Andrew Fitzgerald grips new role off bench for Sooners
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Friday, November 16, 2012
11/16/12 at 5:31 AM
NORMAN - Andrew Fitzgerald isn't going to lie. He was pretty ticked off at first.
It was a few days after the start of Oklahoma basketball practice, and he was being told that after starting all 63 of OU's games the past two years, he would now be coming off the bench.
"The first 10 minutes, my ego got to me," Fitzgerald recalled of his meeting with coach Lon Kruger. "It was kind of hard to absorb."
Kruger figured it would be. All he could do was keep reassuring Fitzgerald and hope his message might overcome the senior forward's hurt feelings.
After those 10 minutes, that's just what happened.
"It wasn't like everything is changing. My role is the same. They still want me to score. They still want me to do a lot of things," Fitzgerald said. "When he kept saying that, that he still wants me to be aggressive, it didn't bother me as much."
So there was Fitzgerald last Sunday afternoon, coming off the bench seven minutes into OU's season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe, scoring six points before checking back out to help the sluggish Sooners take control.
His six field goals on 10 attempts tied for team highs. He added six rebounds, three on each end of the floor. It was just the kind of aggression Kruger hoped to get.
It was just the kind of attitude as well.
"Deep down, everybody would like to start," Kruger said. "Drew understands that depth is a strength of our team."
And so he has given up his starting position to Amath M'Baye, the Big 12's preseason newcomer of the year. M'Baye and Romero Osby, as Fitzgerald acknowledged himself, "are practicing hard and are more athletic than me. But I'm still working hard and doing what I need to help the team."
A snapshot of Fitzgerald's selflessness from the opener: As M'Baye drove the baseline midway through the second half, Fitzgerald screened the closest ULM defender and instructed, "All the way! All the way!"
M'Baye did what he was told and took the ball in for an uncontested dunk.
"Emotionally, Drew has handled it very well," Kruger said, "and he's played well in games to this point. We'll expect that to continue."
It's not like Fitzgerald has been banished to mop-up duty. Kruger gave 10 players at least 14 minutes Sunday. Fitzgerald logged 15. He'll continue to play a key role.
He'll just do it in quicker bursts, something he can handle now that he has shed 12 pounds from last year's playing weight of 247.
"He's moving a lot better than he did a year ago," Kruger said.
Fitzgerald's body is sounder, and his mind has cleared. That's doubly beneficial for the Sooners.
"I figured I'd make a positive about the whole situation," he said of his new role, "just keep playing basketball and doing whatever it takes to help this team out."
Original Print Headline: OU senior grips new support role
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355