LAS VEGAS – Every day Blake Griffin woke up, the dream was literally in view.
A poster of the first “Dream Team” hung above Griffin’s bed from the time he was 8 years old until he went to college.
Michael Jordan. Clyde Drexler. Chris Mullin. Christian Laettner. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. David Robinson. Patrick Ewing.
Those were just a few of the names Griffin, off the top of his head, began rattling off from that star-studded Team USA Olympic squad as he fielded questions during this year’s Team USA minicamp.
“Seeing that all the time, seeing what they represent, not just playing for the U.S. but how they represented themselves and how well they did and how polarizing they were is something I definitely dreamed about as a kid,” Griffin said.
That dream was supposed to be fulfilled three years ago. It was in his grasp. He was supposed to be on the gold medal winning team prior to a grim moment in July 2012. Griffin tore his meniscus in his left knee during a practice for Team USA immediately prior to the 2012 London Olympics; he knew the dream would at least be postponed.
“It was frustrating, especially watching the games and being so close,” Griffin said. “I went through the tryout, made the team, practiced for a whole week and then on the Wednesday before our first exhibition game on Thursday, got hurt and had to fly home and have surgery.”
In the immediate aftermath, two obvious consequences took over Griffin’s thoughts. One, the Olympics would have to wait until 2016. And, more importantly and more pressingly, Griffin didn’t want to put the start of the 2012-13 training camp and season in jeopardy.
“My biggest concern initially was to get back and be ready for NBA season, because obviously the Olympics were out,” Griffin said. “Initially, my whole thing was get back stronger, healthy, be ready for the season.
“It’s just a balancing thing. You have great pride to play for your country. You get to play with these types of players. But at the same time, you know, the NBA is kind of what allowed me to get to this place and to be in this gym right here.”
Griffin didn’t let the surgery stop him from being ready for the NBA season, accomplishing his goal of returning to the Clippers in a timely fashion. He played in 80 games during the 2012-13 season.
Now, that second goal is within reach.
It’s three years later, with just a year remaining before the final Team USA squad gets assembled for the Rio Olympics, and Griffin’s not only on the cusp of playing in the Olympics for the first time – he’s also more prepared for that opportunity.
Griffin averaged 3.9 more points and 1.6 more assists per game last season than he did during the 2012-13 season three seasons ago following the missed OIympic opportunity. He also shot a career-high 72.8 percent from the line last season, a whopping 6.8 percent better than that 2012-13 season.
In addition to his ability to distribute and pass as well as any big man in the league, Griffin’s developed his touch significantly. Griffin shot 38.8 percent on jump shots last season and 40.7 percent on shots from 16 feet out to the 3-point after shooting 33 percent and 34 percent on such shots, respectively, just three seasons ago.
“Guys guarding him, we all notice for sure,” said LaMarcus Aldridge.
So does Griffin’s Team USA head coach, Mike Krzyzewski. As nice as it is to see Griffin with the team now at minicamp, Coach K said it’ll be much nicer to see him with Team USA next summer.
“Blake’s improved so much as a player, especially in his scoring ability,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve missed not having him, especially last summer. But he’s here now.”
And, if Griffin has it his way, he’ll be there again a year from now, ready to make his dream a reality and be the player hanging up on another kid’s poster.
“I just want another shot at it,” Griffin said, “and I think I’ll hopefully have it.”