The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Breakdown: Wednesday Night in the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

Knowing most of you are probably not all that interested in reading about the league’s bottom four teams, I’ll try to be brief here. Here’s exactly what you need to know — and nothing more — about the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

Game 1: (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas A&M, 6 p.m CT.

Lon Kruger Needs to Work His Magic

With only one scholarship senior on the roster, Lon Kruger may actually have a decent roster to work with next year. So although Wednesday could be the final game of C.J. Washington‘s career, this could mark the beginning of a turnaround in 2012-13. The Sooners have not fared well in Big 12 play after a strong start in November and December, but they have an underrated point guard in Sam Grooms, a blossoming scorer in Steven Pledger and a couple of really good  forwards in Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald. Osby has quietly played very well down the stretch for Kruger, helping offset Pledger’s inconsistency and Fitzgerald’s struggles. He’s one of the top offensive rebounders in the Big 12, which sets up a showdown with Ray Turner and David Loubeau. Billy Kennedy will need to rework his roster more than Kruger next year, but the Big 12 Tournament could still give him some valuable feedback on what needs to change in his program.

The key player is… Osby. When these two teams played on Saturday, he scored 24 points and looked virtually unguardable. Surprisingly, Texas A&M actually kept him off of the offensive glass, which is Osby’s main strength.

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RTC’s Big 12 Tournament Primer

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

After fighting through rush hour traffic and perhaps one of the windiest days in Missouri state history to reach Kansas City, we’re all set to kick off the Big 12 Tournament Wednesday night with a, well, rather bland matchup between Oklahoma and Texas A&M at 6:05 PM. As the weekend wears on, though, the drama will heat up about Missouri and A&M’s betrayal to the SEC, about a potential Border War showdown in the final, and about Texas’ last-gasp desperation to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team-by-team look at what’s important this weekend, as well as a few predictions (sure to be wrong, knowing our track record) and other analysis.


1. Kansas (26-5, 15-2): For the eighth-straight season, the Jayhawks earned one of the top two seeds in the Big 12 Tournament. Big surprise. Now, it must survive the next three games — and that potential showdown with second-seeded Missouri — to solidify themselves as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Missouri (27-4, 14-4): As painful as that overtime loss in Lawrence was on February 25, the Tigers could erase that memory entirely with a Big 12 Tournament championship this weekend. To even reach the title game, though, the Tigers would need to defeat either Texas or Iowa State for the third time this season. And that’s never any easy  thing to do. At least nemesis Kansas State is on the other side of the bracket.

Marcus Denmon Probably Wants Another Shot at Kansas in the Finals

3. Iowa State (22-9, 12-6): Look at that– the Cyclones have cracked the Top 25, another sign of Fred Hoiberg’s masterful coaching job this season. They said The Mayor couldn’t do it — his transfers would blow up in his face and it would doom Iowa State to another finish in the cellar. Hardly.

4. Baylor (25-6, 12-6): Besides a chance to earn more quality wins to improve seeding before Selection Sunday. it’s probably more important for the Bears to simply gain a little positive momentum before the Big Dance. After a blistering start, this team finished 1-5 agains the top three teams in this league and ended the season on a modest 4-4 note. At least one guy doesn’t need any more momentum, however. That’s Pierre Jackson, who torched Iowa State for 35 in a loss.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.23.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 23rd, 2012

  1. It’s hard to believe that Bedlam was last night. In a game that meant almost nothing to either Oklahoma State or Oklahoma‘s lackluster postseason hopes, the Sooners ran away with a 13-point win that at least one writer considered fairly entertaining. That’s the thing about these rivalries. OU has fallen flat in Big 12 play, but it found new life on the defensive end and held the Cowboys to just 12 first half points. Click on that link and look at the face of Romero Osby– you think he’s not excited to beat Oklahoma State? That’s college basketball at its finest, even when the competition on the court doesn’t quite measure up.
  2. Now that Kansas has taken care of business in College Station, it no longer needs to hide behind the “don’t-look-ahead” theory. There’s nothing standing in the way of Missouri now — the Jayhawks can talk about the Tigers all they want. So can columnists, too, especially ones with strong opinions. If you need any proof that this rivalry is bitter, just listen to this writer: “Missouri has never been a good neighbor to Kansas and they still aren’t. Down through the years MU’s hierarchy has caused as many problems as possible for KU — off the field and court.” Harsh. But that’s not all: “Kansas will expose an overrated Missouri team this Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.” Yep, it’s the Border War all right.
  3. On the other side, Missouri needs to recover from a shocking home loss to Kansas State in this Border War match-up. A Big 12 title isn’t out of the question yet, but the Tigers need to win out to at least earn a share. That begins with Saturday’s game, a tough task considering Missouri hasn’t won in Lawrence since 1999. It’s also the last Border War game ever (for the near future, at least), adding to the stakes and fueling the home crowd.
  4. In light of our selection of Wayman Tisdale to the “Big 12 Mount Rushmore” team, this blog provides a little more analysis into the legend himself. At Oklahoma, Tisdale won three Big Eight Player of the Year awards and earned All-America distinctions as a freshman, sophomore and junior. These days it’s almost unfathomable to think that a player so dominant in his first season in college would actually stay for another year, let alone two. And it’s also interesting to consider that Tisdale’s instant success as a freshman was largely unheard of during that time period. These days, we expect freshmen to contribute and dominate, but Tisdale was one of the first to set that trend.
  5. It wasn’t easy, but Iowa State overcame a sluggish first-half effort to knock off Texas Tech last night in a game it absolutely could not afford to lose. The win gives the Cyclones 10 Big 12 victories, which, as the article mentions, is the first time that’s happened in 10 seasons. The 72-54 final margin is hardly how this game played out, though. Tech led at halftime and hung around for most of the second half, which is good news for Billy Gillispie as he tries to build on the first season of his rebuilding job.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Too bad Missouri couldn’t follow Bill Self‘s advice. Like any seasoned coach, he’s keeping his team in check before the final Border War game on Saturday by focusing on Texas A&M first. The Tigers, of course, fell victim to Kansas State on Tuesday night, taking a little luster off the matchup this weekend. Still, it will essentially determine the Big 12 regular-season championship, and if Kansas takes care of business against the Aggies it will be in the driver’s seat. Lose that game, though, and they are in the same boat as Missouri.
  2. Who’s responsible for Jeff Withey‘s hot streak lately? In a lot of ways, it’s Withey himself since he is finally playing to his potential. Bill Self can also take a lot of credit for building him from scratch and developing him over the course of a few seasons. But what about Danny Manning‘s role? Apparently, the former Jayhawk star and current assistant has served as a mentor and teacher to Withey this season. Not a bad guy to take advice from.
  3. Texas‘ NCAA Tournament hopes are dwindling by the second, especially after a home loss to Baylor on Monday. The Longhorns still have a chance to win at the Phog to pick up a signature win against Kansas, but that’s a tall task as we all know. This article takes an interesting angle on the matter, though. Is anyone all that upset about Rick Barnes‘ failure to make the NCAAs this season, barring a late surge? According to this particular writer, Barnes is “fighting the indifference that can swallow this sport in this state.” That’s always been a problem in Austin, but for the first time during his tenure, we’re seeing a Barnes team in danger of playing in the NIT.
  4. Royce White has made a name for himself with both his play and his mohawk this season, but behind the scenes he has dealt with a lot of adversity. In this digital age especially, we idolize players and make them into heroes on the basketball court, forgetting their human sides sometimes. White has fought an anxiety disorder for years and takes medication for the issue, something you would never be able to tell by watching his graceful play from the stands or on television. This Des Moines Register article also helps put his arrest at Minnesota in perspective, giving the other side of the story from White’s perspective.
  5. Oklahoma would be elated to make the NIT at this point, but forward Romero Osby has bigger plans. As he points out, Osby played for Mississippi State in 2009 when it won the SEC Tournament to earn an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, shaking off a somewhat lackluster regular season. That Bulldogs team was a little better than these Sooners, but the sentiment remains. If Oklahoma can figure out how to play like it did during stretches of November and December– albeit against weaker competition– maybe there’s something to Osby’s optimism.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.03.12

Posted by dnspewak on February 3rd, 2012

  1. Frank Martin may be the most entertaining coach in college basketball, but his recent comments may come back to bite him. Martin referred to a late no-call against Iowa State as “an absolute joke,” a phrase he often uses with reporters to describe a variety of situations. Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said he’s “aware of the situation,” which means he’ll review everything and make a decision. That wasn’t the only thing Martin said, though. He continued: “We never shot a free throw. Every time we took a deep breath on the other side Iowa State shot a free throw.” For precedent, the article mentions that former Texas Tech coach Pat Knight once missed a game after his own criticism of referees. That may be in the works for Martin, depending on how lenient Neinas feels here.
  2. Until the Tulsa World pointed it out, we didn’t notice that Oklahoma forward Romero Osby has been wearing a boot since mid-January. Osby said he injured his Achilles, but he’s also said it has improved lately and that the boot is for “precautionary reasons.” It hasn’t seemed to slow Osby at all. Since adding that boot, he has scored in double figures in four of five games, including a double-double against Baylor. Osby has been an important addition for Lon Kruger after transferring from Mississippi State, so it’s important for him to stay healthy and keep producing.
  3. The Big 12 is a three-horse race right now between Kansas, Missouri and Baylor. All three will easily make the NCAA Tournament, and all three could potentially earn a top seed. As for the rest of the league? It’s up in the air at this point. Kansas State and Iowa State look like decent bets to make the NCAAs, and the Cyclones in particular are certainly trending up, although neither is a lock at this point. There’s also still a small chance Texas could find a way into the Dance, although Rick Barnes is in serious danger of missing the tourney for the first time during his stint in Austin.
  4. As for ISU’s situation, players and coaches are trying to not pay attention to the NCAA Tournament talk. The program hasn’t made the Dance since 2004-05, but the chatter is starting to heat up during Big 12 play. Coach Fred Hoiberg said the team has “been great” in staying focused, and Chris Allen said “I try to stay away from predictions.” Iowa State has its signature win over Kansas, but now it must close out the season strong to stay afloat. Whether players want to talk about it or not, the dream is very much alive at this point.
  5. The Border War game between Missouri and Kansas on Saturday may be the most anticipated contest in series history, especially considering it may be the last time the two teams meet in Columbia for the near future. Naturally, MU students are already camping out for College Gameday’s visit on Saturday morning. It’s terrific to see such great fan support, but it begs a serious question: Don’t these people have class? We envy anyone with the ability to skip two days of classes in favor of camping out in a tent outside Mizzou Arena.
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Baylor Rights the Ship, Not About To Collapse Again

Posted by dnspewak on January 25th, 2012

After losing ground in the Big 12 title race by losing to Kansas and Missouri in the span of five days last week, Baylor got back to the basics on Tuesday night in a 77-65 win at Oklahoma. This didn’t look like the same team that lost the rebounding battle in its two previous games, and it didn’t look like the team that showed serious several defensive deficiencies. Instead, the Bears outlasted a pesky Sooner squad by refocusing and playing tougher basketball. Early in the game, Perry Jones looked like a completely different player as he brought more aggression and assertiveness against a decent group of bigs. Thanks to Pierre Jackson‘s penetration skills, Jones got a lot of high-percentage looks and converted nine of 15 field goal attempts on the way to a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds). That’s the key for Baylor: Great guard play, team ball movement and a big game from Jones.

Scott Drew's Team Rebounded in a Big Way On Tuesday

This was a vintage performance from Baylor offensively, but Scott Drew‘s team’s new commitment to defense and the boards Tuesday night made all the difference. And that’s why any talk of a Baylor collapse this season is unfounded, even after two losses to the league’s best teams last week. Oklahoma’s lack of scorers and three-point shooters kept it from pulling the upset, but the Sooners’ tough night from the perimeter had a lot to do with Baylor’s defense. The Bears’ guards forced Steven Pledger to settle for a lot of threes, and they got a little lucky when Andrew Fitzgerald missed several gimmes in the first half. Romero Osby did his work on the boards, but he’s one of the better individual rebounders in the conference. Otherwise, as a team, Baylor did a better job limiting Oklahoma’s damage on the boards with a +4 margin overall.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 23rd, 2012

  1. Missouri earned the most important win of its season by knocking off Baylor on Saturday, and it did so by playing harder and tougher than the Bears. The Tigers, who won the rebounding battle despite having only two scholarship forwards on the roster, may have benefited from a reading assignment coach Frank Haith insisted on. Haith made the players read an essay about toughness from Jay Bilas from 2009. It appeared to pay off, according to Kim English. “Size doesn’t matter… Everything evens out in basketball. Height limits speed.” MU improved to 18-1 and now sits a game behind Kansas in the Big 12. The Tigers still need to play at Lawrence in late February, but they’ve already taken road trips to the rest of the teams in the upper half of the league. This league could come down to the final Border War series this year — imagine that.
  2. To this day, it’s hard to forget Mike Gundy‘s tirade at Oklahoma State in defense of a quarterback. Remember? He’s a man, he’s 40, and so on. Well, Travis Ford didn’t live up to that speech in OSU lore this weekend, but he made a similar plea for the critics to lay off senior guard Keiton Page. Page shot just 4-17 from the field, but Ford didn’t care. “This kid is giving it everything he’s got and he can’t even walk the next day. I do not think he gets the respect that he deserves on that court. I just don’t get it; I don’t get it… Keiton Page is phenomenal.” Ford says Page’s production is limited because of the way defenses key in on him, and he’s got a point. But clearly, Ford believes that Page is more important to this program than his shooting percentages would suggest.
  3. Ben McLemore pleaded not guilty to a minor in possession of alcohol charge, which he received back in November. It’s a small offense, but it became an issue when the Kansas freshman missed his court date in December. McLemore is ineligible to play this year, but he apparently did not tell his coaching staff or teammates about the original alcohol charge. He’ll now appear in court again in March. Bill Self says the matter will be handled “internally” — and you know what that means.
  4. Staying with Kansas, you’re probably familiar with the story of Thomas Robinson. College Gameday ran a piece about his tragic situation on Saturday, and various media outlets have told his story after he lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother in the span of a month during the 2010-11 season. Here’s another perspective on Robinson, as told by the Kansas City Star. No matter who you root for, it’s impossible not to pull for Robinson on a personal level. No person should ever have to suffer that kind of loss in such a short period of time.
  5. Lon Kruger is still trying to figure out his Oklahoma team. During this process, Kruger has adapted as a defensive coach, using a zone more frequently with the Sooners this season. Apparently, it’s working. Ever the tactician, Kruger has used it as a change of pace for his normal man-to-man look, and his players have seemed to take a liking to it. “It’s been good for us,” forward Romero Osby said. Guard Steven Pledger said the same thing, mentioning that any defense works as long as you put effort into it. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s man or zone, you have to be active and play hard.”
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Big 12 Morning Five: 1.20.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 20th, 2012

  1. Surprise! Kansas is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 and has already defeated one of its main rivals for the league title (Baylor) at home. That leaves Kansas in a strong position in the conference right now, although it’s still too early to hang any banners. The Jayhawks still need to travel to Waco, Columbia, Manhattan, and Ames, but Bill Self’s teams have traditionally played well on the road. As even Self has admitted, though, this year’s team is not a vintage Kansas team, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on how this team fares. After seven years of either sharing or winning the Big 12 outright though you have to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt here. It’s unlikely this team, which still features a Wooden Award front-runner in Thomas Robinson, will fall apart on tough road environments.
  2. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little fun with All-Conference teams. Commentator Mitch Holthus put together several different teams, all of which had nothing to do with basketball. We don’t have any arguments with most of his picks, but where is Ricardo Ratliffe on the WWE team? He’s as chiseled as it gets in the Big 12. And with regards to that coaching card game, let’s try to find a spot for Fred Hoiberg. Just to liven things up a bit.
  3. Frank Haith would also have an interesting story to tell at that card game if Holthus selected him. You are probably sick of reading the Frank Haith reclamation stories, but it has been awhile since we have posted one. And this article is particularly well-written, weaving his days at Miami along with the scandal and the controversial hiring at Missouri. If the Tigers keep winning, you will be reading a lot more of these pieces especially from the national media. Haith is an underdog, and that is something America will never have enough of.
  4. Oklahoma did not begin Big 12 play with a bang, but it could actually take control of fifth place in the Big 12 with a win this weekend at Texas A&M. It’s a winnable game for the Sooners, who have won two straight league games after an 0-3 start. It’s only a matter of time before Lon Kruger works his magic, and there’s no reason this team can’t sneak into at least the NIT. Steven Pledger is learning to deal with the pressure of expectations, according to the article, and Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby can cause a lot of problems for Big 12 teams when they play well. Kruger’s program will only continue to improve given time, but his first team isn’t a pushover by any means.
  5. And staying with the Sooners, sophomore Cameron Clark is embracing his new role as a reserve. Clark seemed like a definite starter heading into the season, but Kruger’s decision to bring him off the bench has helped his game. Clark scored 10 points in 14 minutes against Kansas State and added 10 against Texas Tech. That’s the sign of a mature player. Clark probably did not expect to lose his starting role, but he’s responding well to his coach’s decision whether he likes it or not. One day, Clark will probably find his way back into the starting lineup. For now, though, OU will be just fine if he keeps up this kind of production.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.17.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 17th, 2012

  1. Cameron Clark had a productive freshman season for Oklahoma leading many (like yours truly) to believe he would break out as a sophomore this year. He hasn’t reached star status yet, but Clark is starting to emerge as of late. The 6’6” guard scored 10 points in a win over Kansas State, and his coaches and teammates say they are starting to see him play with more and more confidence as the year progresses. Romero Osby even says Clark is one of the best players on the floor every time he plays a game, which is high praise coming from one of the Big 12’s best rebounders. And here’s an interesting fact: Clark averages 13.1 points per game during Oklahoma wins and just 6.3 points per game in losses. Sounds like he’s a forgotten piece of Lon Kruger‘s team.
  2. In another part of the state, Oklahoma State is trying to find a way to recover from a 40-point beatdown by Baylor this weekend. But at least one writer says we shouldn’t give up the on the Cowboys just yet. No, Oklahoma State won’t compete for a Big 12 title with all of the injuries and transfers it has dealt with so far, but the guy has a point. This team is still 2-2 in the league, and if LeBryan Nash ever emerges as a star, this team could finally find a way to score consistently. This team is already fairly solid defensively, so just a little boost from Nash, Keiton Page and perhaps another option could help Travis Ford at least salvage a post-season berth and winning league record.
  3. Texas is a mainstay in the NCAA tournament. In fact, Rick Barnes has never missed the Big Dance since arriving in Austin 13 seasons ago. That streak may end this season, unless Texas can find a way to finish above .500 in the Big 12 and knock off a few quality opponents. The young Longhorns are still getting inconsistent production out of Myck Kabongo, but you have to think he and the rest of the freshmen on this team will step up to help J’Covan Brown one of these days. Luckily, Texas will still has several contests with Baylor, Kansas, and Missouri looming so it has a chance to improve its resume before March.
  4. After Kansas State‘s loss to Baylor, Frank Martin did not throw his hands in the air and simply attribute the loss to playing against a great team. Instead, he punished a few players (like Angel Rodriguez) by making them run stairs while the rest of the team watched tape. Martin then relegated Rodriguez to the bench against Oklahoma, a game it lost in Norman by nine points– though it was uglier than that margin would suggest. Although Martin’s tactics seem like a little much, the man knows what he’s doing. Last season, after his pre-season top-25 team hit a free-fall in the middle of the season, Martin rallied that group and recovered just fine. Although the 1-3 record in the Big 12 doesn’t look very good, Martin will find a way to turn things around.
  5. The NBA comparisons for Royce White are ridiculous. Fred Hoiberg says he’s Kevin Garnett; Frank Haith says he’s Magic Johnson. And now, Travis Ford says he’s Jamal Mashburn. Ford says White is one of the best ball-handling forwards he’s see in the Big 12, and the guy certainly deserves every accolade opposing coaches give him. But this is starting to get a little wild. Why not let him establish himself instead of placing him on a pedestal next to NBA greats? At least White has a sense of humor about all of this. Remember, he did say that Haith’s comparison to Magic was “outrageous.”
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