By Chuck Carlton
The Dallas Morning News
Texas forward Damion James, an accomplished player in his own right, sounded as if he had found the appropriate challenge in Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin.
James said he’s looking forward to playing against Griffin, “because he might be the best player in the country.”
Just like Kevin Durant in 2006-07 and Michael Beasley last season, Griffin has given the Big 12 another front-runner for player of the year and another prospect pro scouts will scrutinize as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. Griffin won’t lack for exposure. Tonight’s game with Texas in a showdown of Big 12 favorites will mark the first of three ESPN Big Monday appearances for Griffin and the Sooners.
Texas provides an interesting challenge. The Longhorns have a tall, deep front line, led by Dexter Pittman and Connor Atchley, that can challenge Griffin. The Longhorns have dominated the Sooners recently with six consecutive wins, all by double figures. Griffin averaged 18.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three games last season against Texas but has yet to produce a win.
So far, Griffin has managed to fulfill pretty much every expectation that greeted his decision to stay in school for his sophomore season. He leads the nation in rebounding and the Big 12 in field-goal percentage. Earlier this season, he became the first man in Big 12 history to record consecutive games with 20 points and 20 rebounds. At 6-10 and 251 pounds with all the strength those two numbers imply, Griffin has developed a decent mid-range game to complement the power moves.
Because of his success, Griffin has been hacked and whacked, jostled and elbowed. Utah suspended guard Lula Drca for two games after he tripped Griffin, drawing an intentional foul. Griffin needed six stitches to close a cut below his right eye after taking an elbow against Rice. He crumpled after getting hit below-the-belt against Southern California.
That’s not counting the expected stuff such as the double teams and gimmick defenses.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin, who saw Beasley cope with similar attention last season, expressed admiration for Griffin’s restraint and ability to keep a level head. So did Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
“I think he’s handled it with a lot of maturity, a lot better than most people would,” Capel said.
Capel did his best to prepare Griffin for the inevitable last season.
He told Griffin to get used to it.
“If he’s lucky, he’ll get that the rest of his career, where he’s receiving that kind of attention,” Capel said. “That means you’re pretty good. It’s really a compliment as frustrating as it is.”
The biggest criticism of Griffin so far has been that he might be too unselfish.
The topic was raised after Griffin deferred to teammates early in the Sooners’ one loss at Arkansas.
Griffin certainly wasn’t deferential in the Big 12 opener Saturday at Kansas State, taking 24 field-goal attempts en route to 29 points and 15 rebounds.
“It’s a fine line,” Griffin told the Oklahoman. “I would rather err on being too unselfish than to err on being too aggressive and take bad shots.”