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June 25, 2009

Griffin set to take on a new challenge

Even though he's just two years out of high school, Blake Griffin has already had big moments inside Madison Square Garden. Last season, Griffin led his Oklahoma Sooners to a preseason NIT Championship inside the hallowed halls of MSG.

But later tonight, Griffin's biggest moment as a basketball player will finally arrive as he's a sure-fire selection as the number one overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Maybe it's not hard to believe Griffin was only in Norman for two years, because Griffin achieved so much more than any other player in recent history on the basketball court.

Last season, Griffin didn't just bring Oklahoma back to the forefront of college basketball, he brought the basketball world back to our state.

That was supposed to be the role of Clay Bennett, Kevin Durant and Mick Cornett. But even Bennett and Aubrey McClendon's millions couldn't compete with what Griffin did for the game of basketball within our borders over the last two years.

Griffin did it on his own, with empty pockets and an arena that wasn't always filled to the rafters.

Griffin did it by scorching Texas Tech for 40 points and 23 rebounds, he did it by being flipped head-over-heels in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.

He did it by finishing off high-flying dunks as he jumped over and through Michigan defenders in the round of 32.

He did it by making North Carolina's Tyler Hansborough, the 2008 Player of the Year, look intimidated and inadequate in the NCAA's Elite Eight.

Griffin's time at Oklahoma was magical for several reasons. And made even more legendary by the fact he was an Oklahoman, who grew up playing basketball with another Oklahoma legend, Sam Bradford.

"It goes way back," Bradford explained. "It was little league playing at a satellite when we met. We played against each other. We never really played together until that summer. I think it was before my senior year and before his junior year."

"We got along real well," explained Griffin of their early relationship. "His house was about 10 minutes from mine so we'd actually drive to practice together out in Midwest City and we'd take turns driving. We'd just talk and make jokes the whole way.

"We actually had a ritual after every practice where we'd go to this convenience store and we'd get a Gatorade and ice cream Snickers bar after every practice."

As often happens, Griffin's immense talents will lead him outside the borders of Oklahoma, and out of the shadows of his childhood friend.

But it will be interesting to see how his legend continues to grow.

We could cite the example of Adrian Peterson to determine how things will work out for Griffin in his pro career.

It's not uncommon to see children wearing No. 28 Minnesota Vikings jerseys to OU football games over the last two years.

It's likely we'll see a lot more L.A. Clippers jerseys at OU basketball games in the coming years.

But could we see Blake Griffin's Clippers jersey being sported at OU football games in the future? That might be the most intriguing question to be answered after watching Griffin's athletic endeavors over the next few seasons.

Bradford may be the most recognizable face in the state. Had Griffin found his way into an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform, you can bet he would have challenged the Heisman winning quarterback for the crown of state's most beloved figure.

For all the accomplishments, awards and accolades, that's the only thing Griffin hasn't been able to do in his short, but spectacular career - surpass the popularity of OU's starting quarterback, in this football crazy state.

During his career at Oklahoma, especially in his second season, I was aware of what I was seeing out of Griffin. I would actually try to take a step back and realize what special moments I was taking in.

My favorite part of Blake's career was watching his march through the NCAA Tournament this past season.

Griffin's appearances carried an incredible amount of electricity throughout the arenas in Kansas City and Memphis. Blake was the show everyone paid to see. Griffin wasn't playing in front of any empty seats.

The Memphis fans would stick around just to watch the show he was about to perform. And they jumped up and down in their seats to celebrate his high-flying dunks as if they were wearing crimson and cream.

North Carolina fans were more numerous in number than OU or Syracuse fans when those two teams took the floor in Memphis.

And I've never seen or heard more crying from fans at Syracuse and Michigan in my entire life. It was as though they knew the only way to get past Griffin was to somehow convince the refs to foul him out of the game.

It was a magical run that ended too soon. But it's something I'll never forget. Griffin is the one player in the last 11 years on any field, court or arena, that made it hard not to jump to my feet and clap while on press row.

For those who don't know, that is not allowed and can get you ejected from your seats in most arenas or stadiums.

When Griffin was flipped over against Morgan State during the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, in my heart, I was that 1920's reporter guy in Hoosiers that wanted to scream out 'Forfeit that team! That guy's all banged up!' after the players went crashing into the trophy case.

But I knew I could never show that on the outside. I knew I didn't want to be that guy.

But after what I witnessed over the last two years with Blake Griffin, there are times when I felt like standing up and cheering was almost worth the punishment.

Good luck in L.A. Blake.


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