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Duke’s AJ Griffin carves his own legacy

SAN FRANCISCO — Duke’s season was on the line.

After 42 legendary years, Mike Krzyzewski’s career was about to end.

Duke was involved in a touch-and-go Sweet 16 fight against a Texas Tech team at the Chase Center Thursday night that refused to walk away.

Texas Tech’s Adonis Arms had just buried a desperate, off-balance 3-pointer from the corner to cut Duke’s lead to 75-73 with 13.1 seconds left. Then, after a time-out, the Red Raiders quickly fouled Duke’s 18-year-old freshman forward AJ Griffin and sent him to the free-throw line for a one-and-one.

Pat Massaroni, Griffin’s high school coach at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, nervously watched TV at his home in New Jersey.

“I was excited and nervous for him at the same time; It felt like when he was with us,” Massaroni told The Post over the phone on Friday.

In Toronto, AJ’s father, Adrian Griffin, a former Seton Hall player who served nine NBA seasons after going undrafted and who is now the Raptors’ assistant coach, watched confidently in front of the TV.

AJ Griffin reacts during Duke's win over Texas Tech.
AJ Griffin reacts during Duke’s win over Texas Tech.
AP

“AJ has ice in his veins,” Adrian told the Post over the phone on Friday. “He enjoys the big moments. The stage is never too big for him.”

AJ calmly sunk both free throws, secured Duke a 78-73 win and sent the Blue Devils into an Elite Eight game against Arkansas at 8:49 p.m. Saturday to earn a place in the Final Four.

“His team believes in him,” said Adrian Griffin. “You look for him in the big moments and he delivers. Man, he’s just calm, cool and collected.”

Like father, like son.

The Seton Hall teams, for which Adrian Griffin played from 1992 to 1996, were driven to blood, sweat and tears by the defensive intensity inculcated by coach PJ Carlesimo. Adrian Griffin lasted nine years in the NBA because he was such a relentless defensive player.

Adrian Griffin at Seton Hall.
Adrian Griffin at Seton Hall.
Getty Images
Adrian Griffin with the Mavericks.
Adrian Griffin with the Mavericks.
Getty Images

AJ Griffin, 6ft 6, 222lbs, was blessed with more talent than his father. Combine the father’s work ethic and humility with the son’s athletic gifts and you have a player who can send Duke and Krzyzewski to the Final Four.

What you also have is a potential one-and-done NBA lottery pick in the June draft.

When this magical Blue Devils ride in Coach K’s emotional farewell tour is over, Griffin will almost certainly be following his father’s path into the NBA. And what better basketball resource can a young man have than a father who has both played and coached in the league to give you advice?

“I just follow him,” AJ told the Post on Friday. “I know I have to earn everything. My dad always said it feels better when you work for it and earn it.”

Adrian Griffin deserved every minute Carlesimo gave him on the court while he was at Seton Hall and he deserved every bite he got in the NBA.

PJ Carlesimo and Adrian Griffin in 2015.
PJ Carlesimo and Adrian Griffin in 2015.
NBAE via Getty Images

AJ has athletic genes that transcend his father. His mother, Audrey, ran at Seton Hall. His brother Alan played basketball in Illinois and Syracuse and later played in the NBA D-League. And his sister Aubrey is a junior on the Connecticut basketball team.

Talented as he is, AJ’s basketball path has not been a smooth one. It was repeatedly halted by high school injuries and then a knee injury he sustained in a Duke practice last October that could have derailed his freshman season.

“With the injuries, it was just a motivation to keep going,” AJ said. “It made me stronger and made me work even harder.”

Everyone around him would agree.

“He’s been through more than any of us, just in terms of injuries and obstacles to get where he is, but he’s a hard worker as you’ll find,” fellow Duke rookie Paolo Banchero said on Friday . “It actually seemed like he worked too hard at the beginning of the season, but he is.”

AJ Grifin
AJ Grifin
USA TODAY sports

Being AJ Griffin makes his father and high school coach beam with pride.

“If you didn’t know the background, you would never know that his father played in the NBA because nobody in the family acted that way, especially not AJ,” Massaroni said.

“I always told him, ‘Don’t give up, and when you’re down, don’t stay down,'” Adrian said. “This kid is listening. He has a big heart. He’s a winner. I’m so happy for him because I know he had to overcome all the obstacles and adversities.

“I’ve always said, ‘You gotta earn it, you gotta work for it, no one’s gonna give it to you because you’re Adrian Griffin’s son. You have to make your own name, you have to work and you have to produce and good things will happen.”

“That’s the formula.”

A formula that should not be shaken.

https://nypost.com/2022/03/26/dukes-aj-griffin-carving-out-own-legacy/ Duke’s AJ Griffin carves his own legacy

JOE HERNANDEZ

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