TULSA, Okla. (AP) A lot of eyebrows lifted when Frank Haith left Missouri and the Southeastern Conference for the University of Tulsa. On the dawn of the Golden Hurricane's first season in the American Athletic Conference, Haith seems at ease and genuinely excited about his decision.
''I had a great experience at Missouri,'' Haith said at Tulsa media day on Thursday. ''We won 76 games in three years and I had three years remaining on my contract. I was not feeling pressure to the level people were saying, as in `He's about to get fired.'
''For me, it was the people ... the new conference and the new challenge - and the TU history,'' Haith said. ''When I went to Miami in 2004, the school had five previous NCAA Tournament appearances. Tulsa has 15. We're going to be playing in a multi-bid league that is on a par with the SEC in terms of coaches and talent.''
Haith said he talked with former Tulsa coaches such as Tubby Smith and Bill Self and became even more excited about the possibilities. It also didn't hurt that he would be inheriting a team that under Danny Manning a year ago turned a 1-6 start into a 21-13 finish, including a Conference USA tournament championship and the school's first NCAA appearance since 2003, a first-round loss to UCLA.
Nearly every key player on that team returns, along with junior guard Marquel Curtis, who missed most of the year with an ankle injury. If lack of height and muscle was a concern among the mostly smallish veteran starting unit, 6-foot-11 redshirt Emmanuel Ezechinonso, 6-8 sophomore Edogi Tarekeyi, 6-8 freshman Keondre Dew, and 6-9 junior Brandon Swannegan should combine to ease those concerns.
Haith is salivating about instituting his up-tempo style with returning juniors Woodward, Rashad Ray, Shaquille Harrison, D'Andre Wright and Rashad Smith, all of whom excel in transition.
''I've heard people say that they loved the way Tubby or Nolan Richardson's teams played here,'' Haith said. ''We may not run to the extent Nolan's teams did, but we have a team that is going to be fun to watch and will attack you at both ends. We would do a disservice to Ray and Harrison not to run. They are extremely fast with the ball and very powerful guards.''
Woodard, who averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds while being named to the All-Conference USA second team as a sophomore, wouldn't mind relinquishing his leading rebounder role to the enigmatic Wright, who had 25 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes as a freshman against UTEP and led TU with 18 points in the NCAA tournament loss to UCLA. But there were too many games with little production.
''His talent level is off the charts,'' Haith said. ''He's got to be more consistent emotionally and not let things bother him.''
Woodard said the players were shocked twice in the off-season, first when Manning left, and then when Haith arrived. Now that they've had a taste of his up-tempo style, any apprehension they had about the coaching change has melted away.
''We have a lot of speed on this team and the way coach Haith plays, his style fits us really well,'' Woodard said. ''We're really excited. We know the AAC is going to be a big step, but we are pretty good ourselves and think we can match up pretty well.''
Tulsa's schedule features NCAA champion UConn and former C-USA rival Memphis along with AAC powers Cincinnati, SMU, Houston and Temple. The Golden Hurricane also has nonconference tilts with Auburn, Creighton, Wichita State, Oklahoma, and either Oklahoma State or Oregon State.