By Brian Bass
For Lon Kruger and the Sooners, this offseason has really been like a roller coaster. After an underwhelming season finishing second to last in conference and 11-20, Oklahoma knew that they needed a real force to lead them back into national prominence. They might have found their savior in local PG star Trae Young. The 5-star prospect is well known throughout the country for his lethal pullup jumper and handles. Young was also offered by blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. Oklahoma will more than likely look to capitalize on his abilities to drive to the basket and finish, and to be a finisher in close games. At the end of games, the Sooners want this guy to have the ball. His decision to stay local has been the pride of Oklahoma basketball, and is definitely one if not the most hyped up freshman in the Big 12 going into the fall. However, the pressure is on for him to produce as they have only signed two other players for the 2017 class.
The second-best player of the Oklahoma recruiting class is SF Brady Manek, hailing from Harrah, Oklahoma. Manek is also a local product, as Harrah is only 35 minutes west of OKC. He is unlikely to see many minutes this next season as fellow shooting forwards Kristian Doolittle and Christian James are ahead of him on the depth chart. Nonetheless, Manek showed an impressive resume, formerly having offers from the likes of Creighton, Oklahoma State, and Tulsa, to name a few. The 3-star prospect shows strengths all over the court, a finisher that dunks every ball he possibly can, and is very accurate beyond the arc. Manek will be a force to be reckoned with come his junior year.
Thirdly comes the Finnish 6-11, 265 pound Center who took his only offer from OU, according to Verbalcommits.com. Hannes Polla was recruited out of none other than the Helinski Basketball Academy, who has been a huge overseas recruiting destination. Polla is bound to be in a position battle with current C Jamuni McNeace, who has been a role player coming off the bench, playing in all 31 games this past season. Polla definitely has the size advantage, boasting an extra inch and 50 pounds over McNeace. Oklahoma will more than likely try to institute Polla early because we all know how well Kruger did with a clutch guard and a big center who was able to finish in the post… Just saying. There isn’t much tape from his end, but from the little tape that I have seen, you don’t want to be in this guy’s way when he decides to attack the rim.
With the success with the freshman comes one more success for the coaching staff in Norman. The Sooners acquired JUCO standout Ty Lazenby in a transfer from Northern Oklahoma-Enid. The 6-5 shooting guard will add another weapon to the likes of starters Rashard Odomes and Big 12 honorable mention Kameron McGusty. Lazenby is a force, leading NOC-Enid to the NJCAA National tournament with 23 PPG, shooting 45% from the field. Given his experience, he will look to be competing with the shooting forwards and guards for playing time.
Where there is success brings a bit of unfortunate losses for Oklahoma. G Darion Strong-Moore transferred over the summer to Division II Arkansas-Fort Smith, and PF Dante Buford has transferred. Strong-Moore, the JUCO product, played in 29 games this season even though he only averaged 15 minutes per game and 4 points per game. Buford has transferred to UTSA, and played about 11 minutes per game and also scored 4 points per game for the Sooners this season. It won’t be difficult to find replacements for these two, as Trae Young will fill in that spot at point guard. Buford’s position might be a little more tough to fill, but will most likely result in Jamuni McNeace getting a few more minutes per game. McNeace’s 1.2 blocks per game is a little hard to ignore, coming in 9th overall in the Big 12 in that respect.
Lastly comes the commit of SG Jamal Bienemy, coming from Katy, Texas. As if the position couldn’t get any more stacked, this move makes more sense than it appears. Kameron McGusty, who is also a Katy prospect, played Bienemy when he was a freshman playing Varsity for Katy Tompkins high school. McGusty more than likely brought Bienemy here, who is ranked as a 4-prospect. Bienemy boasted offers from Creighton, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M, among others. Bienemy is like McGusty in a few respects, but a little better. Both like attacking the basket and shooting threes, as well as their ability to handle the ball. Logistically, this setup is sound. We will see how it goes down in two seasons.
Oklahoma is still in the process of rebuilding. Trae Young is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this program, bringing in an elite talent and confidence. It is exactly the thing the Sooners need right now, and the talent they still have is definitely improving. However, Young will more than likely only a one-and-done prospect. So developing the rest of the roster is equally as important to this program as getting Young accustomed to the speed and intensity of the Big 12 and Division I basketball. A 20-win season is not a far-fetched goal for Oklahoma this year, as well as a top 5 finish in conference.