Sunday, OU basketball season starts, and considering how sports can distract us from political ruminations — perhaps too much? — I for one am thrilled.
OU basketball has been, for me, a simple but glorious sporting experience dating back to my days as a newborn who apparently slept inside my dad’s coat in the Lloyd Noble Center while Wayman Tisdale did his thing.
I spent my childhood pretending to be Mookie Blaylock, Terry Evans, James Mayden and Nate Erdmann, dunking on the Nerf net in my room or bricking layups at the full-size goal next door.
But I remember the first time I felt like an old-man sports fan, and it also had to do with OU basketball. It was spring 2009, and at 25 years old I was attending an OU baseball game at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman. (This was back when the field had real grass like God and Bobby Witt intended.)
I can’t recall what the Sooners were doing down on the field that day, but I do remember a murmur among my friends who had spotted OU basketball superstar Blake Griffin sitting by himself a few feet from us. He had snuck in mid-game and was taking in the action. Over the ensuing 10 to 20 minutes, more and more fans were looking over their shoulders, whispering to their kids.
On sports talk radio a week earlier, I had heard the Pugnacious Pair griping about how Oklahomans hardly treated Griffin like the national star he is and would be in the NBA. (Months later, he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers.)
Emboldened by my memory of this point, I decided to break the basketball phenom’s peace and approach him for an autograph. I happened to have some sort of miniature baseball that OU Athletic Department interns had chucked around the stadium to fans that day.
Griffin graciously signed the ball, and when I turned around, three dozen children had lined up behind me to do the same. I had popped the cork, and suddenly the star was surrounded … by kids.
In that moment, I realized I was five years older than the soon-to-be millionaire whose autograph I sought. On the one hand, I figured I might never have another chance to meet him (so far, that’s true), and I also figured he’d better get used to the stardom his athletic prowess so rightly deserved.
But suddenly, I felt old.
This year’s OU basketball team
Seven years later, I feel about the same, and OU basketball is back on a national stage where it was with Griffin.
Women open, too
Sunday will feature back-to-back OU basketball at the Lloyd Noble Center, with the Sooner women kicking things off.
When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13
Where: Lloyd Noble Center
Opponent: Southern Illinois
Team info: SoonerSports.com
In their 2015-2016 season, the Sooner men’s squad put together a magical run to a Final Four in which they got historically dominated by the eventual champion. Another OU star, Buddy Hield, went to the NBA as a Top-10 pick, and the likable likes of Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler have departed after their senior seasons, too.
But this year’s OU basketball team should still be fun to watch. Senior Jordan Woodard and Junior Khadeem Lattin will lead an otherwise young squad, which expects sophomore guard Christian James to pick up some of Hield’s departed scoring acumen. Fellow sophomores Rashard Odomes, Dante Buford and Jamuni McNeace will also need to contribute well for the Sooners to come close to repeating last year’s run.
If 6’10” redshirt freshman Matt Freeman of New Zealand can do his best Steven Adams impression — although he’s more of an outside shooter — OU fans will be delighted. Meanwhile, true freshmen Kristian Doolittle (of Edmond) and Kameron McGusty are also expected to see solid minutes. Doolittle started in the team’s 84-64 exhibition win over Washburn.
Finally, junior college transfer Darrion Strong is recovering from a shoulder injury but has received high praise from coach Lon Kruger.
Tickets for Sunday’s 4 p.m. season opener against Northwestern State University in Norman are available for as low as $5 on StubHub.