Tisdale left profound legacy as pioneer of Oklahoma basketball
Wayman Tisdale died Friday morning in a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa
Kansas coach Bill Self calls the three-time All American Oklahoma's best ever
Tisdale changed the attitude about Oklahoma basketball across the country
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The long-running joke in Oklahoma used to be that the state had two seasons -- football and spring football.
Then Wayman Tisdale came along, and basketball in the Sooner State has never been the same.
Under coach Billy Tubbs, who preferred a run-and-gun style, Oklahoma hoops took off in the mid-1980s, with the 6-foot-9 Tisdale in the starring role as a three-time All-American -- one of only 10 players in major college basketball history to achieve that feat.
Tisdale died Friday morning in a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa after a two-year battle with cancer, but his basketball legacy will live on, said Kansas coach Bill Self, an Edmond native who played with Tisdale on an AAU team and against him while at Oklahoma State.
"He was the best player ever to come out of the state of Oklahoma," Self said Friday. "He changed the whole landscape for basketball in our state, from a fun standpoint and from a production standpoint. We were a football state until Wayman came on the scene.
"I certainly hope people, especially in the state of Oklahoma, understand how he changed the way people viewed not only basketball, but how they viewed the fun and the energy that goes into our sport. He changed it more than anybody else did."
Self compared watching Tisdale in the 1980s to watching current NBA MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"He had the same stuff LeBron's got now. His attitude, his energy, how his teammates rally around him. He had that way before anybody else in our area of the country. You couldn't guard him. We talk about guys now who can score on the post. There was nobody who could score on the block like that dude."
Self noted that Tisdale's popularity even spanned the gulf between those in the state who wear crimson and support Oklahoma and those who wear orange and root for Oklahoma State, and a scene that played out on the state Senate floor Friday offered proof. When state Senate Majority Leader Todd Lamb announced to his colleagues that Tisdale had died, a prayer was offered.
"Whether you're a Cowboy or a Sooner, Oklahoma has lost a great ambassador," Lamb said.
Flags on OU's campus flied at half-staff on Friday.
Before Tisdale arrived at Oklahoma, basketball in the state had fallen on hard times. Oklahoma State won two NCAA titles in the 1940s under Hall of Fame coach Henry Iba, but even before he retired in 1970, the Cowboys' program had fallen into mediocrity.
Oklahoma's tradition wasn't even as strong as that of its in-state rival. The Sooners reached the NCAA Final Four in 1939 and the national-title game in 1947, but they didn't post another 20-win season until 1978-79, when they won the Big Eight Conference title under coach Dave Bliss. Bliss left for SMU after going 15-12 the next season and was replaced by Tubbs.
In Tubbs' second season, Oklahoma went 22-11 and reached the NIT semifinals, starting a postseason streak that would stretch to 25 years. The next season, in 1982-83, the Sooners added Tisdale and took off. During the next eight years, the Sooners reached at least the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament four times.
Oklahoma lost to Memphis in a regional final in 1985, Tisdale's final season in college, then advanced to the NCAA title game in 1988, losing to Kansas. One of the stars of the latter team was All-America center Stacey King of Lawton, and he said the star power of Tisdale lured him to play collegiately in Norman.
"Wayman's one of the biggest reasons why I chose Oklahoma," King said. "I wanted to be part of something special and it made logical sense to go to OU because I wanted to pattern my game after him. I wanted to be like him. People used to talk about 'Be like Mike (Michael Jordan),' but I wanted to be like Wayman."
Darryl "Choo" Kennedy, who played for the Sooners from 1983 to 1987, echoed that sentiment.
"He was my man," Kennedy said. "I played with him pretty much all my life, going back to AAU. He was the reason I wanted to go to OU. I wanted to play with one of the greatest players to ever come out of Oklahoma. He was a great person. He was always positive, he never let the negative bring us down as a unit. He always smiled and kept us together."
Tisdale's legacy continued into the current era of Sooner hoops. Two years ago, a highly touted incoming freshman asked Tisdale for permission to wear jersey No. 23, which had been retired in Tisdale's honor in 1997.
Tisdale agreed to the request, and Blake Griffin soon joined Tisdale on the short list for consideration as Oklahoma's all-time best player, earning consensus national player of the year honors this past season as a sophomore. Griffin said Tisdale served as an example to him.
"I was privileged to get to know him over the two years I was at OU," Griffin said. He's touched so many lives. I'm just happy he's going to a better place."
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