MARK HAYES: No hiding his Hall-of-Fame success

    Mark Hayes won a 10-year tour exemption for his victory at the 1977 Tournament Players' Championship. (PGA Tour images)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor

    June 22, 2017

    After hiding himself underneath the familiar Amana “bucket” hat that became his signature, Mark Hayes no longer can avoid the acknowledgement he richly deserves.

    One of the greatest junior players in state history, who went on to notable collegiate, amateur, and the PGA Tour accomplishments, Hayes will become a member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame during the Oct. 1 induction ceremony at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.

    Hayes came from an athletic lineage. His father, Larry Sr., was a gifted athlete and played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Henry P. Iba at Oklahoma A&M (1945-46; 1947-49). Larry was a member of the 1946 NCAA championship team and the national runner-up team in 1949, which is the same year Mark was born.

    Larry taught all four of his sons – Larry Jr., Mark, Jim and Dan – how to play golf. Mark and Larry Jr. started at age 6 and 7, respectively. Hayes’ parents were both educators who received their doctorates from OSU so the family moved between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. In Stillwater, Mark started competing in tournaments against older kids at age 10. He remained unbeaten until age 12 when he finally experienced defeat, though only occasionally.

    For the better part of a decade, Hayes essentially served as the measuring stick for other in-state junior golfers.

    It was about age 12 when Hayes came under the tutelage of Oklahoma State golf coach and 2016 HOF inductee Labron Harris Sr. Around this same time, Hayes convinced another 12-year-old from Stillwater to take up golf. That kid was Doug Tewell, a fellow 2017 Oklahoma Golf HOF inductee who was born just 47 days after Hayes arrived on July 12, 1949. Hayes and Tewell quickly became lifelong friends/rivals.

    Tewell said he measured himself as a golfer by how well he fared against Hayes. “I think playing against Mark meant everything for my career,” Tewell said with sincerity. “We all need somebody like that who we chase, so to speak. It’s kind of like two quarterbacks – the starter and the guy who wants to start. Mark set the bar. He was so much better than the rest of us. I wanted to beat him worse than anybody, yet we were friends. I’m not sure we really knew we were rivals.”

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    DOUG TEWELL: Finds his sport, then finds the Hall of Fame

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor

    June 21, 2017

    Doug Tewell freely admits “golf just wasn’t on my radar” when he was 12 years old. He was far too busy playing football, baseball and basketball in his hometown of Stillwater in those days.

    Tewell played center in football, was a first baseman in baseball and a “benchwarmer” in basketball. “I thought my future might be in baseball,” Tewell said. “I could hit.”

    However, Tewell’s athletic journey took an entirely new path when he suffered a concussion at age 12 while playing football on Lewis Field. “My parents said, ‘That’s it for you. No more football,’ ” Tewell said. “Dad said, ‘You ought to start playing golf with me.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it and see.’ It was hard to quit all those other sports because in those days there was a lot of peer pressure to play football, basketball and baseball. Here I was joining the minor sports brigade.”

    Tewell wasn’t a complete stranger to golf, having already served as his father’s caddie. Turns out Tewell also could swing the clubs rather than just carry them. He played the game well, and it didn’t take long to discover this. “I got pretty good at it quickly because on my 13th birthday I went and played my first ever golf tournament in Okmulgee,” Tewell recalled. “I tied for second with a guy named Mark Hayes. I won the playoff.”

    Born in Baton Rouge, La., Tewell moved to Stillwater at age 11. While Tewell dove head-first into mainstream sports, Hayes began playing golf at age 6 and had become somewhat of a prodigy by the time he was 12, frequently beating older players.

    A fellow member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame class, Hayes was born roughly seven weeks before Tewell in the summer of 1949. They were in the same class while attending school, and they’ll be in the same class as HOF inductees on Oct. 1 at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.

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    Those closest to Bob Stoops share their keen insight

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 12, 2017

    Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.

    Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.

    A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.

    "It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."

    The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.

    "We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."

    Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.

    "Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."

    A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.

    “By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”

    Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.

    "Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"

    Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.

    "I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."

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    OU's deep pitching staff clinches another NCAA crown

    Junior lefthander Paige Lowary (14) helped give Patty Gasso her deepest pitching staff in 23 seasons as OU's softball coach.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 7, 2017

    Before her team began its quest to defend its 2016 NCAA crown, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew she potentially had the deepest pitching staff in her 23 seasons at OU.

    Final proof came Tuesday night when the Sooners edged Florida, 5-4, to sweep the best-of-three Championship Series at the Women's College World Series, capturing their second straight national title and their third crown in the last five seasons.

    OU's Hall of Fame coach began smiling last summer when left-handed flame-thrower Paige Lowary decided to transfer from Missouri and would have two years of eligibility with the powerhouse Sooners.

    Also arriving at OU for the 2017 season were freshmen pitchers Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and Melanie Olmos. With the arrival of this foursome, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker, who worked 59.0 percent (252.1) of her team's total innings in 2016, instantaneously had some teammates to lean on, which explains why her workload this season dipped to 43.6 percent (210.1 of 482.2 total innings).

    How apropos the Sooners claimed their fourth NCAA title under Gasso by outdueling a Gators pitching staff that led the nation with a miniscule team ERA of 0.74 this season and featured the national player of the year in Kelly Barnhill.

    Both pitching staffs were thinned out considerably the previous night in Game One, a 7-5 Sooners victory that required 17 innings, five hours and 28 minutes and 495 total pitches.

    Under these trying circumstances, Gasso knew there was a good chance her team might be able to clinch the title pitching by committee, and that's precisely what happened.

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    Sooners turn the Paige (twice) in epic WCWS Game 1

    OU pitcher Paige Lowary (middle) celebrates her team's 7-5 victory in 17 innings over Florida in Game 1 of the WCWS.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 5, 2017

    In an effort to win the longest Women's College World Series game in history, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso chose to turn the Paige not once, but twice.

    After five hours, 28 minutes, 495 pitches (333 strikes), 122 at-bats, 40 strikeouts, 31 players and 17 innings, the Sooners managed to outlast Florida with a 7-5 victory in Game One on Monday night before an appreciative crowd of 8,337 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

    Gasso threw a curve before the first pitch was even thrown by opting to start Paige Lowary rather than two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker. Lowary pitched the first five innings before being relieved by Parker. Fellow left-handed junior, Parker went 6.2 innings before being relieved by a re-entering Lowary, who wound up getting the victory after throwing 10.1 total innings.

    "Epic, epic battle," Gasso said at the outset of her team's midnight postgame interview session. "It was like two heavyweight fighters throwing punch after punch. I will never forget the pitching duo here (Lowary and Parker) and how they tag-teamed. It was an emotional, emotional rollercoaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget."

    Though the contest was nearly the equivalent of 2½ seven-inning games, the Sooners only lead the best-of-three championship series 1-0 heading into Game Two on Tuesday night at 7.

    With one more victory, OU Athletics will claim its fourth national title in the last eight weeks, joining the school's NCAA championship teams in women's gymnastics, men's gymnastics and men's golf. Oklahoma has never won four national crowns in the same semester.

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    Oklahoma softball maintains its championship mindset

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 1, 2017

    Featuring a roster with eight freshmen and four sophomores, the 2016 Oklahoma softball team won the NCAA championship much earlier than anticipated. With an apparent dynasty looming, the 2017 Sooners became just the fourth team in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll to ever be selected as a unanimous preseason No. 1.

    Oddly enough, this year's OU team is even younger overall than last year's champs. The 2016 Sooners had five seniors, but this year's squad has only one in utility fielder Macey Hatfield, who is joined by six juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.

    With softball being among the most superstitious of all sports, team members understandably hoped to re-trace their steps to a second straight national championship.

    En route to winning last year's title, the Sooners wore crimson-colored rubber bracelets emblazoned with capital white letters “CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSET.” This year's players looked forward to wearing that same lucky charm while defending the crown.

    OU Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso initially banned the bracelet, however. The woman respectfully dubbed “Three Natty Patty” for her three national crowns (2000, 2013, 2016) also took away another cherished piece of equipment when she didn't permit her players to wear their white cleats.

    In Gasso's eyes, her team didn't deserve such comforts because of their early season struggles.

    “I said, ‘We're going to keep working until we figure this out,' ” Gasso explained. “And they wanted those bracelets desperately, so it kind of forced them to let go of some of the stuff they were hanging onto. The whole ‘defend the title' thing kind of got in the way a little bit.”

    As is her way, Gasso once again had lined up a formidable early schedule. Even though five of OU's nine losses this season have come against teams in this week's Women's College World Series (Washington and Baylor) and last weekend's Super Regionals (Arizona, Tennessee and Auburn), Gasso didn't like what she was seeing from her potential powerhouse.

    “Honestly, it did surprise me some,” Gasso said of the slow start, “but then I started to see what our returners were trying to do. They were trying to match their numbers from the year before, do those kind of things, and that doesn't work.”

    Last year's championship run is eerily similar to what has transpired so far this season.

    The 2016 Sooners began with a 2-2 record through four games and were 9-4 through 13 games. Those are the exact same marks as this year's team.

    The 2016 Sooners started out 25-7 and fell to No. 14 after losing at home to Kansas in what would be their lone loss in a 17-1 Big 12 season. The 2017 Sooners started out 23-7, slipped to No. 13 in the polls also finished with a 17-1 conference mark.

    And, just like last season, OU finished with a flourish to qualify for its sixth WCWS appearance in the last seven years and its 11th trip overall.

    The 2016 Sooners entered the World Series riding a 27-game winning streak and had won 34 of their last 35. The 2017 Sooners enter this week's WCWS having won 33 of their last 35.

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    Never too late: Quentin Griffin finishes his quest for a diploma

    Former running back Quentin Griffin stands alongside OU athletic director Joe Castiglione at the student-athlete graduation banquet.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 16, 2017

    When diminutive Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, he left as the school's fourth-leading rusher with 3,938 career yards. Griffin only trailed two Heisman Trophy winners in Billy Sims (4,118) at No. 1 and Steve Owens (4,041) at No. 3, plus silver-shoed great Joe Washington (4,071) at No. 2.

    A chance to play in the NFL put Griffin's academic progress on hold. In his second season with the Denver Broncos, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Griffin set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season opener with a career-high 156 on 23 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs. A budding NFL career abruptly was cut short when Griffin tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in Week 7. He would never play another regular-season game again for the Broncos.

    In 2005, Griffin had dropped to No. 4 on Denver's depth chart and was released. He was brought back a few weeks later, then released again. In 2006, Griffin was signed by the Chiefs and later cut. In 2007, the Hamburg Sea Devils made Griffin the second overall pick in the NFL Europa Free Agent Draft. In 2008, he signed the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL and was cut after the team's final preseason game. In July 2013, Griffin signed with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in Germany (GFL1).

    When Griffin's football odyssey finally came to an end, a daunting task awaited if he was going to finish what he started academically at OU.

    When he left the Sooners, Griffin was 33 credit hours short of earning his undergraduate degree. "My mother, she planted the seed (to graduate) and kept watering it," Griffin said with a smile. "It was in the back of my mind, but once I got it to the front of my mind, that's the push I needed."

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    Renae Martinez takes road less traveled to find OU

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 10, 2017

    In 2014, Renae Martinez was a redshirt freshman catcher for UC Irvine, which ended its season playing at the College World Series in Omaha.

    Three months later, Martinez had relocated to the not-so-friendly confines of El Camino College just west of Compton, Calif.

    Could there possibly be a more precipitous drop in collegiate baseball status than going from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to Warriors Field at a community college located on Crenshaw Boulevard?

    Choosing to make the 35-mile transfer from UC Irvine to El Camino was anything but easy. “It was a tough decision to make,” Martinez explained. “I loved Irvine, but I lacked opportunity.”

    Martinez could have remained with the Anteaters, who stunned top-seeded Oregon State to advance from the NCAA Corvallis Regional, then swept No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Super Regional to advance to the 2014 CWS, where they defeated No. 6-seeded Texas in the first round before getting eliminated after falling to No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt and in a rematch against Texas.

    At UC Irvine, Martinez was a backup to redshirt junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, a second-team All-Big West Conference selection who hit .304 in 65 games. McClanahan was expected to leave college after getting selected in the 2014 amateur baseball draft, but instead he returned for his senior season and was drafted in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015.

    Martinez played in just 23 games (five starts), had 33 at-bats and hit .152 in 2014. When it became known McClanahan would return for his senior season, Martinez approached his UC Irvine coaches, who informed him the 2015 season would pretty much play out in the same manner with limited playing time as a backup.

    Martinez chose El Camino because it was close to his hometown of San Pedro, where he was named the Marine League's Most Outstanding Player and also earned First Team All-CIF and all-city honors in high school.

    Though he knew nothing of El Camino College itself, Martinez was no stranger to the area. He grew up playing baseball at the Urban Youth Academy in neighboring Compton and knew several coaches there. “They've always given me a place to play,” Martinez said of the academy. “They're really special people who go out of their way to help kids get to the next level.”

    Martinez indeed returned to the next level after one season at El Camino and transferred to Oklahoma in hopes of someday reaching the sport's pinnacle again.

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    Jim Mackenzie: The OU football coach you barely got to know

    Although Jim Mackenzie served as OU's football coach for just 15 months, he left an indelible mark on the storied program with his no-nonsense, disciplined approach and the remarkable staff of assistants he hired. Mackenzie coached the 1966 season before dying of a heart attack at age 37 the following April.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 28, 2017

    The first college football coach Steve Owens ever met was Arkansas assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Jim Mackenzie in the summer of 1964. At the time, Owens was a junior running back/roving linebacker for the Miami (Okla.) High School Wardogs. Mackenzie was friends with Wardogs head coach Bill Watkins, who hoped to implement the same "Monster" defense that had helped the Razorbacks become a national power.

    "I'll never forget it," Owens recalled of Mackenzie. "He pulled up in a car and had his suit on. Of course, it was hot. He took his jacket off, took his tie off and walked onto the practice field. He spent two hours with us, going over this new defense, man. He was sweating like you wouldn't believe. And just like a coach, he installed the Monster defense for our team."

    That same year, Arkansas finished as the nation's only unbeaten team, defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and was ranked No. 1 by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

    Miami's Monster defense made a defensive monster out of Owens, who also happened to be a pretty decent running back, averaging 7.2 yards-per-carry and rushing for more than 4,000 career yards for the Wardogs. Owens also found time to become a high school state champion hurdler, long and high jumper.

    The recruiting process began for Owens during his senior year in 1965 and Mackenzie had both eyes riveted on a kid born in Gore, who grew up in awe of his beloved Sooners, particularly during their 47-game winning streak from 1953-57 under coach Bud Wilkinson.

    "I kept telling him (Mackenzie), ‘Hey, I'm an Oklahoma kid. My dream is to go to OU,'" Owens recalled. "Trouble was, OU went 3-7 in 1965, the year after Arkansas had won the national championship. Coach Mackenzie told me it was going to take three or four years to build the (OU) program back up. Well, guess what happened."

    Sooners' coach Gomer Jones resigned after going 9-11-1 in two seasons and, at the suggestion of legendary head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Mackenzie was selected as OU's next head coach after former Sooners standout (1946-49) and Texas coach Darrell Royal turned down an offer to coach his alma mater.

    Upon getting the OU job, Mackenzie promptly reversed field on his recruiting approach with Owens.

    "He called me and said, 'Forget all that stuff I've been telling you about Arkansas. You need to follow your dreams, son, and come to Oklahoma,'" Owens said, unable to suppress his laughter. "True story."

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    OU women's gymnastics seeks third title in four years

    The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team tied for the 2014 NCAA crown with Florida and won the national title outright last season.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 13, 2017

    Oklahoma women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said she could feel the crowd pulling for her team to win at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

    At that time, only five schools had won national titles since the NCAA first sanctioned the sport in 1982 – Georgia (10), Utah (9), Alabama (6), UCLA (6) and defending champion Florida (1). The up-and-coming Sooners were the team of the moment.

    For the first and only time in NCAA women’s gymnastics, there wound up being national co-champions as OU and Florida finished with identical scores of 198.175 three years ago. The Sooners happily embraced their role as co-champions after the Gators had edged OU for the 2013 NCAA crown by a margin of 0.200 (197.575-197.375).

    Well, times have changed.

    The Sooners were the 2016 national champs all by themselves and will seek back-to-back crowns when the NCAA Championships are held Friday and Saturday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. OU will compete in Semifinal I at noon Friday against No. 4 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Denver and No. 13 Washington. The top three finishers from Semifinal I and Semifinal II advance to the NCAA “Super Six” on Saturday night to compete for the national title.

    Fresh off their fifth undefeated regular season under Kindler, the defending champs are this weekend’s No. 1 seed for a multitude of reasons, the most recent of which came April 1 at the NCAA Seattle Regional, where the Sooners posted a nation-high 198.075 in regional competition. OU entered the meet with a program record with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 198.010.

    OU’s overall excellence this season frequently has been perfection with four gymnasts combining for nine perfect 10.0s. Though only a freshman, Maggie Nichols already owns the school career record with six and scored at least one 10.0 in every event, becoming just the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever do so. Senior McKenzie Wofford and sophomore Nicole Lehrmann each earned a 10.0 on the uneven bars and senior Chayse Capps scored a 10.0 on the balance beam. Six OU gymnasts earned a nation-best 14 regular-season All-America honors this season, with junior AJ Jackson and sophomore Brenna Dowell joining the aforementioned perfectionists. (Dowell scored a 10.0 in 2015 on uneven bars.)

    Seventeen of OU’s scores this season rank in the top 10 in program history.

    Suffice to say, the Sooners no longer are up-and-coming. They have reached the summit and have no intention of descending anytime soon.

    “They have a target on their back,” Kindler said of her team. “People are gunning for them. Everyone roots for the underdog, and that’s not us. Now there’s that expectation and pressure knowing people are gunning for you. We just need to focus on ourselves and not on that.”

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    Gone too soon: Saying goodbye to an All-Star father

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    (Published April 15, 1992, The Oklahoman)

    TUCSON, Ariz. - You would have loved my father. Everybody did.

    Particularly me.

    My father died Monday afternoon at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson.

    Never have I cried so hard, so often, for so long.

    Dad was 63, which is far too young to die. Then again, Dad could have died from old age and he still would have been too young.

    His name was Richard Stanley Rohde, but he answered to just about anything - Richard, Dick, Skip, Dad, Pops, even "Disco Dick" during that incredibly nauseating music fad in the late 1970s.

    How do you possibly say good-bye to the world's best father?

    I don't know a single person -- and I'm being absolutely honest here -- who did not adore my father.

    Everyone who met him fell in love with him.

    He took bits and pieces of his own life and gave them to others to make their's better.

    Now's the time for Dad to think of himself and not everyone else.

    I'm the youngest of five children. Four boys. One girl. My sister, Gerry, is the oldest, followed by Mike, Jeff, Marty and myself.

    We all were in Tucson to be with Dad.

    Each of us adored him. Each of us was smart enough to tell him.

    I never minded being the youngest . . . until Monday. In the end, it simply meant my sister and brothers had an opportunity to spend more time with Dad than I did.

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    After dismal season, Kruger hopes youth will soon be served

    A slew of young returnees who keep improving, plus a superb recruiting class, give the Sooners hope for the future.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 12, 2017

    In his 31 seasons as a collegiate men’s basketball coach, Lon Kruger never has had one season be so contrary to the next.

    His 2015-16 Oklahoma team went 29-8 overall, advanced to the Final Four in Houston and completed its season April 2 – just two days shy of the latest date possible.

    His 2016-17 Sooners went 11-20 overall, were eliminated in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament and completed their season March 8 – the earliest date possible.

    The 18-win, 25-day discrepancy is by far the most significant one-year differential in Kruger’s career – good or bad.

    “Sure, there were disappointing results,” Kruger said. “It was difficult from the standpoint of not getting results, for sure. And yet the challenge with this group was to keep their enthusiasm level up. When you’re not winning games, you still have a different type challenge, you still have objectives. You can go on, keep getting better individually and play better as a group. The good feeling, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, is I thought they were playing their best basketball in the last three weeks. Individually, several were playing better and with more confidence.”

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    OU Spring Game: 80 degrees and clear (of injuries)

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 8, 2017

    NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he was "really pleased" with the overall play during Saturday's annual Spring Game, but what pleased him most was his team's overall health.

    "Nobody's seriously hurt whatsoever," Stoops said afterward. "I thought there was good execution and we met all assignments. Guys played hard, played well. I'm just really pleased. We got (in) right what we'd hoped for ... right around 90 (plays) pretty close, and that's what we were shooting for."

    The White team edged the Red team 14-13 on an 80-degree afternoon before an announced crowd of 43,723 at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, while redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray completed 9-of-13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown — a 70-yard connection with senior wide receiver Jeffery Mead in the second quarter — and had another potential touchdown pass was dropped.

    Freshman quarterback Chris Robison completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards while sophomore Austin Kendall completed 2-of-4 passes for 47 yards. Running back Abdul Adams had the catch of the day with a 34-yard reception.

    Passing was hampered by steady gusts of 20 mile-per-hour winds throughout the game.

    "By position, I liked what the quarterbacks did, overall," Stoops said. "(They) had smart play, took care of the ball, good throws. It was a windy day. It's tough to get the receivers a little bit of a break because the ball's getting blown all over on a few occasions."

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    For OU men's gymnastics, there is power in numbers

    The top-ranked Oklahoma men's gymnastics team is going for its third straight NCAA title and 11th overall.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 7, 2017

    You would think a men's gymnastics program would be satisfied having already won 10 NCAA championships. Not so with Oklahoma.

    Seven of those national crowns have come under the guidance of coach Mark Williams, but in his constant quest for more championships, Williams wanted more depth and more opportunities for more gymnasts. As a result, this would bring more titles.

    Williams got his wish.

    Since Williams arrived in 2000, the OU men have never placed lower than fourth at the NCAA Championships and claimed national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. In that six-year gap between championships (2009-14), Williams had to settle for two third-place finishes, followed by four straight runner-up finishes. Even though the NCAA increased the number of participating athletes per team from 12 to 15, Williams was seeking an even bigger talent pool.

    Williams approached Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and was granted permission to add a club team, where walk-ons could hone their skills to perhaps someday be good enough to join the school’s NCAA squad. “I had to tell him we were getting beat by sheer numbers,” Williams recalled of his meeting with Castiglione. “My 14 guys couldn’t hold up to other team’s 22 guys."

    Since Williams was granted a feeder program, the Sooners have continued to feast on collecting crowns.

    Not only will OU seek its third straight NCAA championship later this month, the school’s club team is seeking a three-peat at this week’s National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship, which is being held Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

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    The many magical moments for 'Coach Merv'

    Merv Johnson served as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator when Joe Montana was quarterback.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com

    April 6, 2017

    Merv Johnson's 60 years in college football included some of the sport's most significant moments:

    • Born in King City, Mo., Johnson was recruited by and played for one of the sport's greatest innovators in Missouri coach Don Faurot, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who is credited for inventing the Split-T formation in 1941. "That was pretty special," Johnson said of being recruited by the legendary Faurot.

    •  As a Missouri senior in 1957, Johnson was selected as an All-Big Seven Conference offensive tackle for the Tigers under first-year coach Frank Broyles, who had replaced Faurot.

    •  On Nov. 9, 1957, OU beat Missouri 39-14 in Columbia. The following week, the Sooners' streak of 47 straight victories came to an end with a 7-0 loss at home to unranked Notre Dame. Yup, Johnson played for the last team OU defeated in its record-setting run.

    •  Johnson followed Broyles to Arkansas in 1958 and was an assistant there for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant under coach Dan Devine, who had replaced Broyles at Missouri. While with the Razorbacks, Johnson served as a "dorm coach" and had to keep an eye on a player named Barry Switzer, who served as team captain his senior year in 1959. Broyles convinced Switzer to put his plans to attend law school on hold and instead go into coaching. After Johnson returned to Missouri, Switzer replaced him as dorm coach.

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    Merv Johnson: The 'Aristotle' of OU football

    Merv Johnson, who joined the Oklahoma football program in 1979, has formally retired as a staff member.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 5, 2017

    Bennie, Bud, Barry and Bob all made their indelible mark as Oklahoma football head coaches, but historic contributions also have come from a man endearingly referred to as "Coach Merv."

    Mervin Lewis Johnson spent more years inside the Sooners' football program than Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops.

    After 38 years as an assistant coach (1979-97) and director of football operations (1998-2017), Johnson formally has retired from the university. "At 80 years old, I figured it'd probably be a good time to do that," Johnson said of retirement.

    Johnson will continue his role as the team's radio analyst during games, however. "I said, 'Merv, you may be retiring in employment terms, but we're not going to let you get away that easily. We still want you and need you around here,'" OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said of Johnson, who will turn 81 on May 16.

    From 1958-2016, Johnson was a football staff member for 59 consecutive college seasons and 703 total games. He served under seven head coaches and those teams combined for an all-time record of 516-175-12 (.743).

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    Joe Castiglione Jr.: Living up to his name

    Joe Castiglione Jr. on the sidelines with coach Bob Stoops in 2015.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    March 30, 2017

    Joe Castiglione Jr. was 2 years old when his father selected Bob Stoops to become Oklahoma's new football coach on Dec. 1, 1998. Now Stoops has agreed to allow that same kid to join the Sooners as a walk-on player.

    The son of OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spent the previous two seasons as a student manager with the Sooners. Joe Jr. would hold up huge flashcards on the sideline during games. At practice, he assisted linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Joe Jr. would attend meetings involving coaching activities and analyze film, and would chart opponent tendencies and what plays they would run according to down and distance and field position. He would also perform traditional managerial duties, and also served as a gofer for coaches and players.

    Joe Jr. would perform these duties in addition to being a full-time student, and he still managed to carry a 3.5 grade point average. Each August, he logged an estimated 70-plus hours per week with school and football. During the season, that number would dip to 50-55 hours.

    No stranger to long hours and hard work, Joe Jr. will now get to spend some time on the field. How much time? Probably not much, if any. But that's not the point here.

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    Kansas and Self advance to another regional final

    Kansas coach Bill Self after Thursday's 98-66 romp over Purdue.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 23, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

    Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.

    “Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”

    With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.

    This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.

    He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.

    He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.

    Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.

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    Fabulous freshmen take the stage in Tulsa

     

    Kansas freshman Josh Jackson (Photo by The Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    TULSA -- Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges grew up roughly an hour apart in Michigan, but they will showcase their talents at the BOK Center in Tulsa at 4:15 p.m. CT on Sunday when Kansas (29-4) and Michigan State (20-14) meet in a Midwest Regional second-round game.

    Jackson and Bridges nearly wound up as teammates in East Lansing, Mich. Kansas won last year's recruiting battle for Jackson, but Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game will determine who won the war to advance to this year's Sweet 16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    MSU coach Tom Izzo and KU coach Bill Self have crossed paths on the recruiting trail multiple times through the years. They co-existed in the Big Ten Conference for three seasons when Self coached at Illinois (2000-03) before heading to Kansas.

    Izzo recalled how he made his sales pitch to Jackson, deemed the country’s No. 1 college prospect last year according to Rivals.com.

    “I just got on my hands and knees and begged him. That’s what I did, and that wasn’t as good as Bill’s,” Izzo said.

    Self’s secret to winning the recruiting battle? “Well, it’s just so much warmer in Kansas than Michigan, I guess,” Self said with a laugh. “I don’t know. He would have been an unbelievable impact player wherever he went, and I do know that it was not an easy decision for him. But hey, we’ve lost enough guys to Michigan State, we should win one every now and then.”

    The reason Jackson chose KU? “I grew up a State fan,” Jackson explained, “but I believed I had a better chance of winning a national championship at Kansas.”

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    Is this the NCAA basketball tournament or gymnastics?

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

    There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.

    Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.

    According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.

    If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)

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    Is Friday the day a No. 16 seed finally slays a No. 1?

    UC Davis coach Jim Les (photo by Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 16, 2017

    TULSA -- In the last 11 seasons, Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, which is more than any other program and that same span.

    The Jayhawks’ impressive run of top seeds began in 2007 and they faced the winner of a play-in game between Niagara and Florida A&M. Niagara won to advance into the 64-team bracket, and three days later summarily got thrashed 107-67 by KU.

    In those days, there was only one play-in game with the last two No. 16 seeds battling to become a sacrificial lamb as the No. 64 seed in the bracket.

    In these days, there are four “First Four” play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The last four No. 16 seeds battle for two spots, as do the last four at-large berths.

    When the “First Four” made its debut in 2011, No. 11-seeded play-in winner VCU went 5-0 rather than the normally required 4-0 to advance to the Final Four, where it lost to Butler in a national semifinal at Houston.

    In 2012, South Florida won its play-in game as a No. 12 seed, then posted an opening-round upset over No. 5-seeded Temple.

    In 2013, La Salle won a play-in game as a No. 13 seed and upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State in the opening round, then got to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Mississippi.

    In 2014, No. 11 play-in winner Tennessee destroyed No. 6 UMass 86-67, while fellow No. 11 play-in winner North Carolina State nearly won, losing to No. 6 Saint Louis in overtime.

    In 2015, No. 11 Dayton survived a play-in game on its home court against Boise State 56-55 and then eliminated No. 6 Providence in the opening round before losing to Oklahoma.

    In 2016, No. 11 seed Wichita State won its play-in game and promptly eliminated No. 6 Arizona.

    A team that gets to face a play-in winner initially was portrayed as a huge break for whoever awaited the victor, but VCU obliterated that theory the first time the “First Four” was ever staged. Since then, a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed has been victimized every year.

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    NCAA Tournament to begin with No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset

    John Rohde's NCAA Tournament bracket
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 15, 2017

    From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.

    The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament's most magnetic opening-round game, and we won't have to wait long for an upset.

    The first two games in this year's tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.

    Here are the all-time records since the tournament's 16-seed format began in 1985:

    History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.

    It's also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.

    The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as "when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.")

    As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.

    This year could bring the tournament's first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

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    Best NCAA Tournament information is found here

     

     

    So many websites. So many games. So many decisions to make while filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket.

    Feeling a little water-logged from hours of swimming on the web since this year's 68-team field was announced Sunday?

    Looking for a site with all the NCAA Tournament information you need? The absolute necessities and the simple basics -- a printable bracket with the sites, dates, starting times, TV networks, plus quality insight on every opening-round game?

    Tired of being lured in to all those "click bait" sites that require hitting "NEXT" page after page after page, which definitely is no fun when 68 teams are involved?

    CBS Sports, USA Today, Yahoo! and ESPN are all terrific sites for the tournament. But when it comes to March Madness, I've found it best to go directly to the source.

    That source is the NCAA.

    So, look no further. The best website for NCAA Tournament nuts and bolts is ...

     

     

    Click Here

     

     

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    Top 10 mistakes made by the NCAA Tournament committee

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 12, 2017

    As a point of reference, here is the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s official seeding list No. 1 through No. 68 for this year's field:

     

     

    Top 10 mistakes made by this year's tournament selection committee:

    10. Syracuse deserved a bid … Nah, just kidding. The top team to not get an at-large bid was Illinois State (27-6), which was No. 69 in the committee’s overall seeding for the 68-team tournament. However, the Redbirds’ RPI ranking of No. 33 was higher than 15 teams that received at-large bids.

    9. Vanderbilt became the first team ever with 15 losses to get an at-large bid. Not only that, the Commodores are a No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are supposed to be intriguing. Maybe this one should be decided by SAT scores.

    8. Michigan State had 14 losses, was seeded No. 40 overall, which equates to the final No. 10 seed, yet the Spartans somehow were given a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional. Not good news for No. 1-seeded Kansas.

    7. Middle Tennessee State, where former Oklahoma State guard and Oklahoma City University coach Win Case serves as an assistant to head coach Kermit Davis, deserved an at-large bid rather than an automatic berth at No. 12. No harm done, however. At least we now know which team to pick in the obligatory No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset special when the Blue Raiders face Minnesota in the South Regional. In fact, every 5 vs. 12 matchup potentially could be upsetting. Ranking the other three in terms of likelihood: UNC-Wilmington over Virginia in the East; Princeton over Notre Dame in the West; Nevada over Iowa State in the Midwest.

    6. Speaking of OSU, the Cowboys deserved better than a No. 10 seed. Yes, they’ve lost three straight, but they were against Iowa State (twice) and Kansas. OSU was ranked No. 35 overall by the committee, which equates to the third No. 9 seed. So what happened?

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    Alex Brown: 30 years of athletic care for the Sooners

    OU athletic trainer Alex Brown has been to three Final Fours with the Sooners.
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Alex Brown is in his 30th year as an athletic trainer at Oklahoma, and don’t dare ask him to rank his most memorable moments with the men’s basketball program. Such determinations are difficult when you have worked with three Final Four teams, three national players of the year, eight All-Americans and advanced to 21 NCAA Tournaments.

    “All my favorite moments usually are road wins, but NCAA Tournament wins are always special,” Brown admitted. “Just going to the NCAA Tournament is special. My favorite day of the year is Selection Sunday.”

    Brown also doesn’t share locker room banter, which falls under privileged information. “Hey, I can’t tell everything,” Brown said with a laugh before adding, “You’ll have to wait for my book.”

    Nor should you ask Brown to reveal his most challenging moments as an athletic trainer. “There’s too many to mention,” Brown said.

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects an individual’s health records and information, but many medical moments happen in plain sight and the Sooners have endured some doozies:

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    All-Big 12 selections -- let's see how well the coaches did

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 5, 2017

    This season’s All-Big 12 men’s basketball awards will be revealed today, starting at noon. Voting was done by conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.

    Listed below are the correct answers. Let’s see how close the coaches are to getting it right.

    You will notice a whole lot of Kansas listed here, but such things tend to happen when you’re ranked No. 1 nationally, own a 28-3 overall record, finish 16-2 in league play and win your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title by four games in what the Sagarin Ratings calculate to be the nation’s top-ranked conference.

    FIRST TEAM

    G – Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    G – Monte Morris (Iowa State)

    G – Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State)

    F – Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    F – Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

    SECOND TEAM

    G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)

    G – Naz Mitrou-Long (Iowa State)

    G – Devonte' Graham (Kansas)

    F – Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)

    F – Jarrett Allen (Texas)

    Player of the Year: Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte (Baylor)

    Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas)

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    With Big 12 seeds set, why does OSU-KU game even matter?

    OSU first-year coach Brad Underwood
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 3, 2017

    Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

    KU coach Bill Self

    By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night's Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.

    OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.

    So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:

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    Black History Month: OU volleyball player Patrice Arrington

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 28, 2017

    Former Oklahoma volleyball coach Miles Pabst was so impressed with Patrice Arrington, he often repeats himself while reminiscing about the school’s first-ever All-American selection in the sport.

    Pabst’s thoughts when he first saw Arrington play: “Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness,” Pabst said.

    The way to best describe Arrington’s skills: “Ha, ha. She was an exceptional, exceptional athlete,” Pabst said.

    Arrington’s greatest strength as a player: “She had tremendous, tremendous power,” Pabst said.

    Arrington’s personal attributes: “She’s just a wonderful, wonderful person,” Pabst said.

    After heaping more praise on Arrington, Pabst delivered an unsolicited punch line: “If Patrice had been born of the male species, she would have been another Adrian Peterson.”

    Suffice to say, consider Pabst impressed.

    After hearing Pabst’s remarks, a stunned Arrington laughed for several seconds.

    “That is hilarious,” Arrington said.

    The affable Arrington has heard a healthy portion of praise throughout the years, but the Adrian Peterson comparison was a doozy. “I guess people have called me a freak of nature athletically,” Arrington admitted shyly. “I probably got if from my dad (Percy). He played every sport. He excelled in everything. He’s 78 years old. Still playing tennis. Still doing stuff. So I guess I was born with it.”

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    Kruger dominates alma mater for career win No. 600

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 25, 2017

    With Oklahoma’s 81-51 triumph over Kansas State on Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center, Lon Kruger picked up his 600th career victory as an NCAA Division I basketball coach.

    Coincidentally, he achieved the milestone against the school where he previously excelled as an athlete and coach.

    And like the 599 wins that came before, Kruger deflected attention away from himself while being careful to include everyone who helped make his achievement possible.

    “It’s been a fun ride,” Kruger said of his journey to No. 600. “It’s been great, all the relationships and all the people you’ve met and worked with. And the players, of course, are at the heart of all of it. That’s why any of those wins come about.”

    Kruger has served at six different colleges – Texas-Pan American (1982-86), Kansas State (1986-90), Florida (1990-96), Illinois (1996-2000), UNLV (2004-11) and Oklahoma (2011-present). He is the first head coach to take five different Division I schools to the NCAA Tournament (Pan American being the exception); all five of those schools made multiple appearances; all five had at least one tournament win; four advanced to the Sweet 16 (Illinois being the exception); and he made it to the Final Four with Florida in 1994 and with OU last season.

    Few coaches have done as much re-construction work as Kruger. At each collegiate stop, he inherited a program that had struggled the year before, sometimes woefully. Schools where he took the reins were a combined 78-99 (.440) the season prior to his arrival and no program was coming off a winning season in conference play with a combined league record of 26-54 (.325).

    Did any relocation project seem more challenging, frustrating, exasperating and/or disappointing than the others?

    “All the situations are unique one way or another, of course,” Kruger said. “In terms of our approach, we’ve approached them all the same. It’s always about people. It’s always about relationships. It’s always about recruiting, finding the right fit in those situations. It’s always a bit different at each place, but it’s always comes down to people, for sure.”

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    OU's long road to the Women's Final Four could be a short trip

    Photo by Ty Russell
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 25, 2017

    Reaching this year’s Final Four would be a lengthy journey in terms of achievement for the Oklahoma women’s basketball team, but it could end up being a ridiculously short trek in terms of actual miles traveled.

    • Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City (March 3-6) – 23.7 miles
    • Possible NCAA First/Second Round at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman (March 17-20) – 0 miles
    • Possible NCAA Regional at Chesapeake Energy Arena (March 24-26) – 23.7 miles
    • NCAA Final Four at American Airlines Center in Dallas (March 31 and April 2) – 187.0 miles.

    On the four most important weekends of the season, if everything falls into place, OU’s road to the 2017 Final Four would require traveling just 234.4 total miles (one-way).

    First and second round sites won’t be revealed until the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Selection Show airs at 6 p.m. on March 13, but all other locales were determined long before the 2016-17 season commenced.

    The Sooners knew precisely where their postseason schedule potentially could take them. Head coach Sherri Coale didn’t need to draw it up on a dry erase board. No need for Google Maps.

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    Westbrook deserved a better fate, and Presti delivered with a trade

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 23, 2107

    As Thursday’s 2 p.m. NBA trade deadline approached, it would have understandable if OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti had decided to stand pat and allowed the remainder of the 2016-17 season to simply stay the course.

    With the All-Star Break ending, the Thunder (32-25) held an 8-game lead for the final Western Conference playoff spot, a comfortable cushion ahead of a team that had just traded away its franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins. Just 3½ games out of the No. 4 spot with 25 regular-season games remaining, OKC also was in position to improve its first-round playoff chances considerably.

    So Presti refused to stand pat.

    Presti tried to stand pat five years ago, and with good reason. He simultaneously had three of today’s greatest players on the OKC roster in Kevin Durant (23 years old), Russell Westbrook (also 23) and James Harden (22), plus budding star Serge Ibaka (22). Presti also had an impatient bench warmer named Reggie Jackson (21).

    Fresh off making the 2011-12 NBA Finals, a spry squad that coach Scott Brooks affectionately referred to as “Thunder U” was on the verge of becoming a powerhouse with the potential to win multiple championships.

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    Westbrook and Durant must rise above it all during All-Star Game

    Westbrook and Durant must rise above it all during All-Star Game
    Photo by Sue Ogracki/Associated Press
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 18, 2017

    Presumably, Russell Westbrook knows better.

    He knows better than to deliberately ignore former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant during Sunday night’s All-Star Game in New Orleans.

    There is no doubt in my mind Durant will pass the ball to Westbrook for an open dunk or jumper while they share the court against the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Given the lack of defense at this event, heaven knows there’ll be plenty of opportunities.

    For Westbrook’s sake, here’s hoping he’ll be wise enough do the same in kind for Durant.

    Western Conference All-Star coach Steve Kerr absolutely, positively should play Westbrook (non-starter) alongside Durant (starter) during the game, for at least one shift and possibly several. After all, no tandem at this year’s All-Star Game has played alongside each other longer than Westbrook and Durant.

    They know each other’s tendencies better than any other teammates. They were together for eight years with the Thunder and also with USA Basketball during summers. Meanwhile, Durant joined the Golden State Warriors less than eight months ago.

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    The verdict is in -- Kevin Durant no longer is welcome in OKC

    THUNDER WARRIORS BASKETBALL
    Golden State's Kevin Durant (35) reacts after being called for his fifth foul during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Golden State won 130-114. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb, 12, 2017

     

    Saturday night’s game between the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors was a mismatch and you can credit, or blame, Kevin Durant for this.

    With Durant’s free-agent defection on July 4 last year, the Thunder went from being an elite team (one win shy of claiming last year's Western Conference championship) to its current status as a lower-echelon playoff team (currently the conference's No. 7 seed).

    In three meetings this season, Golden State has dismantled OKC by 26 (122-96 at Oracle Arena on Nov. 3), by 21 (121-100 at Oracle on Jan. 18) and by 16 last night with a 130-114 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The season's final mismatch will be March 20 in OKC.

    If Durant’s intent when he left was to humiliate teammates and fans who did everything within their power to support him as a four-time scoring champ and the league's 2013-14 Most Valuable Player, well … congrats. Mission accomplished.

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    Durant or Westbrook: Whose Thunder jersey will be raised to the rafters first? The answer is neither

    Durant or Westbrook?
    Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 11, 2017

     

    With Kevin Durant breaking hearts and Russell Westbrook mending them, it raises a question. Which player will have his Thunder jersey raised to the rafters first?

    The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Stunned Thunder fans met denial head-on last July 4 when Durant chose to leave OKC and join the already overloaded Golden State Warriors.

    Durant’s decision was so shocking, denial lingered longer than usual. Anger might never leave. For many fans, acceptance might never arrive.

    Durant turned his back on a state that instantaneously embraced him despite playing for the University of Texas his lone collegiate season. More than seven months later, with that gaping wound still fresh, raw emotion no doubt will greet Durant tonight when he returns to OKC for the first time.

    As an unrestricted free agent, Durant could sign with whatever team he pleased. Yet it seemed ludicrous for Durant to leave the place where for eight years he expressed his unwavering devotion to a crazed fan base that did the same in kind.

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    Durant: Perhaps Thunder fans could compromise

    Warriors Kevin Durant Returns to Oklahoma

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 10, 2017

     

    Here’s what I hope will happen Saturday night during pre-game introductions when the Golden State Warriors visit the OKC Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena:

    Durant receives a standing ovation as he walks through a tunnel of teammates. The public address announcer pauses to allow Durant to soak in the moment for the loudest ovation ever given to an opposing player inside The Peake. The decibel level rises each time Durant smiles and waves to the crowd as he fights back tears. The cheers slowly subside and pre-game introductions finally continue.

    Here’s what I expect will happen:

    A sellout crowd stands as Durant slowly walks through his tunnel of teammates. No one is able to hear the public address announcer. Though there are some cheers, they are overwhelmed by venomous boos. Durant continues to walk slowly onto the court, avoiding eye contact with the crowd and doing his best to hide his heartache. He does not smile. He does not wave. After only a slight pause, the public address announcer continues with other introductions, unable to be heard over the steady stream of boos.

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    The Story Continues for Oklahoma in 2017

    oklahoma softball champions
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 07, 2017

    It’s not where you start but where you finish that counts. For this year’s Oklahoma softball team, it will be about both.

    Last year’s Sooners began with somewhat modest expectations and promptly were humbled with an 0-2 start on opening day. Steadily they climbed from a season-low No. 14 national ranking and finished at No. 1 by winning 57 of their final 63 games to claim the program’s third NCAA Championship.

    This year’s Sooners have the formidable task of finishing the season precisely where they started.

    The defending champs are a unanimous pick at No. 1 in this year’s NFCA and USA Collegiate Softball preseason polls, marking only the fourth time in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll a team was a unanimous preseason pick at No. 1 – joining Arizona (1998), Washington (2010) and Arizona State (2012).

    Somewhat shockingly, it also marks the first time in OU’s storied history it has been placed atop a national preseason poll, having previously topped out at No. 2 prior to the 2002, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

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    OU hoops focusing on progress

    Oklahoma Sooners basketball

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Jan. 20, 2017

    Judging from the reaction inside the locker room following Wednesday night’s game at West Virginia, you would have thought the Oklahoma men’s basketball team had just advanced to its second straight Final Four.

    The program’s Twitter account (@OU_MBBall) shared 77 seconds of the postgame celebration after the Sooners stunned the No. 7-ranked Mountaineers 89-87 in overtime before a silenced crowd of 11,895 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown.

    “Those spontaneous celebrations, it’s hard to put a value on those,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “When your guys get a chance to do that, you never cut those short. That was pretty special.”

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    Why so defensive, John Elway?

    John Elway hires Vance Joseph
    Denver Post
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Jan. 14, 2017

    Time will tell if Denver Broncos general manager John Elway chose wisely in selecting Vance Joseph as the team’s new head coach. Given his wondrous history with the franchise – which includes six Super Bowls, three Vince Lombardi Trophies, a Hall-of-Fame selection, nine Pro Bowls and a collection of local car dealerships – more success likely awaits Denver’s longtime savior.

    When hiring a coach, a team can either play to its strength or its weakness. Elway played to his team’s strength, which is why he chose Joseph, a defensive assistant coach for 12 NFL seasons and fresh off his one-year stint as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

    Defense is why Denver claimed Super Bowl 50 over the 17-1 Carolina Panthers last season. Let’s face it, without that defense, the Broncos’ record this season would have been somewhere around 4-12 rather than 9-7.

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