The pride of Oklahoma, Blake Griffin, hosts the Pistons on OU’s campus
Zach Beeker/NBAE/Getty Images
NORMAN, Okla. – Lon Kruger is sitting on a top-10 recruiting class for 2019 with five recruits already committed. Four of them pledged in the past month. He’s got a good idea what got the snowball rolling.
It has a large something to do with the name on the front of the glistening new building he stood inside on a sunny October morning Thursday at the Griffin Family Performance Center – a state-of-the-art basketball training facility made possible by the financial support of the most famous ex-Sooner currently plying his trade in the NBA.
“What a great ambassador,” Kruger said of Blake Griffin, who spent two years on campus before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. “Everything he says and everything he does is to benefit the program.”
OU officials planned to name the facility the Blake Griffin Performance Center, but were overruled by its benefactor, whose undisclosed donation has been called the largest ever provided the university by a former basketball player.
“I saw the first renderings and it was the Blake Griffin Performance Center. It didn’t sound right,” he said, “my parents being the real reason my brother and I got to where we are today. I wanted that. It meant a lot to me that it was a family thing with my parents and my kids and my brother’s kids and everybody on down the line is a part of this.”
The Pistons practiced on OU’s campus Thursday, the day after winning at Oklahoma City to open the preseason and before flying to San Antonio for Friday’s game with the Spurs. It’s not often an NBA player gets to serve as host for his teammates in a building named in his honor at the place he attended college.
“It was cool,” Griffin said. “You want this place to be a place where people come back to. We had myself and (fellow NBA players) Buddy Hield and Trae (Young) back here, worked out this summer. Hopefully, this is a place where the pros who leave this program come back and we keep the tradition and keep Oklahoma basketball at a little bit higher level.”
Most players of Griffin’s stature choose their college based on expediency for the surest, quickest path to the NBA. Oklahoma meant something well beyond that to Griffin.
“Born and raised in the state. My brother came here, graduated from here,” Griffin said. “I would’ve stayed all four years if that was the right thing to do at the time. But this is family and a chance to carry on a legacy is a big thing for me.”
The facility includes training courts, cardiovascular and plyometric equipment, free weights, a nutrition station, strength testing, an examination room and a recovery area spread over nearly 19,000 square feet.
To be sure, it’s a wonderful recruiting tool in the ever-escalating arms race that grips college athletics. Kruger’s committed 2019 recruits hail from Illinois, Florida, Nevada and Texas – a pretty good indication of the magnetic appeal of what he has to sell.
“We’ve got five commitments for next year and every one of them is super impressed by this,” he said. “Clearly, we wouldn’t have five commitments if we didn’t have this at this point.”
For Griffin, giving Kruger a first-class facility to sell – and for his players to maximize their potential once they’re on campus – is a point of pride for the program he still follows and supports.
“You always hear Oklahoma pride, the pride of Oklahoma, and I always felt like a lot of people say it, but a lot of people that come here feel it,” he said. “And they mean it and they come and they give back. This is a whole group effort. There were a lot of people that went into putting this together.”
And that, too, is a selling point for Kruger.
“His message, even though it was subtle, was about players appreciating what they’ve got, players taking advantage of their experience as a Sooner,” Kruger said “He’s driving home a point to help them take more pride in the facility and take more pride in being a Sooner.”