Blake Griffin's influence felt among players who give college one more year >>> SN


The Red Wig
Nov 2, 2008
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Blake Griffin's influence felt among players who give college one more year >>> SN

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Oklahoma guard Willie Warren checked his phone a few days after a couple other teams had contested the NCAA championship game. There was a text from Blake Griffin, who'd helped Warren through so much of his freshman season, asking in so many words or letters or symbols:

What r u going 2 do?

"He was like, whatever decision I made, he'd be on my side," Warren said. "He was being a leader as usual, being there for a teammate."

Griffin's leadership was evident not just in helping Warren through the decision about whether to turn professional after averaging 14.6 points in his first college season or return for his sophomore year. Griffin also helped provide the answer that felt right for Warren. Let's call it: The Blake Effect.

A year ago, Griffin was projected by many analysts to be a top five pick in the NBA draft. But he chose to return for a second college season, and that allowed him to become the unanimous player of the year and the likely No. 1 overall pick when the NBA holds this year's draft June 25.

Back then, Griffin told Sporting News he wanted "to come back and be a part of something that I feel -- and my team feels -- is going to be a good year." That all turned out just right. And his success appears to have inspired a large group of players, most notably his teammate, Warren, to free themselves from the tyranny of the mock drafts and the street agents and focus on what will be best for their development as players.

"Blake made the decision to come back, and it turns out it was the right decision," Warren said. "He led by example in everything he did. Just to watch him do the things he did to prepare himself better, it made me want to do what I could to better myself."

Along with Warren, such lottery prospects as Ed Davis of North Carolina, Cole Aldrich of Kansas, Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest and Greg Monroe of Georgetown all decided on another year of college rather than rushing into the draft. They chose not to chase merely being drafted but instead planned to be physically and mentally prepared to succeed upon arriving in the NBA.

This seems not to be coincidental. Like Griffin in 2007-08, each of these players experienced significant success this past season without consistently dominating. It's clear these players are capable of excellence, but perhaps they just need a bit of experience, some more time to develop and a larger opportunity to star. It worked for Griffin.

Without Griffin in the lineup, Warren will have more responsibility to carry the offense. He will become the Sooners' first option. That means opposing defenses will be set to stop him, and defeating that sort of attention can help a very good player become great.

Warren said he wants to improve his ballhandling skills, to lead his team and to get in better condition. He might have looked impressive in his OU uniform, but said, "There were a couple games this year where I couldn't breathe at all after the first couple of minutes."

When Iowa State forward Craig Brackins was making his decision about whether to enter the draft, he also thought about Griffin. Brackins averaged 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds and was a certain first-round pick, but the Cyclones finished 15-17 and won only four Big 12 games.

"It seemed like he felt the same as I did, that his team was going to be pretty good," Brackins said. "He probably had some unfinished business he had to take care of, that his team could do well with Willie Warren coming in, and they'd go far in the NCAA Tournament. That's how it turned out. And that's how I feel.

"There's a lot of things I didn't get to accomplish at Iowa State -- winning more, getting to the NCAA Tournament. I thought with the recruiting class we have and the players coming back, we have a chance to do something."

Brackins wants to improve his defense during the '09-10 season. His coaches joke that he is capable of playing D, but he just chooses the times to give it a shot. He'd like to continue his weight and strength gains. At 6-10, he came to Iowa State weighing 200 pounds and bench-pressing 145. He now weighs 230 and benches in the 255 range.

"I thought if I was going to test the draft, I'd have to be all-in and just do it," Brackins said. "I felt that whatever I did choose I was going to be 100 percent committed to it. And so this is where I am."

College basketball will be the better for it, no doubt.

And The Blake Effect indicates Brackins will be, as well