Griffin up for tough challenges
NEW YORK -- Blake Griffin heard the doubters who wondered why he was joining a college team coming off a 16-15 season.
"A lot of people, when I committed to Oklahoma, asked me, 'Why did you commit there? Why didn't you go to Kansas or Duke or somewhere like that?'" he recalled Tuesday. "I just said, 'You'll see in a couple years.'
"I'm a big believer in not always following the most popular thing to do. Make your own path. Do you own thing."
Griffin won't have a say in which team he joins in the NBA, with the Los Angeles Clippers expected to select him with the top pick in Thursday's draft. But good thing he enjoys forging a new path. He'll have to do just that to rewrite the history of a franchise best known for its blunders on and off the court.
"It doesn't bother me at all," Griffin told The Associated Press. "All that stuff happened in the past. That's exactly what it is: It's in the past. No one can do anything about it now. If I am with the Clippers, it's going to be all about the future. No disrespect to anybody, but I could care less what happened 20 years ago, 15 years ago."
Or this past season, when the Clippers went 19-63. But Griffin has made good on a guarantee of a turnaround once before. Oklahoma went 23-12 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament his freshman year. By his sophomore season, the Sooners were 30-6 and advanced to the national quarterfinals before Griffin turned pro.
Still, Oklahoma wasn't exactly the Clippers of college basketball. The Sooners were a recently successful program sidetracked by NCAA violations, not one of the professional sports franchises most associated with ineptitude and misfortune.
Or maybe the Clippers just need a talent infusion. Griffin prefers to focus on the impact one well-timed draft pick can make on a team, recalling that the Cleveland Cavaliers were 17-65 before they received the top choice in 2003.
"Getting a guy like LeBron changes everything," Griffin said. "I'm not trying to compare myself to him. But there's been a lot of teams that were not so great, and you have to start somewhere. You have to grow from somewhere."
Griffin could have turned pro after his freshman season but felt he needed the extra year to fully prepare himself for the NBA. The 6-10, 248-pound forward averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds in earning national player of the year honors as a sophomore.
He saw at Oklahoma how a team's attitude evolves as players learn to win.
"It's a different mindset," Griffin said. "You go into games -- you respect your opponent, but you're confident. It's amazing the difference between a team that can win 20 games and a team that wins 30 games."
Griffin was relaxed Tuesday as he dealt with the attention showered on the likely top pick. He shot hoops in a Manhattan park in a promotion as part of his new endorsement deal with Subway.
Every so often, Griffin thinks about what would have happened had he turned pro a year earlier.
"It's interesting. I wonder where I would be," he said. "Sometimes during the season last year I'd be like, 'If I was in the NBA, what would I be doing right now? I probably wouldn't be sitting in my apartment eating ramen noodles.'
"But I think it all worked out for the best."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press