Andrew Kamenetzky: Blake Griffin news conference video
Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin was officially introduced to the media on Monday at the LAC training center in Playa Vista. The rookie from Oklahoma (the state and University) was the #1 overall choice in this season's draft, the consensus no-brainer after snagging the 2009 Naismith, Wooden, AP and National Player of the Year Awards. Basically, every honor except an Oscar (and the reasons he didn't even get nominated -- in my humble opinion -- were nothing short of political).
But is Griffin, who fell into the Clippers' lap after besting the 17.7% odds, capable of jump-starting this comically downtrodden franchise? That remains to be seen, but for what it's worth, fans can breathe easy knowing the kid smacks not even a hint of the last dude plucked at the same position eleven years ago. Beyond likely possessing more skill than Michael Olowokandi as we speak, Griffin is clearly more professional, hard working and motivated. The Kandi Man never seemed concerned about his performance unless it was a contract year. If Griffin washes out, I'd be stunned if apathy was the culprit. Take that for what it's worth as you watch the videos below
Mike Dunleavy doesn't exactly have a "player's coach" rep, instead known for being extraordinarily hands one and none too fond of latitude. That shouldn't be a problem for Griffin, since he's already survived a stint with one hombre of a coach, who also happens to double as his father. "I'm scared of my dad," smiled Griffin, who then praise the example set by both of his parents.
Griffin may be the franchise's new face (the website's mug, at the very least), but he understands perfectly that being a rookie means being the low man on the totem pole. And if he needed any reminders, the afternoon's workout served that purpose. Said Griffin with a sheepish nod, "Mike Taylor asked me to go grab him a towel... so I went and grabbed him a towel." He's also well aware that college basketball may be serious business, but it's not the same thing as being employed. "This is my job now."
Second year player Eric Gordon (quite the successful 2009 rookie himself) joined Griffin as the main attraction fielded more questions. Gordon's already doling out wisdom, reminding the frosh to "take care of his body." "It's a long season, especially when you're a rookie. It's more than 82 games."
EG also plans to be more of a mentor than task master to Griffin. Considering they're basically the same age, he feels kinda weird ordering around the newbie.
More on rookie hazing, being recognized around the city and possibly participating in the Slam Dunk contest.
Gordon is already a stud and Griffin could be one in the making, but both agreed that overtaking the Lakers for the city's love remains a tall order. Something about a 15-0 title advantage (including the most recent Larry O'Brien). As for his new home, I asked Griffin if Los Angeles takes getting used to, a question I got the distinct feeling he's been asked a zillion times and finds a little condescending. As he noted with a playful smile, "I've been outside of Oklahoma before."
Fair enough, but even Griffin agreed the traffic can be an eye opener, capable of turning even the most simple of errands (like a trip to the AT&T store) into an adventure.
Griffin explains the birth of his strong work ethic. During his freshman year, scrapping was required to make a really stacked squad (coached by his mean old man). Griffin truly realized that play at a high level meant buckling down, taking care of his body and clocking extra hours in the gym (all while negotiating the discomfort that comes with a sudden growth spurt). But the hard work paid off. Griffin began the season as the rotation's eighth or so man. Come playoffs, he was the first off the pine.
I asked Griffin if he's set specific goals for himself, whether Rookie of the Year, a certain amount of points, etc. He's not sweating the baskets, which he thinks could be a function of need as much as success. Instead, the top priorities are hitting the glass and forging a defensive presence.
Growing up, Griffin's parents never pushed him into any one particular sport, encouraging to do everything from baseball to swimming to golf. And of course, basketball, which he decided to make priority one in the tenth grade. He also shared a story about playing in his older brother's teeball game. With his sib's team up big, Blake was allowed to hit, racking a double and triple in his first at bats. That was also the biggest crowd he'd ever played in front of, which I joked would provide everything Griffin ever needed to one day deal with NBA pressure.
"With those parents in the stands, I feel like it prepared me for this moment," laughed Griffin.
Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp has told me on several occasions (including the Kamenetzky brothers' 710 ESPN Laker podcast) that he could have played professional basketball. Blake Griffin grew up with Kemp and offers nothing but props for the guy's hardcourt skills.