KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Bill Self’s players at Kansas don’t have to go through an eighth of what the hoopers at Oklahoma State do. The FBI investigation is just another item to the list, coach Mike Boynton said.
“(Tavarius) Shine, Mitchell (Solomon) and Jeff (Carroll) are playing for their third coach,” Boynton said. “But even think about Thomas Dziagwa, Lindy Waters and Cam McGriff. They signed to play for Travis. Before they ever showed up on campus, there’s a new coach. They get to campus, that summer, a teammate dies. They get through a freshman year, which is hard, they’re up and down, a lot of them. And the coach they thought they were going to play for now is gone the day after the season. Then I’m here.”
A few months after Boynton is hired, their lead assistant coach Lamont Evans is charged with criminal corruption and bribery, amounting to an 80-year sentence if fully convicted. And to top it off, the Cowboys are picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason poll in a year when the conference is considered to be down.
“A lot of guys have been through, I call it ‘character-building adversity,’” Boynton said. “So I think they’ll all be better for it eventually, but we’ve just got to keep our heads down and focus on improvement.”
For the two players who were at Big 12 Media Day on Tuesday, they have already improved because of it.
Carroll and Solomon are the old guys on an inexperienced Cowboy team. They used to give Phil Forte and Leyton Hammonds heck for being so old, but when I told them that high school seniors this year were born in 2000, both of them fell back in their chairs.
Carroll said it was crazy to hear “Jeffrey Carroll, senior,” over the loudspeaker at Gallagher-Iba Arena, and Solomon said he has to do a little more stretching than some of the younger guys nowadays. They’ve seen some things and been some places, but Solomon — a lifelong OSU fan — said that’s more than OK.
“It’s been a great journey, and it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” he said. “Just the experience has built me as a person, even more than a basketball player. Just having to go through so much adversity prepares me for the real world because it’s not gonna be sunshine and rainbows when you’re trying to get a job or when you get fired or when your boss gets fired and then you’re fearing for your job.”
Carroll had his options when he was coming out of Rowlett High School. Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU and Nebraska all came after him. And after a terrific junior season, he had even bigger options.
Carroll was tossing and turning on declaring for the NBA Draft after last season. He said Boynton’s introductory news conference clinched his return. He took pride in being part of Boynton’s first team as a coach.
“Once he was done talking, I was like, ‘Wow, I felt that,’” Carroll said.
Boynton was the cool assistant coach, and his personality hasn’t changed since he was named the guy, Carroll said. They all still joke, listen to the same music, too. And they share a lot of the same past.
Despite everything that has happened to OSU basketball since 2015, Boynton said his guys are believers, and those are the people he cares to care about. Not one player transferred during the summer. Brad Underwood left a day after OSU got booted in their return to the NCAA Tournament, less than a year after he called his hiring a “dream come true.” And each of the 11 return-eligible players came back. And the summer before that, only two scholarship players went to different schools.
Carroll said that tells the whole story.
“That put it in bold print that we’re all committed in, bought-in to coach Mike,” Carroll said. “Anyone could have left. Anyone could have been like, ‘Oh, the cat’s out of the bag. It’s time to go.’ But everyone knew we were in good hands.”
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