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  • Clayton Trutor

Beyond Blake Griffin: Oklahoma City is a Surprising Hub of Basketball Talent


When basketball fans think of Oklahoma City, they, of course, think of the hometown Thunder and the franchise’s fresh out-of-the-box success in OKC.  Many fans also know that Oklahoma City is the hometown of Blake Griffin, one of the brightest stars in the professional and college games of the past decade.  Relatively few basketball aficionados realize what a hub of talent Oklahoma City has been for such a long time—long before Blake Griffin every laced ‘em up for Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond.  In fact, nearly two dozen NBA players, past or present, were either born or raised in the 405.  I’ve created an “Oklahoma City Starting Five” to show off the elite basketball talent that hails from the city.


My team of OKC standouts is, by no means, comprehensive.  In particular, Oklahoma City has long proven to be a bastion of big men. I had to leave out a couple of excellent college and professional low-post powerhouses that hail from the city.  In addition to the greats on my “Oklahoma City Starting Five,” it is also important to point out that OKC is the hometown of former ABA and NBA All-Star forward Ron Boone as well as Shelden Williams, Duke’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots as well as a longtime NBA power forward.  It is hard to imagine that any city’s dream basketball team would have as impressive or deep a front court as OKC.


Alvan Adams, Center, Phoenix Suns (1976-1988): Nicknamed “The Oklahoma Kid,” Adams pushed around the competition for Putnam City High School.  The athletic and brawny Adams led the Pirates not only to the 1972 4A Boys state title but also one of the few undefeated seasons in the history of the state’s then-large school prep division.  Virtually every school in the region recruited Adams but he ended up relatively close to home at the University of Oklahoma.  Adams went on to a similarly dominant career for the Sooners, earning All-Big Eight honors in each of his three seasons in Norman.  In 1974-1975, he was selected Big Eight Player of the Year.  In all three seasons, Adams averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.  Phoenix Suns general manager Jerry Colangelo made Adams the 4th overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft.  Adams proved an immediate sensation in Suns coach John McLeod’s offensive-minded system, becoming the prototype for the modern “Point Forward”—a big man who is an adept distributor of the ball and serves as the fulcrum of the team’s front court attack.  Adams excelled in the “point forward” role, averaging nearly 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game as a rookie.  Adams represented the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.  Furthermore, Adams proved to be the centerpiece of the Suns’ unlikely run to the 1976 NBA Finals, where they battled the Celtics for six games in one of the most exciting series in league history.  For the next 11 seasons, Adams held down the center position for the Suns and was long regarded as one of the NBA’s top big men.  In 1988, the Suns commemorated Adams’ final season by retiring his number 33, just as the University of Oklahoma did ten years later.  






Blake Griffin, Forward, Los Angeles Clippers (2010-2018), Detroit Pistons (2018-2021), Brooklyn Nets (2021): Six-time NBA All-Star, Slam Dunk Champion, Rookie of the Year, and Naismith College Player of the Year Blake Griffin is one of the most accomplished and exciting players of his generation.  Before taking Brooklyn by storm.  Before making the Clippers finally relevant in the Los Angeles market.  Before turning an evening at OU’s Noble Center into a front row seat for SportCenter’s nightly Top 10.  Blake Griffin was a coach’s son at Oklahoma Christian School.  Playing alongside his brother Taylor, the Griffin-led Saints won four consecutive state championships at the 3A and 2A levels.  The high-flying big man dominated the prep ranks and earned the Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year honors as a senior.  In his four years on the Saints’ varsity squad, Oklahoma Christian lost just 6 games.  The championships that were so plentiful during Griffin’s high school career have alluded him since.  At Oklahoma, his teams advanced to the round of 32 and Elite Eight during his time in Norman.  As of April 2021, Griffin has yet to play for an NBA team that reached the conference finals.  This could certainly all change in the near future as Griffin’s new team, the Brooklyn Nets, are primed for a postseason run.



Antoine Carr, Forward, Atlanta Hawks (1984-1990), Sacramento Kings (1990-1991), San Antonio Spurs (1991-1994), Utah Jazz (1994-1998), Houston Rockets (1998-1999), Vancouver Grizzlies (1999-2000): Born in Oklahoma City but raised in Wichita, Antoine Carr was an NBA journeyman in the best sense of the word.  The “Big Dawg” was the consummate professional, a perennially in-demand power forward.  He spent 16 seasons in the league, serving as a steady low-post presence for six different clubs.  Carr enjoyed his most productive season with the Sacramento Kings, averaging better than 20 points per game in 1990-1991.  Carr was a key contributor on several memorable NBA clubs: the “Air Force” era Atlanta Hawks of the late 1980s, which featured Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb; the David Robinson-Dennis Rodman era Spurs team on which Carr spelled both stars; and the Karl Malone-John Stockton Utah Jazz clubs which reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.  Before his impressive NBA career, Carr was an absolutely dominant college player at Wichita State, leading the Shockers to three-consecutive 20-plus win seasons while netting more than 1,900 career points.  Carr impressed NBA scouts enough to be selected 8th overall in the 1983 NBA Draft, ahead of the likes of Clyde Drexler, Doc Rivers, and Dale Ellis.



   

Xavier Henry, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies (2010-2012), New Orleans Hornets (2012-2013), Los Angeles Lakers (2013-2014): Following in Alvan Adams’ footsteps, Henry led the Pirates from Putnam City to a state championship in 2009.  Following in Blake Griffin’s footsteps, he became one of just nine Oklahomans to have played in the McDonald’s All America Game.  The physically imposing 6’6 guard was one of the most highly recruited players in Oklahoma prep history.  Henry combined elite athleticism with significant basketball smarts on both ends of the court.  Eventually, Henry committed to Kansas, where he spent one season before entering the NBA Draft.  Henry averaged 13.9 points per game.  He was named All Big-12 Honorable Mention on a team that spent almost the entire regular season as the number 1 ranked team in the country.  After winning the Big 12 Tournament, his top-seeded Jayhawks were bounced in the round of 32 by Northern Iowa.  Following the season, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Henry in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.  Henry bounced around the NBA for the next five seasons.  His career was significantly shortened by wrist and knee injuries. Henry eventually retired from professional basketball in 2017.




Greg Sutton, Guard, San Antonio Spurs (1991-1992), Charlotte Hornets (1994-1996), Philadelphia 76ers (1996): The pride of Douglass High School, Sutton teamed with future Oklahoma Christian University All-American Terrence Gaines to form one of the best backcourt tandems in Sooner State prep basketball history.  Gaines and Sutton led the Douglass Trojans to their first-ever 4A Boys state championship in 1984.  A talented scorer, rebounder, and distributor, Sutton brought his talents first to Langston University before transferring to Oral Roberts, where he became the leading scorer in the school’s history.  During his three seasons in Tulsa, Sutton was a veritable scoring machine, averaging just under 30 points per game as a junior and nearly 35 points per game as a senior.  Sutton earned National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American honors both seasons and twice led the Golden Eagles to the NAIA Tournament.  In 1991, the San Antonio Spurs selected him in the second round, kicking off a five-year NBA and twelve-year professional basketball career that also took him to Greece, Italy, and Israel.  




Clayton Trutor holds a PhD in US History from Boston College and teaches at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.  He is the author of Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta—and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports (University of Nebraska Press, 2022). He’d love to hear from you on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor

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