Originally Published: Feb 11, 2010 10:48 AM CDT
I’m sitting press row at the Loyd Noble Center for the second night in a row. The OU women are playing Baylor, o featuring 6-foot 8 inch freshman Brittney Griner. Just saw her effortlessly dunk in warm-ups and am about to see her match the eleven blocks she had in Baylor’s ten-point win over the Sooners in Waco.
There are at least as many fans here tonight –some 8,500—as there were last night. Just as many people to see a nice but not great OU women’s team play a 4-4 Big 12 team as there were for the men’s team with three high school All-Americans play a must-win game.
Unfortunately for the men, who need as much fan support as they can get, the fan impact is greater for the women than the men. The turnout and their impact on the game for the men are far below that of the quality program that has been established since the Dave Bliss days of the seventies.
Mind you there was not a Thunder home game excuse for the disappointing men’s turnout. What they witnessed didn’t help—a one point loss to a lousy, Big 12 South bottom-feeding Texas Tech club. ,just one more sign that the precipitous slide from last year’s national title caliber team to this team that will possibly not even earn a post-season invite of any kind is indeed is real.
Biggest difference in the setting at the LNC? This crowd at the women’s game is energetic. Entertained. Involved. Standing and cheering. Contrast that with last night. With a rally underway and three minutes to go Al Escbach and I marveled at the hundreds of fans hustling to the exits. You’d have thought it was an uneventful preseason volleyball game
You’d have thought traffic was jammed from the LNC lot to the Interurban west, Goldsby south, Westwood Golf course north and old Denco’s north.
Speaking of Denco’s, I haven’t seen so many people in a mad dash since in those in the 70s from dozens speeding from Drown Night at the South Forty to Denco’s Now those were mad dashes.
Give a guy a Cutlass, a Kappa and a Darlin with two lookin’ at ya and then you’ve got good reason to hustle. But give a guy a must-win shot-at-the-buzzer to win game and you should be in Hog Heaven or Hollersville. Standing. Not in a sprinter stance ready to pull out your Usain Bolt impersonation.
Fair-weather fans need not apply. There’s ample supply on hand. These Big Sky type crowds confound. Where’s everyone?
Just how Jeff Capel signs highly-recruited players with this kind of support is amazing. Perhaps they are waiting on Billy Tubbs and Mookie Blaylock to return. Or Blake Griffin. Heck, Capel should take his recruits to women’s games if he wants to really show them what fans support for the Sooners can be if you put a national championship caliber team on the floor.
Just maybe some of those fans and potential fans see things the way a buddy of mine see things.
I had a sobering chat about the state of the Sooner men with a longtime OU—well, for anonymity purposes I’ll label him the overused descriptive of an OU “insider.” The deep throated is as knowledgeable as anyone in these precincts when it comes to basketball in general and OU basketball in particular.
His description of this OU team ranked somewhere between unimpressive to disturbing: He said he doesn’t even like to watch them play. Said it was driving Capel nuts. Said if Capel gets a good job offer and leaves the program would not be in good shape.
The insider said the body language from Tiny Gallon to Willie Warren is offensive. Says he believes Warren holds this team hostage. Says the immaturity of Tiny Gallon is embarrassing when he pouts and heads to sit on the floor instead of the bench when pulled from games.
He’s puzzled how a player with Willie Warren’s credentials can be as ineffective as he often is—can be so leaderless—can take a team out of sync instead of putting a team on his shoulders—says something’s just not right. Says he sees a bench that does not have much talented depth.
He loves the potential of frosh point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin but sees him defer to an indifferent and inconsistent Warren. He questions overlooking what he believes is high school talent in Oklahoma that is just as good as some of the “dead wood” on the end of the bench. Says you know what you get with the local talent—and what you can get is kids who want to be here, kids that play hard and kids that stay out of trouble.
You’ve got to understand that guys like this set the bar high. He’s seen first-hand the potential of a program that’s produced championships and superstars. He’s not someone who hasn’t ‘been-there and done-that.
He’s an OU and Jeff Capel supporter. He’s the first to applaud when things are good and the first to call it like it is when things are not.
After his critical analysis, I asked the 64-thousand dollar question on the minds of the Sooner Nation. Where will Willie Warren be the time next year--OU or the NBA? He just smiled with a tough of cynicism and replied, “Where’s he going?”
Hopefully Willie and his mates will be going to a gym, to leadership classes and to a Zig Ziglar seminar. Because until this team grows up it’s not going anywhere.