NORMAN — When he was asked by Oklahoma basketball coach Jeff Capel what jersey number he'd like to wear next season, Blake Griffin had a couple different choices in mind. The Oklahoma Christian School senior didn't bother asking for No. 32. He knew his brother, Taylor, wasn't giving it up. He wanted No. 15 — his high school number — but that belongs to David Godbold. So he settled on his next choice, No. 23. The number of the most famous, most talented, most loved player ever to wear an Oklahoma basketball uniform — Wayman Tisdale. There are parallels between Tisdale and Griffin. Both signed with OU after stellar high school careers, each regarded as the best player in Oklahoma at the time. For three years, Tisdale was the face of Oklahoma basketball, turning around a mediocre program and starting a postseason streak that ended last season after 25 years. Already, fans' expectations for Griffin — fair or not — are that he'll become the rock upon which Capel rebuilds the OU program. And that is more than enough pressure, regardless of his jersey number. "I asked Blake, ‘Are you sure? Do you know whose number that is?' ” Capel said. "He did. He knew the history and everything about Wayman Tisdale. "So I told him that's a lot to live up to. He was only possibly the best player ever in the Big Eight and the best player ever at Oklahoma.” After the conversation with Griffin, Capel wanted to talk to Tisdale, whose jersey, not his number, was retired by OU in 1997. Because the number wasn't retired, it was a courtesy, not a necessity, that Capel ask permission to use it. "If it was a situation like that, I would have never approached Wayman,” said Capel, who had lunch with Tisdale while he was in Norman last December. "Wayman was fine with it. He joked with me about it. He just told me, ‘As long as he can play.'” Capel didn't mention anything else to Griffin until a couple weeks ago, when he asked Griffin to call Tisdale himself. Griffin isn't trying to steal any attention from Tisdale's legacy, though he hopes to make an impact similar to the former Tulsa Washington star. He admits he hesitated about taking the number for fear of any uproar it might cause. "I'm not trying to disrespect Mr. Tisdale, and I don't want to offend anyone,” Griffin said. "When I talked to Mr. Tisdale on the phone, he was really cool about it.” Griffin will be the second player to wear No. 23 since Tisdale. Ron Roberts, a junior-college transfer wore it the two seasons after Tisdale left. And it will be the third time at OU a player has worn the number of a jersey that has been retired, though in different circumstances. Renzi Stone was already wearing No. 33 when Alvan Adams' jersey was retired in 1998. Same with Hollis Price's No. 10 when Mookie Blaylock's jersey was retired in 2001. But ultimately, a jersey number doesn't make anyone a better player. "Everyone knows whose number that is,” Capel said. "That number represents someone who was excellent here. There will never be another Wayman Tisdale. "We just need Blake to be the best player he can be. Hopefully, Blake will have half the career Wayman did.”
NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.
Former OU basketball star Wayman Tisdale will see his former No. 23 jersey back on the court next year, worn by incoming freshman Blake Griffin. BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN