With college basketball season finally tipping off, we’re running a number of previously published print features that documented a current NBA player during his NCAA come-up. Below you can read a Blake Griffin piece—originally from SLAM 122—penned while the power forward was hooping at Oklahoma, and you can find links to the other articles we’ve ran in this series at the bottom of this page.—Ed.
by Michael Bradley
Phil Martelli kept waiting for it. With each Oklahoma game he watched, the Saint Joseph’s coach searched for signs that Blake Griffin would crack. Double teams came at him from every angle. Nothing. Teammates missed shots. Not even a frown. It was obvious.
The guy is just different.
About five minutes after enrolling at OU, Griffin was already the most recognizable name in the program. As Martelli tried to figure out a way to stop the Sooners and their star freshman before their first-round NCAA match (Martelli couldn’t: OU won, 72-64), he wondered, Where was the attitude? Martelli knows what can happen when big names mingle with the little people. Hell, he knows little people who think they’re big.
“I saw nothing,” Martelli says. “Not even frustration for his teammates or from his teammates to him for getting a lot of attention. I don’t care who a player is; he’s going to show frustration in that situation. I didn’t see any of it.”
Since Griffin’s big brother, Taylor, was also on the team, Griffin had to remain humble or risk getting beaten up. And since he wasn’t one of those monstrous AAU creations dripping with gear, he tried to keep his entrance to the team as low profile as possible. “I’m not big into trying to come in and take over,” says Griffin, and you believe it.
You believe it because he’ll spend part of his second year in Norman actually learning how to live the superstar life, the better to be ready for the NBA. Griffin shocked some by coming back in the first place, since he was in everyone’s mock top 10. Now he’s getting used to being the face of OU’s squad, “Blake Griffin and the Sooners.” He’ll need to deal with the media. The fans. More double teams. But how? Maybe Sooners coach Jeff Capel can assign a posse to him. Or he can get the OU music department to help Griffin cut a rap album. Anything to get this guy ready for what’s next. The basketball part of all this is well under way, with the mid-range jumper being Griffin’s current focus. “I’ve probably made 500 shots a day this summer,” Griffin says.
Griffin is working hard, as always. He was born into a close family in Oklahoma City before playing high school ball for his father at Oklahoma Christian in nearby Edmond, and a big reason he chose OU over UConn, Duke, Florida or anywhere else was that Taylor was already there. “I can’t explain how much he’s helped me,” says Blake. “I have someone I can talk to and will shoot straight with me.”
Give Taylor credit for not spending the ’07-08 season giving little bro atomic wedgies or constant dead-arms, since Blake quickly became the focal point of the Sooner team while Taylor came off the bench. Back in the day, the brothers used to wage UFC title bouts disguised as hoop games on the driveway. Now, Blake relies on Taylor’s counsel, and his decision to return gave him the chance to hang with his brother for one more year. “[Taylor] went off after my sophomore year in high school, and I was by myself my junior and senior years,” Blake says. “It’s good to be back together.”
On the court, the 6-10, 243-pound power forward has a lot more cooking. He’s a great rebounder (9.1 rpg last season), thanks to his powerful frame and quick leaping ability. He finishes relentlessly around the basket (14.7 ppg on 57 percent shooting from the field) and is improving his total offensive game daily. “He has understanding beyond his years and a skill set that’s so advanced,” Martelli says. All of that makes him a strong candidate to be the No. 1 pick in ’09. “That’s another thing to motivate me to work harder,” Griffin says. “That’s every basketball player’s dream.”
Should that happen, or even if Griffin is picked “only” in the top five, he’ll be expected to make a quick impact, and under a lot more pressure than he gets at Oklahoma. Is he ready for his close-up? “I’m not used to it, but at the same time, I’m willing to do it,” he says. Doesn’t exactly sound like someone eager to be out in front, does it? But Capel offers some hope. On the court, Griffin’s all business. Off it? “He’s a clown,” the coach says. A what? “He’s a big kid.”
Turns out Griffin goofs on everyone and can imitate all sorts of people. “Mostly friends and assistant coaches,” Griffin says. And what about Capel? Can Griffin mimic the coach? He laughs. “Yeah, but not around him,” he says.
He’d probably give it a try, but big-timing coaches or anyone else is not Blake Griffin’s style.
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LaMarcus Aldridge: Creepin’ On The Come Up
OJ Mayo: The Fresh Man
Stephen Curry: The Cool Kid
Brook Lopez: Kid and Play