a rigorous preseason
conditioning program, figuring that if his guys couldn't outplay
opponents, they could outlast them.

One problem: Three players quit because of the stiff workouts.
But then came Sampson's astute coaching, whereby he gave gunners
like Minor the go-ahead to shoot at will, and a hail of
accolades followed. "We played well because we played
scared--scared that we weren't really that good," Sampson says.
"I'm going to try to make sure the novelty doesn't wear off this

Minor knows no fear, but Sampson should be able to send chills
through the rest of the Sooners, who have only four players and
two starters returning. The key will be whether Dion Barnes, a
6'1" senior point guard, and Ernie Abercrombie, a 6'4" junior
forward, can step up their scoring enough to help loosen the
defensive noose of double teams thrown at Minor.

Sampson also has three of the most highly regarded junior
college players in the country. The most important one is Nate
Erdmann, a 6'5" shooting guard from Hutchinson (Kans.) Community
College, who had previously played for Sampson at Washington

The new talent should give Sampson a chance to kick back every
now and then. And when he does, you can bet he won't be
thinking about that Manhattan loss.

--Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP/SCHWARTZMAN SPORTS The return of Minor is a major boost. [Overhead view of Ryan Minor and others under basket]


Coach: Kelvin Sampson
Career record: 199-156 (12 seasons)
Record at Oklahoma: 23-9 (1 season)
1994-95 record: 23-9 (final ranking: none)
Big Eight record: 9-5 (third)


SF *Ryan Minor, 6'7", Sr.
Leading scorer in 26 of 32 games in '94-95

PF *Ernie Abercrombie, 6'4", Jr.
Built like cousin Walter of the NFL

C Jason Yanish, 6'11", Sr.
Shot 51% but averaged just 4.0 ppg

SG Nate Erdmann, 6'5", Jr.
Played for Sampson at Washington State

PG Dion Barnes, 6'1", Sr.
Averaged 11.0 ppg as reserve last season

*returning starter


Dec. 9 at Purdue
First scheduled Big Ten foe since Michigan in '88

Jan. 15 at Missouri
Lost 83-81 in OT at Columbia last season

Jan. 22 at Kansas
Knocked Jayhawks from No. 1 last Feb. 20

Feb. 5 vs. Oklahoma State
Held Minor to 15 points last Jan. 16

March 2 vs. Kansas
Big Eight title at stake?