KANSAS CITY, Mo.— With about six minutes left in Oklahoma’s open workout at the Sprint Center on Wednesday, the backcourt players raced to the end of a shooting game. Buddy Hield, the team’s most prolific marksman and wordsmith, declared the end to be imminent as he stepped to the three-point arc—“It’s over! It’s over!” the junior shouted—before his attempt came up short. One turn later, senior James Fraschilla drained a winner for Hield’s team, then raced toward the sideline waving his arms in mock celebration.
Back on campus, anger and unease was everywhere. Over the weekend, videos surfaced of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members at Oklahoma engaging in racist chants during a bus ride, prompting the school to shut down the chapter and cut ties to its members. There were protests, including one attended by a handful of basketball players. But at the Big 12 tournament here, the Sooners appeared unburdened.
“It’s good to be here, to get away from the news trucks and all the stuff going on at school,” Hield said outside the locker room after the workout. “You want to be helping the students and everybody protest and stuff, but we have the Big 12 championship to worry about. Life goes on. You can’t let stuff like that affect you. We have things to do. We have business to handle. We can’t let one incident affect what we have to do with our mission and our goal."
[daily_cut.college basketball]As much as anyone, Hield had reason for some deeper emotional investment in the situation: The affable junior said he counts among his friends some older members of SAE, who texted him with apologies after the videos surfaced, explaining them away as the work of immature freshmen. Hield appreciated the gesture, and refocused on basketball after receiving it.
His teammates appeared to share this even-keeled approach. Junior forward Ryan Spangler said his roommate, Fraschilla, showed him the video late Sunday night—“Made me sick to my stomach,” Spangler said—and he was among the handful of Sooners to join with other athletes in protests of the fraternity members’ actions.
But the basketball team appeared to find a balance with emotion and rational action. “I don’t think it’s a distraction,” Spangler said. “It showed our players we all have each other’s back, no matter what. For a while, we had a couple teammates a little upset, but then we talked to them and we’re good now.”
A basketball tournament is an afterthought to what the school confronts now. But no one is postponing that tournament, either, nor the NCAA tournament that follows. So the second-seeded Sooners must shelve their emotions and separate what is happening in Kansas City from what is happening back home.
“As a team, it was just saying we all know what they did was wrong, but at the same time, we can’t retaliate, because that can cost us the season,” senior forward TaShawn Thomas said. “We don’t want anybody out because they said something or did something wrong.”
Thomas said that university president David Boren met with the basketball team this week and mentioned his appreciation for how the group managed their emotions and reactions.
Little had changed Wednesday. There was no pall cast over the open workout, no signs of lingering gloom. As he walked off the court, sophomore Frank Booker heaved a long, bad-angle shot from behind the baseline. “That’s cash, though!” Booker bellowed upon release, before the ball thudded off the side of the backboard. The Sooners clearly had turned their attention to Kansas City.
“It’s good to have something to focus toward, the tournament here, the game tomorrow night,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “But our guys have handled it pretty well. It’s been a distraction for everyone, not just our players, but everyone in town, everyone on campus. But I think they’ve handled it perfectly.”