Men's basketball: Stepinac product Alan Griffin enjoys hot start at Syracuse
During his time at Stepinac, Alan Griffin was a do-it-all guard, a key player that provided highlights on both ends of the court as the Crusaders ran to CHSAA city and Federation titles his senior year.
He had his heart set on the University of Illinois, and although Syracuse had reached out, it was a bit too late and Griffin had to politely decline.
After two seasons with the Fighting Illini, where he mostly played off the bench and was boxed into a one-dimensional, spot-up shooter role, the confident Griffin entered the transfer portal. Despite the uncertainties surrounding sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he eventually reconnected with Syracuse.
Now, he's making the most out of his full circle moment.
"I wasn't heavily recruited in high school, but at the end of my senior year, that's when (Syracuse) reached out," Griffin said. "It was too late, but things happen for a reason. It means a lot to put on a 'Cuse jersey. Seeing the time from when (Carmelo Anthony) was here, that was a team I always looked at just because of Melo. There's also a lot of other pieces and coaches. (Assistant coach Gerry McNamara) was also on that team too. It's just cool to see that former players are now coaches, so you can get a lot from them."
Through five games at his new school, the Ossining resident is thriving. Entering Wednesday afternoon's home game against Northeastern, he's the Orange's leading scorer at 18.4 points per game to go with 7.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.8 steals.
"It's been fun," he said. "I've been able to pick it up quick and it's something I knew I could do.
"I'm definitely shooting more than just threes this year. I feel like every shot I took last year was just a three or an offensive rebound. Some of it I still do, but just being able to add to my game and show that I can do more than just shoot the ball."
Last season, at Illinois, he only averaged 8.9 points per game, but now he's getting more opportunities to showcase his talents and leave his mark in other ways than just scoring.
Griffin is on pace to double his production in nearly every category, all while remaining an efficient scorer. He's shooting 45.7% on the floor and a career-best 45.0% from beyond the arc.
“He’s a tremendous offensive player," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. "He’s just learning all the different things we do. Also, he’s learning two positions, the ‘2’ and the ‘3’, which is very difficult. He’s doing really well. We’re fortunate to have him. He’s a good player.”
While learning two positions means double the responsibilities when it comes to the different rotational patterns in Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone, Griffin feels that he's soaking in the nuances and assignments just fine.
"As the practices go by, I'm just learning more and more about the zone," he said. "Being able to play it in games has just translated from practice."
Griffin knew early on in the transfer process that Syracuse would be the right place for him. To make the decision even sweeter, he was happy to receive immediate eligibility from the NCAA shortly after arriving.
"It was a great feeling to be able to have that," he said. "In the beginning, when I just said I was transferring, a lot of schools hit me up. I was able to apply to which ever one I wanted, and Syracuse just stuck out the most to me. It was the school I wanted to go with and stick with."
In his Syracuse debut, Griffin impressed with a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double in a close 85-84 victory over Bryant. Since then, he's only continued to provide standout performances.
He enters Wednesday's matinee with a streak of three-straight 20-point games.
In Saturday's lopsided win over Boston College, he tied a career-high six three-pointers en route to finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
He looks forward to potentially facing his younger brother in the future during a conference showdown with Duke, where A.J. will attend next year. The younger Griffin, a Stepinac senior, is the sixth-ranked recruit in the nation, according to 247 Sports, and the bloodlines run even deeper. Their sister, Aubrey, a sophomore at UConn, is a former McDonald's All-American, and their mother, Audrey, was an All-American on the track at Seton Hall.
Griffin hopes to one day join their father, Adrian Griffin Sr., at the professional level. The former Seton Hall star played 10 seasons in the NBA and is now an assistant for the Toronto Raptors.
He tries to keep tabs on each of his kids' careers.
"He tries to keep up," Griffin said. "He has his own schedule to worry about, but when he's able to text us or call us, he'll do it."
In the meantime, Griffin hopes to help Syracuse continue its solid start. The team is 4-1 entering Wednesday and is on pace to improve from last year's 18-14 finish.
"The ceiling is really high for us," Griffin said. "We're just getting started. As the season goes on, I feel like practice by practice, game by game, we're coming all together."
Follow Eugene Rapay on Twitter at @erapay5.