This offseason has already seen a bevy of unprepared players decide to test the NBA waters, but few schools can boast two such casualties. Oklahoma is one of them.
First, it was freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, who had a nice first year for the Sooners but at 5-foot-11, with more raw ability than refined polish, doesn't look anything like an NBA-ready point guard. Whatever, Mason-Griffin decided to declare for the NBA draft anyway.
For what it's worth, Mason-Griffin seems like a sincere guy. He recently gave a totally unnecessary, but still nice, apology to OU fans for leaving early. "I want to apologize if they felt I let them down by leaving early or leaving this soon I would say,” Mason-Griffin told a Houston TV station. "This past season, I know we didn’t have the best season, but I gave it my all. My teammates gave it their all even though the end of the season didn’t come out like it was supposed to, but we played hard and we fought."
It's hard to argue with that, just as it is difficult to begrudge a guy for deciding he's done waiting to live out his childhood dream. But there's no question Mason-Griffin, who doesn't even rank among ESPN Insider Chad Ford's Top 100 prospects, is making a questionable decision.
Just as questionable is his teammate's decision. Fellow freshman Keith "Tiny" Gallon, announced his decision to enter the NBA draft late Tuesday night. Gallon's draft status is a little bit better than Mason-Griffin's, but it's still not great; Ford ranks Gallon in that dreaded "second round to undrafted" range. Gallon is a strong interior player and a promising rebounder, but that's about it right now, and it's hard to imagine him having immediate success in the NBA if he's even drafted in the first place.
It's possible this decision was accelerated by Oklahoma's investigation into $3,000 Gallon allegedly accepted via wire transfer from a Florida financial adviser, according to a TMZ report. For now, Gallon hasn't revealed whether he will be hiring an agent.
Oh, and don't forget Sooners star Willie Warren, who had a stellar freshman season in the Blake Griffin Destroys All Comers Era but fell off in his sophomore season. After feuding with Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel for much of the season, Warren will also enter the NBA draft, and say this much for him: At least Warren looks like a first-round pick.
It can't good to be Capel right now. The Mason-Griffin/Gallon recruiting class was a major coup, but it's gone after a year, and all Capel has to show for it is a 13-18 season, the worst at OU in 29 years. Reserves Orlando Allen and Ray Willis are leaving the program (presumably as transfers), leaving Capel with four returning scholarship players for 2010-11. The good news is that Capel has a solid recruiting class arriving this fall, including the No. 6-ranked small forward in the class in Cameron Clark. The bad news is that none of Capel's three recruits is a plausible replacement for Gallon in the frontcourt; Oklahoma will be playing awfully small next season.
As bad as that sounds, roster concerns might be the least of Capel's current worries. OU assistant coach and lead recruiter Oronde Taliaferro resigned last month amid rumors that he could be tied to a recruiting scandal and NCAA investigation. Anything the NCAA or any interested news organization -- like The Oklahoman, which has already been rebuffed on an open records request by Oklahoma in its pursuit of Taliaferro documents -- finds would be double-plus bad, considering Oklahoma is already on NCAA probation.
In short, in the past month or so Capel has seen his roster dwindle to four, lost his best three players, witnessed the opening of an investigation into the finances of one Tiny Gallon, and lost an assistant coach over potentially damaging concerns of recruiting impropriety. Like I said: It can't be good to be Capel right now.
Miraculously, Capel went almost a month without addressing the media on any of this stuff. Last Friday was, finally, his first public appearance, where he answered questions and gave inspiring quotes and generally seemed to be in positive spirits, despite the morass surrounding him. A sampling:
"There is hope. There absolutely is hope. I'm excited about where we're going forward to. Sometimes, in order to get better, you have to cleanse. Sometimes you have to lose some things. Sometimes things have to fall apart in order for them to fall back together."
"For a lot of people, it may look doom and gloom. But for me, it's exciting. It's certainly a challenge, but it's something I think we're all up for."
"If I wasn't happy here, I wouldn't be here. That's the first thing. I've never done anything just for money. That's just not how I am. That's not how I'm made up. If I didn't want to be here I wouldn't be here. That doesn't necessarily mean I'd take another job. I may get out of coaching. I just wouldn't be here if I wasn't happy. I wouldn't do that to my family."
"We want guys that have two feet in. We don't want a guy that still has one bag packed and is still looking to get out."
On Oklahoma's independent investigation: "Because a review is in process, it's not appropriate for me to respond with anything that's ongoing with the review right now. I do look forward to a point in time when I can talk to you and talk to you in detail about the review. Right now is not that time."
Clearly, Capel is approaching Oklahoma's situation with a sunny disposition. That's good. He's going to need it.