BY DANNY HAZAN
In the wake of national signing day, I became compelled to share a story; but a little background information is necessary first.
The five-day club basketball extravaganza should be on the bucket list for any basketball junkie because of the collection of talent from around the country that competes in suburban Milwaukee.
For Slam, I went to find some feature stories on some of the players who are nationally ranked by all the scouting services and have scholarship offers from every major program at the Division I level. I also do my best to feature some kids who I feel are just as capable of playing at the high-DI level but are ‘under-the-radar’.
Prior to my trip I printed out all the top 100 lists from the various recruiting sites to give me a frame of reference of which kids to watch as there are hundreds of teams who compete on one of the six courts at Homestead High School.
As the tournament began, one of the first teams I watched was the Houston Defenders. The Defenders featured guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who were both consensus top 10 players in the class of 2013. They were in the midst of a recruiting battle between Kentucky and Maryland, and the fact identical twins could be so good at basketball made it a no-brainer story to share with Slam’s readers.
But as I was watching them in their first game, someone else stood out to me.
Derrick Griffin, a 6-foot-7 forward, ran the floor faster and more relentlessly than any high schooler I’ve seen at his size and build. He possessed an explosive leaping ability and wowed onlookers with countless ferocious dunks throughout the entire tournament. I found him on the top 100 lists I had printed during that first game I watched of theirs, and learned he was committed to Texas A&M.
It wasn’t until a few days later at the tournament I found out he was one of the top rated high school football players in the nation, and committed to the Aggies as a receiver.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor following several minutes of imagining him on the football field absolutely devouring 5-10 defensive backs, I knew he’d be a perfect kid to feature in my story with the Harrisons. So I talked to him about being a standout in both sports, which sport he liked better and which he planned to play in college.
My story on the Houston Defenders can be found here.
As the summer ended, the school year started and my full-time job covering high school sports in the Central Suburban League for CSLinsider.com began I tried to keep tabs on all the guys I’ve covered from around the country from a distance.
I read about his dominance with his high school football team this fall, and have read some game reports on him killing on the hardwood this winter as well. I was interested to see if he’d play both sports at A&M, or just pick one.
I found out today he won’t be playing either one in College Station next year.
Griffin did not sign with A&M because he won’t qualify academically. In fact, they didn’t even send him a letter of intent to sign. At this point, he needs to graduate high school or earn a GED so he can go the junior college route – which will be an uphill battle according to reports I’ve read on A&M recruiting sites.
Obviously some responsibility falls on his shoulders, but the real failure here is not with Griffin but the administrators and educators who have overseen him throughout his academic career.
If a kid can’t graduate high school because of failing grades, how is he eligible to participate on the football and basketball team? I wonder if he was ever told he couldn’t play a sport until his grades reached a certain level? Speaking from a personal standpoint, I would have never changed my priorities or how hard I worked for school if I kept on getting to play – and being rewarded with all the accolades and notoriety that came with my performances.
This is a classic case of the adults in charge turning the other cheek so a phenomenal athlete can help them sell tickets. They couldn’t care less what happens to that athlete after they’re past high school age.
The importance of sports — and the priority levels it is held at — in society is for a different column written by someone else.
But if you are just a casual sports fan who sees ESPN dedicating programming to high school athletes who are supposed to be the NCAA’s next stars on signing day, I wanted to introduce you to a kid as talented as everyone you watched or read about but a reflection of the ugly side of high school and college sports.
It sucks because it’s a stark reminder of the reality that there are plenty of kids who don’t even play sports who slip through the cracks academically much like Griffin, and are just brushed aside.
However, Griffin was taken advantage of by his high school because of his unique ability to dominate a football and basketball game.
Lets see if his high school steps up for him when he needs it most.