NORMAN, Okla. -- The third annual OU men's basketball Legends Alumni Game featured a record amount of talent for the event. And it took an event scoring record from former Sooner guard Ebi Ere to lead the Cream team to a 102-99 win Saturday afternoon in front of an estimated crowd of 3,500 at Lloyd Noble Center.
Ere, who played on OU's 2002 Final Four and 2003 Elite Eight teams, scored 34 points with the help of 4-for-7 3-point shooting, and added four assists to earn MVP honors. He was followed on his team by Hollis Price's 15 points (13 in the second half) and Darryl "Choo" Kennedy's 13 (11 in the first half on 3-for-3 3-point shooting).
Ere still plays professionally and last week left Tulsa to report to his team in Italy. He returned to Norman on Friday night for alumni weekend festivities and flies back to Europe on Sunday.
"It is very important to me," Ere said of coming back this weekend. "This is my school. This where most things started in my life. This is where I learned about the importance of playing hard, being a good person, being a good student. I learned all that here."
As far as his performance on Saturday, a grinning Ere said he wasn't surprised.
"I expected to come out and play that well. Me, Hollis (Price) and Kelley (Newton) all had a talk last night about who was going to win MVP, and I said I was."
Eduardo Najera and Newton scored 20 points apiece to pace the Crimson team. Najera was 3-for-5 from 3-point range and Newton was 4-for-7. Chris Black added 14 points and Sam Grooms 13.
The Crimson team was bolstered in the first half by surprise participant Blake Griffin. The Los Angeles Clipper and two-time NBA All-Star played a good chunk of the first half and tallied 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting. He had four dunks in the game's first five minutes and added a lay-in and long 3-pointer, as well as five rebounds.
"It's fun, man. It's a lot of fun," said Griffin, who had to leave at halftime to catch a flight. "I think Coach (Lon) Kruger's doing an amazing job when it comes to really getting the tradition back into the program and getting guys from past years to come back. So I definitely wanted to come back and be a part of it."
After addressing the crowd at halftime, Griffin threw his game shoes to the fans, which resulted in a mad scramble.
The game was tied at 49 at intermission and the decision was in doubt until the final minute. With the Cream team trailing 70-66 with just under 9:30 remaining, Price hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions during a 17-7 run for an 83-77 lead. The Crimson team cut the margin to two (91-89) but never got over the hump.
"I have so many great memories," said Najera, who played 12 years in the NBA and is entering his second season as head coach of the Texas Legends, an NBDL team in Frisco, Texas. "It's been roughly about 13 years since I played on this actual wood floor, and it felt great. The first half, I feel like I was in my zone of the great times shooting 3's, dunking it, rebounding, blocking shots. But then the second half, I think my age caught up and I couldn't hit anything.
"It's just great talking to the guys, some of the guys that I got to play with, some of the guys before us and some that came after us. It's been a great experience. Coach Kruger is doing a great job on gathering the Sooner legends, and hopefully we do it again next year."
Kruger said this year's reunion weekend, which honored the program's All-Americans and 2,000-point scorers, was once again a rousing success.
"It's so good to see everyone enjoying themselves and reliving the memories and really enjoying each other's success," he said. "The best of the best when you consider the All-Americans and 2,000-point scorers, and a lot of other Oklahoma Sooner greats here this weekend. I know our fans appreciated it and had a great time."
FINAL POINT TOTALS
Cream Team (102)
Ebi Ere - 34 points
Hollis Price – 15
Darryl "Choo" Kennedy - 13
Michael Neal - 10
Jozsef Szendrei - 10
T.J. Franklin - 6
Beau Gerber - 6
Harvey Grant - 6
Roland Ware - 2
Crimson Team (99)
Eduardo Najera - 20 points
Kelley Newton - 20
Chris Black - 14
Blake Griffin - 13 (1st half only)
Sam Grooms - 13
C.J. Washington - 9
Skeeter Henry - 9
Barry Honore - 5
Ebi Ere (2002-03)
On what it means to be back in Norman:
"It means a lot to me. It was fun to come back and play with some of the players I played with in college, play against some of the other players from the older teams. We were here to have a good time, a little family time, hang out, and it's always good to come back."
On his game today:
"It's routine. This is what I do. This is what got me 10 years pro now, doing the same thing. It's all about staying in the gym, doing what I've been doing over the years, keeping my focus."
Harvey Grant (1987-88)
On the event:
"Last year I couldn't make it, but just coming back and seeing all the guys before me, after me, it was great. A whole family atmosphere. I'm going to try my best not to miss it again."
On playing inside Lloyd Noble Center again:
"At an advanced age, it was a little tiresome, but it felt good. You hit a couple shots, and it kind of brings memories back from the old Billy Tubbs days."
Blake Griffin (2008-09)
On memories that come back playing at Lloyd Noble:
"Man, a lot. Earlier today I was talking to somebody about the Elite Eight run that we had and how much fun that was for us. That's something I'll never forget, honestly. I've been blessed to be able to play with a lot of great players and play in a lot of cool places, but my time here is something that I'll never forget."
On the direction of the program:
"I love where it's headed. Whenever a new coach comes in -- as you can see with Coach (Jeff) Capel, it took him a couple years -- and Coach Kruger getting back into the tournament, it was fun. I remember being genuinely excited to watch the game and to have that pride of your school being back in the tournament is big. That was a lot of fun to see."
Eduardo Najera (1997-2000)
On Coach Kruger:
"He's doing a great job. Obviously I'm a huge Kelvin Sampson fan. After he left, we sort of went through a rough patch especially after Blake Griffin left. Luckily, after Coach Kruger came into town, he turned everything around, and I think you see that excitement from all our fans, and I think that's what it's all about. This program is a great program. We have a great tradition, and we hope that the next guys keep it going."
Hollis Price (2000-03)
On the game and his back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half:
"Me and Kelley (Newton) had a little battle going on. The first half of the game I wanted to pass the ball, but once it got close to winning time, I wanted to start shooting the ball and it just happened. I got back-to-back-back 3's and the guys gave me the ball. Once I have it, then I'm always confident I'm going to make the shot."
On returning to Norman:
"It's great to be back. Every time I come back, it always shows you your true family. It shows that I really chose the right university to come to because it shows how much of a family atmosphere this is."
Tyler Neal (Current Team)
On his thoughts on the weekend:
"It's good, especially for our team. I think for some of the young guys, just to understand what the tradition here is all about and that there's been some really good teams here. We're just trying to work our way back to that and just kind of have our sights set on teams that have been good. Talking to some of these legends like Stacey (King) and Blake (Griffin) and (Darryl) "Choo" (Kennedy) and all those guys, it's just a great opportunity. It's a great weekend, and we all have fun during this event every year."
Head Coach Lon Kruger
On the talent in today's game:
"You consider those guys who scored 2,000 points or were All-Americans, they could score the ball and they can still shoot the ball well. Then you also consider Eduardo Najera, who just finished playing in the NBA a couple of years ago, and Blake Griffin, who's still playing in the NBA, and several others who are still in good shape and can shoot it well, it makes for a good contest."