OU's Jamal Bieniemy

Oklahoma point guard Jamal Bieniemy surveys the court against Oklahoma State on Jan. 23. The freshman has played 95 consecutive minutes without a turnover. DEVIN LAWRENCE WILBER/for the Tulsa World

Bieniemy to step into new role

As the lone freshman on a team full of veterans a year ago, Oklahoma point guard Jamal Bieniemy was forced to learn fast and fit in quickly with the upperclassmen.

The pressure proved valuable for the former Katy, Texas, standout as he settled in rapidly, earning a spot in coach Lon Kruger’s starting lineup by January and finishing the season as the Sooners’ assist leader. Now a sophomore on a team that welcomes in a highly-touted freshman class of four, Bieniemy feels a different kind of pressure, as a player but also a leader.

“I learned last year that you’ve got to be a leader no matter what,” he said Thursday. “I’ve always got to have the guys' backs. (As a team) I think we’re all on the same page when it comes to leadership.”

Bieniemy averaged 3.5 assists in 25.3 minutes per game in 2018 while stewarding an OU offense that finished seventh in the Big 12 in scoring. In 2019, he will be asked to carry a heavier offensive burden while adjusting to playing alongside four-star freshman guard De’Vion Harmon. On top of it all, he’ll be looked upon by Kruger and his young teammates as a vital leader.

Bieniemy has spent his offseason preparing intently for his new roles. As a basketball player, he has worked to get his body stronger while spending time in the film room studying his game; as a beacon in the locker room Bieniemy has been teaching himself to be more outspoken.

In both areas, Bieniemy feels confident headed into the 2019-20 season and is ready to roll.

“I just want to do whatever it is I can do better once the regular season rolls around to help this team.” he said.

OU freshmen settling in together

Unlike Bieniemy last summer, this year's crop of freshmen have the luxury of joining the team alongside several other newcomers.

Harmon, the first signee to the class of 2019, and Jalen Hill, Anyang Garang and Victor Iwuakor have been on campus since June 1 and are relishing the opportunity to learn and adjust with another, rather than enduring their early experiences on campus and with the team alone.

“It’s been good to come in with three other freshmen,” Harmon said. “I’m here with Jalen, Anyang and Vic, so we can go through all of this stuff together. It’s definitely an adjustment, but right now it’s going good.”

Without a strong stable of veterans on the roster, this freshman class will be asked to jump right in come November. The group is beginning to feel comfortable in Norman, and there is optimism among them that they’ll be able to contribute.

“My confidence has grown even in the short time we’ve been here,” said Hill, a 6-foot-7 forward. “The veterans have pushed us throughout practice and it’s exciting to know we can have an impact.”

Sooners bullish on new 3-point line

On June 5, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel voted to approve a proposal moving college men’s basketball’s 3-point line to the international basketball distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches. That's about 1 1/2 feet from its previous spot 20-9 from the center of the basket, with the goal of greater spacing and reduced 3-point shooting in mind.

In Norman on Thursday, where new 3-point lines already have been added to the practice court, players showed little concern over the altered distances and some even expressed excitement for the change.

“It’s something that’s really good for the game,” redshirt senior Austin Reaves said. “If you play at the next level overseas, it’s the same. If you go to the NBA, it’s not as big a difference. I don’t think it’ll affect too many people.”

OU’s coaching staff has been on top of its players, insisting they put in extra work from the new distances, but for most of the Sooners the change hasn’t been a major concern.

“Last year they didn’t want us shooting on the line anyway,” Bieniemy, who shot 40.3% from behind the arc last season, said. “So, really, it’s not too different for us.”

Eli Lederman



Twitter: @ByEliLederman

Eli is the sports intern covering a wide range of sports for the Tulsa World. Previously, he was a sports writer covering the University of Missouri for the Columbia Missourian and has also contributed to the Cape Cod Times (MA). Phone: 581-8386