By JOHN SHINN
Just mentioning the two words brought a broad smile to Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins’ face. The Sooners are going to “New York” — the sophomore guard’s home — for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
The White Plains, N.Y., native wasn’t trying to play it cool about today’s 6 p.m. meeting with Seton Hall at Barclays Center and Saturday’s game against No. 1 Michigan State or Virginia Tech.
“I’m pretty excited. I can’t wait. I’m anxious,” he said.
It will be a homecoming for Cousins, but his teammates without any geographical ties to the Big Apple fully embrace the trip and the opportunity they have over the next two days.
This four-team event is the chance for the Sooners (3-0) to put themselves on the national map early in the season.
“We have the chance to face some real good teams, so the competition level is stepping up,” point guard Jordan Woodard said. “This is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Events like these often serve as defining games on NCAA tournament résumés and springboards to successful seasons.
The Sooners last played in the event in 2007. They lost to Memphis in the semifinals, but finished third with a win in the consolation game over Gardner-Webb. Four months later that team was back in the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed.
OU isn’t thinking that far ahead as it prepares to face the Pirates (3-1).
This will be its second game this season against a team from a major conference and its toughest test to date.
“They play a lot of people — have good depth,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “First and foremost is the variety of people that can score combined with their size. This will be the biggest team we’ve played by a lot.”
But if OU can get by Seton Hall, a potential meeting with the top-ranked Spartans seems likely. That’s another caveat of this event and OU players know it.
“We’re gonna take it one game at a time no matter who we’re playing,” guard Buddy Hield said. “It’s Seton Hall first. They have a good team with a lot of good guards and a lot of big men. We have to handle business first and whoever comes next, comes next.”
Regardless of how the Sooners play today or who they get Saturday, this is their first real opportunity to prove they belong back in the NCAA tournament and are continuing the climb that started last season.
That’s in the back in their of the mind as they prepare to take the floor at Barclays Center. The benefits of playing well will be seen further down the road.
In the front of their minds is a chance to play on the big stage and bright lights of New York.
“Anytime you go to New York it’s a little bit different. It’s a unique and great experience,” Kruger said. “I think the opportunity to play again, because it has been a few days since they’ve done that. Regardless of where it is, but since it’s in New York even more so.”