Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Updated: March 25, 3:32 PM ET
Tight family keeps Griffin grounded
By Andy Katz
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pitt had just defeated Connecticut in the regular-season finale and a Panthers' manager had to dismiss a runner for an agent who was waiting to harass sophomore forward DeJuan Blair.
Wake Forest sophomore forward James Johnson alerted Demon Deacons' coach Dino Gaudio recently that runners had attempted to befriend him on Facebook.
None of this should surprise anyone. Elite players are besieged throughout the season with offers and enticements, and it only gets worse as a team advances in the NCAA tournament.
No player is as much of a target as Oklahoma sophomore forward Blake Griffin, who will likely be the consensus national player of the year and, if he chooses to leave for the NBA, will almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick.
Because of its high-profile football program, the University of Oklahoma is no stranger to players leaving early or being distracted by the agent world.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione doesn't have blinders up and is acutely aware his players are potential pawns in the process. OU coach Jeff Capel has plenty of friends in the NBA from his time at Duke and is savvy to the world of runners and a culture that tends to push players when they're draft-ready, not necessarily when they're actually ready to contribute in the league.
The Griffin family is keenly aware of all this. The tight-knit group has insulated Blake to ensure nothing penatrates the shield and distracts him from the goal of a national championship. His older brother, Taylor, acts as a buffer on the court and off, while his parents, Tommy and Gail, are always either at the games or within an hour's drive in nearby Oklahoma City.
"I've had some calls of people trying to get to me to get to Blake," Oklahoma senior forward Taylor Griffin said. "I just disregard it. We're not dealing with it until the end of the season."
|Griffin seems as loose as ever for an OU team that is preparing for the Sweet 16.|
The difference with the Griffins is the path they took to get to OU. Griffin wasn't a product of the fast-break, national summer-league scene.
Sure he played on Athletes First and was a top recruit, but he wasn't shuffled all over the country and showcased by someone other than his parents.
And there was never any agent connection back in the AAU days. The Griffins were always on top of the situation.
"I know a lot of guys are connected with agents from their AAU team and that's just how it is," Taylor Griffin said. But Blake isn't in that position because "of how close our family is. We don't have people out there trying to make a profit off Blake's success."
The family did meet with one agent alongside Capel a year ago before Blake decided to return, but there is no indication that Griffin is spoken for like so many of the elite players that are destined for the lottery. One high-profile NBA agent and another NBA personnel member told ESPN.com there is no buzz about Griffin being locked up, something that usually occurs at this point in the season for possible top picks.
Blake Griffin said surrounding himself with the people he trusts -- his parents, brother and Capel -- is his way of not letting any of the NBA-agent talk infiltrate his mind.
The focus is clearly there in this tournament. He scored 33 points and grabbed 17 boards in the second-round win over Michigan, just the second player this decade to post a 30-15 game in the NCAA tournament.
"The people that are surrounding me have my best interest," Blake Griffin said.
Capel said the family is low-maintenance and continue to isolate Blake so he isn't harassed.
"I know how it is. I know how this whole thing works," Capel said. "I just told them to be aware of any new friends that try to come into your life and they're really careful with that. His parents are awesome and of high character. They believe in doing things the right way."
Tommy and Gail Griffin said they made it clear to anyone attempting to contact them that they had to go through Capel.
|Along with his parents, Taylor Griffin tries to nix as many distractions as possible for his high-profile brother.|
"We're not dealing with that," Tommy Griffin said as he sat in the stands at Kansas City's Sprint Arena during NCAA tourney action this past weekend. "We love our boys and we keep them close. We've heard some horror stories out there."
Gail Griffin said the topic of leaving for the NBA or the fortunes that will follow or any lure of potential advance money is never discussed.
"Blake hasn't said this is what I'm going to do," Gail Griffin said. "He's focused on winning a championship."
The Griffin brothers have rarely been out of their parents' sight. Last summer, Blake and Taylor spent a month with NBA-training guru Frank Matrisciano on the beaches by San Francisco and Blake credits his healthy knees and endurance to the intense summer workouts.
As for Taylor, he was there to work on his conditioning so he put himself in a position to play professionally. But there was another role as well: Look out for little brother.
"That was good to have Taylor there," Tommy Griffin said.
"We used to go on the AAU trips and Tommy was coaching, too," Gail Griffin added. "These were the things we were willing to do so we always had a handle on it."
It's easy to be na´ve and assume that Blake Griffin could be like countless others before him, an elite player who is on a fast-track to stardom with representation already set and an entourage in tow. But Griffin's posse really is his brother and his parents, hardly a distracting lot.
"His parents have the right perspective," Castiglione said. "We know when a student has a chance to sign or come out early, there are uncles and aunts -- no matter the degree of separation, who might be called aunt or uncle but aren't biologically related -- who come out.
"There end up being so many different voices and perspectives that it's hard for them to separate the agendas."
|The Griffin family, alongside the only other member of the inner circle, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel (left).|
But Castiglione credits the Griffins' parenting in ensuring that Blake, and Taylor, are focused on the Sooners and nothing else. Capel hasn't had to sweat outside influences with his superstar as his team prepares for a Sweet 16 game against Syracuse on Friday in Memphis.
"It would mean a lot to me if he advances in the tournament," Capel said. "He's certainly left a legacy that I don't think will be appreciated fully until he's gone. Hopefully we'll advance beyond the Sweet 16. He's already one of the greats here, but that would solidify it even more."
The way the Griffin family, notably Blake, has handled the stardom has been a pleasure for the Sooners, too.
"There has been an effort to create a buffer for him," Castiglione said. "And they've kept the focus right and themselves grounded. His parents have always had the right perspective."
And that parenting that Castiglione praised is helping Blake Griffin think about only one thing: winning a championship.
"I just kept telling Blake to enjoy the journey because it may never be like this again," Capel said. "I have close friends in the NBA who tell me that it is never like it was in college, so enjoy every second of it."
With a little help from family, Blake Griffin appears to be doing just that.
|Capel and Griffin embraced at the end of what very well might've been the latter's final home game in Norman.|
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.