Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Capel Says Griffin is Player of the Year; UAB Pursuing Caracter
NEW YORK — Blake Griffin has done it again.
Oklahoma’s 6-foot-10, 251-pound sophomore forward dropped 32 points and 15 rebounds on UAB in a 77-67 victory in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
No. 11 Oklahoma meets No. 10 Purdue in Friday’s championship game at 3:30. The Boilermakers downed Boston College, 71-64, behind 19 points from E’Twaun Moore.
Griffin has now recorded double-doubles in all five games for the Sooners (5-0). He had career highs of 35 points and 21 rebounds Sunday, when Oklahoma looked sluggish before pulling out an 80-76 victory over Gardner-Webb. He entered the UAB game averaging 26 points, 19.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Against UAB, he had 19 points and 7 rebounds in the second half, when the Sooners stormed back from a 34-29 deficit.
“I’m biased, I’m incredibly biased because I’m with him,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “I know there are some other great guys in the country and some guys that are worthy of the same thing, but this is my kid. I see how hard he works. I watch him every day. You look at the impact that he has for our basketball team. You look at the numbers that he’s putting up, and this is against double- and triple-teams every night. It’s not like he’s playing single coverage.
“And so my biased opinion, yeah I do think [he’s the best player in the country].”
Capel credits assistant coach Mark Cline with improving Griffin’s footwork.
“He’s done a great job with him, in helping Blake gain confidence,” Capel said. “Now he can step away and shoot it. Now he can shoot a fallaway jump shot. Now he can face up and play off of a face-up game. He’s always been able to handle the ball, we let him rebound and push last year. But he’s able to do those things more now.”
Griffin credits teammate Cade Davis with opening up the middle. Davis scored 12 points on 4-of-8 from 3.
“They’re always running the guys at him when he catches on the perimeter,” Griffin said, “so they can’t clog the lane when he’s in.”
Griffin’s teammates, in turn, say it’s easy to play with someone as skilled as he is.
“He’s getting doubles every game and he’ll have that the rest of the this year and his career,” Davis said. “It…leaves me open outside there, and you really don’t have to force anything while he’s in the game. And you know, with such a good player like he is, he can dribble out of the double team and find the open man.”
UAB’s Paul Delaney, who had 23 points for the Blazers, concurred.
“Blake’s a great player,” he said. “He’s physical. He did what he’s supposed to do. …He carried his team on his back. He did a great job.”
Next up is a date with Purdue, and those players have tremendous respect for Griffin as well.
“There’s no other Blake Griffin,” Purdue guard Keaton Grant said. “There’s only one of them in the United States, get 20 rebounds. So it’ll definitely be a great challenge playing against them and we look forward to it.”
CAPEL ON NEXT YEAR’S BIGSIf Griffin becomes the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, which he well could, Oklahoma can rest somewhat easier knowing it’s bringing in a recruiting class that includes 6-8 forward Andrew Fitzgerald of Baltimore and 6-9 Keith “Tiny” Gallon of Houston.
Fitzgerald is rated No. 63 nationally by ESPN and Gallon No. 21, No. 3 among centers.
“Gallon brings size, skill, understanding how to play basketball,” Capel said. “He can score it, he can shoot it, he can pass it. He’s a really skilled guy and if he comes in here and really gets after working with our strength coach, then he can be very successful.”
He added: “We have some guys coming back. Ryan Wright, I hate it for him. He’s not playing as much because we can’t afford to have Blake off the floor. But Ryan is really good and he’ll be a senior next year. We have [6-11] Orlando Allen…We have a kid signed with us Andrew Fitzgerald, a big kid who’s from Baltimore who we’re really excited about. So we’ll have some options next year.”
UAB PURSUING CARACTERUAB coaches are researching former Louisville big man Derrick Caracter of Fanwood, N.J. and will know more within the next couple of weeks. But they think he could be worth the risk.
UAB has a verbal commitment from 6-9 senior big man DeMarcus Cousins, but Cousins has yet to sign his NLI, saying he wants an out clause if head coach Mike Davis leaves. If Davis is still around in the spring, the staff expects Cousins to sign then.
The 6-9, 270-pound Caracter was linked to several options over the summer — NAIA school Oklahoma City, Division I Southern Miss and the Rochester RazorSharks of the Premier Basketball League.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino had given Caracter the chance to return for the 2009-10 season provided he met various academic and weight issues, but Stacy Brooks, a Louisville professor who mentored Caracter, said Caracter did not think those were realistic.
“I think he got discouraged,” Brooks said over the summer. “Although the agreement had been verbally made between him and Coach ‘P,’ he felt like the chance he was being given wasn’t really a chance. They really weren’t behind him.
“He thought it would be better for him to start at a smaller school so he can play at a smaller school and hopefully go to the next level.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.