By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
Entering this season, Bonnies junior LaDarien Griffin saw the opportunity in front of him.
With a hole in the lineup left by the graduation of forward Denzel Gregg, Griffin knew he would get a crack at filling the void.
His first two seasons brought improvement year-to-year, but not extensive playing time. After appearing in just 11 games as a freshman, he averaged 12.3 minutes and 2.7 points per game in his second collegiate campaign.
Those first two seasons left Griffin hungry to leave his mark during the offseason – and knowing that he had the potential to offer the program much more than it had seen from him previously.
During the summer, Griffin could be found nearly nonstop in the Reilly Center working on his game while he was on campus. And though the often soft-spoken Florida native consistently talks of placing team goals above his individual hopes, he was confident in one personal offseason goal.
"I want to win (Atlantic 10) Most Improved Player," he said during summer workouts.
With the nonconference season in the books, Griffin has clearly put his name in the running for that award so far.
He has locked down a starting spot, logging over 32 minutes per game while posting 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per night. He's shot nearly 45 percent from the floor and registered career bests in categories across the board during non-conference play.
He's been a fixture in the Bonnies highlight reels as well, throwing down thunderous dunks that have even drawn the attention of former high school teammate turned Duke star Grayson Allen on social media.
It's no coincidence that Griffin has worked his way into at least one play per game to bring Bonnies fans to their feet this season – or that he's been playing 30-plus minutes on a nightly basis. After showing glimpses of his potential last season, he knew where his emphasis needed to be during the offseason.
"Finding consistency," he says. "I learned to always be hard working, always be in the gym and paying attention. Never let up at any point and always remain focused."
"He's as athletic as anybody in our league," St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt said. "He had some moments last year, but with LaDarien it's about confidence. He had a great summer and his skill set is getting better and better. Now that he's had some success, he's getting his confidence level up to go along with it and knowing he can play at this level."
The improvement has been there from the outset this season.
Griffin notched his first career double-double in 36 minutes of work in the season opener, then bettered his career bests by taking over in a win at Siena with 18 points and 11 rebounds. In 42 minutes of action in last week's overtime win at Syracuse, Griffin did exactly what the coaching staff has asked of him – play a key role on both ends of the floor in a performance that was important beyond the numbers that showed nine points and three rebounds in the box score.
"He's one of our X factors," Schmidt emphasized. "He doesn't have to get 20 points and 10 rebounds, but he has to be that guy who is on the ball, getting in passing lanes, being at the top of our zone and creating a lot of problems for opponents. He just keeps getting better and better."
It's a role previously filled well by Gregg and Dion Wright, two former teammates who helped pave the way for Griffin's current success.
"I was able to really learn from Denzel and Dion when they were here," he says. "I've learned what hard work really is. To be with this program you have to be ready to go and I finally understand everything I have to do to become a successful basketball player."
As Atlantic 10 play begins, No. 15 might not be circled as often in the opposing scouting report as some of the members of a Bonnies squad that comes into conference play hitting on all cylinders. But if the Bonnies are to have the type of New Year that they and their fans are hoping for, one of the team's most humble members is likely to play a huge role.
"Being a part of this program means taking pride in being a hard worker, sacrificing individual success in order to win," Griffin said. "That's what Coach preaches to us; we are going to work hard and win with each other."
St. Bonaventure basketball tickets are available via GoBonnies.com/tickets; by calling (716) 375-2500 or in person at the St. Bonaventure ticket office in the Reilly Center between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
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