In our Trippin' series, we're talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Check here for all Trippin' related stories.
Oklahoma State's trip to Europe was similar to trips taken by other programs in that the Cowboys mixed in basketball games wih sightseeing and visited a part of the world most players had never seen and might never see again.
But it was different in this way: No family allowed.
Travis Ford took coaches, managers, trainers and players.
No wives. No girlfriends. No children.
"My wife and kids weren't real happy with me, but I wanted it to be like a business trip," Ford said. "If my family would've gone I obviously would've spent time with them, but I wanted to spend all my time with my players."
And so he did.
The result was a trip to Barcelona and the Canary Islands that Ford deemed highly beneficial. Oklahoma State played four games and won four games against what Ford described as "good competition." He returned with his team last month. I talked to him about the trip. Here's what he said ...
What Ford learned on the trip: "I learned this is probably the most unselfish team I've had in terms of sharing the ball and playing together since the first team I had at Oklahoma State. Very unselfish. We were averaging 20 assists per game. Guys were really sharing the ball. They were extremely unselfish."
Who stood out: "Markell Brown led us in scoring with 18.4 points per game. He was 27 of 49 from the field, 10 of 18 from the 3-point line and eight of nine from the free throw line. Then he averaged two steals and had 11 assists and five turnovers in four games. So he was phenomenal."
The biggest concern going forward: "We have to learn to rebound. We are a long and athletic team, and sometimes we think we can just jump over everybody. But we have to be physical and start blocking out. We need to be physical around the rim."
- One of the interesting things Ford decided during the 10 practices leading up to the trip is that he's going to start heralded freshman Marcus Smart at point guard. "He's going to be our point guard," Ford said. "Defensively he's great because he sets the tone. And offensively he's really good because he's so unselfish. He can handle the ball and pass it, and we're doing some stuff where we can post him because he's just an animal down there. So, yeah, he can play off the ball. But most of the time we're playing him at point guard. He's our point."
- As I've detailed before, Smart was the star of USA Basketball's U-18 team that won gold in Brazil this summer, and Ford said the head coach of that team (Billy Donovan) couldn't stop talking about him during a phone call upon returning to the States. "I called Billy as soon as they got back," Ford said. "I was just checking to see how Marcus played and how Billy played him, and I couldn't get a word in for 45 minutes because all Billy wanted to do is talk about how great [Smart] was. He loved him, and it's been fun for me to coach him, too. All of our guys have just fallen in love with him. He's a great leader already. And if there's a loose ball he'll break somebody's shoulder trying to get to it. He just leads and plays so hard. Who does he remind me of? I don't know. He's just a lot of fun."
- Ford said senior center Phillip Jurick remains suspended after a marijuana arrest, but that he expects Jurick to rejoin the team "at some point." It also should be noted that Jurick is recovering from a torn Achilles' heel. Ford said doctors project Jurick to be cleared to participate by the start of official practice in October, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be a part of the Cowboys by then. In other words, we'll see.
- While coaches are typically hesitant to name a starting five in August (or September or October), Ford was not. He said his plan is to start Smart at point guard, Brown at shooting guard, Le'Bryan Nash at small forward, Brian Williams at power forward and Michael Cobbins in the middle. That means OSU will start two guards 6-3 or taller, and one junior, three sophomores and a freshman. "But all the sophomores played 28 minutes per game in conference last year," Ford said. "So we're young but experienced."
- Cezar Guerrero announced after the trip that he was transferring closer to his California home. He's now enrolled at Fresno State. On the surface, that's bad for the Cowboys because it cost them depth at the point guard position. But Ford seems to really like junior college transfer Kirby Gardner, which might be why he sounded unconcerned. "He's the truest point guard on our team," Ford said. "Strong as an ox. I like him because he brings experience. Just what the doctor ordered for us. He's what we needed."
- Kansas coach Bill Self is on record saying Oklahoma State has the Big 12's best roster and that he thinks the Cowboys will be a factor at the top of the league. I asked Ford about that prediction. "I hope he's right," Ford said with a laugh. "I just hope he's right."