Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
John Griffin III loves basketball--not surprising, considering it runs in the family.
The former Bucknell star has followed his dad, former Siena and Saint Joseph’s head coach John Griffin Jr., into the collegiate coaching ranks.
Rider Broncs coach Kevin Baggett, hired on May 24 after former coach Tommy Dempsey took over at SUNY-Binghamton, named Griffin his Director of Basketball Operations this week.
“This is the natural next step,” Griffin told CoBL by phone on Sunday. “I love the game, so it’s something that I have a passion for and lucky enough there’s a profession where you can still stay involved and help people, so there is where I’m able to show my strengths.”
According to the University's athletics website, Griffin's responsibilities as DBO include "on-campus recruiting, film exchange, coordinating team travel, community outreach, practice scheduling and serving as director of the Kevin Baggett Court Vision Boy's Basketball Camp."
“I would like to be a head coach at some point and that is my ultimate goal,” he said, but like every other profession the best coaches have to work their way up the ladder. “The basketball coaching world is a great profession and you can’t put any timetable on anything in this business, but that definitely is my goal, to have my own program at some point.”
That love of basketball came from his dad, who was the youngest coach in the Division I ranks at Siena--just 25 years old when his oldest son was born. The father was at Saint Joseph’s (1990-95) by the time the son was old enough to start soaking in his father’s teachings.
“He just introduced me to the idea of being a respectful, hard-working, hard-nosed coach--and he got a lot out of his guys, he demanded a lot,” the younger Griffin said. “At the same time, he helped me and my younger brother tremendously in terms of being the best basketball players that we could be. We understand the game, I think, at a very high level and that’s gotten us pretty far in terms of accomplishments for our size.”
It wasn’t just the male side of the Griffin family that contributed to the youngest John’s love and knowledge about sports and competition.
“My mother is a marathon runner so she has her own influence,” he said. “There’s something to be said for constant working out. There’s something to be said for being a mama’s boy, to be honest--and she understands the game.”
Now that it’s his turn to start mentoring the next generation of basketball players, Griffin gets to take those lessons his parents taught him and mix in his own expertise.
“I think that I can kinda teach that, those little ins and outs, to the guys that wanna get better as basketball players,” he said. “And at the same time I’ve been very fortunate through my basketball career, through my basketball life, to have many experiences. So, I can give guys that are coming up the best of both worlds.”
Griffin is almost always coaching, whether it’s out on the court--earlier in the season at the Delco Pro-Am, he was helping his teammates out with their shooting form--or just around the game. Ask him what the biggest improvement in his own game over the last four years has been, and he gives a coach’s answer.
“Footwork,” he said. “Just in terms of if I had understood the idea of footwork, you can become an unbelievably, just a more efficient basketball player. You can be athletic but you can use your athleticism in a great way if you understand the footwork behind basketball.”
A 6-foot-tall guard, John Griffin III played in a team-record 127 games during his four-year career as a Bison (2004-08), making the Patriot League All-Rookie team in 2004-05 and all-conference first-team in his senior year, when he averaged 13.1 points and 2.7 assists per game.
He spent last season with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, working in their video department.
“It gives me a very broad range of styles of play, in terms of team basketball and in terms of individual basketball so it gives me a really good mindset going into this season,” he said of his year in the Association. “The NBA is a ridiculously long season, and there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that I was able to do that really will help me going forward.”
Prior to his year in the NBA, Griffin spent four years playing professional basketball in Europe, both in Germany and England. He always knew, however, that he would end up back in the college world.
“You only live once and that college basketball four years, in some cases five, it’s the best,” he said. “There’s no other family-like, intense basketball--maybe in the world--and I think everybody that’s played overseas can attest to (that). Professionally, it’s a different ballgame cause it’s business and it’s very talented players, but just in terms of what you can get from playing college basketball, it’s an unbelievable experience.”
The Rider Broncs basketball team has had a strong Philadelphia connection over the years, and the addition of Griffin--a Saint Joe’s Prep grad back in 2004--only strengthens that bridge.
“Traditionally we’ve had players year after year come from Philly,” he said. “We like to consider ourselves ‘in New Jersey, but we wanna play good, hard-nosed, scrappy Philadelphia basketball’ and that’s how we’ve been successful by the type of players that we get.”