The Griffin of classical mythology was part lion and part eagle,
a hybrid of strength and wisdom. Six-foot-nine-inch, 229-pound
Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin is no mythical creature--not
yet, anyway, even if followers of the 18th-ranked Pirates
suspect otherwise--but finding a balance between strength and
wisdom has been the central tension of his young life.
Griffin has long possessed strength out of proportion to his age,
and he hasn't always shown wisdom in its deployment. As a child,
Eddie's outbursts of temper--scraps with kids in school and at
home with his older brother, Jacques--alarmed his single mother,
Queen Bowen. When Eddie was 10, she decided that he needed to
have more male supervision and sent him from their home in
Philadelphia to live with his adult half-brother, Marvin Powell,
in East Hartford, Conn. "Eddie likes things to be even and
exact," she says. "Things have to be just right, nothing more for
someone else than for him."
Eddie rejoined his mom 3 1/2 years later and a year after that
enrolled at Philly's Roman Catholic High. Last March, three days
after leading the Cahillites to the city's Catholic League title
for the second straight time, he was expelled for fighting. The
Archdiocese of Philadelphia permitted him to graduate only after
he finished the last six weeks of his course work at home,
underwent anger-management counseling and accepted that he'd be
barred from walking at commencement.
Griffin took his punishment and brought his ample talent to Seton
Hall. But following a 78-66 loss to Georgetown on Jan. 6, the
Pirates' locker room remained closed for more than an hour, for
reasons school officials have refused to divulge. When the doors
finally opened, junior guard Ty Shine walked out with a bandage
under his right eye, and the school announced that Griffin had
been suspended for the Pirates' next game. It didn't take a
Detective Sipowicz to find out what had happened.
Griffin was apparently angry that Shine hadn't fed him the ball
in the final minutes. According to one report, Griffin told Shine
during a late timeout, "You look me off again and see what
happens after the game." In the locker room, Griffin went after
Shine and punched him. Senior Kevin Wilkins, who intervened on
Shine's behalf after another freshman, Marcus Toney-El, tried to
play peacemaker, was also suspended for one game.
Despite two well-publicized instances that argue otherwise,
Griffin disputes that he has trouble with his temper--and at first
denied that he owed Shine an apology. "It wasn't like an apology
was needed," he said two days after the incident, following the
Pirates' 78-76 defeat of Notre Dame, which he watched from the
bench. "Things happen on a team. There's no bad blood between us.
We had a team meeting, everybody let his feelings out. It was
just something that got out of hand."
In fact, Griffin had apologized during a 10-minute visit to
Shine's dorm room the previous day. Apparently he was too proud
to admit as much to the press. By the middle of last week he was
telling Newark's Star-Ledger that he "felt real bad about it. I
don't want people to get the wrong idea about the kind of person
For his loss of temper in high school Griffin paid a far steeper
price than a one-game suspension, and in penitence he seemed to
find some wisdom. Isolated with a tutor, Griffin turned in a
string of A's after having done B- work over the previous five
semesters. Instead of writing off school entirely and leaving for
the NBA, an option pro scouts agree was his, he earned his
diploma and honored a commitment to enroll at Seton Hall.
Griffin is pretty good one-on-one, as that tutor and most of the
Pirates' opponents can attest. There had never been a recorded
triple-double in Seton Hall's 97 seasons of basketball until Dec.
4, when Griffin got one in his fifth collegiate game, against
Norfolk State, with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. In two
other victories, over Clemson and Penn, he blocked a shot at the
buzzer to snuff out each of those opponents' bids for a win.
Griffin, who leads the nation in rebounding (12.8 per game) and
is second in blocked shots (5.1) while averaging 19.5 points, is
the front-runner for the title of this season's most impressive
freshman. "Anytime you're 6'9" and you can post up, you have
vision and you can get your shot off whenever you want, you're
going to be a pro," says Illinois coach Bill Self. Indeed, NBA
scouts are always looking for a guy who wants the ball in the
final moments of a close game--although perhaps not someone who
wants it quite so badly.
The mixed blessing of Seton Hall's current circumstances--which
included an 11-5 record after Monday night's 99-91 loss to
Georgetown--can be traced to an act of gallantry by Tommy Amaker,
the coach who took over the Pirates four seasons ago. In 1997 a
woman approached him on campus, asking how to find the gym in
which a team from a nearby high school, Seton Hall Prep, was
playing a tournament game. "She didn't know me and I didn't know
her," says Amaker, who might have simply given this visitor
directions. Instead, he squired her to the court where she could
watch her son.
Vanessa Toney-El found out the identity of her escort soon
enough. Amaker would make a similarly strong first impression on
her son, who soon blossomed into an all-state forward. When
Marcus declared his choice of Seton Hall, at the Adidas/ABCD Camp
two summers ago, he set in motion a chain of events that
delivered the nation's finest freshman class to South Orange.
Toney-El worked on his summertime teammate and friend Andre
Barrett, a McDonald's All-America point guard from Rice High in
New York City, who announced three weeks later that he was
choosing the Pirates. Meanwhile, Griffin kept in regular touch
with both Toney-El and Barrett. He had known Barrett since they
were in 10th grade, and he had become friends with Toney-El in
his junior year. Four days after Barrett made his choice, Griffin
joined up, too, without having paid so much as an official campus
visit to any other school.
In landing Griffin, Amaker, a 30-year-old former player and
assistant coach at Duke, did something that his Blue Devil
pedigree prepared him for: He beat North Carolina. Powell, a
former University of Hartford forward, had outfitted Eddie in
powder-blue gear as they worked out together on Marvin's backyard
court in Connecticut. "You're getting ready for Chapel Hill!"
he'd say, and Eddie envisioned himself queuing up behind a long
line of Tar Heels he had looked up to, including Michael Jordan
and another temperamental Philadelphian, Rasheed Wallace. But
after Toney-El announced his choice of Seton Hall, North Carolina
overplayed its hand. Former Tar Heels assistant coach Phil Ford
essentially told Griffin that Toney-El's decision should have no
relevance to Griffin's--that Griffin was good enough to play for
North Carolina and Toney-El wasn't. "It made me think," Griffin
says. "They knew me and Marcus were close. Why say something like
After a practice several weeks ago Griffin sat on the edge of the
stage at one end of Seton Hall's Walsh Gym. This was Eddie the
eagle, poised and perched, thoughtfully answering questions from
a half-dozen reporters. Visible on his left biceps was a tattoo
of four aces that he got almost four years ago. The image now
serves as an ironic reminder that Griffin nearly cut short his
amateur career, in the cafeteria at Roman Catholic High, over a
game of cards.
A teammate had wanted into the game. Griffin insisted on playing
one more hand. The teammate urged him again to surrender his
chair. His mother describes the incident's beginnings as
"roughhousing," but it escalated into more, and under Roman
Catholic's zero-tolerance policy against fighting, the school
had no choice but to order the two students to leave. Only by
the grace of an exception for second-semester seniors did he
even have the option of earning his diploma with the help of a
tutor. "Eddie wasn't thrilled with the solution," says the
Reverend Paul Brandt, Roman Catholic's president. "We weren't
thrilled with it, either. But life can be that way. And for all
of that, I never saw him lose his cool on the court. Trust me,
with all the attention he was getting, there wasn't an opponent
who wasn't trying to provoke him."
Griffin also attended anger-management sessions. "The counselor
wanted me to tell him the things that got under my skin," he
says, "so I'd be more aware of them." Until last week, simply
identifying those things that triggered his anger helped him
steer clear of them, but evidently the prospect of a loss to
Georgetown and the lack of the ball in the waning minutes proved
too toxic a combination.
Still, Griffin's mere presence at Seton Hall is proof that he's
tough to predict. "A lot of people thought I would take the easy
way out and go to the NBA," he says. "But it wouldn't have been
best for me."
To find vindication for his decision, all Griffin has to do is
turn on the TV in the dormitory suite he shares with Barrett,
Toney-El and another freshman, partial qualifier Damion Fray. On
Nov. 27 he was as wide-eyed as any 18-year-old would be when
SportsCenter screened two of his dunks in a victory over St.
Peter's. Around that time, in a clip from an NBA game, he caught
a glimpse of what might have been his fate: DeShawn Stevenson, a
Fresno high school star from last season who chose to skip
college, vegetating on the end of the Utah Jazz's bench. "I
thought, I'm glad that's not me," Griffin says.
He believes college will serve him well if he continues to build
strength (he has already added 17 pounds) and improve his ball
handling skills. "In high school he told me, 'I don't believe in
skipping steps,'" says Amaker. "It's pretty interesting how he
put it. The goal is to get there, but also to make use of every
One challenge for the Pirates will be to savor each moment,
knowing that their star freshman could leave after one season.
Griffin is nonetheless at least envisioning what a sophomore year
might be like. He talks of his mother making the trip to Hawaii
for next year's Maui Invitational and invokes his favorite class
at Roman Catholic, business law, to explain why he'd like to be a
criminal justice major. Just the same, says Amaker, "if the right
thing for Eddie is to go pro, I'm driving him to the airport."
Amaker's other challenge will be to keep the Roughhouse in the
Clubhouse from further opening a schism between the Pirates'
newcomers and their upperclassmen, most of all Shine, who had a
terrific NCAA tournament last spring only to return in the fall
to a campus in full swoon over the incoming freshmen. Last week
Amaker alluded to the challenges North Carolina faced during the
disappointing 1993-94 season, when freshmen Wallace and Jerry
Stackhouse and seniors Eric Montross and Derrick Phelps seemed to
be reading from different books of the Gospel According to Dean
Smith. After last week's win over Notre Dame, Shine bolted from
the Meadowlands' Continental Airlines Arena without saying a word
to the press, and junior guard Darius Lane, Shine's close friend,
made an ominous comment. "You have to ask Ty [how he's feeling],"
Lane said, "but I know I wouldn't be O.K. if I were him."
The lesson for Griffin is that he could certainly benefit from
less lion and more eagle. But so could all the Pirates--lest, come
March, they go out like a lamb.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER GREGOIRE
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Eddie the eagle Griffin showed off his spring in slamming home two of his 20 points in an overtime loss to Illinois.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER
Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin (33) leads the nation in
rebounding and is second in blocked shots, but even if he doesn't
end up atop those categories at year's end, he's still on pace
for a singular season. Since the NCAA started keeping
blocked-shots statistics in 1986, only six freshmen have finished
among the nation's top 30 in both categories. At midseason
Griffin looms large even in that select company.
PLAYER, SCHOOL YEAR PER GAME(RANK)PER GAME(RANK)
Eddie Griffin, Seton Hall 2000-01 12.8 (1st) 5.1 (2nd)*
Adonal Foyle, Colgate 1994-95 12.4 (6th) 4.9 (3rd)
Shaquille O'Neal, LSU 1989-90 12.0 (9th) 3.6 (6th)
Joe Smith, Maryland 1993-94 10.7 (18th) 3.1 (12th)
Tunji Awojoii, Boston U. 1993-94 10.5 (21st) 3.1 (13th)
Yinka Dare, George Washington 1992-93 10.3 (23rd) 2.8 (14th)
Chris Webber, Michigan 1991-92 10.0 (26th) 2.5 (22nd)
*Stats through Monday
"Anytime you're 6'9" and you can post up, you have vision and
can get your shot off whenever you want, you're going to be a
pro," says Illinois coach Bill Self.