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Tisdale and Griffin
Determining OU’s Greatest Player Impossible

Is Blake Griffin the best basketball player in Oklahoma history? Better, even, than Wayman Tisdale? I have no idea, and neither do you. Try comparing two totally different players from two totally different eras and all you get is angry, after a heated argument.

(Yes, I realize Alvan Adams probably deserves a piece of the debate. But the only time I remember watching Adams play, it was for Phoenix, not Oklahoma, and on a television set with those rabbit-ear antennae, not at the Lloyd Noble Center. I’d be better off analyzing those Sesame Street episodes I used to watch back then, and so I’m going to remove Adams from this discussion, as unfair as that is.)

As to Tisdale versus Griffin, well, we all agree that Tisdale was the better scorer (he dropped 60 once, and 50 and 40 twice), while Griffin is the better rebounder. Griffin has the bigger body, but Tisdale had a bigger smile.

Beyond that, forget it. It’s impossible.

I’d much rather look for similarities, not differences, and appreciate what both did for their program.
Remember the day Griffin destroyed Texas Tech for 40 points and 23 rebounds, and Red Raiders coach Pat Knight walked into the press conference and promptly called the Sooners’ big man “The Terminator?”

As much a machine as man, right? Relentless.
Well, couldn’t you say the same thing of Tisdale on the baseline, catching, shooting and scoring, again and again and again? You don’t have to have a body-by-Atlas to wreak your own brand of havoc.

Both could demoralize an opponent whose defensive gameplans were built around stopping them. In that respect, both sent the confidence level of their own teams through the roof. Before long, in both cases, Oklahoma basketball didn’t just matter again, it thrived.

The Sooners had won one NCAA tournament game in a 34-year span prior to Tisdale’s arrival. Imagine that. It took the freshman from Booker T. Washington a single season to change that tune, with a 71-63 first-round victory over UAB March 18, 1983.

Two years later, OU came within a 2-point loss to Memphis State from going to the Final Four. What followed was Stacey King, Harvey Grant, Mookie Blaylock, the nation’s No. 1 ranking and a near national championship.

The Sooners’ NCAA drought wasn’t anything like the pre-Tisdale version prior to Griffin’s arrival. But they had serious issues just the same — probation and sanctions and a lost head coach and lost high school signees.

Jeff Capel, the man who inherited the mess, needed a pillar as badly as Billy Tubbs did a quarter of a century previously. He got Griffin, and by the end of his freshman season, the Sooners were back on solid ground, winning an NCAA tournament game while putting a fresh face on a stabilizing program.

Capel charged Griffin with “changing the culture” of OU basketball and “making it cool” to play for the Sooners again. That’s just what happened, as McDonald’s All-Americans Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Keith “Tiny” Gallon signed up in Griffin’s wake.

See, when you size up a player’s legacy, it’s as much impact as statistics. Not how much he scored, but how much he mattered. If Tubbs doesn’t sign Tisdale, who knows when OU becomes a national basketball player? Who knows if it does?

If Capel doesn’t get Griffin, who knows when the clouds hovering over Lloyd Noble break? Who knows if they do?

The effect of both players was seismic. Call it a draw and leave it at that.

And one more thing: Don’t forget to appreciate the two players as people.

Tisdale, to my knowledge, is the only player whose personality ever got inside that sweater of Bobby Knight’s. The Sooners’ representative on the 1984 gold medal-winning Olympic Team kept smiling and laughing and clapping and enjoying himself until Knight broke down and admitted he loved coaching a player for something besides moving without the ball.

I don’t know what Knight thinks of Griffin as a person. But I know what he should think, based on several things I’ve seen in the two years I have been lucky enough to cover Griffin for the Tulsa World.

I’ll give you one example: The Sooners gathered inside a Lloyd Noble lounge to watch CBS’ NCAA Selection Show a few weeks ago. Staff members were invited along with their families, which means there was a fair number of youngsters scurrying about.

A few of them, a couple little girls, scurried about Griffin just as Greg Gumbel started unveiling the brackets. “The Terminator” kept one eye on the big screen and another on his little admirers, who he happened to be arm-wrestling at the time.

In the end, here’s what I know about Blake Griffin and Wayman Tisdale: Both wore No. 23. Both were All-Americans. Both set records. Both set standards, for themselves and the teams they led.
Both were Oklahomans.

And if you’re a fan of either the Sooners or plain decency, both should make you very, very proud.

(Editor's Note: This column was written a few weeks before Wayman Tisdale passed away. It appears in the April-May 2009 issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, go to our home page or call toll free 1-877-841-8877)