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October 17, 2007

Sean Sutton


PETER IRWIN: We're now joined by Sean Sutton from Oklahoma State. Welcome, Coach. Make an opening comment or two and then we'll take some questions.
SEAN SUTTON: It's good to be here. I had a chance last night to go over to the College Basketball Experience and it was a great experience and one that -- I visited with Tim Allen last night. I think every team when they make the trip to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament ought to have an opportunity to look at the history of the college game. It's amazing the things that were inside that building. It's very fascinating to see so many of the great players and great coaches that have made this sport one of the most popular sports in the United States.
I didn't get a chance to see everything. And I did not get a chance to stick my head inside the Sprint Center, but from the outside it's one of the most impressive looking arenas that I've ever seen. So I think always playing a tournament in Kansas City is a great venue. It's always been a lot of fun. I know that our teams and our fans have always enjoyed coming up here. So it will be exciting to come back. I think the last time we were here I believe we were fortunate to have won that tournament. Hopefully we will play as well this time. But always a great venue and always special to come back to Kansas City.

Q. Talk about you personally, especially the last month and a half of the season last year how that has -- I don't know whether it's a group process, how that's affected you this season and how it affected you going into the offseason?
SEAN SUTTON: I think I'm always motivated going into any season. And that probably hasn't changed much, the fact the way that season ended. Maybe I'm a little extra motivated, a little more energized, especially with these early-season practices. But this is a big year for our program. We take a lot of pride in what we've been able to accomplish at Oklahoma State.
We won 57 games the two previous years before these last two seasons, which was the most in college basketball outside of Duke and Illinois. And then the season where we won 17 games and had some things that happened in the course of that season that were challenging and tough to overcome.
Last year we were a little limited from the start and got off to an unbelievable start, 15-1, 18-3. And then pretty well documented what happened after that. We stopped improving. Obi's injury played a factor in that. But we did not have the type of practice sessions that you had to have in January and February to improve your team, and ultimately college basketball has come to what happens in the postseason. Ultimately that's how you're going to be judged. If you make the NCAA tournament you've had a good year. The deeper you go you've had a good year. The Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, those are special seasons. So I think the non-conference portion of your schedule is always important, because you want to build your RPI, but the end result is what happens over here in March because that's what people are going to remember and ultimately that's how teams are being judged. That's how coaches are being judged. That's just kind of what college basketball has developed into.
But with the situations that happened over the offseason, I've spent a lot of time talking about this, that's something that's not going to be tolerated in our program. We've always taken great pride in our players doing the right things, conducting themselves in a first-class manner. And we had some guys that, quite frankly, used some really poor judgment. And it's unfortunate because all three of those guys had worked their tails off all summer. They had been in the gym in the morning at 6:00 shooting jump shots, in the weight room getting stronger. But they made those decisions and as a coach you can't be with them 24 hours a day. But ultimately you're responsible for your players actions and I know that. And I've never shied away from that.
My point to them is that we're not having this. This is it. This is not going to happen again. The next time it happens that person is out the door. Just because through the years we have spent so much time trying to educate our players to take a strong pride in what it means to play at Oklahoma State. And the guys here in the past have done such a great job building our program, we win basketball games, we go to class, we graduate, we stay out of trouble off the court and go on after we leave Oklahoma State, you either go on to the NBA or go on to a successful type of business. So those actions, they're not going to be tolerated at all. And to me, personally, it was very embarrassing. I'm going to work hard to make sure none of that ever, ever happens again.

Q. You were an assistant to your dad starting in '94. What was that like? What did you experience? What do you think being the head coach?
SEAN SUTTON: Well, I don't think I was as good as when we were 15-1 and everyone thought this guy is pretty good. But I also don't think I was at bad when we were going in that tail spin, just struggling there at the end. But that's -- I should have known. That's athletics, and that's fans sometimes. But I think you learn a lot the first time you go through something. I felt like I had done a lot of things and probably was about as prepared to take over a team as any assistant coach. And early it was a pretty smooth transition. You had to get rid of a couple of players over there which put us in a situation where we did not have the type of depth that we needed. And as a result our practices were not as competitive as they needed to be.
And then Obi's injury occurred, that certainly hurt us. I think the biggest thing is you have to learn on the job. You have to learn going through it. There were some things that I thought I was prepared for that really wasn't. And this year will be easier. I'll be better this year than I was last year and hopefully next year I'll be better than I was this year, just like with anybody in their profession. You learn from the mistakes that are made. And most importantly you learn from going through and having to make those decisions. There's times where it was a lot of fun and there were times where it really wasn't a lot of fun. But that's part of college basketball.

Q. You talked a little bit about some of the discipline concerns and I know you're at a school that's had some coaches, including your father, that were renowned for keeping that. At the same time chances are that they were getting kids that were getting more of that lesson at home, from high school coaches and earlier in life. Do you think it's more of a challenge now to get some of those messages across to an 18-year-old that's been a high school starter, been told his whole life how great he is, and he can do whatever he wants?
SEAN SUTTON: Well, there are a lot of things that go into recruiting. One of the things that we've always tried to do, and I think that will help answer your question, for eight years we didn't have any problems off the court. Eight years. And that's unheard of. In eight years not one situation. Our guys were graduating. We went to eight straight NCAA tournaments during that time. We played a Final Four. We played in an Elite 8. We played in a Sweet 16. But we recruited kids that were not only great players, but we did a great job of really evaluating the type of people they were, the type of character looking at their home situation. We went through two recruiting classes because we were losing Joey and Steven Graham, John Lucas, Ivan McFarland, guys that fit exactly what I'm talking about, that had been raised right, good people, responsible, very accountable in their actions. And we made some mistakes and misjudged some character.
And sometimes as a coach you can get fooled into thinking you can get everybody turned around. We had a player like Tony Allen who came in, and Tony was not sane by any means when he got to Oklahoma State. But it didn't take long for him to realize that if I listen and do these things then I've got a chance to be successful here. And he had been told his entire life that he was not very smart, he wasn't a very good student, and we got him with Marilyn Middlebrook, and Amy, her daughter, and they started working with him. He went to class, met his tutors, and the first semester grades came in and he got 3.0. There was another semester, 3.0.
Now everything about his mental side in terms of academics have changed. And hey, I am smart, I can do this. And all of a sudden he gets his degree. He goes four semesters with a 3.0, all four semesters. You see a guy like Tony, if he can do it, we ought to take this kid and do the same thing. Not all kids are the same.
And so there were a couple of situations where we just missed. And I told my staff, we can't have that anymore. We've got to do a better job evaluating them as players. We've got to go back and be -- do just as much evaluating the type person they are, where they hang out, what they like to do, are there any bad habits we need to know about, because if there are, we're cutting them loose now. Are they going to go to class? Are they going to take school seriously? Those are the type of kids we want in our program.
So I guess there's been a renewed commitment from my staff, from me to my staff, that we want to get back to recruiting good players, but also guys that have a lot of character and guys that are interested in improving their game and doing well in school and staying for the right things, just like the guys that we've had here in the past. I'll say this about this group, the group we have in right now, I think reflects groups we've had in the past.

Q. I was going to ask you if this fit those parameters, from what you've seen of their talent and their ability to contribute soon? What do you know or do you know who your players are out of this class yet?
SEAN SUTTON: Well, we've got good guards right now. We've had some guys hurt, so that hasn't helped. We haven't had our entire collection of players out there yet. But I like this team's potential. I think they're a group that has been very good about listening. They've been very good about getting out and working hard and made a strong commitment to play defense. They've made a strong commitment to take care of the basketball.
Now individually we've got to get certain guys playing better. We don't have any experience, any experience on our front court. Not one guy there that's ever played a minute in the Big 12. And I'm a little concerned with those guys because when we're doing a rebounding drill and I throw it up and I've got five guys boxing out five guys, I'm trying to miss, sometimes it goes in. So I'm just saying I make a couple a day, when we're in that segment. And that's more than those three guys make together all day. So that's a concern of mine (laughter). So they've been getting a lot of attention. But I think they'll do fine in terms of defending and rebounding. And early that's what we have to have if they're going to have that and they have to know what we're doing, that we're not making mistakes to beat ourselves. But at some point out of the three, Anthony Brown, Martavius Adams, Ibrahima Thomas, we've got to get points out of them. I still don't know what's realistic yet. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll be able to put a number out there what those three guys will be able to combine and get from a point standpoint and a rebounding standpoint, but we're not there yet.
PETER IRWIN: Thanks very much. We appreciate it and have a great season.

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