MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A player for the ages has passed before our eyes. Don’t believe it? North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose fabulous team beat Oklahoma 72-60 on Sunday in the South Regional championship game but was dented by Griffin for 23 points and 16 rebounds, likened Griffin to LeBron James. That’s an upgrade from even Superman.
"Such a package of strength, explosiveness, touch, power,” said Williams, who has coached against a fair number of big-time ballplayers. "You know, it’s hard to match that.” Said OU coach Jeff Capel, "There will never be another Blake Griffin.” True enough. But that doesn’t mean there will never be another Oklahoma run this deep — or deeper — into the NCAA Tournament. Wayman Tisdale, the man many finger as the greatest player in OU history, reached this far and no further. In 1985, Tisdale’s Sooners were denied a Final Four berth by Memphis State, and Mr. T soon thereafter left school early for the NBA, as Griffin surely will do, too. But Billy Tubbs’ program didn’t wither without Tisdale. It blossomed. Those Sooners were back in the Sweet 16 two years later, in the NCAA title game the season after that. Griffin doesn’t have to represent the apex of Capel’s Oklahoma days. It’s possible he can represent the launch. "This is foundation for what we’re building,” Capel said Sunday in the bowels of FedExForum. "And obviously, Blake’s been a huge piece of it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to reap benefits for what he’s meant to this program.” That’s what Tisdale did for Tubbs in the ’80s. Put OU back on the basketball map, gave his coach national credibility and attracted big-time talent to campus. And that’s what Griffin could do for Capel a quarter century later. Griffin returned the Sooners to the national stage, and they lost Sunday a step shy of nirvana not only because their guards couldn’t throw it in the Mississippi even if you put them on a riverboat, but because stately Carolina was a better team. More talent. More good players. More options. It’s no shame to lose an Elite Eight game to the Tar Heels. "They’re as good as advertised,” said Taylor Griffin, Blake’s brother. Capel admitted he was "crushed, just like our guys are,” but he refused to call this opportunity lost, though he knows it was. Fifteen years ago, Capel was a freshman point guard for a Duke team that reached the NCAA finals.