New coach Underwood, guards Evans, Forte lead Oklahoma State
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) A year ago, accomplished Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte called then-incoming freshman Jawun Evans the best player on the team.
It took a while, but Evans proved him right.
Evans began the season deferring to others, but the point guard eventually learned what he could do, became more assertive and averaged 12.9 points and 4.9 assists before missing the final nine games with a shoulder injury. He scored 42 points in a loss to Oklahoma and he led the Cowboys with 22 points, six rebounds, eight assists and two steals in an upset win at home over No. 3 Kansas. The Big 12 freshman of the year has healed, and he's a preseason all-conference pick who is expected to help the Cowboys improve on last season's 12-20 campaign.
When new coach Brad Underwood got his first look at Evans after arriving from Stephen F. Austin, he was floored.
''He is very gifted in the fact that he sees plays before they happen, and there are not a lot of people who do that,'' Underwood said. ''And Jawun has an uncanny ability, and I use a cliche, `Good players make themselves better, great players make their team better.' Jawun falls into that category.''
Evans will have a key playmaker back in Forte, who was lost for most of last season with an elbow injury. Forte averaged 15 points and was a third-team All-Big 12 pick as a junior in 2014-15. He ranks fourth in school history with 244 career 3-pointers.
''He's one of those guys that nobody's really talking about, and they should be,'' Underwood said.
Here are some things to watch this season:
Underwood led Stephen F. Austin to a win over West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last season. He went 89-14 in his three years there, tied with Brad Stevens for the most wins by a head coach in his first three seasons at an NCAA school.
Forte, a 23-year-old senior, gets plenty of grief for his elder statesman status. He couldn't believe some of his teammates didn't know who rapper Ludacris was when he visited campus. Underwood appreciates Forte's experience.
''I'm the most blessed coach on the planet,'' Underwood said. ''When you walk in here trying to establish a culture and having a young man who in high school learned how to work hard, learned a passion for the game. And to have him here to teach our young players - he deserves to have a good year.''
Hammonds, a senior, is back after a breakout season in which he averaged 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest. He averaged 2.3 points two seasons ago and 1.5 points as a freshman.
''Leyton Hammonds (is) a senior who has proven it, has done it, has been successful and has tremendous leadership,'' Underwood said.
Eddie Sutton led the Cowboys to Final Fours in 1995 and 2004, so the bar is sky high. Travis Ford was run out of town after he reached the NCAA Tournament five times in nine years, including three of his final four seasons.
Tyrek Coger, a forward, died this summer after a workout, and it was eventually found that he had an enlarged heart. The team is still dealing with it.
''We'll never forget Ty,'' Underwood said. ''That's one thing that will stay without team. We talk about family a lot. Everything we do, whether there's a patch or not, he's a part of every single thing we do, every single day.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP