For months, we’ve heard rumors about Travis Ford’s job security and the pressure to win big this season with Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash. It’s rare for a college basketball coach to have one star of their caliber, much less two, so all eyes were on that duo during Oklahoma State’s showdown with Tennessee this morning in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. It was the first real test for the new-look Cowboys, and they could not have possibly played more flawlessly on both ends of the floor in a 62-45 win. Smart can apparently run the point just fine. Nash looks more mature. A smaller OSU team bullied the Jeronne Maymon-less Volunteers, winning the rebounding battle and stifling Jarnell Stokes, and it put on a defensive clinic.
That’s one heck of a start for Ford in this make-or-break year. But remember, the injury bug ruined Oklahoma State’s 2011-12 season, and Ford must once again deal with injuries after J.P. Olukemi hurt his knee in Thursday’s overtime victory against Akron. Ford said it “doesn’t look good.” That’s just heartbreaking to hear for the senior, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear. It’s even more heartbreaking when you consider that the NCAA just granted Olukemi a waiver to play the second semester earlier this fall — originally, he only had eligibility through the first semester. He was supposed to play all of 2012-13, and he was supposed to play it well. Oh, and Brian Williams is already out for the season as well, so it’s a mess of a time in the trainer’s room right now.
Now, there’s no telling when Olukemi will make it back. Unfortunately, he’s out of redshirts and second chances from the NCAA. Oklahoma State could really use him, too, because he’s probably the best athlete on the team and just adds another athletic element to that backcourt full of big, physical guards. The Cowboys may have looked immortal against Tennessee, but Olukemi is a major part of this program. He’s a match-up nightmare, a versatile defender and an experienced leader with three years of Division I basketball under his belt. Outside of Nash and Smart, Olukemi is the sort of invaluable secondary player who makes this team run. And if he can’t play, it won’t only be heartbreaking for him. It’ll be heartbreaking for everybody.