Illini newcomer Griffin ready to prove other schools missed out

Illini newcomer Griffin ready to prove other schools missed out

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Alan Griffin accomplished more in a one-month span between Feb. 24 and March 24 than most high school basketball players can expect to do in a career.

First came a CHSAA Archdiocesan title for Archbishop Stepinac, with Griffin dropping 29 points and 11 rebounds on Cardinal Hayes in a 78-62 victory. Then the first of two MVP performances with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks as the Crusaders took down powerhouse Christ the King.

Griffin had one final MVP caliber game in him, as he capped his senior season — his high school career as a whole — by leading Archbishop Stepinac to a Class AA Federation Tournament of Champions title with 26 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Then it was time for a well-deserved break.

"I just relaxed, played video games," he said. "I ate some junk food. I finally got to do that. Ice cream. I had no ice cream during the season. I ate a whole bunch of cookie dough. It's my favorite."

Griffin's break lasted about a month before he got back in the gym. A month after that on Thursday — two months exactly after that Federation title — Griffin graduated from Archbishop Stepinac.

Next up?

His Illinois basketball career.

Griffin is set to arrive in Champaign on June 8. Summer workouts will start the next week. The 6-foot-5 guard will get time on the court with his new teammates and more time in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.

Griffin said he's anticipating that time in the gym the most about the start of his Illinois basketball career. He's also looking forward to getting to know his new teammates better, happy with the vibe he got from the team during his visit to campus earlier this spring before signing with the Illini on April 11.

"They all like to work," Griffin said. "I saw that when they were working out. They're also a funny team. They like to joke around when it's all said and done. When they're done putting the work in, they've got a funny side to them. I like goofing off a little bit when you're done working."

Griffin is part of a sizable group of newcomers for the Illini, with six incoming players outnumbering the five scholarship players already on the roster. Five of those six are freshmen.

"I can see we're going to be a great group of guys," Griffin said. "There's a lot of pieces to help the team from last year and combine with the returning players. We'll see in a couple weeks. We're all ready."

Ready to potentially contribute immediately. The opportunity exists for Griffin and the rest of the Illini freshmen to play right away for a young Illinois team that lost six players to either transfer, a professional basketball opportunity, eligibility being exhausted or simply leaving the program.

"That's a big opportunity to show what we're made of at an early stage," Griffin said. "Not a lot of people can come in as a freshman and have a huge impact right away. I feel like most of us can do that."

Archbishop Stepinac's championship run and Griffin's standout play attracted some late attention. Multiple high-major programs, Syracuse included, didn't stop their recruitment even after Griffin committed to Illinois.

The goal was to flip him — land New York's eventual Mr. Basketball who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 48 percent from three-point range — but it proved fruitless.

Griffin wasn't interested in the recruiting latecomers.

"It's their loss," he said. "It was too late. You can't try and get me when I've already made my decision. They'll regret it when they see what's going to happen this year.

"I always play with a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I've always been overlooked. I'm going to prove it this upcoming season."

Scott Richey can be reached at 217-351-5605, by email at srichey@news-gazette.com and on Twitter@srrichey.

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