Kevin Durant realized very quickly what Oklahoma is all about. Last Wednesday night, shortly before he was to have his No. 35 jersey retired at halftime of a Texas home game, someone asked Durant who was the most popular sports figure back in Oklahoma — Durant or OU’s Blake Griffin. "Come on now,” Durant answered quickly. "The most popular athlete in Oklahoma is Sam Bradford.” Durant then was asked who should have won the 2008 Heisman Trophy. Forever a Longhorn, Durant replied, "Oh, that’s easy. Colt McCoy.” Football remains king in Oklahoma, but thanks to the oozing personality and talent of Durant (26.3 ppg, 6.7 apg), the Thunder has made a rumble in our hearts if not the NBA standings (13-45). Durant is a rare individual. Played at Texas. Beloved in Oklahoma. Flash a Hook ’em Horns sign north of the Red River and it’s blasphemy. Durant proudly flashes the Hook ’em sign every chance he gets, and the locales turn it upside down with a smile. Funny how folks around here hate everything Texas, unless somebody from down there plays for the home team, be it Billy Sims, Jack Mildren, Adrian Peterson, Thurman Thomas, Hart Lee Dykes, Dez Bryant ... or Kevin Durant. The people of Oklahoma immediately have taken to Durant. "And you know what, I think he’s really taken to them, too,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He’s really enjoying it. He says he loves the people up there.” This love affair with Durant apparently is mutual. "I asked him about having to leave Seattle and Kevin said, ‘Coach, I like Oklahoma a lot. There’s great support and really good people,’ ” Barnes said. Texas visits Stillwater today for a 5 p.m. contest against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys (18-9; 7-6) have won four straight. The Longhorns (19-8; 8-5) appear to have stabilized themselves after a three-game losing streak at midseason. The immensely likeable Barnes is blunt, and curious, about this year’s rather perplexing Longhorns. "I don’t know which team is coming, but I’m coming with them,” Barnes said of today’s game. If the NBA had a minimum age requirement of 20 years old, this would have been Durant’s junior year at UT. Durant was 17 years old when he arrived in Austin on June 1, 2006. He left 11½ months later. When next season arrives, Oklahoma will have had Durant longer than Texas had Durant. Durant admits there are times he wonders what would have been had he stayed at UT and gotten to play with early departures LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker, plus had more seasons alongside former teammates D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damion James. It pains Barnes he got to coach Durant only one year, but 2006-07 is a season Barnes still embraces. "The year he had here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Barnes said of Durant, who averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds while being named consensus national player of the year as a freshman. "Kevin Durant improved more in a four-month period than any player I’ve ever been around,” said Barnes who is in his 22nd season as a college coach. "I’m not just talking as a player. I’m talking about the whole package. The way he matured really is just mind-boggling.” Durant’s game continues to improve, but his soul remains the same. After Durant was named MVP of the Rookie Challenge held at All-Star Weekend, he refused to pose for pictures without teammates Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook standing alongside. NBA officials scrambled to round up the other two Thunder players. Embracing his teammates isn’t just a show for Durant. When Barnes asked Durant about players on the Thunder, "Kevin quickly deferred to Green, Westbrook and other guys on his team. He was like that here. You’d ask a question about him and he’d always talk about somebody else.” Barnes admits he keeps tabs on Durant and other former UT players now in the NBA. Because he watches so much game tape, Barnes said he probably watches the NBA on TV more than he watches college ball. Barnes’ prediction for Durant in the NBA? "I think he’s a Hall of Famer, and I’ve told him that,” Barnes said. "When he was here he told me privately, ’One day, I want to be the best.’ "It’s hard to describe all that Kevin is. But you know what? He just gets it. He really gets it. He knows it’s not just about him, and yet he’s fearless. He’s not afraid to fail. He has absolutely great passion.” Great passion for Texas. Great passion for Oklahoma. A rare combination indeed. John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.