Blake Griffin may be the best thing that's ever happened to Oklahoma basketball.
And that's saying something. It's not like the Sooners were devoid of hoops history before Griffin arrived on campus in 2007. Waymon Tisdale was a three-time consensus first-team All-American. Billy Tubbs' 1987-88 squad was one of the sport's glorious up-tempo teams. Kelvin Sampson led the Sooners to the 2002 Final Four.
Sure, it'll always be a football school. But coach Jeff Capel says Griffin's breakout 2008-09 season has helped change all that. Heck, freshman Tiny Gallon said he'd never even heard of OU until Griffin.
Now, Gallon and fellow McDonald's All-American Tommy Mason-Griffin will help ease the loss of Griffin, the 2009 player of the year and No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. From an AP feature Thursday:
Before Griffin's arrival, Capel said he would get questioned by players, parents and coaches: "How many pros have you guys put out?"
"At the time I didn't have any and our program hadn't had a first-round pick since `88. We had (Eduardo) Najera who was in the NBA, or is in the NBA, but that's it," Capel said. "Now it's another thing to cross off that they can't use, that other people can't use against us."
While Gallon wasn't familiar with Oklahoma when he first met Capel during his junior year of high school, he knew all about Griffin. Eventually, so would everyone else who follows basketball, and Griffin's exploits have been a key example Capel can provide to prospects.
"You can come to Oklahoma and be a national player of the year. You can come to Oklahoma and you can leave school early. You can come and be the face of college basketball," Capel said.
"It is a football school, and people want to use that as a negative, but you can come here and you can do that."
That's a nice pitch to give to prospective recruits, and one that probably worked for Rick Barnes when he had Kevin Durant.
After all, is it any coincidence that the Longhorns – another football school – are on the shortlist of title contenders this season because they nabbed two impact freshmen just a few years after Durant was player of the year?
Player of the year and permanent recruiting tool? This must be how Carolina uses MJ, only on a smaller scale.