AJ Griffin Hopes Continued Improvement in His Game Results in U16 National Team Spot
The 15-year-old forward comes to U16 training camp looking to grow his game, especially on defense.
As one of the top high school basketball players in the class of 2021, AJ Griffin bounces from city to city and court to court.
So, when it comes to boiling down the expectations of the next stop on what is sure to be the start of a busy summer, Griffin had a pretty simple answer.
“Just looking forward to getting better and having a fun experience at the same time and working hard,” said Griffin, who just wrapped up his sophomore year at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York.
Only this week’s mission is on a slightly larger scale.
Griffin is one of 30 players at the USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team training camp that began May 22 and takes place through May 30 on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Players are competing for 12 spots on the USA Basketball junior national team that will compete in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Bélem, Brazil, June 3-9.
A five-star recruit, the 6-foot-6 forward is hoping to use his time against elite talent to sharpen his defensive skills.
“Defense on any level is what you need,” Griffin said. “I think I’m a good defender. I just feel like I could bring it up a notch, too. I feel like my (84-inch) wingspan is really helpful to my defense. I have long arms and can deflect balls.”
Griffin comes from a basketball family. Dad Adrian Griffin, who won a gold medal with USA Basketball at the 1997 Tournament of the Americas, played nine seasons in the NBA with five teams and currently is the lead assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors. Brother Alan Griffin was a reserve at the University of Illinois as a freshman, while sister Aubrey will play for powerhouse University of Connecticut next season, and was a participant in the USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team trials earlier in the month.
“It means a lot, first just to have family and playing a sport we all love,” said AJ, who averaged 20.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.5 blocks and 2.4 steals per game as a sophomore. “It just really connected us together. A lot of memories just playing 1-on-1, I’ll always remember them, just fun playing the game and having my family support me through it all.”
While Griffin doesn’t recall much of his dad’s playing career, his earliest basketball memories are of him playing on a toy hoop, perhaps as a third-grader, in the family basement with his father.
“At first, he taught me how to shoot, that’s one of the main keys to my game, I love to shoot,” said Griffin, who likes to watch Trae Young, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. “He just taught me the work ethic and how much I have to put into it and all the hard work is going to pay off eventually.”
Alan and Aubrey have also told their younger brother what to expect as he continues down the basketball career path.
“They just told me the experience (they had) and as long as you work hard, everything will fall into place,” Griffin said. “Watching them grow up and becoming better people and better players is so fun to watch.”
Due to the different schedules the siblings have, they don’t get to play against one another too often anymore, but Griffin said Aubrey has been getting the better of her brothers lately.
“It’s all fun and games,” Griffin said.
On the recruiting side, Griffin still has time before he will make a decision on which college to attend. He said he has 15 offers, including Auburn University, the University of Connecticut, Georgetown University, Saint Louis University, Manhattan College, the University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh, with no clear favorites.
But that is the future. Presently, Griffin is focused on making his first USA Basketball team. His only previous USA Basketball experience came in October at a minicamp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and he knows the invitation to the trials is special.
“It just means that people believe in me and they see something in my game and that I have potential,” Griffin said of the selection. “Just an honor to be chosen. I know there are a lot of kids in my grade that would love to be here, and I’m just grateful to be here.”