Those piles of letters that keep spilling out of Darrell Griffith's high school locker these days are an indication that the recruiting season—basketball's version of fraternity rush—will soon be in full swing. You see, before all the bump-ins and weekend visits begin in earnest, every school from Florida State to the University of Hawaii runs to the post office with a last-ditch sales pitch. Griffith, a three-year star at Male High School in Louisville, has heard them all by now.
A 6'3½" forward who can go up and deposit a lob pass in the basket quicker than you can say "David Thompson," Griffith is the finest all-round prep player in the country. He manhandles opponents at both ends of the floor, as he demonstrated not long ago against Wheatley High, a powerful team from Houston, producing a 33-point, 23-rebound performance that included a dozen blocked shots in Male's 93-81 win. After a 93-75 romp over Louisville's Manual High last Friday night that ran Male's record to 20-1 and helped maintain the Bulldogs' No. 1 rating in the state, Griffith was averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots per game. His three-year figures are not much different.
As if that kind of heroics were not sufficient, Griffith handles the ball well enough to play guard in college and has such quick reactions that he is sometimes able to bound in the air and catch an opponent's shot, rather than resort to the conventional but wasteful practice of swatting the ball out of bounds. When you can play like this in high school, you have to expect certain pressures from the outside world. In Griffith's case, that sometimes means plowing through stacks of mail to find a missing textbook in the bottom of his locker. One night last week that debris included a North Carolina State calendar, some Michigan basket ball statistics and a letter from Indiana.
"Calendars, calendars, calendars," Griffith muttered, cramming two or three more inside his locker and forcing the door shut. "I've gotten so many of them there's no way I can ever forget what day it is. I'm starting to get doubles on all my basketball mail, and some schools are sending me football material, if you can believe that. I even got a Happy Halloween card with a piece of gum inside from somebody."
February 23, 1976
Griffith is a B student "with a light upstairs," as Marquette Coach Al McGuire is fond of saying. This is certainly commendable, but what college recruiters see in Griffith is an athlete who shoots 60% from the floor, high jumps 6'10" and runs the 100 in 10.1. Griffith is a dream come true they say, perhaps another Oscar Robertson or Jerry West, and the next step in recruiting him is likely to entail something like this: one day Darrell goes to his locker and works the combination as usual. Except that when he lifts the handle, out jumps North Carolina State's Norm Sloan and Michigan's Johnny Orr and Indiana's Bobby Knight, like clowns popping out of a circus car, each wildly waving a letter of intent.
Perhaps that will be the recruiting gimmick of the future, but if history repeats, Griffith and teammate Bobby Turner will end up across town at the University of Louisville. Turner, a rugged 6'4" 200-pounder, has been Griffith's sidekick since fourth grade. They have vowed to attend the same school, and that would suit UL just fine. Male, so-called because it once had an all-boy student body, has reached five of the last six state finals and four Male graduates including Wesley Cox, a starting forward, have played for the Cardinals during Coach Denny Crum's five years at Louisville.
"I admit that I'll be surprised if we don't get both of them," says Crum, saving money on a 13¢ stamp. "Griffith is 6'3½" going on 7 feet, and I know he would fit into our attack because he is so similar to Junior Bridgeman, who took us to the NCAA semifinals last year. Both are tremendous two-footed leapers—by that I mean that neither Bridgeman nor Griffith needs a running start to achieve his maximum height. And that's probably, oh, about 40 inches off the floor."
The Griffith-Turner partnership began to make headlines when they led their eighth-and ninth-grade teams to 49 straight victories. "We were the UCLA of junior high basketball," says Griffith. By that summer Griffith had progressed so much he was invited to join the top division of the Louisville summer league, in which several pros play. Some of his pals on the Kentucky Colonels say they could use him in the ABA right now. But foremost in Griffith's mind is winning another state high school championship. On the way to last year's title he and Turner combined for 67 points in Male's 83-74 semifinal victory over Christian County High.
"When I took a look at these guys three years ago," says Male Coach Wade Houston, "I knew we would win some games. But they have surprised even me."
Are the kids already signed, sealed and delivered to Louisville? "Well, I feel that we probably owe it to ourselves to visit Hawaii," says Turner in mock seriousness. "Yeah, and Las Vegas, too," says Griffith. "All I know is that Bobby and I want to go to some place with a whole lot of prestige and publicity associated with the basketball team. I don't think that a school that draws 2,000 people a game is gonna get it. Not that my folks would mind. My mother told me the other day, 'Darrell, as long as you're happy, I'll be happy. Whether you decide to go to Concrete Institute or Tree County College.'"
It isn't likely, America.