Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin had a breakout season in 2010-11, earning rookie of the year honors with per-game averages of 22.5 points, 21.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. ESPNLA.com contributor Pedro Moura caught up with Griffin, who is featured in ESPN The Magazine's The Body Issue this month, to discuss how he got here and what's next.
Pedro Moura: You played multiple sports growing up and then dropped them all after your freshman year of high school to focus on basketball. How did that shape you as an adolescent athlete? Where do you think you could have progressed had you not dropped them at about age 15?
Blake Griffin: Growing up, my dad always encouraged my brother and I both to play. He wanted us to do as much stuff like that as we wanted, just because he felt like the more sports you play, the more well-rounded of an athlete you become. I'm grateful to that. I played soccer, baseball and football growing up -- I was a defender in soccer, a first baseman and a pitcher in baseball, and a receiver, tight end and safety in football. Looking back, I kind of wish I had stuck with some of those sports longer, at least through high school, especially while watching them now. But basketball's my sport, and I'm happy with where I'm at.
PM: At what point in your time with Athletes First AAU or at Oklahoma Christian School did you first realize how much potential you had, physically? Was there an oh-snap moment when you found out that you had NBA potential?
BG: There was never really that moment. I just always played and I didn't really think about it that much. My whole thing when I was in high school was getting into college and playing in college. Obviously my dream was to play in the NBA, but my first step was college basketball and that was what I focused on.
PM: How difficult was the rehab process that took the place of what should have been your rookie season? Were there significant peaks and valleys throughout the process in terms of your mindset and approach?
BG: It was definitely up and down. You have good days and bad days, and more bad days than good. Not being able to play and having to sit there through all the games was tough, but at the same time, it taught me a lot. It taught me how to be patient, how to put in the work when I was rehabbing and really make sure I was ready before I did anything. And I'm a better person for going through that experience.
PM: People always talk about the fabled story about the baseball pitcher who underwent Tommy John surgery and then suddenly could throw the ball harder than ever before, and that was evoked in some circles when you produced the rookie season you did last year. It's far-fetched, obviously, but is there any way the injury actually made you into a better athlete?
BG: I'm not sure, but it definitely forced me to work -- a lot. I was doing so many leg exercises every day on both legs, really, staying strong and strengthening it at the same time. I definitely think my endurance got better and all that, but I'm not sure if it made me a better athlete. It definitely made me more focused, though.
PM: On the topic of endurance, do you think you would have been ready in the fall of 2009 for the pounding you took in an 82-game season last year?
BG: To be honest, no. I think one of the benefits of being able to sit and watch was just seeing the grind of the season up close and personally that first year while I was hurt. That really prepared me for my second year, and I kinda knew how to pace myself a little bit because of what I'd seen.
PM: You spent the summers before your first two NBA seasons working out with Frank Matrisciano, but he was hired by the University of Memphis a few months ago and is no longer doing private coaching. How has your workout routine changed since then, and do you continue to do many of his exercises or have you adopted some of your own?
BG: I've kind of adopted some of my own. A lot of his stuff is sand hills, stairs, stuff like that. We still do some of that stuff, with step-ups simulating stairs and all that. So I still do some, but I don't really put a bunch of weight on it or any of that. All my stuff is really functional to the sport and everything that we're going to use.
PM: About this ESPN The Magazine Body Issue, all the people in it are elite athletes, obviously, in a variety of sports. And you're talked about as an elite athlete by your peers, fans and observers in general. What do you consider elite about your athletic ability, and what do you attribute that to?
BG: I don't really think about it in those terms, but it's obviously our jobs to be able to perform at a high level. My job is to be more and more explosive, to be more and more athletic. I think that's what makes us elite athletes, dedicating most of our lives to being that way.
PM: You've said in the past that you don't look at yourself as the so-called next of any specific player, but are there athletes -- in any sport -- who you look up to for what they've been able to do with their bodies and, correspondingly, on the field of play?
BG: Oh, yeah. There are a lot of athletes that I look up to. A guy I watched a lot growing up in high school in football was Adrian Peterson. He was at Oklahoma when I was in high school, and I heard all kinds of stories about his workouts and how crazy they were and how he put himself through a lot and ended up getting a lot out of it. That always inspired me all the way through this day.
PM: When you look at this upcoming year, what are you setting out to prove to people? As I'm sure you're aware, the common criticism of your play last year was that you were all athlete and no basketball player. Then you started to silence some of that in March and April when you began to knock down open jump shots and things like that. And how much does all of this play into your workout routine?
BG: That's something I work on every single day. I really work on my shot, ballhandling, all those things. People see the dunks, and they think that that's all I do. But me being able to handle the ball and being able to shoot and pass are part of being a good basketball player. I think people get caught up a little bit too much sometimes on just being able to shoot, but at the same time, that's something I'm working on and something I can definitely make improvements with in my game this year.
Pedro Moura is co-author of the USC blog on ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.