By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — In many ways Oklahoma knows who it wants to be the team’s face this season. Senior forward Cameron Clark has played in 95 games over the previous three seasons. No player comes close to having that experience.
But the question Clark has to answer this season is can he be the Sooners’ leader?
One of the biggest reasons the Sooners made their way back in the NCAA tournament last season was the leadership of Romero Osby. He did more than score, rebound and defend. He was the Sooners’ voice in so many ways and embraced the broad responsibilities of that leadership role.
OU needs Clark to do the same.
“I think he has taken on that role of being that guy that needs to bring it every day,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “The others expect him to be there and perform consistently. He likes that challenge and that role.”
How well he’s handling it will be displayed when the Sooners open the season at 4 p.m. today against Alabama in the Buckets and Boots Showcase at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
In many ways, OU has tried to build itself around what Clark does best. It showed in the two exhibition games that there’s a burning desire to play an up-tempo style. The Sooners averaged 96.0 points in those games. Clark averaged 14.5.
“It’s gonna favor me in a major way,” Clark said. “Pushing the ball up the court is essential because we excel in transition and it starts with our defense, getting steals and getting out in transition.”
But the two exhibition games mirrored Clark’s career thus far. He scored 23 points in 30 minutes last Saturday against Washburn, but two days later against Oklahoma Christian was limited to six points in 20 minutes.
That doesn’t bother Kruger. He saw what he needed to see in OU’s August exhibition trip to France and Belgium. Clark averaged a team-high 16.8 points during the five games.
More importantly, Clark embraced the leadership void the Sooners knew they had to fill for this season.
“The effort and energy has been there every day in practice. It was there every game in Europe and it’s been good in the exhibitions,” Kruger said. “So, being able to lead and be vocal is a good combination. But if you can lead by example and compete every day and be ready to practice every day, that’s a good form of leadership, too.”
It’s the kind the Sooners expect from Clark. By nature, he is quiet person. His teammates see a different side. To him, he’s the guy who cuts up and encourages them constantly. But it took an evolution for him to get there.
“Freshman year he had his couple guys that he would open up to, but he’s opened up quite a bit to everybody,” said forward Tyler Neal, who is OU’s only other senior on the team. “This team is really close and that in itself will give us an advantage over some other teams. We have chemistry and we’re able to make plays for each other and want each other to do well.”
But it’s Clark who will be the focal point of what the Sooners are trying to do. Since last season ended, Kruger has pointed toward him becoming the senior that everyone can lean on — physically, emotionally and verbally.
“I’ve been talking more. I’ve become more vocal out there. I’m being active because I feel I need to step up in a major way,” Clark said. “My teammates are counting on me to do that.”