One of the 11 freshmen and sophomores who overloaded the 15-man Oklahoma basketball roster last season was first-year point guard Jordan Shepherd, who came all the way from the basketball hotbed of North Carolina to play basketball for Lon Kruger and the Sooners.
Serving as a reserve player off of the bench for two-thirds of the season in 2016-17, Shepherd saw his role as well as his playing time change dramatically 24 games into the season, when another Jordan, senior point guard and four-year starter Jordan Woodard, suffered a season-ending knee injury late in a game against Iowa State.
Before the injury to Woodard, Shepherd had been averaging around 14 minutes a game, but his playing time increased by another 10 minutes a game afterward. Shepherd had a two-game stretch early in the 2016-17 campaign when he scored a combined 31 points (18 against Memphis and 13 in a game with Auburn), but other than that his scoring contribution had been very minimal.
Over the final seven games of the season, though, the rookie point guard averaged nearly six points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
“I definitely improved throughout the season,” Shepherd told Ben Coldagelli, OU’s associate director of communications in the athletic department. “There where I played a lot, some I didn’t play any.
“When Jordan Woodard got hurt and I had to play a lot of the games, I felt like I really improved a got a lot more experience.”
“It motivated me a lot,” Shepherd said about the opportunity for extended playing time. “It definitely motivated me to get better, seeing what the competition was like and how I need to up my game.”
The mentality around the team an in the locker room is definitely different, he said.
“It’s like what coach (Kruger) said, ‘Press the reset button.’ Everyone is more energized, more motivated, more hungry. It’s just more positive around here.”
All strong signals that things are going to be different, more upbeat and more confident — which should translate into more wins — for Sooner basketball in 2017-18.