Boynton Building A Culture, And More

John Helsley

Just in time for the ESPN Michael Jordan documentary series “The Last Dance,” let’s offer another MJ slogan to what seems to be going on at OSU:

Be Like Mike.

First, let me say I have no inside information of any conversations between Mike Boynton and Mike Gundy, but the basketball coach’s early growth as a head coach sure looks a lot like his football colleague’s first years on the job, in terms of discipline and development of a culture.

It’s a process, as Boynton, and most new coaches in his position learn. There’s a learning curve, no matter how smart you are or how much time and thought went into plotting a plan for how you’re going to do things when given a chance to be in charge.

It’s a lot like parenting, and all ways you just know you’re going to be different and greater than all those suckers out there who can’t control their kids, until the plan falters. And it does, maybe not always, but plenty of times.

Gundy learned that. And Boynton seems to be coming out on the other side of that.

It hasn’t been easy. Boynton let some players go who, frankly, would have been slapped on the wrist and retained in programs with lesser leadership. But he set a standard for the program – his own Cowboy Culture – and to it, even when it wasn’t popular, and even at the price of losing a few games.

“Ultimately, your words have to have meaning," he told the O'Colly in March. "Otherwise, you don’t get anywhere and you lose credibility.”

Through it all, Boynton kept recruiting, delivering his plan and his vision for the program. And if you’ve ever been in a conversation with the man, you know he’s convincing. And better yet, genuine.

And clearly, young people, and their parents, believed.

As of now, and Boynton says he may not be done yet, the Cowboys have the No. 1 recruiting class in the Big 12 and a top-five class nationally. No need to list the names, by now you now them. They include the No. 1 player in the U.S., the No. 1 player in Canada, the No. 1 player in Nebraska and more.

“We’re really excited about where we are today,” Boynton said during a teleconference on Thursday. “We feel like it’s a class we put a lot of time, effort, energy and focus into, in terms of transitioning to the next phase.

“The next phase for us is to be really competitive in the Big 12, and then put ourselves in position to carry that on into being competitive from a national standpoint, which is the ultimate goal for us. We’re excited.”

There are no guarantees for 2020-21, and that’s not even considering any potential impact of the coronavirus on the season. Last season should teach us that, as the extended loss of Isaac Likekele submarined what would have likely been a breakthrough year for Boynton.

The Cowboys have added talent – impact talent – yet it’s mostly young talent, guys who have dominated at a level where they’ve mostly owned significant talent advantages every night out.

That won’t be the case in the Big 12.

Still, there’s much to like, and basketball is a sport where an infusion of talent, no matter how young, can make an immediate difference.

“The class is versatile, and brings great length, athleticism and intelligence,” Boynton said. “We’ve got really good kids – for the most part – really good students, which I’m even more excited about.

“We don’t have a whole lot of at-risk people coming into the university. In fact, I think four of our guys have already been admitted into school, and that was without their last final grades from this year being sent, just because they were so far advanced academically.”

Where most coaches like to toss around talk about student-athletes, often because it sounds good, it means something to Boynton.

And it should mean something, especially when you’re building a culture, a Cowboy Culture.

It’s worked splendidly for Gundy.

And when it comes to building a culture, a solid strategy is to be like Mike.

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