Coach K’s Visit Puts High School Basketball Program on the Map
By Dan Murphy
Most of the sports fans in Westchester may have taken notice when legendary college basketball coach Rick Pitino agreed to return to the sidelines for Iona this fall. But some of you may not have taken notice that Stepinac High School has quickly and quietly become a basketball powerhouse, and the recent announcement that AJ Griffin will attend Duke University now makes it official: Stepinac is a basketball powerhouse.
Another sign of Stepinac’s basketball prowess is when Duke University, and legendary ‘Coach K’ (Mike Krzyzewski), comes calling to scout and recruit one of your players. Last month, Griffin, a 6-7 forward from White Ossining, made it official on National Signing Day when he chose Duke.
Griffin is a 4 – year member of the Stepinac Crusaders Varsity team and 1,000-point scorer, averaged 17.3 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game, 2.3 blocks per game and 1.6 steals per game during his junior season. He chose Duke over 30 other Division 1 offers that he received.
Stepinac head coach Pat Massaroni has sent two basketball players to the powerful ACC conference in the last two years. Point guard R.J. Davis is now a freshman at North Carolina. “I firmly believe that A.J. has a chance to finish the season as the No. 1 player in the country in the 2021 class,” Massaroni said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a lottery pick in the future.”
AJ Griffin is the son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin, who said that his youngest son has “loved Duke” since he was a young child. “He’s always been a big fan of Duke,” he said. “I remember he had Duke posters all over his room when he was 10, 11 years old. I’m just happy that he’s able to achieve his dreams. A lot of people are not able to do that. He set out to be a part of that Duke community and it’s something that he’s worked extremely hard for,” said Griffin, who played 10 seasons in the NBA and is currently an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.
AJ ranked as the #9 best prospect in the country, according to ESPN, and the #1 players in New York State. He won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, averaging 13.5 points and a team-high 3.3 steals per game in six contests
AJ chose the Blue Devils over Kentucky, Kansas and Villanova, and many other top NCAA basketball programs.
AJ committed to us a long time ago,” said Coach K. “It’s been a dream of his to be a Blue Devil and it’s a dream of ours to have him in our program. He’s an outstanding basketball player that is also an elite-level athlete. He defies one position, and physically he’s ready to play right away. AJ is a very strong player, he’s fun to play with and we’re excited to have him and his family in our program.”
Another Stepinac star, Malcolm Chimezie from Yonkers, signed his letter of intent with Boston University. Chimezie, the 3 – year member of the Stepinac team, averaged 10.7 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, and 2.3 blocks per game during his junior season. Malcolm chose Boston University over 20 other Division 1 offers that he received.
Both were members of the 2020 New York Archdiocesan Championship team that finished 18-9 before the season was cut short due to COVID-19.
How is Stepinac, and Coach Massaroni, able to get the best talented student athletes in the area to play for them? “There wasn’t any contact but they just did a lot of drill work and Fred ( NBA point guard Fred VanVleet) was very impressed about how advanced he was and that’s a credit to Stepinac and the coaches,” Adrian said. “They’ve done a tremendous job with him.”