NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -Oklahoma made the NCAA tournament in 2006, but its basketball program quickly turned into a mess.
The Sooners made a quick exit from the tournament, losing in the first round to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Not long after, coach Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana amid an NCAA investigation into nearly 600 improper recruiting phone calls made by Sampson and his staff that resulted in probation and other sanctions for Oklahoma.
The bad news continued: After Sampson left, three of the prominent recruits who had signed with Oklahoma backed out of their letters of intent, including Damion James, who went to Texas, and Scottie Reynolds, who went to Villanova. That left Sampson's replacement, Jeff Capel, with a bare cupboard of a roster.
But it didn't take long for Capel to turn around the program.
er taking over, he's guided the second-seeded Sooners into the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, in which Oklahoma (29-5) will play third-seeded Syracuse (28-9) on Friday in a South Regional semifinal in Memphis, Tenn.
It's the Sooners' longest run in the NCAA tournament since 2003, when they lost in the round of eight, coincidentally to the Orange.
Capel wasn't in the mood to look back Monday at how far the Sooners have come: ``Too busy; I'm still in the midst of it,'' he said. ``When it's over, I guess we'll do that.''
An athletic department spokesman said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was unavailable and Castiglione did not immediately respond to an e-mail query sent Monday afternoon by The Associated Press. But Oklahoma's players certainly are aware of the program's recent history and appreciative of its latest run of success, giving much credit to their coach.
``I'm proud to be a part of the team that kind of hopefully changed the program around and kind of got it rolling again,'' sophomore center Blake Griffin said. ``It's something we'll all be proud of as a team.''
5 straight seasons, at the time the longest such streak among Division I programs.
That streak ended in the 2006-07 season, Capel's first at Oklahoma, when the Sooners struggled to a 16-15 record. That summer, Oklahoma's football program was penalized for NCAA rules violations and the university's probation period - which was to end in May 2008 - was extended to May 2010.
Capel took a big step in the rebuilding process by signing one of the nation's top recruits in Griffin, who came from just up the road in Oklahoma City two years after his older brother, Taylor, signed with the Sooners. Oklahoma rebounded to 23-12 last season, falling to Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Unlike many other stars in his class, Blake Griffin opted to return to college for his sophomore season, and Capel landed another high-profile recruit in guard Willie Warren, giving the Sooners a strong outside complement to Griffin's rugged inside presence.
Senior guard Austin Johnson said it was tough at first to adjust to Capel's way of doing things, but that it's hard to argue with his success.
``He got some good players in,'' Johnson said. ``He's a great coach that came in and he's got us rolling right now.''
e win shy of the program's first 30-win season since 2002. Taylor Griffin, a senior, said he will do ``whatever it takes'' to keep Oklahoma's season going.
``For me, being in my position as a senior, having a sibling on the team, seeing this program go through so much over these four years, it's been incredible,'' he said. ``I don't want it to end any time soon.''

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