This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
In his fifth year of college, 6'8" forward Ryan Spangler is learning an important lesson about himself. The Bridge Creek, Okla., native is enrolled in a graduate-level course on business conflicts. His takeaway? Engaging in confrontation is crucial to success. “I’m more of a passive type,” Spangler says of his demeanor off the court. “But sometimes you’ve gotta be a little aggressive.”
This self-description will come as news to fans in the Big 12, where Spangler has never been accused of being too deferential. His relentless play has made him one of the conference’s most jeered visiting players. It has also made him indispensable to the Sooners. Last year he was their leading rebounder (8.2 per game), their top interior defender and an essential back line communicator on the nation’s eighth-most-efficient D. Says coach Lon Kruger, “Ryan’s [role] is pretty broad.”
Spangler ranked third in the Big 12 in overall efficiency and spent last summer honing his jumper in an effort to expand both his range and repertoire. The Sooners already have a pair of high-level outside scorers in guards Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins; Spangler could spread the floor even more. “He’ll step up there more comfortably and with more confidence,” says Kruger. And with a bit more aggression too.
Akolda Manyang, 7-foot junior center
Manyang, a juco center, has the size (7 feet, 243 pounds) and swatting skills (2.8 blocks last season) to contribute in the frontcourt rotation, as soon as he fully recovers from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“With all but one starter returning obviously there are gonna be more similarities to last year than differences. [Guards Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins] are key to everything in terms of setting the tone. Their abilities compliment each other. They make plays for each other off the dribble, they shoot the ball extremely well. They’re long, rangy guards that can both defend and make plays attacking the goal. Our function as coaches is to create opportunities and those guys have to make the play and finish it. Those guys can both do that. They don’t need much of a seam to get into the paint.” — Lon Kruger
Projected depth chart