NORMAN, OKLA. (AP) - Those who have followed only their collegiate careers at Oklahoma might not know it, but Blake Griffin was not always a better player than his older brother.
Growing up, even into their high school years, Taylor Griffin was considered by many to be the family’s standout. But soon Taylor _ and everybody else _ realized that his kid brother was developing into a superstar.
So while Taylor, now a senior, has had a solid career for Oklahoma that includes three NCAA tournament appearances, he often watches as the lion’s share of attention is lavished on Blake, a 6-foot-10 sophomore who is averaging 21.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game and has turned the Sooners into a legitimate national title contender.
But there’s no sibling rivalry here _ only family pride.
“Not everybody can be the best player in the country,” said the 6-foot-7 Taylor, who’s averaging 9.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for second-seeded Oklahoma (27-5), which will play 15th-seeded Morgan State (23-11) on Thursday night in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Kansas City, Mo.
“I’m right there with hundreds of other players in the NCAA. Not everybody can be as good as Blake Griffin. In my opinion, nobody is as good as Blake Griffin in college basketball. That’s how it is.”
The brothers have always been close. They grew up around basketball, as their father, Tommy, enjoyed much success as an Oklahoma City high school coach. Tommy Griffin eventually coached his sons at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond. Blake and Taylor led OCS to two state titles, then after Taylor left for college, Blake and their dad added two more.
Taylor signed with Oklahoma when Kelvin Sampson still coached the Sooners, but Sampson left for Indiana after Taylor’s freshman season. Taylor stuck around and helped new coach Jeff Capel recruit his brother, who went on to play in the McDonald’s All-American game
Then, as Blake debated last spring whether to stay at Oklahoma or jump into the NBA, big brother was there again, doing another recruiting job. Come back, Taylor told his brother, and this team can be something special.
“He’s somebody I can always depend on, who I know better than anybody,” Blake said of Taylor. “He knows me better than anybody. I think that’s a big thing for me, to be able to have him around.”
Blake did return for his sophomore season, and with an all-Griffin frontcourt, the Sooners started 25-1 and seemed en route to a Big 12 Conference title before Blake suffered a concussion in a loss to Texas. The Sooners lost to Kansas without him, and another loss to Missouri relegated them to second place in the league.
But the Sooners didn’t completely collapse, thanks in good part to Taylor, who scored a career-high 22 points in a late-season win over Texas Tech.
“Just being a senior, and with the potential of this team, Taylor knew he had to step up and play big for us for this team to be good and this team to go a long way,” senior guard Austin Johnson said. “That’s what he’s done this year. He worked this summer to get a lot better and it shows.”
While the Griffin brothers certainly are competitive _ they both tell of fierce games of one-on-one while growing up that sometimes ended with their father separating them _ Capel said they take considerable joy in each other’s accomplishments.
“Taylor is a laid-back guy,” Capel said. “I think the main thing is he’s proud of his brother and he loves his brother. Because of that, Taylor is a pretty low-maintenance kid, which is refreshing to a coach.”
The Griffins see the NCAA tournament as one last chance to make some more memories together.
“This is a fairy-tale ending for my career here,” Taylor said.
“All year I’ve said that it’s been a great experience that we have to take advantage of. Hopefully it will last for a little bit longer.”