Go Getta

High-flyer Eric Griffin tore up D-League last season. Now he wants to stick in the NBA.
by September 07, 2015

25-year-old Eric Griffin tore up the NBA’s Developmental League last season playing for the Texas Legends. NBA exec’s were intrigued by his skills, anticipating how they would translate to an NBA court. Griffin won numerous honors—he was named to the All-Star team and made the All D-League Third Team and All-Defensive Second Team. The 6-8, 190-pound forward was a human highlight reel, unleashing monster dunks and thundering blocks. Just search his name on You Tube. But the thing is, Eric Griffin didn’t even start balling until his senior year in high school.

“I didn’t start playing basketball till my 12th grade year,” Griffin tells SLAM. “I was always into basketball, but it was always a situation where the coach already had his team. I never got picked.”

A big loss for Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Florida. They never let Griffin display his skills for the team. Griffin had to transfer to Boone High School for his senior year to play high school ball.

He’s been flirting with the NBA the last couple of seasons—playing in Summer League before getting cut in camp. The Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks have all had their opportunity to sign him to guaranteed contracts, but all passed him up. He’s never appeared in a regular season NBA game.

Last week, Griffin signed a training camp invite deal with the Detroit Pistons.

Griffin is optimistic concerning his role on the team this year, and it’s obvious his confidence is growing after playing well in the Summer League (playing for the Clippers and Cavs).

“I see myself getting some minutes. I’m going to keep grinding, absolutely,” Griffin tells SLAM. “Coming into my first season, I don’t really know what to expect. I want to establish myself as a basketball player first and see where it leads me to.”

Griffin is used to taking the hard route to achieving his basketball dreams. He played at two JUCOs before eventually ending up at Campbell University in North Carolina. Hardly a bball powerhouse, there Griffin honed his skills in 2011 and became a shot-blocking and double-double machine, being named to the All-Big South Conference first team in 2012. Still, he went undrafted.

But his freakish athleticism attracted numerous suitors, like the Lakers and Heat. He never stuck beyond a preseason look, but his recent success in the D-League has him primed for success. In 49 games for Texas Legends last season, Griffin posted averages of 19.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.4 blocks per game.

The sky is the limit for Griffin. He’s been a hot item as teams scrambled to fill out their rosters this summer, fielding offers from the Clippers and Cavaliers before taking his high-flying act to Detroit.

His acrobatics around the rim bring to mind players like McGrady and Kemp—heroes of his. “I’m a Tracy McGrady, Shaquile O’Neal and Shawn Kemp fan,” Griffin says. “I watched them when I was growing up.” And now he wants to represent in the League just like they did, making poetry with his high-wire, end-to-end act on the court.

But if you ask Griffin, he likens his game to another player: “Tayshuan Prince,” he tells SLAM. “He’s got a good game. I like his desire to win, to get the ball. That’s the part of my game I work on.” And playing in the developmental league has helped to prepare Griffin for a career in the NBA. Teaching him about professionalism, fundamentals and work ethic.

“You have to be professional at all times in all kinds of situations,” he says. “It was a good experience [playing in the D-League]. I have to stay humble, and when they call me I have to be ready and keep working hard.

“I’m going to slam the ball down,” Griffin adds, though. “I feel like when I get close to that rim, I am unstoppable. Absolutely.”

The youngster can play inside or outside, equally capable of burying a three as he is of making an rim shattering dunk. On playing with and learning from NBA veterans, Griffin says, “I can get some wisdom and knowledge that those older guys got and just talk to them.

“It’s going to be pretty good to see what [Stan Van Gundy] has to offer me as a player,” Griffin continues. “I am eager to learn and ready to play.” After being a fan favorite in the D-League, he knows he has a lot of work to do to make it in the league. It will take more than talent and hops.

“Hopefully I will get some minutes,” Griffin says. “I have to be able to knock down open shots and contain my man on defense—I’m like a hustle player off the bench.”

Griffin will steal minutes where he can, and when he gets the ball in the open court, watch out. Don’t let a guard make a steal and think he can waltz in unopposed for an easy bucket, either, because Griffin will trail the play and pin the shot on the glass. A play he made numerous times last year for the Legends.

He admits that the Legends didn’t run many plays for him and that he got most of his touches in the open court and off hustle plays. But he feels he can play a similar game at the NBA level and thrive. His phenomenal athletic ability will help. With jump-out-the-gym ability, agility for days, and long arms he is a picture perfect basketball player. Comfortable swatting a shot, making a steal or taking the ball coast to coast for a monster jam.

“I have no doubt he will develop into a special NBA player,” Tod Seidel, his agent at TBS Management, tells SLAM. “His progress in the past few years has been extraordinary and will continue.” Griffin has concentrated on making himself a versatile player and his play defense first and hustle relentlessly mentality will endear him to coaches and his teammates alike.

Griffin’s humility shows in both his attitude and his game. He even admits that his parents will be more excited than he will if and when he steps on the court in the NBA. “They have been watching me since high school and want to come see the games,” he says.

It’s a make or break year for Griffin. It’s time to put his talent and work ethic to the test to see how he matches up against the best players in the world. He already has the advantage over most players with his crazy hops but others with mad verticals have fizzled out in the L before him, because in the NBA it’s not only about talent, its about being ready and putting in the work outside of the games. But Griffin has been doing that. So maybe now its his time.

As we wait to find out his fate for this season, you can always check out his vicious dunks and brutal blocks on his YouTube reel. Just don’t try those dunks at home.

Seth Ferranti writes for VICE, Don Diva and The Fix. Support his new Supreme Team comic, order his books on Gorilla Convict and follow him on Twitter @sethferranti. Image via Getty.