When Oklahoma takes the floor in Saturday’s Final Four against the Villanova Wildcats, most of the talk will be about Sooner superstar Buddy Hield. Not that Hield hasn’t earned the attention.
The unanimous All-American from Freeport, Grand Bahamas averages 25.4 points and converts better than 50 percent of his shots from the field. He is also the team’s second-leading rebounder.
Oklahoma has a key player that will not travel far to the site of the Final Four, NRG Stadium in Houston. Sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin is returning to his hometown of Houston to play in the biggest game of his life.
Lattin is not a scorer like Hield, rarely taking shots from more than a few feet away. Depending on the situation, Coach Lon Kruger must make decisions about having Lattin on the court while protecting a late lead. He shoots only 55 percent from the foul line.
What Lattin does, and does well, is keep the opponent from scoring. The six-foot, nine-inch sophomore leads the Sooners in blocked shots by a wide margin. His 77 blocks is 57 more than any other starter.
As the game approaches, Lattin is more likely to be part of human interest stories as opposed to how he fits into the Sooners game plan. His name is likely to be called every now and then and it will serve as a reminder that he serves an important purpose.
Fifty years ago, the name Lattin was well known in college basketball circles. One of the most important NCAA Championship games took place on March 19, 1966 in Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland.
The Texas Western Miners, a school from El Paso, Texas with an all-black starting lineup, took on the mighty Kentucky Wildcats coached by Adolph Rupp. David “Big Daddy D” Lattin, the starting center, scored 16 points and helped the Miners pull the shocking upset over the favored Wildcats. The movie Glory Road chronicled the watershed moment.
Another member of Khadeem’s family has basketball roots in Houston. His mother, Monica Lamb, played for the WNBA’s Houston Comets from 1998-2000. The Comets won the championship every season Monica played.
Big Daddy will be in NRG Stadium to see his grandson play on Saturday. The 1966 Miners (now known as Texas-El Paso) will be honored on the court.
Should Khadeem Lattin be part of another unlikely run to an NCAA Championship, another Hollywood script would write itself.
David Lattin told USA Today the Sooners “are ready to take it all.” By the end of Saturday we will know if he can predict history as well as he helped make it.