Oklahoma freshman De'Angelo Alexander is making his coach look good.
When Kelvin Sampson decided to redshirt senior Jason Detrick this year, he did so with the expectation that Alexander would emerge as a solid player for the Sooners. Now Alexander is a starter who played a big role in top-seeded Oklahoma winning its first two games in the East Regional.
With Hollis Price bothered by a groin injury, Alexander scored a career-high 16 points in a first-round victory over South Carolina State and added 15 points and seven rebounds in the second round against California.
Now the Sooners (26-6) move on to play 12th-seeded Butler (27-5) in the regional semifinals Friday at Albany, N.Y.
"There's a lot of people who ask me questions about why did we redshirt Jason Detrick, and that's a fair question,'' Sampson said. "But now you know why. De'Angelo Alexander is a very good basketball player.
"Jason, in five NCAA tournament games last year I think he averaged 4 points per game. I had a good feeling De'Angelo could do that.''
Sampson also had faith in Alexander a year ago when Alexander and four teammates were kicked off their Midwest City High School team. They were accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman while at a tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
The woman eventually chose not to file charges, but Alexander's high school career was abruptly ended and his reputation was tarnished.
"I knew the kid and that really helped me,'' Sampson said Monday. "I knew the kid, knew his mother, his father. I just brought him into my office even as it happened and sat down and talked to him. I think what he went through was a severe punishment, not getting to play his senior year.''
Alexander said it was a difficult time.
"I was used to being in every state championship of my high school years, and for me to sit and have to watch the playoffs over something that didn't really happen, it hurt,'' he said.
"But I know the people who really know me, they really know De'Angelo, so I really don't care what people think about me.''
It hasn't always been easy on the court this year, either. Like any freshman, Alexander had to adjust to the rigors of the college game and get used to not being a starter. But he has been steady all year long, and that steadiness helped move him into the starting lineup.
Ebi Ere, who was expected to be Oklahoma's leading scorer this season, shot just 29 percent in Big 12 play. Sampson eventually chose to bring Ere off the bench and replaced him in the lineup with Alexander, who has now started seven of the past eight games.
"I think it really helped De'Angelo's confidence when we started him,'' Sampson said. "I think he felt that he belonged more.''
Alexander scored in double figures in the final three games of the regular season, then totaled just 14 points in the three games at the Big 12 tournament. But then he played very well in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"He's played well the last 10 or 12 games,'' Sampson said. "Since we've moved him into the starting lineup, he's had a lot of good games. We've played a lot of good teams this year and he's played well.''
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Alexander has the strength to score inside and is a good rebounder. He also has worked to improve his perimeter scoring.
Sampson said this time of the year boils down to mental toughness and confidence, and Alexander has both.
"He went through the typical freshman ups and downs,'' Sampson said. "But late in the season, he's been tremendous."
By Owen Canfield
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