There is one longstanding fact everyone knows or needs to know about the University of Oklahoma and athletics: Football is king.
Plain and simple.
OU is a football school.
Always has been, always will be.
Legendary basketball coach Billy Tubbs recognized that truth 20 years ago and still does. Recently on a local radio sports talk show, Tubbs pointed to the fact early-season attendance at OU basketball games suffered even when three-time All-American Wayman Tisdale was the Sooners’ featured hoops attraction back in the 1980s.
Why? Because of football, according to Tubbs.
So folks concerned about the lack of fans on hand to witness the amazing Blake Griffin show so far in 2008 should just chill and wait for football season to end. Once that happens, the Lloyd Noble Center will start to fill up.
It is too bad more fans haven’t taken the time to check out Griffin’s high-flying act this season, but he certainly isn’t going to stop being his superstar self just because there are a few empty seats in the house.
The lack of fans has been somewhat offset by the number of NBA scouts who show up every time Griffin and his OU mates lace up for a non-conference game at the LNC, or anywhere else. When the Sooners hosted the University of Southern California last week, there were close to two dozen scouts on hand to watch and evaluate.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Mike Houck, sports information director for the OU men’s team. “We had 24 requests from NBA scouts for that game, and there were 26 at the OU-Tulsa game on Sunday. I don’t remember having that many scouts at an OU game during the last few years, although we had a bunch at the OU-UConn game here during the 2004-05 season.”
Griffin is bringing them out in droves. And while most OU fans have watched intently from the comforts of their favorite La-Z-Boy so far, that should change dramatically beginning sometime after Jan. 8. That’s when the Sooner football team faces off against Florida for the BCS national championship.
First up on the post-football schedule is a Big Monday showdown with Big 12 rival Texas on Jan. 12. The LNC should be an absolute madhouse for that one.
Until then, Griffin will keep on doing his thing, big crowd or not. He definitely hasn’t let the lack of attendance slow him down to this point.
Going into their game against Maine tonight, Griffin is averaging 24.8 points and a nation-leading 16.3 rebounds per contest. His dominating overall performance has helped lead the Sooners to an 8-0 start, and if all goes as planned over the next few weeks, OU could very well record its first undefeated non-conference mark in more than 30 years.
That would be incredibly impressive considering some of the teams Tubbs and successor Kelvin Sampson fielded at OU during a 25-season stretch from 1981-2006, including a pair of Final Four squads that went a combined 66-9.
Of course, Griffin is not just a one-man show. While the gifted 6-foot-11, 250-pound sophomore is no doubt the main attraction, he’s got a supporting cast that more than does its share of the heavy lifting.
True Freshman Willie Warren has helped further solidify a good OU backcourt that includes veterans Austin Johnson and junior Tony Crocker. Griffin’s older brother, Taylor, has played well at one forward spot and newcomers Ryan Wright and Ray Willis have provided quality minutes off the bench. Not to mention, sophomore Cade Davis’ early-season sharpshooting from long range and the positive effect it’s had on the offense.
All in all, third-year coach Jeff Capel has assembled a team with more depth and athleticism than any Sooner team over the last, maybe, 20 years. And that’s saying a lot.
You can’t really blame OU fans for being hopelessly devoted to their football team and gung ho about the fact it has a chance to bring home a national championship No. 8 in January. But hopefully they will realize when that particular high-flying act has concluded its mission, there is another almost equally impressive show going on just down the street at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Tickets on sale now. “Jay C. Upchurch