, Muskogee, OK

November 12, 2013

When the light comes on: Rougher grad making moves on east coast

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— Blake Griffin makes three straight alley-oop baskets off fast breaks.

Oren Faulk nods at the TV, just as his dad did to a reporter way back in Faulk’s freshman year at Muskogee High School when he predicted his son would make the NBA one day.

Dad’s dream may still be fuzzy, but what’s clear is that Faulk saw in Griffin some of his own progress as he enters his senior season at the University of Hartford. At 6 feet, 7 inches, his chances of making some kind of living out of the game increased thanks to the epiphany he had over the summer.

At the core of that dawning is a boxing class he took over at Shadowwood Mall while home this summer, a workout he sandwiched between sessions in gyms.

“I was in all right shape but the stuff I wanted to do on the court I wasn’t in shape for,” Faulk said in a phone interview this weekend. “When I’d get a block at one end and a dunk at the other, I didn’t want to be winded anymore at that point.

“When I watched Blake, that’s what I wanted to be in shape for. And that’s what had kept me off the court as much as I was.”

Faulk drew a start in an 82-77 loss to Quinnipiac in Hartford’s opener on Saturday. He scored eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot before fouling out.  He should see similar playing time when the Connecticut-based Hawks take on NCAA Sweet 16 Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast in a game that tipped off at 6 a.m. today on ESPN2, smack in the middle of the network’s 17-hour basketball marathon.

He had limited playing time in his previous three seasons, appearing in 13 games his freshman year, 26 games and 6.9 minutes as a sophomore and only 7.7 minutes a year ago, averaging 1.5 points and 1.0 rebounds. Some of what Muskogee fans saw in his four years and two state tournament appearances as a starter was evident last year as he was third on the team in blocked shots, leading the team in that category six times with a career-best three against Albany.

It wasn’t enough, nor what he had envisioned.

“Coming from Muskogee, I obviously wasn’t used to sitting,” Faulk said. “The first year as a freshman is understandable but after that it was hard to live with. But the reason was just as they had told me, I wasn’t in good enough shape.”

Body, no. Mind, yes.

“He could coach our system because he knows it inside and out,” said his coach, John Gallagher. “He’s got a high basketball IQ but that’s something we’ve always known.”

The body began catching up with some intensive weight work to drop body fat. The mirror revealed improvement, but there was still something missing.

Thus, the boxing.

It was all the stamina work a boxer goes through. He never threw a punch.

“My mama wouldn’t allow that,” he said.. Breaking into a chuckle, he added, “Why do you think I didn’t play football in high school?”

Mama certainly would approve of the hardwoods transformation. He’s expected to get between 16 and 24 minutes off the bench this year on a team that returns 11 and 4-5 starters.

“Starting is always a goal but with this team I think I bring more energy off the bench,” Faulk said. “The last thing someone wants to see coming off the bench is someone who will bully them and that’s what I enjoy doing now.

“But I might get used to this starting thing.”

The transformation is complete.

Sarah Boissonneault, Hartford’s assistant director of athletic communications, noted Gallagher saying during preseason practice that Faulk had been playing “out of his mind.”

Asked why it took so long?

“Well if I knew the answer to that I’d be coaching at the highest level right now,” Gallagher said. “I can tell you how proud I am. He’s been a great leader. He’s always been a great kid. It’s just now been that he’s wanted it and realistically he’ll be a major contributor as long as he keeps doing what he’s been doing in practice.”

The NBA dream? Still a longshot.

Doesn’t matter, Faulk said.

“I just want to go play basketball and get paid for it,” he said. “I don’t care how much it is as long as I can make a living somewhere off of it. That’s what I want to get.”

If you happen to miss this morning’s game, Hartford will play at defending national champion Louisville on ESPN3 on Nov. 19.