Griffin spinning his way to the top
Oklahoma star Blake Griffin has added spin moves to his low-post arsenal
Griffin expanded his game over the summer and may end up being the No. 1 pick
NEW YORK -- Spin after spin, Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin made his way to the basket. Whether facing up first or feeling out the defender behind him, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Sooner left his UAB counterparts dizzy. "It's just kind of baiting them," he said after the 77-67 win over UAB (Recap | Box) in the NIT semifinal Wednesday night. "If I have them leaning, then I am gone."
In going for 32 points and 15 rebounds, Griffin, who was coming off a 35-point, 21-rebound effort, continues to show the finesse elements that he's added to his bruising post play. An accomplished and emphatic dunker last season, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel sat his star down after he decided to return to campus last spring. Identifying holes that needed filling, the staff -- particularly assistant Mark Cline -- set out to instill the spin into his repertoire.
"Last year was a lot of dunking and brute force," Capel said. "Now you're looking at jump hooks and more moves that teams have to respect."
Adds UAB coach Mike Davis: "We've played some guys big and strong, but he's like whoosh, he's like 32 years old. I've never seen a physical specimen like that in college. We wanted to take baseline away, but he spinned, spinned, spinned."
From shooting guard Cade Davis's vantage point, the view was beautiful. As the main beneficiary of the double-down help given by the Blazers, Davis was four of eight from three, scoring all 12 of his points from comfortably beyond the line. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Davis made three three-pointers in a two-minute span, the final one tying the game at 60-60. "Even the one he missed, the fans were surprised it didn't go in," said UAB's Davis -- who also watched Sooner guard Tony Crocker shoot four of nine from long distance.
Billed as a contender in Conference USA and potential threat to John Calipari's Tigers, the Blazers proved that the league's talent pool extends beyond the Memphis city limits. Pre-season player of the year Robert Vaden, who constantly ran through a maze of screens all night ala Reggie Miller on the Garden floor, scored 19 points on four of 10 three-point shooting. Even more effective, Paul Delaney III poured in 23 to keep the game -- UAB's fifth straight on the road -- close until the final minutes.
"Our chemistry is there," Delaney said. "We just have to go home and clean some things up."
With few aspects of his star's game needing polish, Capel was asked his thoughts on Griffin's status among the nation's elite. Admittedly biased, the coach said he knew Griffin was the top player in the country since he set eyes on him at the Oklahoma Christian School four years ago. "I wouldn't trade him for anyone in basketball," the coach said. "OK, maybe LeBron I would."
LeBron James was the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft. Capel may be coaching the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft.