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Remembering the greatest Oklahoma basketball team ever

COMMENTARY — The 1987-88 Sooners remain the most entertaining sports team in Oklahoma history, even 25 years later.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 24, 2012
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NORMAN — All these years later, after a quarter century, Ricky Grace mostly remembers the fun.

Which is no different than all the rest of us who watched Billy Tubbs' 1987-88 OU basketball team. The greatest college basketball team most of us have ever seen and the greatest we ever will.

And the most entertaining sports team in Oklahoma history. More dazzling than any Barry Switzer wishbone wizards. More electrifying than the Thunder's modern trapeze acts.

“I just think of how much fun it was,” said Grace, the silky point guard on that wondrous team, who for an OU basketball reunion this weekend was back on campus for just the second time in 25 years. “It was just a great, great team. I think we were ahead of our time a little bit, with the style we played, the atmosphere Billy created.”

The Sooner reunion featured players ranging from the 1940s (Ted Owens) to the second decade of the 21st century. But those '88 Sooners were special honorees Friday night at a Lloyd Noble Center banquet, and well they should have been.

Those Sooners went 35-4 and became America's best team.

“That was a great team,” said Grace's backcourt mate, Mookie Blaylock, who also rarely has returned to his alma mater. “How can I explain it? It's hard to put that back together again. That's going to be hard to do. Oklahoma's trying to do it. But … what we had special. We didn't win the whole thing, but it was special what we had.”

The 1988 Sooners did not win the NCAA championship; they were an upset victim in the title game, like Houston in 1984 and Georgetown in 1985, in that decade when college hoops were at their best.

But that disheartening loss to Kansas has not dimmed the status of those Sooners.

Longtime CBS analyst Billy Packer, in his book, placed the Sooners among the top 15 college teams of all time.

They pressed full court, created turnovers galore, shot quickly and played ferociously. The starting unit of Grace and Blaylock and Harvey Grant and Stacey King and Dave Sieger became so well-conditioned that by season's end Tubbs rarely had to substitute, and the assault was never-ending.

There is nothing like it in college basketball anymore. The days of Nolan Richardson's 40 minutes of Arkansas hell and Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels and OU's BillyBall are over. The game is pedestrian, played not by refined stars but by young prospects headed for the NBA after a college drive-thru.

I told Tubbs on Friday his '88 Sooners would beat Kentucky's most recent national champ by 40 points.

“Fifty,” Tubbs said with that wry smile. “The game has turned into push and shove. It would be really hard to play like we did. We dictated the tempo of the game with our defense. Nobody really wants to get out and defend 100 percent of the floor anymore.

“The whole face of the game has changed. From a team standpoint, it would take a couple of years to learn to do what we did defensively.”

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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OU Alumni Game

What: OU Legends alumni basketball game

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman

Who: Players from every decade going back to the 1940s are staging a reunion, though only more recent-vintage players are expected to play.

Admission: Free.

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