The secret sauce to OSU’s 2004 Final Four team? Transfers

The secret sauce to OSU’s 2004 Final Four team? Transfers

Eddie Sutton welcomed transfers long before the portal. Twenty years ago, seven of them helped power the Cowboys to a season for the ages.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Feb 16, 2024, 1:14pm CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Feb 16, 2024, 1:14pm CST

(Want Sellout Crowd content sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletters here.)

Daniel Bobik owes $600 to Oklahoma State.

He has no intention of paying it, either.

He racked up the bill when he transferred to play basketball for the Cowboys. (This is going to sound crazy considering today’s transfer scene, but I swear, it’s true.) Bobik arrived at OSU with two other Division I transfers, Joey and Stevie Graham, and back in those days, athletes who transferred from one major-college program to another had to redshirt for a year before becoming eligible.

That year Bobik and the Grahams sat out, the Cowboys had only one extra scholarship.

“And they gave it to the Grahams because there was two of them that were coming,” Bobik said.

That left him not only paying his own way but also paying out-of-state tuition. Even though he paid down his bill significantly over the year, he decided to leave a bit unpaid.

“I don’t want to pay it off because it still reminds me of the sacrifice that we made to be able to make that work,” he said of himself, wife Natalie and then-infant son Jaxton. 

Transfers are ubiquitous with college basketball today, but in those days, they were more exception than rule. Not with the 2003-04 Cowboys, though. They had seven transfers on their roster.

OSU was Transfer U.

Consider the Cowboys ahead of the times because that OSU team went all the way to the Final Four. This weekend, the 2004 Cowboys are in Stillwater for a 20-year reunion and will be honored Saturday during OSU’s game against BYU. It’s a chance to celebrate the program’s last great team. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge why that team was so successful.

Sure, it had great coaching. Eddie Sutton and his scowl were in full effect along with Sean Sutton, Glenn Cyprien and James Dickey.

Yes, it had splendid talent, too. Tony Allen, John Lucas, Ivan McFarlin and the Grahams would all play in the NBA.

But those Cowboys had a secret sauce — their transfers.

They had a different approach, a unique mindset that influenced everything. How they played defense. (Tough and hard.) How they played offense. (Smart and unselfish.) How they faced talented opponents and tough tasks. (With unwavering belief.)

“I think they’re all smart enough to realize that they’re grateful for a second chance to try and do something with their careers,” Sean Sutton said. “The fact that there were so many of them and they were able to do it together makes it even more special.”

‘An open door’

Eddie Sutton had a track record of transfers at OSU.

Brooks Thompson from Texas A&M. Doug Gottlieb from Notre Dame. Victor Williams from Illinois State. There were so many by the time the 2003-04 season began that the team’s media guide had an entire page dedicated to all of Sutton’s OSU major-college transfers, 17 in all.

Junior college transfers were abundant in those days — count Allen, Mo Baker and Melvin Sanders among Sutton’s best at OSU — but players who transferred from one Division-I program to another were not as numerous. Not as plentiful as jucos then and definitely not as many as today.

OSU had five on that Final Four team: Joey and Stevie Graham from Central Florida, John Lucas from Baylor, Daniel Bobik from BYU and Jason Miller from North Texas.

By comparison, all of the other teams in that Final Four had a combined three major-college transfers.

The Cowboys had two other two transfers on that Final Four team, too, Tony Allen and Janavor Weatherspoon, from junior colleges.

Why did Sutton lean into transfers?

“If we could recruit all the high school players like Mike (Krzyzewski at Duke) does, we wouldn’t go after junior-college players, we wouldn’t go after transfers,” Sutton told reporters back in 2004. 

“But we don’t have that luxury of being able to compete at the national level with high school players. So, we have an open door. It’s amazing how many transfers call us and want to come.”

That’s how it was with Bobik.

After returning from a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bobik spent two years as a reserve at BYU. He watched as other players who he’d played against and with when he was in high school in California went to the NBA. Baron Davis. Gilbert Arenas. Tayshaun Prince. Bobik didn’t feel like he was developing enough at BYU to even have a shot at a pro career.

Even though his in-laws lived in Utah and his family in California got to see him play regularly, he made the difficult decision to leave BYU.

“Back in the day, you actually had to go and have a conversation with the athletic director and let him know that, ‘Hey, I need to get released from my scholarship so that I can pursue other opportunities,’” Bobik said.

Then he had to go home and tell Natalie, who was 7 or 8 months pregnant, what he’d done.

“We’re leaving,” he told her.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know.”

Natalie went to the bedroom in tears while Daniel found himself in the living room on his knees in prayer.

“Heavenly Father, I need help figuring out what am I doing,” he remembers praying. “I just feel like this is the right thing to do. I don’t know where I’m going to go.”

Bobik had designs on transferring somewhere in California and made several visits.

“But it just didn’t feel like the right fit,” he said.

OSU felt right.

Even if it wasn’t always going to be easy.

‘Such an unselfish team’

Terrence Crawford knew what Joey Graham and Daniel Bobik went through to make some money.

A couple of summers, before they went to work for Rusty Shaw, who operated the Conoco stores in Stillwater, Crawford and teammate Melvin Sanders, worked for him. Crawford remembers sweeping, mopping, painting, lifting, and hauling.

“One day I came in in shorts and T-shirt and I had to stock the freezer,” Crawford said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this might be my last day.’”

He chuckled.

“It wasn’t like our friends down south, some of those jobs they would get.”

Bedlam barbs aside, those Cowboys had players who did hard things before the 2003-04 season even started. Some left scholarships and family to sit out a year, still doing all the things required of players, including morning lifts and afternoon practice, but never getting on the court during games. Some spent time in junior college, where support systems were minimal, road trips were by bus and players were lucky to get an extra pair of socks.

And Lucas, of course, transferred from Baylor after scandal rocked the basketball program. 

After Patrick Dennehy was murdered and a teammate became the primary suspect, Baylor coach Dave Bliss was caught on tape trying to cover his tracks and paint Dennehy as a drug dealer. The whole awful, tragic saga prompted the NCAA to allow Baylor players to transfer without sitting out a year.

Lucas didn’t decide he was going to OSU until late August, 2003.

By then, the rest of the team had an idea how the lineup was going to look that season. McFarlin in the post, Joey Graham and Allen on the wings, and some combination of Bobik and Stevie Graham in the backcourt.

Lucas’ arrival changed that.

“Daniel and Stevie, one of them was going to have to go to the bench,” said Sean Sutton, who oversaw the offense while his dad managed the defense.

But the addition of Lucas didn’t throw off the chemistry. Quite the opposite. Those Cowboys became a bunch that Sean Sutton believes excelled because of their teamwork and their togetherness.

“They were just a tough matchup for a lot of guys, a lot of teams because of the way they scored the ball but also the way they shared the ball,” he said. “They were such an unselfish team.

“Got great shots. Led the country in field-goal percentage that year.”

The Cowboys’ cohesiveness caught the eye of outsiders.

A New York Times article before the regional semifinal noted, “For a team pieced together over the last two years, the 29-3 Cowboys have a marvelous chemistry that has earned them a berth in the Round of 16.”

Thing is, that makes it sound like they were tight despite all the transfers.

Those who were part of that team say it was because of the transfers.

“Those guys were a unique group,” Sean Sutton said. “None of them really were that highly recruited coming out of high school. You didn’t see some of the egos you probably see in today’s game.

“They basically put aside all their individual goals, knowing that if the team won, they would all get rewarded in the end.”

‘We did hard things together’

Daniel Bobik is like every other player on that 2004 Final Four team; he has great memories of the triumphs. 

And the list is long. A pair of double-digit Bedlam wins. A trio of wins over a ranked Texas team. A 20-point win against Kansas. An overtime win against Nebraska. A Big 12 regular season title. A Big 12 Tournament title. A run of three dominant wins to start the NCAA Tournament, then a classic battle with St. Joe’s won by Lucas’s shot with only seconds remaining.

Even going to the Final Four, a trip cut short by Georgia Tech and Will Bynum’s last-second shot, was a triumph.

Bobik sat on the bench that night in San Antonio as the starting lineups were announced, and even though Lucas or Allen was usually the last player to be introduced, Bobik found himself in the anchor spot. The Alamodome was electric, packed with OSU fans. 

Bobik bowed his head a bit as he tried to keep his emotions in check.

“Here’s this kid, two years ago that was sitting on the bench at BYU who made a huge bet on himself and put his family in a tough spot,” he remembers thinking to himself, “and here I am starting in the Final Four in front of 55,000 or 60,000 people.”

The move had been worth it.

The transfer had paid off.

That’s why Bobik has decided not to pay off his bill to OSU. That year he redshirted and had to pay his own way — out-of-state tuition, no less — was tough. 

“There was a time we had $55 in our bank account,” Natalie said. “I’ll never forget that.”

Daniel said, “It’s the price that I paid for what I wanted most. I think that anything you want in this world requires some kind of sacrifice and requires work.”

Those Cowboys knew sacrifice and work. Back then, it came with the territory for transfers, and those experiences turned a talented team into a transcendent team.

“We did hard things together,” Bobik said.

 

Share with your crowd
Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

The latest from Jenni Carlson

  • How John Calipari’s move to Arkansas makes OU’s SEC move tougher

  • Why criticism of OU softball isn’t a bad thing for the Sooners or the sport

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander serves a reminder of his greatness and uniqueness

  • Outside of injuries, is there anything to worry about in Thunder Land?

  • ‘Impossible’: Why Texas beating OU twice gives hope to college softball