NORMAN, Okla. —
Bridge Creek's former star player Ryan Spangler took a round-about route to end up less than 30 miles away at the University of Oklahoma.
The journey to home at the Lloyd Noble Center went via storied Division I program Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., where he averaged 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 6.6 minutes per game under head coach Mark Few as a freshman in the 2011-12 season.
But there was something missing.
"I'm a big family guy, and they were only able to make it up there for a few games," Spangler said. "It's so far away, and with work schedules and everything, it was just difficult for them to come watch. I'm glad to be back near home."
Fast forward two years, and it's clear the switch did nothing to hold back Spangler's progress. He leads the team with 10 rebounds per game and 24 blocks on the season, all while averaging 10.6 points per game in 24 starts. It's a bit out of nowhere for those on the outside looking in, but Spangler clearly took his time to settle during the 2012-13 year he had to sit out the season.
"I figured it would be an up and down kind of thing," he said about his first full season of play with OU. "I don't want to say I expected to have this success, but that year that I had to spend off, I worked hard. Just in practice and watching the game from the bench, it's a different perspective and I learned a lot from that."
What's more, parents Larry and LeAnn Spangler and any member of his big Sooner following family or friend from the Tuttle-Bridge Creek area can come watch him any time they want. He can also make a few trips to some Bobcat games.
"One of my best friends has a sister, Hope Dawkins, who plays for [No. 15 Bridge Creek.," Spangler said. "I've been back to hang out with him and I've watched them play a couple of times."
That kind of support surely helps the 6' 8" sophomore's confidence, but there's more than the family aspect that would have attracted the Sooner program.
They would remember the 28.9 points per game, 17.4 rebounds per game, six blocks and 4.5 assists per game Spangler averaged in his senior year at Bridge Creek. As it was, Gonzaga was the team that pursued him the most before Lon Kruger took over at OU in the summer after Spangler joined the Bulldogs.
"I really liked Gonzaga, and the coach was a good guy," Spangler said. "I was in his office an entire week just talking. He helped me to try and get over not being back home and to just keep working. It's just what I decided to do."
In the middle of all of this were some attention-grabbing performances against Iowa State — when he scored 16 points and brought down 15 rebounds to hand the Cyclones their first loss of the season — and in Bedlam at Norman. His 15 points and 17 rebounds helped the Sooners topple the team that carried the torch for Oklahoma basketball heading into the season.
"I like the big games, but I think it's more just the way those games played out," Spangler said. "All the games are big to me, because if you get behind in the Big 12, it's very hard to get back up."
That much is evident with the recent struggles endured by Oklahoma State in the last few weeks. The Sooners sit third in the Big 12 standings and are on the fringes of breaking in the AP Top 25 ahead of games this week against Texas Tech and the Cowboys in Stillwater. Much like Spangler's stat line this season, OU's success is a bit of a surprise; to those on the outside, that is.
"We were excited for this season back in the summer, just because we knew people were saying we wouldn't be that good since we're young," Spangler said. "The team worked hard, we were always in the weight room. On the flip side, now we just need to keep getting better."
A post-season run may not be the only thing that could result from such an attitude. Now an established starter for OU, Spangler is looking forward to a future that might hold a professional career in basketball.
"That's my goal," he said. "I want to give everything I can to this program and I want to get my degree. In the two years I have left here, I'll just have to work hard toward that."