Freshman phenom ready for test
Sooners star Griffin gears up for Tigers, fellow talent Rose
By Jim Masilak
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
He's one of the nation's premier freshmen, a player touted as a potential program-changing talent and one of the most important recruits in school history.
Because he has performed to rave reviews in his first few college games, New York City's basketball cognoscenti eagerly awaits his arrival for Thursday's 2K Sports College Hoops Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Much like Memphis guard Derrick Rose, Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin has grabbed the public's imagination. And in the process, Griffin can count the Tigers' dynamic freshman among a fast-growing list of admirers.
"Man, he's athletic," enthused Rose, who ran up against the 6-foot-10, 230-pounder from Oklahoma City on the summer circuit. "That's one of the most athletic big men I ever saw. He's my age, but he's really athletic."
A consensus top-25 national prospect while prepping at nearby Oklahoma Christian School, Griffin gave second-year Sooners coach Jeff Capel a huge boost when he decided to stay home and play alongside his brother. A 6-foot-7, 236-pound junior forward who can play a bit himself, Taylor Griffin and his more-heralded younger sibling are breathing new life into OU basketball.
Through three games for the Sooners (3-0), who face No. 3 Memphis (2-0) in Thursday's second semifinal, Blake Griffin is averaging a team-high 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
In what is becoming The Year of the Freshman in college basketball, no list would be complete without a player said to be Oklahoma's most prized recruit since Wayman Tisdale came to Norman 25 years ago.
"He's talented. Now, he still has a long ways to go. He has a mix of athleticism, of strength, of size for an 18-year-old kid that's very rare," Capel said. "The thing I love about him is that he wants to be good. One of the things that's concerning to me is he hasn't played anyone who can match his mixture of size or his speed or his athleticism or his strength. That will come on Thursday. ... It will be interesting to see how he performs on that stage."
Griffin's older brother is no slouch either. Taylor Griffin scored 11.3 points per game in lopsided wins over San Francisco, Denver and Alcorn State. Oklahoma won those games by an average of 28.7 points, but he knows that playing the Tigers should prove slightly more challenging.
"This will be a good test for us because of the caliber of team Memphis is," said Taylor Griffin, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 77-65 loss to Memphis during last year's Maui Invitational. "We had a chance (in that game), down seven at halftime, but I think we're a lot better right now this year than when we played them last year."
Oklahoma ended 16-15 in Capel's first season, thus ending the nation's longest postseason streak at 25 years. The addition of Blake Griffin should help the Sooners start a new streak.
"He's gonna be a heck of a player. We've got to help him develop as quickly as we can," Taylor Griffin said. "We have a chance to do some big things this year."
If the Tigers remember one thing about last year's meeting with Oklahoma, it's that the Sooners aren't the sort of team that's easily forgotten. Their physical style of play was the first thing most Memphis players cited when asked about them.
"They're a very physical team. We've just got to match that," senior forward Joey Dorsey said. "You've got to come out and play with intensity on every possession. If you don't, you'll get smacked."
Junior forward Robert Dozier turned in one of his better performances last year against the Sooners, scoring 13 points to go with seven rebounds. But he was still gassed the next night when the Tigers faced Georgia Tech, going scoreless in a loss to the Yellow Jackets.
"I know they play physical. They've got some big guys inside that can play," Dozier said. "The banging down low, that's what I remember most."
Sophomore guard Doneal Mack said the Tigers are ready for a tussle. Though ranked among the nation's elite, he said, they still have a chip on their shoulder.
"It's gonna be a tough game. Oklahoma's not somebody we can look past," Mack said. "But we aren't gonna let them take us out of our comfort zone. We're eager to go up there and play because a lot of people think it's just hype about us. We're eager to go up there and play and prove we're for real."
With Dorsey having proved his health thanks to a double-double in Monday's 90-35 exhibition romp over Christian Brothers University, the Tigers will head to New York City today at close to full strength.
"After the second half we played (against CBU) -- the first half was so-so -- in the second half guys played with intensity and determination," Dozier said. "That's what (coach John Calipari) wanted to see. If we play like that (in New York), we're on our way."
-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311
Next for Tigers
What: 2K Sports College Hoops Classic semifinal
When, where: About 8:30 p.m. CST Thursday, at New York's Madison Square Garden
TV, radio: ESPN2, WREC-AM (600)