- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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First he conquered the state of Oklahoma, winning four straight titles and earning McDonald's All-American honors. Then, he conquered college basketball while at the University of Oklahoma, becoming Naismith Player of the Year and leading the Sooners on an Elite Eight run. Now, three years into his NBA career, Blake Griffin is a two-time All-Star and the cornerstone of the L.A. Clippers franchise.
The NBA star returned to OU recently to spend some time around Lon Kruger's basketball program. Griffin spoke with the media during his time in Norman:
On what it's like to come back: It’s always a blast to come back and see everybody. I got the chance to watch the team play pickup and then go to a football game. It’s good to come back before the (NBA) season starts and kind of feel at home.
On Lon Kruger: Right out of the gate, he’s put his stamp on this program. He’s doing a great job, last year he played without a real recruiting class. This year, he’s got some great guys, watching the freshmen play pickup, it was real competitive. It honestly reminded me of how competitive it was when we were here. They have a lot of talent and a lot of new faces that are going to contribute. He’s obviously heading in the right direction.
On his conversation with the football team: I told them if everybody is doing their job individually, then collectively, it’s really tough to stop. Not to worry about it as a whole, just everybody do their part, that goes for both basketball, football, almost any sport, any job.
On why returning to OU is a priority: It helps the program. I talked to Grant Hill, who still goes back to Duke, Cole Aldrich, who still goes back to Kansas, I think when programs have the tradition of guys coming back and still being a part of it, it just helps the overall vision of the program, it helps the current players feel more of a sense of pride. It’s important for a lot of us to do that.
On returning from the knee injury that kept him out of the Olympics: I actually (recently) played pickup for the first time since my surgery.
On if his injury was a big deal: It wasn’t at all. We took our time because we had time. If it was during the season, my doctor said I’d probably been out two or three weeks.
On it being difficult to miss the Olympics: Absolutely. I was looking forward to it. Things happen for a reason and I’m glad I got this taken care of before the season and thankful for the opportunity to go to camp. Hopefully I’ll be ready in the next four years.
On if it was tough to watch the games: I didn’t really watch the exhibition games, I was in denial. To watch those guys go through the Olympic process was a lot of fun, those guys deserve it, they worked hard. They were clearly the best so I was happy for them.
On signing his second contract (Griffin recently inked a five-year extension): It’s nice, it’s nice to reach that point in your career. For me it’s still about business, still about trying to get better and become a better basketball player and better teammate. This summer our team has made significant improvements, significant strides as a program, changing the culture of our program.
On the Clippers improvement this summer: With a guy like Lamar, he’s extremely versatile, can stretch the floor, he can pass, he can dribble, he can do everything. He gives us another threat. Grant Hill has been an unbelievable player for as long as I can remember. His veteran leadership and minutes are going to be huge for us. Jamal Crawford, coming off the bench, is going to give us instant offense, he kind of feels the void of Mo Williams when he left. I’m very excited about where our team is at, we have a good balance of veterans and young guys.
On the Clippers becoming a factor in LA: It’s great. Changing the culture of a program is something that I talked about when I was here, it’s something I talked with Coach Capel about, and to be a part of the team I was a part of my sophomore year was unbelievable and it’s one of the best feelings, and I told people that. To see us kind of turn the corner as a franchise in LA, not because of the Lakers but because of the perceptions the Clippers had, to now be seen as more of a competitor is great.
On opponents taking cheap shots at him: After a certain point you get fed up with it but you have to understand why it’s happening. For me, it’s about continuing to develop as a player offensively so I don’t even have to put myself in those situations. And now we have such a well balanced team it’s going to be tough to hone in on one guy. I’ve put in a lot of work this summer to be prepared for that. Hopefully that defuses it.
On the Lakers adding Dwight Howard: On paper it looks great. People said the same thing about when we got Chris Paul. They still have to go out and play, there are a lot of tough teams in the Western Conference, there’s one right here (OKC Thunder) that the Lakers still have to get over. The Spurs have been a great team for the past 500 years. We’re preparing for that. That’s kind of what you expect people to do, hand out the trophy in the summer. We’re not worried about that and we’re not worried about just the Lakers. There are a lot of great teams out there, the Heat have managed to go under the radar this summer and the added Ray Allen. We can’t forget about these other teams.
On his mindset as he attacks the rim: A dunk is the highest percentage shot you can shoot. It’s not about trying to embarrass anybody or make them look bad, for me, it’s the most effective way around the rim. You have a lot of athletic guys who can block shots and I’ve always been taught its the strongest way to put it through the basket. So that’s my mindset.
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