Eddie Sutton's Cowboys: A wonderful throwback

March 28, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

Of course they'll be shooting the moon Saturday when the NCAA tournament semifinals get under way in Seattle. But the thing is the lads from Oklahoma State wouldn't have it any other way.

They have been underdogs for a while now, to the top two seeds in the East Region, Wake Forest and Massachusetts, and were only pick 'em against Alabama (5). Didn't matter, the Cowboys just kept grinding it out, holding four opponents to an average of 55 points while scoring about 70 themselves.

UMass was restricted to 54 against O-State in an "Elite Eight" matchup Sunday when, usually, the slash and -- Minutemen have that many points by halftime. They were held to just 22 points after intermission because, as UMass coach John Calipari explained, "They beat us to every loose ball and rebound. That's how we win ballgames."

The play-hard, play-smart formula has been in vogue in Stillwater, Okla., forever, or at least going back to Henry Iba's taking up the basketball coaching job back in 1934. Iba's first team went 9-9 after having just one winning season the previous eight. Then the Cowboys didn't have another loser for 21 seasons.

It was the mid-'50s and maybe the reason for the 12-13 campaign was the inability to draw deadeye marksmen to a spot located almost equidistant between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, which is sometimes referred to as East Overshoe.

But Iba and his successors right up through the man calling the shots now, Eddie Sutton, never seemed to worry about where a kid came from; for instance, city championship teams in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other year-round hoop hotbeds.

Listen to the hometowns of the players making up the regular rotation while O-State was going 23-9 during the season and finishing runner-up to Kansas in the Big Eight before winning the conference tournament:

Gans, Edmond and Broken Bow, Okla.

Grenada, Miss.

West Fork, Ark.

Euless and Deer Park, Texas.

South Bend, Ind. South Bend, that's a city, ain't it?

And here's what Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, Scott Pierce and Jason Skaer listed for hobbies: Hunting and fishing, fishing and hunting. Skaer strums guitar, too. Terry Collins is a hurdler on the track team, Randy Rutherford plays tennis, Chianti Roberts collects funny books and "Big Country II," freshman John Nelson, 6-11 and 260 pounds, lists eating as his favorite pastime.

No pretention with these guys. What you see is what you get. Coach Sutton says to do something and there's no backtalk, just like when Coach Iba told him to do something between 1956-59. It's like Rutherford, the three-point bomber says, "We don't believe we're underdogs. It doesn't matter where you come from, just so long as you can play this game."

That's always been the credo of kids who have no idea what a subway looks like, what a parking meter is for and see no reason why a town should have need for more than one red light.

Long before hoops became known as "The City Game," it was practiced with great love and determination out in the wide-open spaces, and among the master coaches were Hank Iba, Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and "Phog" Allen (Kansas). In fact, despite back-to-back championships by Oklahoma A&M in 1945-46 (State's name then), Iba was better known as the man who always coached the United States to a gold medal in the Olympics, not as the man who coached his team to 655 victories, 13 conference titles and eight NCAA tourney appearances.

Picture it late Saturday afternoon at Seattle's Kingdome. Slick, smooth, pastel-clad No. 1 UCLA, the Bruins of past glory and John Wooden, looking dreamy as they flash through a two-lines drill. At the other end of the court, big, rugged, heavily-muscled farmboy types, perhaps gazing around in awe.

Hopefully, Coach Sutton will get his troops together following the team meal Thursday night for a viewing of the 9 o'clock movie on the USA Network. It's "Hoosiers," the 1986 epic about a basketball coach (Gene Hackman) who leaves the Navy in 1951 and becomes coach of an underdog Indiana high school team (Milan) that . . . (I don't want to give away the plot in the event the movie hasn't come to Broken Bow, Gans and West Fork yet).

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