OU basketball: Memories of the golden days
I went out Friday to the OU basketball reunion and chatted with Mookie Blaylock, Ricky Grace and Billy Tubbs about the golden days of 1988, when the Sooners had the nation’s best team. You can read my column for the Saturday Oklahoman here.
But I had plenty left over and thought I would share with you some of the other nuggets from those chats.
* Tubbs told a story. After the Sooners were ousted by Iowa in the 1987 Sweet 16, Stacey King and teammate Tony Martin visited Tubbs’ office back in Norman. “They said, ‘Coach, we’re going to the Final Four next year,’” Tubbs said. “I go, ‘Really. What makes you think that?’ They said, ‘cause we play defense the way you want to play defense.’”
And it happened. By the way, the 1987 Sooners — without Blaylock — were really good, too. That team had Grace, Harvey Grant, a developing King and seniors Tim McCalister, Daryl Kennedy and David Johnson. Probably as talented as the 1988 squad, but never quite jelled. That team finished 24-10 but was rousing in the NCAA Tournament — beat Pitt 96-93 in the West Regional quarterfinals before losing to Iowa 93-91 in the West Regional semifinals.
* The appearances of Grace and Blaylock were a treat. Grace returned to OU a year ago for the first time since his college days, attending the reunion put together by new OU coach Lon Kruger. And Blaylock has been back only a few times.
Grace said he returned a year ago because “I thought it was a great hire” to get Kruger. “I just came in to show my support for him.”
Grace played professionally for almost two decades in Australia and is in the Aussie basketball hall of fame. He now spends half his time in Dallas and half his time in Australia.
Blaylock lives in Atlanta but is quick to remind everyone that Texas (Garland) is home.
“Mookie’s like a damn unidentified flying object,” Tubbs said. “There was a Mookie sighting last year, but he didn’t show. Not only a sighting, but he landed this year. It was kind of like when I recruited him. I called him three or four times and he never returned my call.”
* Tubbs signed Blaylock out of Midland Junior College. Blaylock signed at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
“Which was legal at the time,” Tubbs said. “In fact, he was coming back from his Kansas trip. We waylaid him at the airport. We just recruited him hard. He told us before he went to Kansas that he was going to visit Kansas but he was coming to Oklahoma. He just went to Kansas to get all that stuff they give away, which was illegal. He needed some extra tennis shoes, so we let him go up there.
“But where Kansas made the mistake, they could have flown back with him to Midland, but they didn’t. We intercepted him in Dallas, because he had to change planes. We intercepted him in Dallas and got the whole thing done. But then you could go sign the player in person. You could go sign the mother in person. You didn’t have to email stuff and all that. Now, you can’t do that. Anyway, we got him signed.”
Blaylock doesn’t remember many details. He just remembers “Billy came and talked me into it. He didn’t send nobody else. He came to me. Him and Mike Sims (actually Mims, one of Tubbs’ assistants).”
Tubbs credited another assistant, Jim Kerwin, with doing the heavy lifting on recruiting Blaylock, Grace and Skeeter Henry out of junior college, but “Mims and I, for whatever reason, were kind of on that little caper to actually do that. But I think our players really are the ones who sold him.”
Grace says no. He and Blaylock were teammates in 1985-86 at Midland, but Grace said it was actually “a little bit of coincidence” that they ended up at the same school. “I definitely did my share of recruiting him, especially when I was here at OU and he was at Midland. I knew Kansas was recruiting him, and I definitely wanted to play with him instead of against him. I’m glad we won out on that.”
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