COLUMBIA — When Jeff Capel came to Oklahoma before the 2006-07 season, he inherited a team in turmoil.
Former coach Kelvin Sampson had bolted Oklahoma for Indiana and left behind a recruiting scandal that cost Oklahoma recruits and scholarships. Compounding matters, Oklahoma lost its top four scorers and top three rebounders when their eligibility ran out.
Capel, who was 31 at the time, had just four years of head coaching experience when he took over the team, but it hasn't taken him long to revitalize the program.
Entering this season, which will be Capel's third at Oklahoma, the Big 12 Conference coaches picked the Sooners to finish first in the preseason poll. In comments posted on the conference's Web site from the preseason media day on Thursday, Capel said he never expected the program to come this far so fast.
"Well, I was asked this question earlier this morning, ‘Did you see this maybe happening when you first got here, in two years being at this point?' And I said no," Capel said. "I'm not one of those guys that looks too far ahead."
The Sooners struggled during Capel's first season in Oklahoma, finishing 6-10 in the Big 12. Last year, however, the Sooners improved to 23-12 overall and 9-7 in the conference, advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Capel said much of the credit for the quick turnaround goes to forward Blake Griffin, who last year as a freshman led the Sooners in scoring and rebounding, and was named first-team All-Big 12.
"Certainly we wanted to be at a point where we felt like we had a chance to compete for a conference championship," Capel said. "I probably started thinking that when we got Blake, when he committed and we signed him, that there's a real possibility that that (competing for the conference) could happen."
Despite the possibility of being a first-round NBA draft pick, Griffin decided to return to Oklahoma this season. The coaches named him the preseason Big 12 player of the year.
Capel said Griffin's decision to return to campus will help him become an even better player.
"I think he made the right decision in coming back because I think the experience that he'll go through this year is going to help him so much for the rest of his life," Capel said.
Rebuilding or reloading?
Kansas coach Bill Self is trying to pick up the pieces after losing all five starters from last year's national championship squad.
Helping the Jayhawks' cause will be a recruiting class ranked second in the nation by Rivals.com, which includes highly touted twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris from New Jersey.
Self said Thursday that it will take some time for all of his young players to gel.
"I don't think we're very good right now at all," Self said. "I do think we have a chance to get good, because I think we have some nice pieces."
In May 2007, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel decided to move the three-point line back a full foot this season , from 19-feet-9-inches to 20-feet-9-inches.
Coaches weren't in agreement Thursday about whether it will be a good change.
Colorado's Jeff Bzdelik said he likes the new line because it will help his team space the floor on offense.
"Well, shooters who can shoot will shoot and make them," Bzdelik said. "Those who can't won't regardless of where the line is."
Self was less supportive. Although a trip his team took to Canada for some exhibition games would help his players adjust, he said his players struggled with the rule change in those games.
"We took a lot of two-and-a-half pointers because of them just not knowing the geography of the court as well," Self said.