Nearing the end of the regular season for college basketball, schools use the last home game of the year to reflect upon the accomplishments of their senior players.
While most senior night festivities are filled with joy and celebration, the ceremony at Samford University on Feb. 22 took on more of a somber tone.
Instead of reflecting on the present and what will be, The Pete Hanna Center was filled with images of what could have been and what will never be.
The evening started with usual the elation when senior walk-on Peter Carroll was announced to the crowd.
Carroll, a transfer from Furman University, has helped the team tremendously with his knowledge of the Southern Conference and his positive attitude.
Bryan Friday received applause not only for wearing No. 13, but for his success as a Bulldog. Last season, Friday averaged 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and was Samford's Most Outstanding Player in 2009. This year, his points per game is down to 10.2, but he remains a valuable member of the squad.
Since arriving on campus, Trey Montgomery's career has progressed from redshirting, to barely playing, to being named most improved player, to becoming of the best point guards in Samford history.� He has averaged over 11 points per game and led the Bulldogs in assists the last two seasons and will shortly become the 22nd player in Samford history to score 1,000 points in a career.
Despite the joyous feeling in the arena, the mood was about to become melancholy, as the fourth and final senior was about to be honored. Unlike the other three seniors, forward Jim Griffin's arrival on the court was unusual.
Only Griffin's spirit was present at the ceremony that night.
At first glance, Sept. 7, 2009 was a normal day for Griffin. He returned to his dorm room that day after playing in a pick-up basketball game and lifting some weights. However, unbeknown to Griffin and his friends and family, events in his life were about to take a dramatic turn for the worse.
Griffin died in his sleep that night.� According to the Jefferson County coroner's office in Alabama, he passed away at the age of 23 from a heart ailment that had never been detected.
Griffin will never be remembered for his scoring prowess, having averaged only 1.8 points per game in his career at Samford.� What set him apart from most athletes was his work ethic and his dedication to basketball.�
Griffin never missed a practice and was a recipient in 2009 of Samford's Practice Hard Award.� He set the example for all of his teammates to follow.
People were told ahead of time to wear their Griffin "Sixth-Man tee shirts to Senior Night. However, those is attendance had no idea of what was about to happen next.
After a brief description of Griffin's achievements at Samford, it was announced that his No. 3 jersey will be permanently retired by the Bulldogs. It was hard to find a dry eye when members of Griffin's family held up his jersey enclosed in a glass case. Griffin's jesery number becomes the first one ever to be retired by the basketball program.
Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs struggled to focus on attempting to defeat the Georgia Southern Eagles. Samford missed easy lay-ups at the beginning of the game and found it difficult to defend Georgia Sothern's three-point shooters.
The Eagles defeated the Bullogs 83-73, but the Samford players made Griffin proud by never giving up and rallying several times to keep the game competitive.
After having endured so much adversity throughout the season, losing a basketball game is about as painful as a bee sting. If the death of a teammate wasn't enough, the team had to endure seeing Coach Jimmy Tillette suffer a seizure during a game on the road against UNC Greensboro.
I don't believe that the life lessons learned over the last few months by members of the basketball team were the ones described to them during the recruitment process.
As the 20th anniversary of the death of Hank Gathers, a former star basketball player for Loyola Marymount, nears, it is refreshing to see that at Samford the character of a player matters as much, if not more, than his athletic accomplishments.
With his number now retired, Griffin will be remembered by all who visit the the Pete Hanna Center for years to come. However, no length of time will every explain how the organ who defined an athlete's desire to compete is the same one that caused his life to end so prematurely.
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