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Tramel: Laker cult hero Alex Caruso has come a long ways since OKC Blue days

Lakers guard Alex Caruso dunks the ball during the first half of a 105-103 win over the Nuggets on Sunday in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. [AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill]
Lakers guard Alex Caruso dunks the ball during the first half of a 105-103 win over the Nuggets on Sunday in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. [AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill]

Alex Caruso threw down a fast-break dunk over Jerami Grant on Sunday night in the Western Conference finals, and the Laker bench erupted like the Disney parade has been reinstated in the Magic Kingdom.

Caruso has gone from Laker mascot to indispensable team member. Loved by Laker fans and Laker players.

Caruso drew 1,284,932 votes for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. That’s more votes than drawn by Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry or Nikola Jokic. Caruso has made 13 career starts in three NBA seasons, averaging 5.5 points a game.

But the Lakers seem to thrive with Caruso on the court. He’s fifth in playoff minutes for these Lakers; Caruso has played more than has Kyle Kuzma or Markieff Morris.

You might remember the balding, 26-year-old point guard from College Station, Texas, as a member of the Oklahoma City Blue in 2016-17. Caruso never suited up for the Thunder, but Caruso spent that training camp with the Thunder before settling in with the Blue, for whom Caruso started 46 of 50 games, averaging 11.9 points and 5.2 assists.

But Caruso’s Oklahoma ties go back a year before that. Caruso was part of the Texas A&M team that reached the 2016 Sweet 16, where the Aggies were throttled 77-63 by OU.

To reach the Sweet 16, A&M had to win two games in Oklahoma City. The Aggies beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 92-65, then beat Northern Iowa 92-88 in double overtime with an historic comeback. Northern Iowa led A&M 69-57 with 35 seconds left in regulation.

That A&M team was both nondescript and quite remarkable. Few outside the Brazos Valley remember much about those Aggies. But Caruso was one of FOUR starters who made the NBA.

Danuel House was on that team. He’s become well known for sharpshooting with the Houston Rockets, though he also made dubious news for sneaking a female into his hotel room inside the Orlando bubble during the Western Conference semifinals. House was booted from the playoffs.

Also on that team was center Tyler Davis, who eventually signed with the Thunder and played one game with OKC, on Nov. 28, 2018. He got one rebound.

A&M’s Jalen Jones also made the NBA, playing in 32 games the previous two seasons, with the Pelicans, Mavericks or Cavaliers.

Four NBA players on one team is no big deal for Kentucky or Duke. But for Texas A&M? That OU team that made the Final Four had just Buddy Hield as an eventual NBA player.

In the West Regional semifinals in Anaheim, Calif., Caruso had eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, with five assists and one turnover. Davis did the most damage, with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. House made four of 13 shots and scored 10 points. Jones had 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Hield had a subpar game for the Sooners, scoring 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. That was Jordan Woodard’s big game, 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Isaiah Cousins had a poor game, 1-of-8 shooting with two points, but Christian James had 12 points, Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin 10 each, and that trio combined to make 13 of 25 shots.

Only the keenest of scouts could watch that game and sCee four NBA players on the Aggies and one on the Sooners.

A&M led 13-6 after five minutes, then scored 13 points the rest of the first half, and OU zipped to a 45-26 lead. The Aggies never challenged.

Caruso, on that team, averaged 8.1 points and 5.0 assists per game. But now he’s dunking on Jerami Grant in the Western Conference Finals and taking minutes from Rajon Rondo and becoming an invaluable Laker.

You just never know.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›