Osby leads Sooners back into NCAA tourney

Oklahoma forward Romero Osby got in the car with his wife and 3-year-old daughter Saniya and drove the five-plus hours from Kansas City, Mo., back to Norman.

A bit earlier than what he was expecting, too.

The Sooners lost in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament to Iowa State, melting down in the second half and causing his grip on the wheel to be a bit tighter and his temper to be a little bit shorter.

“I was pissed off from losing. My daughter was going crazy. I was frustrated,” Osby said. “Everybody was in a bad mood and my daughter was mad because her dad didn’t do anything in the second half.”

Yeah, those toddlers can be tough, but cut dad a break on this one. This time of the year maybe Osby should get some credit for the whole, “Body of Work” thing, because along with coach Lon Kruger, Osby is the reason the Sooners are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

The official announcement came Sunday afternoon at a team-and-fan watch party on the Sooners’ home court in Norman. And when their name was called, the result was a mix of excitement, emotion as well as a good portion of relief.

And the feeling might have been different, but it certainly wasn’t new for He’s used to it. Sunday, he became the first coach in NCAA history to take five teams to the tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and now Oklahoma) and is unquestionably made his image one of a rebuilding coach.

“It’s turned out that way,” Kruger said of his personal body of rebuilding work. “It wasn’t the career path we planned on taking. We’ve never really planned on another job. Every place we’ve been, we’ve never asked or looked for another job. We’ve been fortunate.”

Like Osby, Kruger is in his second season at OU, turning the Sooners from 15-16 last year to 20-11 this season. And like Osby, the two are eternal optimists, quick with a smile and a handshake. So consistently positive, they make Zig Ziglar look like a glass half-empty kind of guy, which is probably why the team turned itself from a disaster to dancing.

“It means so much to us, and we’re so happy to be able to have this opportunity,” Osby said. “And it means a lot, especially to the guys that have been here for the longest and suffered through some of the hard seasons. We’re blessed and grateful.”

Osby arrived at OU two years ago and sat out a year after transferring from Mississippi State. He never played for the coach, Jeff Capel, who recruited him. Capel got fired and two seasons later Osby became an All-Big 12 selection. Osby averaged 15.8 points, shot 52 percent and also got seven rebounds per game. He’s OU’s first All-Big 12 selection since Blake Griffin in 2009 – the same year the Sooners last made the tournament.

“Last year, after we lost to Texas A&M (in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament), I was so frustrated,” Osby said. “But I knew I had a year left to work hard and get my teammates to work hard. I never had to push anyone. These guys were just naturally hungry to make the tournament.”

Funny thing is, Osby always credits his teammates first, but it’s his teammates who point to him. Same goes for Kruger.

“The first thing he did wasn’t even basketball,” Osby said of Kruger’s approach. “It was more, ‘let’s change the perspective of people on campus and how we carry ourselves.’ Those things mean a lot to him. We knew the basketball results would come if we do the little things every day. There wasn’t a day we had off. I knew we could be in the Big 12 race and have an opportunity to make the tournament. I could see we were heading in the right direction.”

And now you know why the Sooners are back in the NCAA Tournament, this time a No. 10-seed taking on San Diego State on Friday in Philadelphia.

“You see the fans enjoy it and the players and for them to have that experience is what makes it most enjoyable,” Kruger said.

You see, it’s always someone else who Kruger would rather talk about. Same with Osby.

Now, if only Saniya would go easy on dad.


Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman