By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Many of the best players to wear an Oklahoma uniform gathered at Lloyd Noble Center on Friday night.
The occasion was the annual Sooner Basketball Family Weekend Tip In Club Banquet, where OU honored its All-Americans and 2,000-point scorers.
One thing most of that group shared were deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Seeing the Sooners make it back in March Madness this past season was important to them.
“It’s always bragging rights for me,” said Hollis Price, an All-American in 2002 and 2003 and who helped lead the Sooners to the Final Four in 2002 and Elite Eight in 2003. “When I talk to my friends or whoever, they know my face because of OU. When they were losing they used to get on me and everything. Now I can brag a little bit because our school is coming back up to where we’ve been.”
OU coach Lon Kruger loves to hear that from alums. Something he has bent over backwards to do since taking over the program in April of 2011 is shine as bright a light as possible on the program’s history.
“When you talk about tradition and history, few schools can list the names of the University of Oklahoma,” he said.
Events like Friday’s help spread the word. So does the alumni game at noon today at Lloyd Noble Center.
What those players want to see is the same level of success they enjoyed continue for the program.
Wayman Tisdale, Jeff Webster, Tim McCalister, Stacey King and Darryl “Choo” Kennedy are the only players to score 2,000 points in the program’s history. Tisdale passed away in 2009 and McCalister wasn’t in attendance for the event. Also honored were Blake Griffin, Alvan Adams, Eduardo Najera and Harvey Grant.
Most of those players were on teams that won conference championships. King and Grant played for a national championship. Griffin led the Sooners to the Elite Eight in his sophomore season.
Getting back to that level might still be a few years away for the current Sooners. But seeing OU go 20-12 last season and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 was important.
“I think everyone understood this wasn’t going to happen overnight, but they got back,” said Griffin, who was the consensus 2009 college basketball player of the year before becoming an all-star with the Los Angeles Clippers. “It was fun to watch and I was excited for them. I know how important it is for them.”
It’s important for the alums as well. Griffin was the only honoree still playing professional basketball. Najera is coaching in the NBA’s developmental league. King is a television color analyst for the Chicago Bulls.
But all love being able to brag about their alma mater in March and beyond.
“It started with Wayman and then Stacy and myself and the guys we played with,” Grant said. “We would love to see these guys get back to where we were at.”
Perhaps selling the history those players helped create when they played at OU will help it happen.