NORMAN, Okla. -- The words didn't carry much weight at the time.
"We're not going to be afraid, we're going to take it to people. This is not going to be a rebuilding year."
Point guard Sam Grooms was adamant in the preseason, using those words to describe his mindset heading into his first year at Oklahoma.
Two months later, those words carry much more weight after the Sooners improved to 8-1 with their 79-74 win over Houston on Saturday. Earlier this week, OU earned a spot on ESPN's Bracketology by Joe Lunardi as a No. 11 seed in his early projection of the NCAA tournament, with Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Washington and Minnesota among the teams on the outside looking in.
And Grooms is a major reason why the Sooners have been one of the biggest surprises of the college basketball season. The junior college transfer has solidified the Sooners backcourt with consistent play at the point guard spot. He averages 5.1 assists per game, ranking third in the Big 12, with a 2.7 assist to turnover ratio.
Yet, Grooms' most important contribution cannot be measured in statistics.
"Playing point guard, you can't have an off day, can't have a relaxed day, because there's so much that goes into playing the position," Grooms said.
That's why as he arrived in Norman after spending the last two seasons at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, Grooms wanted to set the tone for the Sooners, starting in practice.
"When you play the point guard position, most things start with that person," he said. "I believe what separates an elite guy from a regular guy is you have to be a everyday guy. It can't be four days of the week or three days of the week."
So Grooms practiced hard from the outset, hoping to set an example for his teammates and get a better feel for his teammates.
"The biggest reason to push people in practice is to know how people play and react when they are outside their comfort zone," he said. "When you're working outside of it, you find out a lot about people."
Learning about his teammates and how they play is a high priority for Grooms. Knowing where they want the ball, when they want the ball and how to help them excel is more important than scoring points or any other statistic to the Sooners point guard.
"It's real important to me," Grooms said. "I have to know what Steve (Pledger) likes to do, what (Andrew) Fitzgerald likes to do, that feels good to me.
"That's the definition of a point guard."
Before the season began, head coach Lon Kruger knew he had a winner.
But he couldn't have known the overall impact Grooms would have as he secured the starting point guard slot after a preseason battle with Carl Blair. He leads the team in minutes played (273), accounts for 35.1 percent of OU's total assists and has accounted for 20 percent of OU's free throw attempts. Those numbers speak to Kruger's trust in Grooms and the junior's ability to create opportunities for his teammates and himself off the dribble.
Now, as Big 12 play approaches, Grooms feels good about his role with the Sooners but knows he still has work to do.
"I'm probably not completely there yet; there's always room to improve," he said. "I'm more comfortable now than I was a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully by Big 12 play I'll be better -- I'm not all the way there yet."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.