Rose, Griffin are comfortable as the focus of their teams
NEW YORK -- Jeff Capel and John Calipari had to have "the talk" with their players, and the season is just barely two weeks old.
"The talk", the one about a freshman becoming the headline grabber, is becoming all too common around the country. Regardless of their returning talent, the reality that the freshmen are taking over is hitting a number of programs.
The big-name freshman is, like it or not, going to get the attention and have the green light to take over the majority of possessions.Memphis has Derrick Rose. Oklahoma has Blake Griffin.
And though Rose's Tigers came out on top with a 63-53 victory over Griffins' Sooners in the 2K College Sports Classic semifinal at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, they both had their moments to shine."I don't like it but it's the way things are," Calipari said after his team advanced to Friday's title game against Connecticut. "It's become the 'in' thing to like. I had to deal with it within my own team. [The Tigers] say I'm seeing the boogie man because they say 'We're fine.' But I see it being all about him. We've got Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, and yet they don't even mention their names. It's all about him. I don't write the stories and I'm not doing it." Calipari isn't handling the hype or scheduling Rose's cover shots. But, he like many other coaches, is fueling the "in" thing by making sure the high-profile freshman is the focus. We can go on and on and we will: USC is being led by O.J. Mayo; UCLA is leaning hard on Kevin Love; Kansas State is being moved by Michael Beasley; Syracuse is being driven by Jonny Flynn; and Indiana revolves around Eric Gordon. "Blake's our best player, that's just the way it is," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "Our guys have to understand that Blake makes their job easier." Capel added that having a freshman come in and get all the hype isn't a perfect problem for a head coach. He said there is a fine balance, especially when there are returning players on a team that were expecting to be more of the focus.
Griffin's older brother, Taylor, is a junior on the team and said the attention on Blake was a non-issue for the older players.
"He is one of the hardest workers in practice and everybody knows that," Taylor said.Blake added that his goal was to become the focal point of the Sooners this season. That was his goal, and not much has been deterred. Watch OU play and it's clear that Blake Griffin (3 of 9 shots for eight points and eight boards against Memphis) is the elixir for this team, always around the ball when needed. "I was telling my teammates about what a great athlete he was," said Rose, who teamed with Griffin at the Jordan all-star game in this same building last April.
Meanwhile, Rose seems to take over every game he plays for the Tigers. He led the Tigers with 17 points, was 8 of 12 at the free-throw line and dished out three assists. Whenever it seemed Memphis needed something to happen, Rose was in position."He can play into our style, play very fast," Dorsey said. "He's a pass-first point guard." "Our whole team is about winning and anything that helps us win, we're cool with it," point guard Andre Allen said. "It's all good for sportsmanship. The players will take a back seat to win and do whatever it takes to win." "It's fine with this team to go with whoever is rolling, and if he's rolling he better [take the shots]," Douglas-Roberts said. "And if he doesn't, I'll be on him to do it." Rose and Griffin, like many others in this class, continue to marvel at how many of their classmates are taking over their teams. Rose said he has been talking to Gordon and Mayo through the early part of the season, and while they've been talking, the other freshmen have alerted each other to certain games when yet another freshman is the focus. "This freshmen class is so good," Capel said. "I'm not surprised with the success because of how talented they are and all the exposure they've had." Playing against top-level competition on a regular basis in high school is the reason these freshmen have continued to shine early in the season. "It's not like when I was playing [in the early 1990s] when there would be some kid at a camp paying $400 to come," Capel said. "They're all playing against each other on this kind of stage. So, there's not much of a learning curve." Is there even a learning curve anymore? Sure. But so far this season, it looks like it's the returning players who are trying to catch up to the freshmen. Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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