Sooners Practice, Meet the Media

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

March 26, 2009

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- One day after arriving in Memphis, the Oklahoma men's basketball team participated in the NCAA Tournament's South Regional media conference and held an open practice at FedExForum.

The regional's No. 2 seed, the Sooners will take on No. 3 seed Syracuse on Friday at 6:27 p.m. CDT (televised by CBS).  OU (29-5) will be looking to advance to its third Elite Eight in the past eight seasons.  A win will require a strong performance against a 28-9 Syracuse squad that has won nine of its last 10 games.

Senior Taylor Griffin and sophomore Blake Griffin met with reporters in the Memphis Grizzlies' practice gym early Thursday afternoon, and were followed by head coach Jeff Capel.  Portions of the transcript are below.

Men's Basketball Multimedia | Thursday, March 26
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Photos Practice & Press Conference Photo Gallery | Sooner NCAA Tournament Central

Following are selected comments from Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel, senior forward Taylor Griffin and sophomore forward Blake Griffin from Wednesday's media conference.

  Taylor and Blake Griffin

Q.  For Blake and Taylor, your impressions of this much talked about Syracuse two three zone.  How do you think they'll do attacking it?
BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "I think they're very tough.  They obviously know exactly what they're supposed to do in the zone, and they do a great job of it.  We're going to have to be good and pick our spots and then run our offense really well to get good looks."
TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "Like Blake said, you know, that's what they do.  That's what they've been doing.  So obviously, it's part of the reason they've gotten this far. For us I think we're going to have to hit shots.  We're going to have to attack the gaps, really try to penetrate, get in there and be ready to kick out, be ready to kind of squeeze in open spots."

Q.  The talk in Syracuse is pretty much how to stop Blake Griffin.  From your perspective, what's your impression of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku? 

BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "I think they're tough.  I think they're really tough.  Both of them are better players than their numbers might show.  They're both big guys that are physical, and they do a good job inside.  We're going to have to do a good job and be physical and keep them off the boards.  And match their intensity."

Q.  Do they compare to anybody you've seen in the Big 12 this year?

BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "I really don't think so.  The closest we could compare them to is maybe Texas A&M because they have two pretty big guys down low. I don't think anybody is as big and as strong as they are that we faced."

Q.  Taylor, when you look at what Blake's doing right now as a ballplayer, is there a way for him to increase his game?  Is there a way for him to get even better this week?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "You know, there's always an opportunity for any player in the country to get better.  I think the biggest thing for him right now is making his teammates better.  That's what great players do, and that's what we need him to do.  We feel that he's going to be pretty consistent about the kind of production we get out of him.  I think at this point in the season, it's making sure this team gets to where it wants to go."

Q.  What can he do to make his teammates better?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "Just instilling confidence in the rest of the guys.  You know, being a strong leader.  Being confident in himself.  Just doing what he does, playing hard.  Ultimately, helping us get a win."

Q.  Can you talk about Austin's role on the team, and does Syracuse's zone make his role even more important in this game?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "Austin's been a very good player for us.  When Austin plays really well, we play really well.  He has incredible poise, just kind of has a calming factor about him. Yeah, in a game like this we're going to need him to play well just like any of our other guards.  He's going to really have to get us into our offense, going against whatever they're running against us.  And stepping up and making big shots like he's done all year.  And getting the ball into the right people's hands."

Q.  How does the intensity and the atmosphere change this weekend from even last weekend?

BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "I think it's just even more of a do-or-die situation.  You get to the Sweet 16, and obviously there's 16 teams left, and everybody's fighting for those spots.  Just everybody's focus is a little more raised.  Everybody's intense and everybody wants it a little more."

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "I'd have to agree.  This week, the numbers have been cut down and there's more coverage.  There's more excitement about it.  There's more build-up to this weekend.  It's time to step it up to the highest level."

Q.  For Blake, with all this focus on trying to stop you from Syracuse, do you look forward to seeing your teammates try and step up in case they do focus most of their efforts on you?
BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "Definitely.  That's going to be huge for us.  You know, in the Michigan game we had a lot of guys step up and play really well.  I feel like as a team we have more guys than people kind of give us credit for.  Whether it's Juan Pattillo coming off the bench or Cade Davis coming off the bench and hitting shots.  At any given point, we have a guy on the floor that can go for 20, I think.  And we have this year. I feel like that's going to be a key to our success this weekend --  everybody playing well and not necessarily everybody coming out and scoring 20, but everybody doing their role and knowing what's important to the team."

Q.  Blake, do you have to guard against putting too much pressure on yourself, trying to put this team on your back and winning it by yourself?

BLAKE GRIFFIN:  "Not at all.  I don't put any pressure on myself.  I don't believe in that.  I know my teammates have my back.  I know our coaching staff has my back.  So I don't have to worry about doing anything by myself.  I haven't done anything by myself this whole year, and I never will.  As long as I play, there's going to be teammates around me that are capable.  I think one of the biggest things is really trusting everybody, that they're going to be there for me.  All year they have."

Q.  Taylor, do you agree that your brother is the best player in America?  If so, and even if you don't, what was your role as brother developing him?  You know, in the house, on the playground, in the driveway, et cetera.

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  "First of all, yes, I do think that he's the best player in college basketball.  You know, I really don't know what to tell you.  Besides, you know, growing up we were really competitive.  It's not like growing up I had in my mind I was training him to become the greatest college player in America.  I think a lot has to do with our parents and my dad and his athletic background, basketball background, being a coach.  My mom as well.  But I really don't know."

Q.  But is it safe to say that at least at some point you would be pounding on him, being the older brother?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN:  Yeah, I mean, that's how older brothers are.  Little brothers, most of the time, are playing catch up until they catch up.  That's how it was."

  Head Coach Jeff Capel

Q.  Coach, there's a lot of talk about the point guards in this tournament, specifically for the other three teams.  Where does Austin Johnson rank among those guys?  What has he meant for your squad this year since he often gets overshadowed?

COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "I always felt the point guard's most important job is to win.  As a starting point guard for our basketball team, Austin Johnson has led us to 29 wins against 5 losses.  So I think he's had a heck of a year.  I think he's played well.  I think he's done winning things.
"It may not show up to the average fan that he's good.  I know it's been a question mark about our team all year.  But as a coach, I've been satisfied with what he's done.  At times he's played really well.  And that's when he's scoring the basketball.  But the majority of the time he's done winning things for us.
"How does he compare with the other guys?  I don't know.  I mean, certainly, I think some of those guys are better pro prospects, you know, certainly have gotten a lot more attention.  Maybe rightfully so.  But he's been really good for us, and he's helped us win 29 games so far."

Q.  Coach, you've talked often this year how Willie has to be a playmaker, not a role player.  Where do you think that progression is with him now?
COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "I think he's fine.  I think he's done a good job with that all year.  Sometimes we have to remind him of that.  Sometimes I feel like Willie tries to defer, and we don't want Willie to defer.  We brought him here to be a really good player for us, and he's done that for the most part this year.  But at times he's deferred a little bit."

Q.  Coach, Jim Boeheim said that with the balance on these two rosters and ability to score, this could be maybe more of an offensive game than people might expect. You look at their 2-3 zone, do you think there's going to be a chance to pick your points and score?
COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "Well, they're a really, really good offensive team.  If I'm not mistaken, I think they led the Big East in scoring, and they're very efficient.  They can hurt you in so many different ways, obviously.  I think they have one of the best point guards in the country in (Jonny) Flynn, and he's the orchestrator of everything.  Then they have guys that can shoot it in (Eric) Devendorf and (Andy) Rautins.  Guys that are very efficient down low in (Rick) Jackson and (Arinze) Onuaku.  Then Paul Harris is kind of the wild card.  He can do a lot of different things and hurt you offensively in different ways. 

"When our offense is clicking, we feel like we can be that way too.  When we're making shots from the perimeter, that opens up things down low even more for Blake.  We feel like we're a team that we can get in transition and make some plays.  So I mean, it could be.  Their 2-3 zone is really good.  You know, you have to find different ways to attack it, and we've worked on some different things.  We've seen some zone this year.  So hopefully, we'll be good at attacking it tomorrow."

Q.  Apart from the basketball players, the wins, the fans, what do you like about being in Oklahoma?
COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "The people.  I mean, there are really good people there.  It actually reminds me a little bit of North Carolina.  You know, people there love OU, especially where I live in Norman.  People are very friendly.  They're just good people and people you enjoy being around.

"I work for a great athletic director and a great administration.  So that's really important to me.  I mean, I love my team.  I love the guys that we have in our program and the guys that we've recruited.  But it's more so the people there in Oklahoma."

Q.  Coach, I guess with the attention that Blake gets, can you kind of flip that around and give your impressions of the Syracuse frontcourt and maybe the challenges that they present for you?

COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "They're good.  They're very good.  Onuaku and Jackson are really high percentage players.  They're big.  They're strong.  They finish around the basket.  Because of the other weapons, sometimes they maybe get overshadowed a little bit.  But they produce.  You bring (Kristof) Ongenaet off the bench who's an energy guy, great offensive rebounder who plays off those guys, plays off the guards.  It definitely provides a challenge for us.  They're big across the front line, especially when they start with those two kids, Jackson and Onuaku.
"Probably the team that's comparable to them in our league as far as size like that is Texas.  Especially when they would go with (Dexter) Pittman, (Connor) Atchley and Damion James or Pittman, James, and Gary Johnson.  They could be really big like that also.  So it provides us a challenge."

Q.  Jeff, can you talk about Blake?  Often at this time of year stars need to elevate their game more to get their teams over certain humps.  Is there anything he can do?  Is there a way for Blake to elevate his game in this tournament?
COACH JEFF CAPEL:  "Well, I think he has if you look at what he's done in the first two games.  I think he's averaging something like 30 and 15.  He's probably missed five shots in the whole tournament.  So his percentage is really high.
"One of the things I talked to Blake about before this tournament started was, you know, he's going to have to carry us and he's going to have to be the example.  I said, you may have to put your arms around these guys and carry them with you.  You may have to push them.  Whatever it is you have to do.
"This is where legends are made, this tournament, and this is where legends continue to grow.  I think Blake's a guy that will leave an incredible legacy at the University of Oklahoma.  I don't think it will be appreciated as much until he's gone.  That's my opinion.  I think people will appreciate it even more.
"I've enjoyed every step of the way with him.  When he committed to us a month and a half after I got the job, I knew we had something special.  I knew we had the piece that we needed to get this thing turned.  And one of the things I vowed to myself is I was going to enjoy every day of the journey because you don't get a guy like that too often.  Guys like him don't come around too often."