Griffin Barrouk is a Division I commit after playing on a couple healthy games in his first three years of high school. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The deck was stacked against Griffin Barrouk’s Division I dreams.
The West Chester Rustin senior had seen most of his sophomore and junior years of high school ball erased by various injuries and their lingering effects, leaving him unable to fully display the abilities he’d been honing for so long in the court set up on a random piece of asphalt behind his Glen Mills home.
But, he figured, he’d at least have his 17U AAU season to show off during the spring and summer live period events, watched by dozens if not hundreds of coaches within a weekend’s time, not to mention assorted scouts and media.
Then, of course, came COVID. No live period. No games to play, no coaches to watch him even if he could. The recruiting world ground to a dead halt, just when Barrouk needed it most.
“I was thinking yikes, because that AAU [season] was my savior,” he said. “I was about to get healthy, and that was going to be my thing to get my name out, and once I saw that was gone, I just automatically thought ‘prep year.’
“I pretty much panicked,” he admitted, “for a little while.”
The only option, it seemed, was to go to prep school and move into the Class of 2022, deferring college by a year in hopes that the stars would finally align to see him on the court healthy and productive. Even that was only the first step in his plan to eventually attract D-I coaches his direction, and earn a scholarship.
Then along came Hofstra, and interim head coach Mike Farrelly. Two months later, Barrouk is a committed Division I prospect, publicly announcing his decision Friday to accept a scholarship offer, attend the Long Island school and become part of the Pride next fall.
In a strange year, Barrouk’s Division I journey fits in perfectly.
Unlike most other future Division I players, Barrouk doesn’t have much to his name in terms of honors or awards at the high school level. As a junior at Rustin, he was only named an honorable mention all-(Chester) county by the Daily Local, behind several underclassmen and small-college recruits who made up the second and first teams. He’s nowhere close to a 1,000-point scorer, and he hasn’t had coaches courting his services since his early years of high school.
But it’s not due to lack of talent.
Barrouk had had a ball in his hands as far back as he can remember. He grew up playing on courts around Glen Mills, at Thornbury Park and West Goshen Park. Most importantly were trips down to Chester, where the Chester Biddy League taught him several lessons.
“My toughness grew up from Chester, playing there,” Barrouk said. “I’m from the suburbs, and kids are tough, but it’s different when you go down in the city and play. Going down to Chester was a different atmosphere and I learned I can play with them, I can play with anyone around here.”
Going into high school, Barrouk’s hopes were high, but his body had other ideas. Due in part to his growing frame, injuries popped up at the worst possible times.
There was a broken bone in his foot, suffered during tryouts sophomore year, that cost him all but the final couple games that season. That 2019 summer was met with a handful of minor ailments that kept him off the court, and then right before junior year, a torn hamstring put him on the sideline again. He tried to play through it, then tore it again.
Even when he returned to the court, Barrouk estimates he was only about 60-70% for the back half of his junior season, even as he averaged 14 ppg. He'll enter his senior season with no more than 30 varsity games under his belt, and far fewer at full capacity.
“I’ve only played two healthy varsity games in my life, where I contributed a ton,” he said. “It was the last game of sophomore year against Mastery Charter, and one of the games my freshman year I played a bunch.
“Other than that, I’ve been injured pretty much every game throughout high school.”
It also didn’t help that when he was healthy as a freshman and going into his sophomore year, Barrouk stood a few inches shy of six feet tall, with a skinny frame that certainly didn’t look like it belonged to a D-I off guard. But he had hope, starting with his parents: Chuck Barrouk, who’s 6-foot-4, had played at Clarion University and then with the Washington Generals, touring around the world with the Harlem Globetrotters. His mom, Laura, is no slouch at 5-8.
Griffin Barrouk made his way up over six feet tall by his junior year, getting to around 6-2 by the end of the 2019-20 season. Then, just around the time he was finally getting back to full health, he added another three inches for good measure; he currently stands at 6-5 and weighs in at 185 pounds.
“COVID probably helped me the most because I got to rest for a month, and then I got a good 5-6 months of straight working my body,” he said. “I grew another three inches, which really helped, and then put on another 20 pounds — so I got way bigger, way stronger, way faster, and it’s just helped me a ton, honestly.”
Barrouk’s older brother, Penn State-Brandywine junior Bryce Barrouk, went through a similar growth spurt, going from 5-10 to 6-5 during his first couple years of college. Displaying the family trait for knocking down shots from the outside, the older Barrouk brother averaged more than 17 ppg on nearly 48% shooting from deep this past season.
As COVID restrictions eased over the summer, Griffin Barrouk was able to finally get to work with his AAU team, Philly Pride Gold, formerly known as the Jersey Shore Warriors.
Luckily for Barrouk, his coach with Pride Gold was former St. Joe’s forward Brian Daly. Daly not only played Division I ball but had been a D-I assistant at Penn State as recently as 2015 before returning home to be with his family, who had then recently moved from State College back to Philadelphia.
“The world is littered with 6-5 shooters, anywhere you go there’s guys that can just shoot the ball,” Daly said. “And when you watch his highlight tape from high school, that’s what you see. And it doesn’t really get your attention, because everybody makes their shots on highlights.
“But after having him in the gym, I’m like ‘Wow, this kid is athletic, he keeps himself in good shape.’ Early in practice, he had a follow-up two-hand dunk off a missed shot. We started talking and I started to realize...this kid has a real chance.”
Griffin stood out during a few tournaments with Pride Gold, and also during several of the ‘Difference Maker’ open runs held by Julian Dunkley and Randy Miller, which have featured a rotating cast of high school prospects playing once per week on a game filmed and streamed online.
Going up against other Division I prospects, Barrouk more than held his own, his stellar shooting ability opening up his floor game, combined with his terrific size and above-average athleticism on the perimeter.
“Coach Daly, he was one of the most important people in my recruitment...and after learning stuff from him, he bumped me up a few levels,” Barrouk said. “He brought me out of my bubble just because he was the one coach who told me, shoot the ball whenever you get it. He was always trying to get me to be aggressive, and I couldn’t thank him enough for that.”
Daly reached out to several coaches on Barrouk’s behalf — Northeastern, UMBC, Lafayette, Colgate, Drexel and St. Joe’s had all been in touch — but Hofstra’s first impression was different, and meaningful.
“They recruited me as a basketball player, and not as a shooter,” Barrouk said. “Every school had talked to me as a shooter and being maybe a backup to one of their good guards. Hofstra was really recruiting me as a player, and an impact player right away, and that’s what caught onto me as quickly as possible.”
The day he actually got the Hofstra offer, Barrouk was actually on campus in Long Island, unable to see the athletics facilities or meet with the coaching staff. However, that wasn’t enough to stop him from touring the campus with his parents, alongside a random undecided high school student who had no idea she was showing around a future Division I athlete: “She asked if I played any sports, and I said I played basketball and I’m going to try to go to college for it, but I never told her it was one of my top schools,” he said with a laugh. “I tried to keep it as school-(focused) as possible.”
At Hofstra, Barrouk will be joining a program that’s been one of the best in the CAA under Joe Mihalich, who’s led the Pride to a 141-92 record in seven seasons; Hofstra won the CAA Tournament this season but didn’t get to go to the NCAA Tournament due to COVID. A La Salle graduate whose son Joe Mihalich Jr. is an assistant at Penn, Joe Sr. has been on a temporary medical leave of absence since August, with Farrelly taking over in the meanwhile
“They’ve been cool about it. I’ve been mostly in contact with Coach Farrelly, just because he’s the interim head coach,” Barrouk said. “Everyone says great words about (Mihalich) and they all say he’s such a good coach, so it made me want to go there even more.”
If his fortunes have turned, Barrouk will have a chance to play a healthy season as a senior for the Golden Knights, though the coronavirus might have its say in that, too. No matter what, when he gets to Hempstead, N.Y. next year, you’re not likely to see Barrouk on many “player-to-watch” lists, and he might not be the first person on opponents’ scouting reports.
And that’s just the way he likes it.
“I actually really do like it, because I like when people ...not take me for granted, but look at me like, ‘oh, we don’t know him, it’s easy,’” Barrouk said. “Then you can shock some people.”
If Barrouk shocks the CAA in a couple years, don’t say they weren’t warned.