The George Washington University coaching staff had been watching Griffin closely for months, but when assistant Pete Strickland arrived that day for another look, the Colonials had yet to extend a scholarship offer.
With Strickland watching from the side, Griffin drifted back to the three-point arc during the solo shooting session. The guard swished through one deep shot and then another, quickly settling into an easy rhythm. When Griffin finally missed after knocking down 10 straight treys, Strickland sent a text message to GW Coach Mike Lonergan. The Colonials were ready to offer the junior.
Rarely the most athletic player on the floor, Griffin made zero three-pointers during his freshman season at the Derwood public school and only emerged as a Division I prospect after overhauling his jump shot through countless hours of repetition. Now signed to play for Lonergan at George Washington, the 6-foot-2 senior might be the area’s top high school three-point marksman, hitting on 44 percent of his career chances (181of 412).
“I knew that if I wanted to reach my goals I was going to have to do something to separate me from other guys,” said Griffin, the all-time leading scorer at 1,195 points for the No. 7 Colonels (12-1, 5-0 Montgomery 4A West) entering Friday’s game at Quince Orchard (10-4, 4-2). “Shooting became, I guess, my niche. I just kept working day in and day out, so I was always getting better.”
Griffin entered high school with what he now calls “a funky little shot.” At the time, it didn’t seem so bad. He had been courted by several area private schools but opted to play at Magruder where he had attended Magruder Coach Dan Harwood’s summer camps since fourth grade.
As a freshman, Griffin cracked the varsity lineup and displayed a potent midrange game, but he was a non-factor from the outside. He attempted a three-pointer in his high school debut, clanging the shot off the rim. Though he averaged 4.6 points per game, he didn’t take another three in a game the rest of the year.
After the season ended, Harwood offered to help improve the mechanics of a jump shot that was slightly long and slow, if Griffin agreed to prioritize improvement over playing on the AAU circuit.
Previously, Griffin’s stroke had come across his body making for a slight hitch in his shot, but he worked to craft a more repeatable motion, staying on balance with the ball held high.
Harwood, who has led the Colonels to two state titles, said he’s only coached a handful of players who have successfully overhauled their form at the high school level in a career that began at Seneca Valley in 1986.
“It takes a serious commitment to get that muscle memory going in the right direction,” Harwood said. “That’s where Nick is special.”
Griffin logged long hours at Shady Grove Middle School, a five-minute walk from his house, fine-tuning his stroke on the outdoor courts behind the building or in the gym, when a janitor would let him in.
Often, Shaun Taylor, Griffin’s middle school coach and a former Magruder player, would be there to help rebound and shout out “hitch” whenever the player reverted to his old form. Other times, Griffin would put in the work alone, mixing in form shooting practice with other drills that he pulled from YouTube videos of NBA players working out.
Along the way, Griffin would — and still does — count each made basket, usually attempting to reach 500 before the end of a session, which can take up to two hours.
“It was a little, small hitch, but it was just enough that at the next level he wouldn’t have been able to get that shot off consistently,” Taylor said. “I told him he was at a crossroads. ‘Do you want to have a good shot or a great shot?’ ”
The hard work yielded almost immediate results. By the time Magruder convened for summer league just a few months after his freshman season, Harwood saw a physically stronger Griffin shooting with newfound confidence.
Playing for a program that emphasizes outside shooting, Griffin made 49 three-pointers his sophomore season and picked up the first of his 10 Division I scholarship offers the following summer.
As a junior, Griffin knocked down 91 shots from outside the arc — compared with 70 two-point field goals — and averaged a team-best 17 points per game as the Colonels went 26-1 en route to the Maryland 4A title. In August, he picked GW over Drexel and William & Mary.
“If you give him a blink of an eye, the shot’s off and you’re in trouble,” said Springbrook Coach Tom Crowell, whose team handed the Colonels their only loss, 59-55 in overtime, on Dec. 19. “When we play Magruder, our defense is always set around where he is.”
Griffin will need to continue to round out his game to make an impact at the next level. Lonergan said the guard must improve his defense and ball-handling, but the coach believes he’ll be an asset right away to a team that currently ranks last in the Atlantic 10 in three-pointers made.
“He’s a gym rat,” Lonergan said, “and we thought if he had that work ethic and commitment he would keep getting better as he gets older.”
Before he heads to Foggy Bottom, Griffin has his eyes on a repeat state title. He’s averaged 18.2 points per game so far, including a 16-point effort in a 69-65 win over private school power DeMatha on Dec. 6.
That victory in a crowded home gym avenged Magruder’s lone loss from last season. After so many lonely hours on the court, Griffin has found it easier to relish the pressure-packed moments.
“When you’re locked in, you’re just focused,” Griffin said. “You don’t worry about anything. There might be a hand in the face, but all you see is yourself and the basket.”