By John Rohde
If Oklahoma true freshman forward Khadeem Lattin feels the pressure of his family lineage, he certainly hides it well with his quick smile and articulate manner. That’s no easy task when your basketball bloodline flowed through two trailblazing moments.
Khadeem’s grandfather is David “Big Daddy” Lattin, who was in Texas Western College’s (renamed UTEP) all-black starting lineup coached by Enid native Don Haskins that claimed the 1966 NCAA championship against Kentucky’s all-white starting lineup coached by Adolph Rupp. The historic achievement was portrayed in the 2006 Disney film “Glory Road.”
Khadeem’s mother is Monica Lamb Powell, who left her mark during arguably the most significant growth in women’s basketball with a long and successful career collegiately, internationally and professionally.
Just 17 hours before the 2014-15 season began for the Sooners with a Nov. 16 home game against Southeastern Louisiana, the NCAA cleared OU senior forward TaShawn Thomas for immediate eligibility after he had transferred from Houston. Thomas excelled as a starter for the Cougars for three seasons, averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and shooting 57.1 percent from the field while starting all 96 career games.
The addition of Thomas gave the Sooners one of the nation’s most experienced starting lineups with all five players having started every game the previous season – 33/33 for each player, which totals 165/165.
"He is going to evolve into a huge role here during his career because he’s got that capability."
Head Coach Lon Kruger
Had Thomas not been cleared to play, OU coach Lon Kruger said 6-foot-8 senior forward D.J. Bennett would have started and Khadeem likely would have seen more minutes off the bench. “I would imagine Khadeem would have evolved into possibly a starting role (without Thomas being available),” Kruger said, “and he is going to evolve into a huge role here during his career because he’s got that capability.”
It didn’t take Khadeem (kuh-DEEM) long to realize he was a million miles away from making the starting lineup. “Everyone comes in with wide-eyed optimism, which is healthy and normal,” Kruger said. “But when you play against each other in practice every day like they do, there’s certainly a difference between a senior and a young freshman coming in.”
Khadeem’s first-year stats are modest, averaging 11.3 minutes, 2.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 block while shooting 42.4 percent from the field through 25 games.
When your starting lineup essentially is carved in granite, not many minutes are available. “He’ll be able to score,” Kruger said of Khadeem’s future. “Right now, people don’t see that so much, but he’s got a knack to score. Plus we’ve got other people on the floor right now who can score, so he doesn’t get that many opportunities, but he’ll grow into that.”
The 71-year-old David Lattin said he would like to see his grandson take better advantage of the minutes he’s being given. “When you do get into the game,” he said, “you’re going to have to give the coach a reason to play you more.”
Khadeem’s mother was part of a powerhouse program at the University of Southern California. Lamb Powell won a gold medal with Team USA in the 1983 World University Games and also competed in the 1987 Games. Then came a 15-year pro career that included stops in Italy, Spain, France and a stint with the WNBA Houston Comets. The Comets won the first four WNBA championships (1997-2000) and Lamb Powell was part of the last three. She is now founder and president of the Monica Lamb Wellness Foundation in Houston.
Lamb Powell is a tell-it-like-it-is mother who operates with no excuses. Her eyes are wide open when it comes to Khadeem and where his game stands at age 19.
“He’s having what I can say is a true freshman year,” Lamb Powell said with a chuckle. “He does some things and I go, ‘Wow, look at this kid.’ And then he does some other things and I go, ‘Wow, really? Would you look at this kid?’ This is not a cake-walk, and it’s not supposed to be. He’s with one of the best and toughest coaches in the country.”
Meanwhile, Lattin said there is no time like the present for Khadeem.
“Time is of the essence here,” Lattin said. “Your senior year will get here and you’ll be gone before you know it. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he needs to start working right now on some goals. I think he’s done well. He’s on an awfully good team. I like the talent around him. I just want him to be more aggressive. He’s got to develop goals. Once you develop these goals, I think he can get there. If you don’t have any goals in your life, then you have nothing to reach for.”
David Lattin’s goal for his grandson is a lofty one. “My wish, my hope for him, is that he would lead the country in blocked shots, rebounding and maybe be in the top five or 10 in scoring, which means he’s going to have to be really great,” Lattin said. “But if he does that, that will make his team better.”
Khadeem’s decision to play basketball was his alone. In fact, he didn’t get the urge to start playing until his teens.
“I said to him early on, ‘If this is not what you want, you do not have to do this. No. You do not have to be an athlete,’” Lamb Powell explained to Khadeem. “‘You must be a good person. You must be a good student. You must do your best, and I don’t care what you do beyond that. Now, if you want to play basketball, OK then. Game on. Let’s do this. There’s no quitting. Let’s do it.’
“I’ve taken him to trainers. (Former NBA player, coach and camp instructor) John Lucas would go crazy and kick him out of the gym. I’d just look at Khadeem and ask, ‘You had enough? You done?’ He’d say, ‘No, no, no. I want to do this. I want to do this.’”
David Lattin was listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds entering the NBA. Lamb Powell is 6-foot-5. Khadeem currently resides at 6-foot-9 and 207 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
Kruger said he hopes Khadeem can add roughly 20 pounds by his senior season, “Although he doesn’t have a frame that’s going to put on a lot of weight,” Kruger said.
“Weight slides off of him like he’s coated in butter,” Lamb Powell said. “I watch him get pushed around and I think, ‘Oh, my poor baby.’”
Lamb Powell mentioned a brief skirmish Khadeem had Feb. 9 with Iowa State’s 6-foot-8, 240-pound Georges Niang. “Khadeem might be trying to fool the whole world, but I know he wants no part of that big fella right there,” Lamb Powell said.
Khadeem realizes he’s short on brawn. “I’ve got to get my body right to where I can not only take hits but start delivering them a lot more and making sure people feel them,” Khadeem said. “I’ll deliver a hit and big guys like (6-foot-9, 290-pound Texas center) Cam Ridley will just look at me and go, ‘Really, bro?’”
David Lattin said his grandson can excel even without adding much bulk. “He doesn’t have to be a big gorilla,” he said. “I think his quickness will be his biggest asset. He’s got great quickness. He’s got speed. He’s got the talent to do it. He just has to do it.”
Khadeem said he wants to become the same type of player as his mother. “My mom was more of an offensive bully. I want to be the same thing,” Khadeem said. “When she felt like locking in and imposing her will, she did that. That’s what I want to do. I have enough mental bully in me, so it’s a matter of getting stronger and bigger and letting other players know, ‘Hey, I’m here. You’re going to get hit and you’re going to feel it.’ That’s a big thing for me.”
When told Khadeem’s comment about her being a bully, Lamb Powell paused and said, “I think I can see the compliment in that.”
The San Francisco Warriors selected Lattin with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft. He played two seasons in the NBA and three in the ABA. Much like his grandfather, Khadeem wants to make his mark primarily as a defender, rebounder and shot-blocker.
“It (shot-blocking) really did come easily for me,” Khadeem admitted. “It’s just, ‘The ball’s in the air. Go hit it and go score.’”
Unbeknownst to Khadeem was his ability to get off the floor so quickly. “Everyone talked about how it was a really cool ability that I have, being able to jump quick, time it and just pop out of nowhere. I just figured, ‘The ball was over there, so go get it,’” Khadeem said. “I just thought everyone else didn’t feel like jumping. Yeah, I took it for granted until someone pointed it out.”
David Lattin emphasized the importance of improving the talent you’ve been given.
“Even if you have a talent, you have to develop that talent, you have to continue to work at it,” Lattin said. “My theory is you don’t ever let your teammate or your opponent outwork you. That’s what I try to impress upon him (Khadeem). There are a lot of 7-foot guys sitting around doing nothing because they didn’t work on their talent. All the time, you should be working at it to get better.”
Khadeem said when he feels frustrated, he emphasizes what he does best.
“Defense, that’s always been home for me,” Khadeem said. “I kind of went back (to defense) whenever everything wasn’t right for me. It’s been such a good experience to figure myself out to know I did it well in high school and I’ve done it well in the past. Now, when I lock in, I can do it well here.”
Part of Khadeem’s past was enrolling at the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain four years ago, when he became the first ranked American recruit to forgo a high school season to play non-professionally in Europe. Khadeem was no stranger to Spain, having spent time there while his mother was playing professionally.
"Even if you have a talent, you have to develop that talent, you have to continue to work at it. My theory is you don’t ever let your teammate or your opponent outwork you."
Khadeem's grandfather David Lattin
“I grew so much as a basketball player there, it was ridiculous,” Khadeem said of Canarias. “I jumped hurdles over there. And at the same time, I did the same thing emotionally. It was such a huge challenge to be a 15-, 16-year-old kid without your parents, especially being the kid I am. I’m super family oriented. My first week (at OU), I was almost in tears because I didn’t get to speak to my mom for a week. It was just tough, but I grew. My tolerance grew. I know what I can and can’t handle. Thankfully, I can handle it. The biggest thing I took from being around my mom, my dad (Cliff Lattin) and my stepdad (Felix Powell) is, ‘Man up.’ I learned that at an early age.”
Lamb Powell said she warned Khadeem of the many challenges of living overseas, particularly without his parents alongside, but to no avail. Her son was determined to do it. “I don’t know many kids who could have done that,” Lamb Powell said. “I think that speaks to his cultural maturity. I’ve always said of Khadeem, I could drop him off in China and come back for him 20 days later and he’d have five new best friends.”
Having spent the first three years of his life in Europe, the first words Khadeem spoke were in Spanish. Perhaps this helps explain Khadeem’s communication skills. Noticeably articulate, he is culturally mature beyond his years. “He’s always been well-spoken,” Lamb Powell said. “He’s always been able to articulate and communicate what he feels, sometimes to a fault. I’m very grateful that comes across when he communicates and shares with people. That is a real, real plus for him.”
Khadeem left Canarias and returned to Houston to play his junior and senior seasons at Redemption Christian Home School Academy, a league where there is very little physical contact, which added to the difficulty of Khadeem adjusting to the physical nature of the Big 12. “It’s just a different level of intensity,” Kruger explained. “It’s not that we’re correcting anything or that people have done anything wrong, it’s just adjusting to the level of intensity you have to be at to be effective.”
During the recruiting process, Khadeem often would receive 8 a.m. calls from Kruger or Sooners assistant coach Lew Hill. Khadeem took recruiting visits to Texas and Georgetown and had a visit scheduled to USC, his mother’s alma mater. It was during an unofficial visit to OU when Khadeem knew he wanted to sign with the Sooners.
“I’m a very drop-of-the-hat type of person,” Khadeem said. “I visited OU and told my mom on the plane heading home, ‘It’s over with. I don’t want to take any more visits. Cancel the rest of them.’ She said, ‘No, give it some time.’ I trust my mom, so I said, ‘OK. I’ll give it some time.’ I lasted one day. I tried. I really tried, and a day later I called and said, ‘It’s over with.’”
Throughout her son’s trials as a freshman, Lamb Powell remains optimistic and patient.
“I absolutely love what I see coach Kruger and his staff doing with him,” Lamb Powell said. “I love the role I see them lining up for him. They are asking a lot of him – to trust, to grow, to do what you don’t understand, to do what you might not believe you can do. If a coach can get you to do those things, you’ve got yourself a good coach.”
|About John Rohde|
|John Rohde is a respected name on the Oklahoma sports scene and will provide regular features for SoonerSports.com. Voted Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year five times, Rohde has covered OU football and basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC/New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, the Final Four, Masters and PGA Tour. He spent over 26 years for The Oklahoman, serving as a columnist and beat writer. He can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise, the flagship station for OU Athletics weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.|