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October 21, 2009
Instead of lamenting what it lost, Oklahoma enters the 2009-10 season excited about what it has coming back. And for good reason. National player of the year Blake Griffin is gone, but the Sooners return one of the top guards in the country and a future NBA lottery pick in sophomore Willie Warren, whose performance will be key if OU hopes to challenge Kansas and Texas in the league race. Warren and upperclassmen such as Tony Crocker and Ryan Wright know what it takes to achieve greatness following last season's run to the Elite Eight. Now, instead of Griffin, the onus is on them to provide the leadership on a team that will depend as much on its newcomers as its veterans.
Freshman Tiny Gallon will be expected to carry a big load in his first season at OU.
His nickname is "Tiny," but 290-pound freshman Keith Gallon will be carrying a mammoth load for the Sooners during his inaugural college season. The Sooners lost the nation's best player in Griffin, and coach Jeff Capel also had to boot rapidly improving forward Juan Pattillo from the team after a series of off-court incidents. That means Gallon -- the No. 9-ranked prospect in the Class of 2009 -- will be called on immediately to be the key guy for Oklahoma in the paint. Gallon led all scorers with 20 points in the McDonald's All-American game and is an excellent passer out of the post, but he needs to work on his defensive game. He'll get help down low from Wright, who averaged just 1.8 points last season after transferring from UCLA.
Warren likely would've been a top-15 pick in the 2009 NBA draft had he chosen to leave school after a freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points. Instead, he stayed at OU, and his numbers and role should increase in Griffin's absence. As talented as Warren may be, he had a tendency last season to try to take games over by going into one-on-one mode; that led to selfish, ill-advised shots that hurt his team in the long run. If Warren stays within Oklahoma's system and involves his teammates in the offense, it could be another special season for the Sooners especially if freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin adapts to the college game quickly.
Although they won't be at the level of Kansas or Texas, the Sooners again should be one of the most talented teams in the Big 12. Capel won over a lot of fans last season after guiding Oklahoma to the Elite Eight, but his sideline prowess will be scrutinized more than ever now that Griffin is gone.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.