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Always Rising: Griffin Looks Back on Bonnies Career

LaDarien Griffin responds after a big play during St. Bonaventure's NCAA First Four win over UCLA in 2018. (Photo: Craig Melvin)
LaDarien Griffin responds after a big play during St. Bonaventure's NCAA First Four win over UCLA in 2018. (Photo: Craig Melvin)

 

LaDarien Griffin remembers the moment well – the turning point in his basketball career.

He had two seasons already down in his Bonnies career – and though he had gone from not seeing the court much as a freshman to playing in 29 games as a sophomore, he and his coaches knew he was capable of much more.

But on this day, as his summer session wore down and another season loomed, things weren't clicking.

It was time for the coaching staff to lay down a challenge.

"I had a workout with Coach (Dave) Moore and I was terrible in the workout," Griffin recalls of his last summer workout in the offseason prior to his junior campaign. "He said you have to decide what you want to do. Do you want to take this seriously and become a pro and have basketball become something you can depend on, or are you going to just be an average player and have fun in college? That's when I decided I needed to come back (to campus in the fall) and work hard. All the rest followed, but that was the turning point.

"And I'm happy I did now."

In the past decade-plus under the leadership of head coach Mark Schmidt, the Bonnies have become a program synonymous with having players develop each season. Though many players fit that description, perhaps no player has grown more than Griffin during his four years in Brown and White.

Consider: Griffin came to Western New York from his native Florida after playing as a teammate to future Duke star Grayson Allen in high school where he was coached by Jim Martin, originally a native of Allegany. His connection to Coach Martin led him to St. Bonaventure, but he came to the program as a raw freshman who saw action in just 2.7 minutes per game in 11 contests while scoring six points.

"I thought I knew what hard work was, but then I got around the guys here and then I started to see what it really was," he said.

His playing time jumped significantly as a sophomore – he became a role player on a team that shared the regular season Atlantic 10 Championship, but he still averaged just 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.

He considered leaving the program, but that summer workout left him returning home for a few weeks off with a renewed sense of what he needed to accomplish – and he knew it all could be done by staying at Bonaventure.

"Once the confidence started building around the Florida tournament, when we were playing bigger programs and I was doing alright, I knew I could see it through," he says of the early going of his junior year, one that would turn out to be a breakthrough campaign. "I knew I could make a difference on this team, to help get us where we needed to get to."

Griffin came alive as a junior. He scored in double figures 12 times and ranked fourth in the A-10 with 40 blocks. He capped off one of the season's most memorable wins with an unforgettable dunk that nearly brought the roof off the Reilly Center in a win over nationally-ranked Rhode Island in February, cementing himself as one of the league's top players.

At the end of the regular season, the league's coaches recognized his efforts by naming him the Atlantic 10 Co-Most Improved Player of the Year after averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game.

In March he helped the Bonnies to an NCAA First Four win with 10 points vs. UCLA.

"Getting to Dallas (after the UCLA win) early in the morning and not being able to sleep, just watching SportsCenter and our game was first thing up on the hour," he remembers with a smile. "We kind of shook up the sports landscape for a moment. It was a special thing I'll never forget."

As his senior season began, Griffin was finally set to become a centerpiece of the program, but the plans for the year were quickly derailed with an injury in the season-opener.

Though he avoided a potential season-ending injury, he would be sidelined several weeks and left wondering what would come next.

"Being a kid, you don't see the big picture. I didn't know what God was doing, but I needed to see that it was going to lead to good things," he said.

Now, he sees that injury as a catalyst – one that helped him improve as a player, and helped the young Bonnies climb back up to the top of the A-10. Griffin used his time on the sidelines to start reading books on psychology and to start looking at the mental side of the game and how changes in his own personality could assist not only himself but his young teammates as well.

"I was able to be more verbal after the injury, to know what kind of teaching style I needed to take with the younger guys," he said. "I don't really like to talk, so it helped get me out of my comfort zone to speak up and be willing to help the young guys. With Courtney (Stockard) and I out, the young guys had to grow up fast; maybe that doesn't happen as fast if we were playing right away."

Once back from injury, Griffin continued to take the next step in his career. He would finish the season averaging a career-best 10.7 points per game, adding 6.2 boards per contest. He delivered two double-doubles in the A-10 Tournament, helping guide the program to the Championship Game. He shot better than 48 percent from the floor as he brought his career full circle.

He has signed with an agent and now sets his sights on playing professionally, wherever that may be. Away from the court, he sees himself perhaps working with a charity organization whenever his playing days come to an end.

"I just want to provide for my family and be able to make a difference," he says.

As he leaves the program with an undergraduate degree in strategic communication and digital media this month, he sees it on the same trajectory as his career – only improving.

"Seeing where it came from before I got here until now, it's like seeing a kid grow up in front of you," he said. "You take pride in it. We put so much heart into it. The guys coming back, they are really talented and they're only going to get better. I'm always going to root for them and for this place. It has a special place in my heart."

- By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications // Video, Interview by Nathan DeSutter & Steve Mest

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