Griffin is a gifted mimic, but his power and grace on the court is inimitable.
Nov. 14 American Nov. 17-18 Mississippi Valley State* Nov. 22 Gardner-Webb Dec. 4 USC Dec. 7 at Tulsa Dec. 10 Maine Dec. 13 Utah Dec. 20 Virginia Commonwealth (in Oklahoma City)** Dec. 22 at Rice Dec. 30 at Arkansas Jan. 3 Coppin State Jan. 5 Maryland Eastern Shore * NIT Season Tip-Off (also Davidson and James Madison; winner advances to New York City)
The upset-minded Rams were the team that shocked Duke in the 2007 NCAA tournament and may have a surprise for Sooners coach Jeff Capel, who used to work at VCU.
Coach: Jeff Capel (3rd year) 2007-08 record: 23-12 Big 12 record: 9-7 (5th) NCAA tournament: Second round
*Returning starter **High school stats ***2006-07 stats (with UCLA)
A fun-loving star makes the Sooners the coaches' pick to win the Big 12. No joke
Two-and-a-half years ago, when Blake Griffin told new Oklahoma coach JeffCapel that he wanted to play for the Sooners, Capel thought he was beingPunk'd. "I thought Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out at me," he says.When he realized Griffin, a known prankster, was serious, Capel was ecstatic."Besides the birth of my daughter, I don't know that I've been happier," hesays. "I felt like, Now I have a piece to build around."
Imagine Capel's joy last spring when his star forward decided to stay anotheryear in Norman, even though he was projected as an NBA lottery pick. Griffin,whose thunderous dunks and ferocious rebounds belie a graceful finesse below therim -- he passes, handles the ball and runs the floor well enough to push thebreak -- averaged almost a double double last year as Oklahoma went 23-12, aseven-win improvement over the previous season. "He's a guy you have togame-plan for," says Capel. "I don't think you can guard him single coverage. Atleast no one did last year."
Griffin is intense and emotional on the court, but off it "he's like a bigkid," says Capel. Besides pulling pranks -- he has hidden assistants' watches andswitched the contents of teammates' lockers -- Griffin has developed into a skilledmimic. "He can imitate anybody," says Capel, one of the people Griffinreportedly impersonates best. (Griffin's repertoire also includes swimmerMichael Phelps.) "I focus on the way people talk," says Griffin, who grew up inOklahoma City. "It's all about voice and timing."
Griffin considers timing important in basketball, too, which is why heskipped the draft in June. "I wanted to get better prepared for when I do makethe jump, and this could be my last chance to play with Taylor," says Griffin,speaking of his brother and role model, a senior forward who is the team'ssecond-leading returning rebounder. "We have a chance to have a great team."
He's not the only one who thinks so: For the first time in Big 12 history,league coaches have picked Oklahoma to be the top team in the conference.
Helping the Griffin brothers try to live up to those expectations will befour imposing frontline newcomers, including transfers Ryan Wright, a forwardfrom UCLA, and juco swingman Juan Pattillo. "Anytime you have so many new guys,there's a learning curve," says Capel. "But we are bigger and more athleticnow."
The Sooners have plenty to motivate them, including a 30-point loss toLouisville in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament and a promise fromtheir star. When reporters asked Blake Griffin to do his impression of Capel oncamera, he demurred. "I'll do it," he said, "but not until we win the nationalchampionship." -- Kelli Anderson
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.