Former Althoff standout finds All-American home at Columbia College

News-DemocratApril 6, 2014 

Devin Griffin was a solid high school basketball player at Althoff, but there was no intense recruiting battle for his services upon graduation.

Four years later, he is leaving Columbia College in Missouri as a first-team NAIA and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-American.

He's only the third player in school history to earn first-team All-America status.

"It all turned out for the best," said Griffin, a senior guard who led the nationally ranked Cougars in scoring at 16.5 points per game. "It was an awesome experience."

Griffin was a big reason why the Cougars were 120-17 and won four straight American Midwest Conference championships during his four-year ride.

He finished his career as the school's fourth all-time leading score with 1,596 points.

"Devin improved each year that he played and I think it's rare that guys do that," Columbia coach Bob Burchard said. "He had very little variation from that and he didn't have any backsliding in his game. He's extremely competitive and was one of the fastest guards that I've had.

"Having him on our team made our group unpressable for four years because of how aggressive and how fast he could get the ball up the court."

Griffin grew up in Fairview Heights and former Belleville East guard Taylor Evans talked to him about playing at Columbia College.

Griffin wasn't receiving much recruiting interest and the more he found out about Columbia, the more he liked.

"He told me about how his team had gone to the national championships," Griffin said. "He also said it was a fun system and a good environment and a great place to play."

Griffin ended his college career as an All-American and as the 2014 American Midwest Conference Co-Player of the Year.

He hit double-figure scoring in 32 of 35 games this season, including six straight games of 20 or more points from Jan. 25-Feb. 13.

"His body caught up to his game and his ability got a lot better," said Althoff coach Greg Leib, who marveled at Griffin's progress. "He shoots it far better than he did in high school. He was always a great competitor and had a great knack for the ball, but his body grew into his game. I know he's put a lot of work in."

Burchard said a sequence in the AMC tournament this season pretty much summed up Griffin's personality and desire.

"In the semifinals, we subbed him out for a defensive possession with like 20 seconds to play and were down two," Burchard said. "He got really mad at us and when he came back on the floor he made the plays and won that game."

Burchard went with a different approach when a similar situation came up near the end of the conference championship game against Freed-Hardeman.

"We got into the exact same situation at the end of overtime and we didn't sub him out," Burchard explained. "He made the steal that got us the ball back for the last possession, then got fouled and hit the free throw to win the game in overtime. That won the conference championship."

Burchard said he never got tired of watching Griffin rise to the occasion when things got rough.

"I think over his career he might have made seven game-winning plays, where you have the ball at the end of the game and make the shot or make the free throw to win," Burchard said. "A lot of that has to do with his fearlessness."

It was a disappointing early exit from the NAIA Tournament for Columbia, which lost 80-75 to MidAmerica Nazarene in the second round to finish 32-3.

In 2013, the Cougars won a school-record 35 games and reached the NAIA quarterfinals.

"It was an upset because a lot of people thought we'd go pretty far because we did last year," Griffin said. "We lost to a quality team."

Not winning a national title is one of the few regrets for Griffin, who will graduate this spring with a degree in business administration and minor in communications.

"Looking back now and realizing everything I accomplished, I wish I had a national championship," he said. "But if I'd have a national championship to go along with all the other things we accomplished here in four years, it would almost be like a fairy tale."

Getting that degree was a huge goal of Griffin, the son of James Griffin and Victoria Griffin.

"My mom is the big part in that," Devin Griffin said. "She definitely loves to come watch me play, but she was on me about academics every day and always staying on top of me."

Burchard said Griffin's durability was something he's rarely seen.

"There's been only two players in my 26 years at Columbia that have played in every single game in four years," Burchard said. "That's extremely hard to do with everything that could take you off the court, from an injury or coach being mad at you or just not being good enough.

"He went the distance playing and I think that helped keep him on that upward slope."

Burchard even used Griffin to help rate potential recruits.

"Two years ago we were bringing in other guards and when we'd have them try out, we'd always match them up against him," the coach said. "There was really only one guy that could even stay with him. We never had anybody that could actually get him stopped."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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