Is it Blake Griffin's time to shine in Big 12? Print
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Thursday, 06 November 2008 23:01
NCAAB Headline News


 OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Kevin Durant's time at Texas was an amazing array of highlights and huge numbers unlike any the Big 12 had ever seen.
Then, Michael Beasley came to Kansas State and made everyone marvel at another wave of unbelievable feats.
But for all of their record-breaking performances and unforgettable moments, neither one punctuated their single seasons in the league by cutting down the nets and winning a Big 12 title.
If this is to be the year Blake Griffin takes the league by storm and becomes the next NBA lottery pick, he'll have to buck the trend of the Big 12's last two megastars.
Griffin passed up the chance to jump to the NBA after his freshman season, like Durant and Beasley, for the opportunity to improve his game and put together something truly special in coach Jeff Capel's third year at Oklahoma.
And, he's got help.
eep defenders honest.
The duo's potential was enough to convince Big 12 coaches to pick the Sooners as their preseason favorite for the first time - ahead of perennial power Texas, defending national champion Kansas and rising Baylor.
``I think it is up in the air for everyone, and everyone has a chance,'' Capel said. ``And I think that's what makes this year really, really exciting for everyone.''
The question marks are plenty this season after so many departures, starting with Beasley. Kansas lost its entire starting five - including early NBA entries Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers - while Texas' D.J. Augustin skipped his final two years of school to turn pro.
That leaves Griffin, who started to make a name for himself midway through last season, as the Big 12's main returning star.
``The young man's life changed completely, and all of a sudden he was forced to make a decision that could impact the rest of his life,'' Capel said. ``And I think he made the right decision in coming back, because I think the experience that he'll go through this year is going to help him so much for the rest of his life.''
Beyond Griffin, plenty of other second-tier performers are ready to step up in the Big 12.
er of Baylor's prolific group of guards, is back at the point as the Bears seek a second straight NCAA tournament berth after a two-decade drought.
Even without Augustin, the Longhorns have dependable strong man Damion James and sharpshooter A.J. Abrams back as the core of another Rick Barnes team that's poised to contend.
``We've lost guys in the past, and really that's what makes the college game what it is. When guys leave, it opens the stage, the platform for someone else,'' Barnes said. ``And our league, there will be some stars coming into it this year, guys we might not know about. It's going to be exciting. It is every year.''
The rest of the Big 12 is waiting to be sorted out after several years of coaching flux.
Only one coach is new to the league this year: Oklahoma State's Travis Ford. Pat Knight will also be entering his first full season at Texas Tech, where he took over when his father, Bob Knight, retired midway through last season.
They join a hearty contingent of new faces in the league. Nine of the 12 teams have had a change in the past three years, leaving only Barnes, Self and Baylor's Scott Drew with three years or more as head coaches at their schools.
h after being an assistant to Bob Huggins for a year. ``The players really understand what those coaches want and vice-versa.''
That leaves a race to relevancy for those coaches trying to take middling programs to the next level in a conference that's as wide open as it has been in years.
``I think definitely fans are going to really enjoy this season, the number of teams can win at any given time,'' Drew said. ``The last few years we've always had one or two teams that seemed like they were head and shoulders above everybody else. This year it's not that way.''
 

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