Sitting on the edge of the pitch, AJ Griffin couldn’t help himself. His mind wandered, imagining himself on the NBA court throwing dunks and doing long jumps.
He was then only in third year, accompanied by his father, Adrian, assistant coach of the NBA.
“Going to games, you see behind the scenes,” Griffin told The Post in a phone interview. “Just seeing it early brought my dream to life. Being surrounded by basketball like your whole childhood, it’s hard not to fall in love with basketball.”
Soon that dream will come true, and it could be happening near his home in Ossining, NY. Griffin, a 6-foot-6 guard considered one of the best shooters in the draft, could fall to the Knicks at age 11, and they’ve shown considerable interest in him. The Knicks brought him in for one-on-one training, attended his pro day in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time checking him out, sources say. Additionally, his father, now the Raptors’ main assistant, previously worked with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau with the Bulls.
Griffin knows several players on the team, including RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin. He met Barrett a few times and played youth basketball with Toppin, a Westchester native like Griffin.
“It would be pretty cool to play for your hometown,” Griffin said. “I played MSG twice last year, and it’s just an experience like no other.”
Griffin is one of the most hotly debated prospects to be invited to the Green Room, a projected lottery pick that was once seen as a lock on getting into the top 10. According to multiple scouts, there are questions about his consistency and his athleticism regarding his injury history.
He had back problems as a sophomore in high school, dislocated his left knee the following year, and sprained his right knee before that season at Duke. He was a part-time starter for the Blue Devils this year, averaging 10.4 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 44.7% from 3-point range.
“There is some concern with injuries,” said a scout. “But he’s 6-6 with a chiseled frame and he’s shot 45% from 3.”
The counterpoint to the criticism is that Griffin was part of a busy team that asked him to fulfill a particular role as a sniper, Duke assistant coach Chris Carrawell said. He had some monster games: 27 points in a rout of North Carolina, 21 in an ACC Tournament semifinal win over Miami, 18 in the Elite Eight against Arkansas. Griffin didn’t have a senior season in high school due to COVID-19 and dealt with an early knee injury this year that slowed his progress.
“Everything has its moment and you just keep working,” Griffin said. “I have seen progress.”
He added: “I feel like I can show a lot more [than I did in college].”
ESPN college basketball analyst and draft guru Fran Fraschilla didn’t see the same athleticism from Griffin at Duke as he did in high school, but attributed some of that to injuries and sees a ceiling extremely high for Griffin, who doesn’t turn 19 until August.
“He definitely has everything you think you need to be a really good NBA player,” Fraschilla said. “I just think it’s going to take a few years.”
Griffin has been around the game his entire life and, as the youngest of three siblings, was pushed at a young age. For years he would lose to his older brother, Alan, and his sister, Aubrey. They also played Division I college basketball, Alan at Illinois and Syracuse and Aubrey currently at Connecticut. It forced him to work harder and instilled in him a competitive spirit.
Griffin was considered one of the nation’s top prospects as a rookie under Archbishop Stepinac and was one of the most coveted recruits nationally when he signed on with Duke. He won on every level, helping Stepinac win a state championship as a rookie and the city title game the following year, contributing to Duke’s Final Four run last season and winning a medal. gold with USA Basketball’s U-16 team in FIBA Americas while in high school.
It all led to this point – draft night Thursday at Barclays Center – when Griffin will become the first Stepinac alum to be a first-round pick and join his father in the NBA.
“It will be a step like the others,” he said. “Sharing this moment with my family will just be an incredible moment and it will definitely be a memory I won’t forget.”