Groves reminds us how to find joy in basketball, win or lose
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tanner Groves checked out with 33 seconds left and all hope lost for an OU Bedlam victory. And Groves still had a spring in his step and a ready hug for anyone in his path.
Head coach Porter Moser. A variety of staff members along the sideline. His teammates.
What else would you expect from the joyful lumberjack?
“At the end of the day, I'm playing a game, I'm meeting amazing people, I'm getting to do the thing I love to do, man,” Groves said Wednesday night in the TMobile Center locker room, after OU's 57-49 loss to OSU in the Big 12 Tournament.
“Sure the losses sting for a minute. At the end of the day, you just gotta appreciate the little things. I'm so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to play this game.”
Groves likely has played his final OU game. The Sooners still could be called by the National Invitation Tournament, but the NIT never has beckoned a team with a losing record, and OU is 15-17.
So Groves, a fall guy for this disappointing Sooner season, goes into OU history and will be hardly missed by the masses.
They will remember his lack of counter to the Big 12's assortment of talented and skilled big men. They will remember him getting schooled by Kalib Boone in both regular-season Bedlams, then by Mousse Cisse and Tyreek Smith on Wednesday night.
OU needs a better center to get where Moser wants to take this program. But OU needs a better everything. And Groves wasn't a stiff.
He averaged 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds as a junior; 10.1 points and 7.0 rebounds as a senior. And Groves played with joy and passion, uncommon traits in the too-serious world of college basketball.
When we first discovered that Tanner John Groves walked the Earth, he was a mountain-man-looking ballplayer for Eastern Washington trying to shoot Kansas out of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. In one of the magic moments of March Madness, Groves scored 35 points against the Jayhawks, the Eagles led late into the second half and even after KU survived 93-84, Groves refused to go dour.
He exited in the final minute with a huge smile, slapping hands and hugging everyone in sight, be they in Eagle green or Jayhawk blue.
In Norman, Groves never found that shooting touch. But he never lost that charm.
Even Wednesday, when OSU swept three Bedlam games in a season for the first time since 1965, and the Sooners shot as if their eyes were closed (25 percent from the field), Groves never let go of the competitive or spiritual rope.
Cisse and Smith made life miserable for Groves, who made just four of 14 shots. The Cowboys blocked six shots; it seemed like 26.
“I just think that sometimes our length around the rim has bothered them,” Mike Boynton said of OSU's three-game Bedlam sweep. “Made it difficult for them to be able to get easy shots. And we tried to make them play over that length and not around it, if you will.”
But Groves was productive, if not efficient, Wednesday – 13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocked shots.
In a game like this, 13 points is gold. Moser still marvels that Groves committed to OU in the transfer portal two years ago without having met face-toface or ever seeing Norman.
"He's given everything he's had since the day he walked on our campus,” Moser said. “So that's what I'm going to remember about Tanner Groves. You can just see he's got this positive outlook about things. And he gave everything he had in unprecedented times.”
Look around collegiate sports. Discontented players. Impatient fans. Restless coaches.
Then look at Groves, who in two Sooner years never made the NCAA Tournament but claims it as the time of his life.
“It's obviously disappointing to go out this way,” Groves said. “But I'm just honestly feeling grateful. That's really all that comes to mind. Just how grateful I am for the opportunity to get to play here, man.
“I'll be able to tell my kids about the experiences I've had here, the teams we've beaten. I mean, we beat the No. 2 team in the country (Alabama), who could end up getting a 1-seed and win it all. It's pretty crazy.”
As crazy as not celebrating the lumberjack who played with joy. Shame on us.