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Penn Valley’s Matt Griffin Making NCAA Tournament Debut

Friday evening, the junior Boston University sharpshooter faces the mighty Kansas Jayhawks, a matchup with historical significance in his family.

Editor's note: This story was published the morning of Friday, March 18, 2011. In a round-of-64 NCAA Tournament game Friday evening, Matt Griffin scored three points (on 1-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc), retrieved three rebounds and tallied one assist and two steals in 25 minutes as his Boston University Terriers lost, 72-53, to Kansas University.

Make no mistake: Matt Griffin is his own man.

He is a Division I point guard, the Boston University Terriers’ best three-point shooter, and he is hours away from realizing the dream that countless young basketball players have, but almost all wake up from eventually. Matt Griffin is about to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s such a gratifying feeling,” the 21-year-old Penn Valley native told Narberth-Bala Cynwyd Patch on Wednesday, after a practice for the biggest game of his career.

Certainly, Griffin has had help along the way, but “he made himself the player he is today,” said his coach at St. Joseph’s Prep, local legend Speedy Morris. “I’ve had some great kids and great work ethics, but none better than Matt Griffin.”

So Griffin made his own way to the NCAA Tournament. But now that he is there, it is impossible to ignore how much the view resembles what his older brother saw six years ago in his own tournament debut, and how incredible it would be if the result were the same.

Six years ago to the day in Oklahoma City, Bucknell University freshman John Griffin grabbed a defensive rebound in a first-round game's final seconds as the lightly regarded No. 14 seed upset No. 3 seed Kansas University, a perennial power.

Today at 6:50 p.m. Eastern in Tulsa (and televised on TBS) Matt Griffin’s No. 16-seeded Terriers will face none other than the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.

“It just matches up so oddly,” said his father, former St. Joseph’s University coach John Griffin. “We’re hoping that this team will have the same success.”

Griffin Has Local Roots

Matt Griffin attended in Narberth through eighth grade. He left a lot of tread on the court at .

“All of us played in the summer league, all summer long in the heat,” Griffin said. “It was one of the best times of my life.”

His father also frequently worked with Griffin in the St. Joe’s gym, and the boy played Catholic Youth Organization basketball for, among others, Ed Owsik.

“He was like your ultimate point guard.,” said Owsik, who coached CYO players for 25 years. “He understood the games, he was like a real extension of the coach. He had a great attitude, and he really kept things in perspective. Of course, he always wanted to win, but when he didn’t, that was OK, too.”

Owsik coached the younger John Griffin, too, and said the two brothers played “very similar” styles of basketball.

Matt Griffin moved on to St. Joseph’s Prep, where he gained his famous coach’s admiration.

“He was the first one in the gym, last one out. On game days, he’d be in here at 6:30 in the morning, just shooting,” Morris said. “He can shoot; he can pass. His basketball IQ’s off the charts.”

Griffin Took a Detour on the Road to BU

Griffin went to Rider University in the fall of 2007,  but after two years of getting barely two shot attempts in an average game, he transferred to BU. The NCAA requires transfers to sit out a year, so the 5-foot-10-inch Griffin spent 2009-2010 refining his game.

“It was tough to sit out, but I was able to use it to my advantage—work on my game, work on my shooting, get stronger,” Griffin said.  “It helped me get some confidence.”

This year, he has played all 34 games, starting five and averaging 25 minutes in a crowded rotation. Not only has he averaged about five shots a game, far more than at Rider, he has made 53 of 115 three-pointers to lead the Terriers in percentage from long distance.

Griffin has averaged 6.5 points a game. He got only two (plus a steal) in last Saturday’s America East Conference championship game, but he couldn’t have cared about that less when the clock expired and he saw “Boston University 56, Stony Brook 54” on the scoreboard.

“I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe we did it.’ You know, we had gone through so much in the year, we had to just come together,” Griffin said.

The Terriers were 10-13 at the end of January, including losses to Bucknell and Villanova, but have won 11 straight since.

Griffin Gets his Spot in the Bracket

The conference tournament title gave Griffin and his teammates an automatic NCAA bid, so the only suspense on Selection Sunday was who and where they would play. Television cameras captured the team roaring in approval when CBS announced their name and spot in the bracket.

“It was cool just to see ‘Boston University’ up there,” Griffin said. “I watched my brother play for so many years and was used to seeing “Bucknell” go up there.”

(Speaking of which, Matt…)

“When I found out we were playing Kansas, obviously I thought back to when my brother played. But this is a whole new year, new team,” Griffin said.

Said Griffin’s father, John: “Initially, my reaction was, ‘I’m glad they didn’t have a play-in game.’ And I was certainly hoping they’d have a better seed than 16. But (as a small-conference team) you’re going to have to upset somebody.”

The elder John Griffin’s one regret about his stint with St. Joseph’s, he said, is that the Hawks never made it to March Madness.

“It’s every coach’s and player’s dream  to be in the tournament … but now that both sons that played college basketball have had that opportunity, it’s great,” he said.

Matt Griffin said his brother, with whom he talks every day, kept the advice simple.

“He just really told me to play my game and be assertive and aggressive,” Griffin said. “I just expect it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re going to go into it with the same mindset we had all year against each opponent, which is to play BU basketball.”

His family will be in Tulsa to watch him, while other relatives, friends and fans will be riveted to their televisions.

“Oh God, yeah,” Speedy Morris said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

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