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Post Impressionist
KELLI ANDERSON
January 26, 2009
Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin is a skilled mimic and practical joker off the court, but on it the sophomore double-double machine does a pretty good player-of-the-year impersonation
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January 26, 2009

Post Impressionist

Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin is a skilled mimic and practical joker off the court, but on it the sophomore double-double machine does a pretty good player-of-the-year impersonation

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Gail still shudders to think about the time Blake broke 10-year-old Taylor's glasses while they were still on Taylor's face. Taylor eventually grew to 6'7" and 238 pounds, and if the two bumped each other in the hall, the whole house shook. "They were so competitive, and they'd fight over things, and I'd think, Oh, my gosh, they aren't becoming best friends," she says. "But really they were best friends."

When they weren't competing, the two made a good team. As a preschooler Blake would wake up and announce what he was going to be that day—teacher, cowboy, garbage collector. Taylor would help him put together an outfit or find props for his vocation du jour. This was, perhaps, the beginning of Blake's fascination with impersonation and sketch comedy. Along with the animated series Family Guy , he records Saturday Night Live . "Oh, man, would I love to host that show someday," he says.

For now he is happy amusing his friends and family, and, of course, himself. His parents say it's dangerous to sit next to him in church, given his talent for sly commentary. His father, Tommy, a high school basketball assistant coach and math teacher, has had to develop what he calls his "church laugh"—a faux cough that can mask a sudden guffaw.

Taylor, more analytical and reserved than his brother, is often Blake's best audience. "We are different in our personalities," says Taylor, "but we have similar tastes in music and movies, and our humor is the same. He's the one doing all this stuff, and I'm the one sitting back and laughing."

They've had plenty of opportunity over the years to develop their rapport. In addition to their time together as homeschoolers, they both helped out with the trophy business their father ran out of their home on the side. Whenever a big order came in, the boys pitched in, assembling trophies and folding ribbons. Consequently the trophies they won often didn't mean much to them. "When the box I kept my trophies in got too full," says Blake, "I'd take them downstairs and recycle them."

There is some hardware he cherishes, however, including the trophies from the four state high school basketball championships he helped Oklahoma Christian School win, two of them with Taylor as a teammate, all of them with their father as coach. Tommy says his sons' battles under the driveway hoop produced more than dustups. "At [ Oklahoma Christian], Taylor would throw the ball out, and Blake would suddenly be there to catch it," says Tommy, a former basketball center and track standout at NAIA Northwestern Oklahoma State. "That's the kind of chemistry they had. I've been around basketball a long time, and sometimes even I couldn't see it coming."

Taylor signed with Oklahoma in August 2004 and averaged 3.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in his freshman year under coach Kelvin Sampson. That March, after the NCAA began an investigation of Oklahoma over accusations that Sampson had made illegal calls to recruits, Sampson left for Indiana and was replaced by Capel, a former Duke guard who had coached Virginia Commonwealth to a 79--41 record in four years. As soon as he arrived in Norman, Capel heard about Taylor's brother, who was just starting to draw national attention as a high school junior. When Capel saw Blake play for the first time that spring, he was wowed by the combination of size, strength and athleticism Blake possessed. But he also was taken with something else. "[Blake] played with a chip on his shoulder; he played angry," says Capel. "[That] stood out, because you really don't see high school kids playing as hard as he played."

Capel decided Blake was the player he needed to kick-start his tenure in Norman. But because of school-imposed sanctions levied over the transgressions of Sampson and his staff, Capel was limited to calling high school juniors just once every two months. (He could call seniors once a week.) But at the time text messaging was still allowed, so Capel texted Blake from the time the latter emerged from class to the time he went to bed. They messaged back and forth about Capel's vision for the Sooners program, and they found common ground in a shared appreciation of rap music and in similar family situations—Capel's dad, Jeff, is a coach, and his younger brother, Jason, was a top recruit who signed with North Carolina. As an older brother, Capel worried how Taylor would adjust to his little brother's drawing more attention. "I worried a bit about that too," says Blake. "But I shouldn't have. That's not the kind of person Taylor is."

In fact, Taylor was busy recruiting Blake too. One night he made the 25-mile trip home from campus for dinner and told Blake, " Oklahoma is the place for you. We need you, and I want to play with you again." He added, "There's nothing better than playing for your home state, where the people who love you can watch you play." Taylor's pitch that night "pushed me over the edge," says Blake, who also had been considering Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Texas. "He hadn't said any of that before."

Blake committed to the Sooners less than two months after Capel took the Oklahoma job, and did so without making an official visit. The coach's joy that day was matched only perhaps by Blake's announcement last spring, after the Sooners' 23--12 season (9--7 in Big 12 play), that he would be forgoing the NBA draft, in which he figured to be a lottery pick, to return to Norman for a second season. He didn't feel ready for the NBA, he wanted to play one more year with Taylor, and, he says, "I knew we could have a great team."

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