Amid hype, Le’Bryan Nash steers Oklahoma State’s ship

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On national television, he made his college announcement.

“I, Le’Bryan Nash, am going to take my game to Stillwater, Oklahoma to play for Travis Ford,” he said, putting on an oversized, orange Oklahoma State cowboy hat and showing a “number one” sign with his right hand, smiling from ear to ear.

And so began the career of Nash as a Cowboy, a 6-7, 230-pound Texas product who was rated as a consensus top 10 player in the Class of 2011 and honored as a McDonald’s All-American.

Here was an undeniably high-level athlete out of high school, already built like an NBA small forward, with such potential, and only needing a way to harness that ability and translate it to the college game. Being the biggest recruit to a program in nearly half a decade has its inherent expectations. His coach has even had to try to deflect the hype.

“We’ve got some really good basketball players,” Ford told the Stillwater Newspress. “So it’s not like he’s going to come in and like a lot of people are saying and kind of be the savior. We’re not putting that on him. He does not need that pressure.”

A 72-67 Oklahoma State win on the road over Missouri State on Wednesday night showcased, in 40 minutes, both the highs and the lows that Le’Bryan Nash has experienced in the first nine games of his college career.

Coming into the game with Missouri State, Nash had four assists and 24 turnovers on the year. Despite a few strong performances, including 21 points against Tulsa and 18 against Texas-San Antonio, he was inefficient from the floor, shooting below 40 percent.

Early in the first half Wednesday night, it looked like the same story.

Nash lacked aggressiveness, floating toward the perimeter and settling into an ineffective Oklahoma State half-court offense. He had a turnover and a foul, to add to it.

He has fallen into this freshman trap at different points this season, taking bad shots, not attacking the basket, and not getting to the free throw line.

“When I got to New York [for the preseason NIT Tip-off], it got way harder,” Nash said, prior to the game against Missouri State. “The second game, against Virginia Tech, it was a learning process. ‘Hey, you’ve got to wake up or you are going to be on the bench’.”

Then something clicked.

Using his 6-7 frame, Nash began to bully smaller Bear defenders on the block, instead of drift away from the basket, and his teammates found him for easy points.

He ended the half with seven points.

At the twelve-minute mark of the second half, he hit an open three and, on the next possession, muscled through contact after an offensive rebound and laid it up for two.

He pounded his chest in an outpouring of emotions and it was clear: Le’Bryan Nash was here to play.

Down the stretch, he hit a string of important free throws, finishing the game 6-of-8 from the line, totaling 19 points and adding eight rebounds.

This is the Le’Bryan Nash that Oklahoma State needs as the centerpiece, and the key is easy to pinpoint.

Aggressiveness.

When Nash is willing to push defenders around down low, draw the defense in, and be a presence, he shifts into another gear that changes the complexion of this Cowboy team.

On Wednesday night, when Nash stalled, so too did the Oklahoma State offense. When Nash was hitting on all cylinders, you can guess the result.

“I think we looked in the mirror and saw who we really are,” Nash told the Tulsa World.

And, in the future, Le’Bryan Nash will be important in shaping what they see.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_