In eventful young career, Griffin becoming star of youthful offense
Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010
Updated: Thursday, December 2, 2010 07:12
Malcolm Griffin has been through a lot since his arrival at the University of Toledo just over one year ago. The sophomore guard from Chicago, Ill. has endured coaching changes, the transfers of six of his former teammates and the worst season in Toledo history. He's contemplated leaving Toledo on more than one occasion and regretted passing on past interest from a powerhouse Kentucky program. This season he's been benched for not buying into the system and called out of shape by his new head coach.
All in all it has been a chaotic collegiate career for Griffin, but he has begun to settle in at Toledo, where he is growing into one of the most talented options on a struggling roster.
High school and recruitment
Griffin grew up an only child in Chicago under the watchful eye of his mother. His grandfather, Griffin's father figure, taught him the fundamentals of the game he loved from kindergarten until eighth grade as his basketball coach. As Griffin described, "Life was good."
Griffin was a four sport athlete in high school, combining the typical male sports of football and basketball with the more uncommon choices of men's volleyball, which his mother coached, and softball.
The longer he played it became clear that Griffin's forte was basketball. At Hyde Park High School, Griffin and his team's success drove a heavy recruitment for his senior season.
"Coming out of my junior year I had a lot of schools looking at me," Griffin said. "I was really focused on getting wins with my high school team so we could be ranked in the preseason. We were preseason top 10. Most people saw that and knew that I was one of the biggest factors in us being top 10. Schools started to come out and watch me."
Those who came out were not disappointed, as Griffin's squad posted a 27-5 record reaching the Chicago Public League's Championship Game while he averaged 17 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
"Most teams recruited me mid-season of my senior year, but I had some schools that had been on me since I was a freshman like Missouri State and Illinois-Chicago," Griffin said.
Griffin later received interest from Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, Colorado State, Fairfield, Florida State, Northern Iowa, Toledo and Western Michigan. It was the Rockets who obtained his services over Central Florida because of the lack of established players already at the school. The Rockets had eight freshman and 12 underclassmen on last year's team.
"I didn't want to just go to a school because of a name, I wanted to go and play," Griffin said. "I didn't want to deal with all the politics and that's why I chose Toledo.
"Knowing that it was going to be a lot of freshmen [at UT] meant there wasn't going to be any favorites already. It wasn't like I was coming in alone like that either. We had seven other players like me coming in, so I felt comfortable. Being with my high school team, we all came in as freshmen and we grew to be a big program in the state, so I was thinking if we come together as freshmen at Toledo we would be good by junior and senior year."
Tempted by Kentucky
After Griffin's verbal commitment to Toledo, doubts began to emerge as the final days to change his mind approached. That indecision wasn't helped by late interest shown by one of college basketball's premier programs.
During his time in Chicago, Griffin became friends with former Memphis star point guard Derrick Rose, who later went on to become the top-overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by his hometown Chicago Bulls, as well as his older brother Reggie. Following that season, Rose's former head coach at Memphis John Calipari had left to coach Kentucky, prompting a surprise phone call from Reggie.
"Reggie called me and was like ‘Calipari needs a guard. What are you doing tomorrow? He's going to fly down and watch you work out,'" Griffin said.
Griffin's mother, who had just returned from visiting Toledo, wasn't interested in her son's wavering of programs and insisted he keep his word to the Rockets.
"When she came back I told her ‘Mom, Derrick Rose's brother said [Calipari] wants me to play for him,'" Griffin said. "She said ‘I just went all the way down to Toledo and you've already told all these people that you were going to go here.' She didn't want me to be like Eric Gordon. She put her foot down and said ‘No, you are not going to go.'"
Gordon is famous for breaking his commitment from Illinois to join Indiana in 2006.
After deciding on staying at Toledo, Griffin now said that he regrets not listening to Kentucky's interest instead of joining the Rockets.
"Calipari was going to come down and watch me work out at my high school, but I told him that I couldn't and I already had my mind made up. Of all the people in the state, they called me. It was a good opportunity. I wish I would have done it."
The Wildcats posted a 35-3 record last season and were the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were eliminated in the Elite 8 and had the top-overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft in point guard John Wall.
"Every time we used to watch Kentucky play [my friends] would be like ‘Man you could have been there! You are here losing and all of these boys are going to the league. You should have gone there,'" Griffin said. "I said ‘I know I should have gone there.' I could have been up there with them."
One of the top reasons Griffin went to Toledo was former head coach Gene Cross, who was entering his second year on the job. Cross was also from Chicago, which helped coax Griffin into joining the Rockets.
"Coach Cross seemed like a cool guy when he was recruiting me," Griffin said. "He was a native of Chicago—that's what opened my eyes. My uncle knew him really well and told me a lot of good things about him. My uncle's never steered me wrong so I took his advice and had several talks with Cross about coming here. With Cross, I just liked his vibe before I got here, that's why I looked into it and came here."