The year was 2006, and high-school junior Eric Griffin had just been cut during basketball tryouts. Again.
It was a crushing feeling, but nothing new for Griffin. After all, he’d been cut a few times before. Five, to be exact.
His sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade coaches all told him he wasn’t good enough to play on the team. Ditto for the freshman and sophomore coaches at Evans High School in Orlando, Fla.
Boy, if they only knew.
Nearly six years after Evans' coaches dumped him like a bad prom date, Griffin is soaring up NBA draft boards. The smooth, 6’8” forward with the "go-go-gadget" extendable arms and pogo sticks for legs now has pro scouts drooling, even if they hadn’t heard of him until a few months ago.
But although he’s on the brink of becoming a household name, Griffin’s journey to the league has been far from glamorous.
After getting cut at Evans for the final time, Griffin transferred to nearby Boone High School. There, he met head coach and former LSU guard Willie Anderson, who recognized Griffin’s freakish athleticism and unrelenting hunger for greatness.
Anderson gave the kid a shot, and he didn’t disappoint.
Following a solid first year of organized basketball, Griffin went on to play for Hiwassee Community College in Tennessee, where he averaged 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game.
But when the small junior college lost its accreditation, Griffin was forced to move on. He transferred to Garden City Community College in Kansas, and although his numbers took a dip, his career received an unexpected boost thanks to Robbie Laing.
Laing, the head coach at Division I Campbell University, immediately fell in love with Griffin for the same reasons Anderson had. He marveled at Griffin’s raw athletic ability, his will to improve and his seemingly limitless potential. He signed Griffin in November of his only season at Garden City.
In his first year at Campbell, Griffin was solid, but unspectacular. He averaged 13.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Good numbers for sure, but not enough to get the pro scouts flocking to Buies Creek, N.C.
Then, on Nov. 17, 2011, everything changed.
Campbell was playing the North Carolina A&T Aggies, who thought pressing full court would be a good idea.
Griffin leaked out, caught the ball at half court and took a few massive strides. Then, he flew. Literally. He planted his left foot just inside the free-throw line, took flight and unleashed one of the most violently beautiful dunks in the history of college basketball.
After that, it was a little hard to stay anonymous.
NBA scouts started showing up to every Campbell game, and they quickly saw that Griffin was more than just a YouTube sensation. They watched with growing awe as Griffin rained threes, snatched rebounds, swatted shots, took defenders off the dribble and dominated in the paint.
He finished his senior year with 12 double-doubles, including a monster 29-point, 14-rebound performance against No. 25 Creighton. For the season, he averaged 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, while shooting a ridiculous 61 percent from the field.
Now, Griffin is prepping himself for draft day. He’s widely projected as a mid-to-late second-round pick. But with his physical gifts, mental toughness and unknown ceiling, he could be shaking hands with David Stern toward the end of the first round.
Not too bad for the kid who wasn’t good enough to play for Evans High School.