Guerrero has had a tumultuous freshman campaign. It started with his scary neck injury in the preseason that required him to be Medi Flighted to an Oklahoma City hospital, and turned around quickly into a 29-point tour de force to stave off an upset bid from UT - San Antonio.
But conference play has not been kind to Guerrero. It started rough, very rough. In the first five Big 12 games, Guerrero was 5-for-29 from the field and didn’t hit a 3 until the ninth conference game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was on the negative end at 9-to-11 until OSU’s loss at Missouri on Feb. 15, a full 12 games into the conference season.
Until that Mizzou game he had all but fallen off the radar. His minutes were down and the only real news he had made was for an indefinite suspension he received from coach Travis Ford. The suspension last just one game.
But something has happened in the past few weeks. In the Cowboys’ past five games, Guerrero’s minutes are up to 17.2 per game and, more importantly, he is doing positive things with them.
“We’ve been happy with C.J. the past couple weeks,” Ford said. “It’s all an adjustment period for him. He’s done better; he’s turning in positive minutes.
“I thought in the last game (against Kansas), watching film, he’s one of the guys we noted actually did a lot of really good things. Little things. From rotations to toughness. He made his mistakes but he did a lot of the little things. It wasn’t just about, ‘Oh he made a shot’ or a fancy pass. It was a lot of other things he used to not do that he’s starting to do.”
And some of those things are easily noticed. Guerrero was often seen as reckless with the ball in his hands and far too often overcommitted on defense. His play was viewed more as a hindrance to the team’s success rather than a benefit. That trend has started to change, most notably against the Jayhawks on Monday.
Against No. 4 Kansas, Guerrero turned in a personal Big 12-high 24 minutes and put together a modest stat line of 1-for-3 shooting with two assists and two turnovers. Not anything to write home about but still the positive signs were there and people took notice.
He wasn’t pressing or getting himself into no-win situations. He wasn’t over committing on defense. He slowed the pace of the game and set up the offense. He played the role of a point guard, which is something Ford has worked with him tirelessly on in practice.
“I really like Guerrero’s skill level. He’s a great ball handler. He’s not shooting the ball well but he can; I’ve asked him to do everything but that. I’ve gotten on to him so much about running the team, don’t worry about scoring. It’ll get there. I don’t think I have to worry about that,” Ford said. “There are so many detail things that he has to get right that we’ve asked him to do. You’re talking about a guy who at this time last year was dropping 53 on Mater Dei. He was doing things like that and wasn’t really asked to pass and wasn’t looking to pass a whole lot.
“The Big 12 is not easy. I like his skill level. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, we just have to continue to work on all the other things. He’s been getting better at it and we have noticed it.”
One easy stat to point to in that transition is this: his assists-to-turnovers the past five games is 14-5, a far cry from the line he put together early on.
Ford, a former point guard himself, is well known for how hard he is on his point guards. He did admit he’s taken it a little easier on the flashy California freshman but he’s still kept a firm hand.
“I tell him, ‘You’re lucky,’ he’s fortunate. He thinks I’m hard on him but he doesn’t know (laughing),” Ford said. “I’m tough on him but not like Keiton. This is an adjustment period for him. He grew up in L.A. and knew a whole different environment. He’s gotten it when he’s needed to but also I’ve tried to understand as well as I can that this is a big adjustment.”
With the season winding to a close, it’s the time of year coaches and fans expect to see measurable growth from young players and Guerrero has shown positive signs down the stretch of having the ability to run the team efficiently off the bench. But even more important than that has been his adjustment off the court in response to his aforementioned suspension.
“Everybody is motivated differently but he’s had a couple of good weeks here for us, as far as practice, taking care of things off the court and doing what he’s supposed to,” Ford said. “He’s learning.”