The nomadic lifestyle of military brats in the United States is well documented. The existence requires frequent relocations based on where their parents are stationed.
Adrian “A.J.” Griffin Jr., has lived a similar yet very different life.
He is a basketball brat, one that is continuing a family legacy of excellence in the sport.
His father is Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s top assistant who played for a decade in the NBA for five teams and is now with his fifth NBA team in his 11th season of coaching.
“Obviously he was around the game a lot because his dad was in the league, but Adrian just has a pure love for the sport on his own,” said A.J.’s mother, Audrey.
His father’s playing and coaching career took the family to Connecticut, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee and back to Chicago before Audrey and the three youngest of four children finally settled in Ossining, N.Y. – in Westchester County – after her divorce from Adrian Sr. in 2016.
“We just kept on moving around a lot, but it was good because it made me a better person, made me meet new people,” A.J. said. “But it was fun. It was a fun journey.”
A smooth and solid 6-foot-6 shooting guard and wing who recently turned 15, A.J. is ranked among the top 10 players in his sophomore class in the nation, and he’s trying to help Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) win a Beach Ball Classic title in the school’s first appearance.
He had 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting in the Crusaders’ opening-round 75-52 win over Myrtle Beach Christian Academy on Wednesday, along with three blocks, two assists and two rebounds. Archbishop Stepinac, the reigning N.Y. AA Federation state and city champs, faces North Little Rock (Ark.) in the quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
“He can shoot the ball at a high level. He’s efficient. He’s usually at 40 to 50 percent from 3-point range,” Crusaders coach Patrick Massaroni said. “I tell people all the time he does more than score the ball. He can really defend at a high level, he gets deflections, he rebounds, and he’s willing to share the ball. Most guys who are ranked top 10 in the country are very ball-selfish but he gets everybody involved. He’s a playmaker and wins are a big thing for him.”
A.J.’s older brother, Alan, is a 6-5 freshman guard on the Illinois basketball team. His older sister, Aubrey, recently signed to play at UConn, and his oldest sibling, Vanessa, was a track and tennis star – with a 120 mph serve at the age of 13 – prior to a knee injury and is a senior in college.
“He comes from a great family, great people,” Massaroni said. “Driven basketball-minded people and high-level athletics is what they’ve been around and what they have graced us with.”
A.J. attended many of his father’s games when he was young, but the memories are hazy as the playing career ended when A.J. was 5. The number of NBA games A.J. attended dwindled as his own playing career blossomed, though he’d pick and choose the most attractive matchups.
“Once they got older and had their own activities, their activities took precedence over the games,” Audrey said. “When [Adrian] was coaching they probably only went to games when Steph Curry was playing or LeBron was playing.”
Adrian Sr.’s vast basketball knowledge has helped mold his children’s games. “It was fun growing up with him because he shows you a lot of knowledge and gives you little parts of the game, like fundamentals, and he taught me how to shoot,” A.J. said. “It’s fun to have someone close to you who knows the game and coaches it on a high level.”
Audrey has contributed as well, providing the speed and agility drills that helped make her an All-American track athlete at Seton Hall, where she met Adrian Sr. during his collegiate career.
A.J. said his siblings and father often play basketball when they’re together, and Adrian Sr. can still beat his children one-on-one. Though in a family that’s so talented the winning is shared, with even Aubrey, who is 6-1, coming out ahead in some individual battles. “It’s back and forth,” A.J. said.
A.J. played soccer in his youth and he enjoyed it, but as with most things in his family his attention turned to basketball.
“I switched to basketball because I found one day I could be really good at it,” he said. “I think [switching sports] was more about my brother because I used to always watch him go to workouts with my dad and I just wanted to follow in his steps too, and it was fun competing against him playing one-on-one when I was younger. I have loved the game ever since.”
A.J. is the tallest of Adrian Sr. and Audrey’s four children, and he’s still growing. “I definitely know he’s growing because my grocery bill has not gone down, it goes up,” Audrey said.
Griffin said he has already received offers from numerous schools including Seton Hall, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John’s, Rutgers and Manhattan.
“I just have to stay focused and know that whichever team I choose I’ll help win,” A.J. said. “I’m just blessed to be able to play every day, whether it’s to have fun or play competitively with my teammates. It’s just fun to go out there and compete with people and play the game that I love.”
Of course A.J.’s life isn’t all basketball. “I think his life is basketball, school, pizza and Fortnite in that order,” Massaroni said. “I think that’s what his life entails.”
Archbishop Stepinac forces its students to be well-rounded, requiring 25 hours per year of community service from each. Griffin takes part in a Crusaders team camp that teaches young children basketball fundamentals and volunteers at a 5k run. And he works religiously on his game.
“For somebody with his talent, he doesn’t cheat the effort,” Massaroni said. “That’s a quote a lot of people use, you get exposed if you cheat the effort, and he really doesn’t. He’s driven. He’s driven on warmups, he’s driven before games. He’s locked in. He’s driven in film. Anything we do he’s focused and he has become a more vocal leader.
“He didn’t need to last year with his brother (Alan) being the leader, but he and [R.J.] Davis for us have just been more vocal leaders.”
North Little Rock (Ark.) 76, Florence (Miss.) 60
Archbishop Stepinac (NY) 75, Myrtle Beach Christian 52
Cox Mill (NC) 92, University (W.Va.) 82
Scott County (Ky.) 95, Socastee 60
Florence (Miss.) 72, Myrtle Beach Christian 49
University (W.Va.) 85, Socastee 77
Jack Yates (Texas) 97, Christ the King (NY) 91
Westchester (Calif.) 54, North Mecklenburg (NC) 44
North Crowley (Texas) 63, St. Edward (Ohio) 59
Bishop O’Connell (Va.) 84, Myrtle Beach 59
Six games, consolation bracket begins at noon, championship bracket begins at 3:30 p.m.