Griffey Staying Strong Despite Frustrations

The Fighting Illini basketball team has experienced the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat, the latter far too often for everyone's taste. Illini junior Tyler Griffey's career has been even more down than up. He has seen minimal time on the court in his three years, but he's kept a positive attitude. He made big contributions at Michigan and last Sunday against Iowa.

Tyler Griffey showed promise as a freshman at Illinois, showing off his high percentage three point shot when teams left him unguarded. But a lost sophomore season placed his value to the team in question. He struggled with injuries and illness, and he lost confidence in his shot.

Going into this season, Griffey showed an improved aggressiveness in practices and the games on the Italy summer trip. He earned a starting berth, but his value declined when more teams guarded his outside shot closely, and when they began using smaller, quicker players at power forward.

Defense is the name of the game, and Griffey struggled moving his feet quickly enough to counter his quick opponents. He openly admits his need to shore up his play on the defensive end.

"I've got to stop people. I've got to minimize the mistakes. If I can get a handle on the defensive end, I think I'll be able to see more time."

Does his concerns defensively make him tighten up while playing?

"A little bit, but you've got to be able to block all that out and just play."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was reluctant to use the St. Louis product through much of the season. But he came off the bench at Michigan to score 18 points in 29 minutes. He added 5 rebounds and 2 assists in his career-best effort. One could see his confidence improve play by play.

"I kind of just went out there and played. I didn't worry about anything else, I just played loose and played free. Fortunately a couple of shots went down, and I was able to build on it from there."

Is it his shooting that helps him build confidence?

"No, it could be making the right pass, getting a lead during the game, it could be a number of things.

"I'm a confident kid. I'm happy, and I know what I'm doing. What distinguishes the great players from the good players is being able to stay positive through adversity, the tough times. As a team, I think we've done poorly at that. We've got to do a better job of that as a team."

The 6'-8", 220 pounder has learned a lot about confidence during his time on campus. His sophomore year was an aberration, one he hopes won't repeat itself. But he has learned coping mechanisms and is more philosophical through his life experiences.

"Confidence is a funny thing. As easy as it is to get it knocked off, it can pick back up again. You can find confidence in unique ways. It's different for everyone."

Griffey played sparingly in the Purdue and Nebraska games that followed Michigan because of their smaller lineups. Does "small ball" frustrate him?

"It was, but I kept my head up. I came to practice every day to get better, and I was just waiting for my opportunity. I took advantage of it. I hope to see some more of that."

He earned a starting assignment in practice and played 25 minutes against Iowa last Sunday. He scored only 2 points, but he grabbed five boards, had two assists and a steal. He appeared to stabilize the team with his solid play. Does he feel he needs to take on more of a leadership role now?

"Yeah I think so. Tracy (Abrams) has come a long way since the beginning of the year and is doing a great job I think. Brandon (Paul) and D.J. (Richardson) have been here just as long as I have. And Sam (Maniscalco) is back. He's been doing a great job helping all of us."

Always deferential to his teammates, Griffey still has plenty to offer in his own right. If he continues to play with focus and energy, he can help the team whether he scores or not. And when teams lose sight of him, he can pop his jumper at any time. He is the team's best three point shooter.

He believes the Illini still have a chance to make the NCAA tournament field, and he and his teammates are working hard to make up for lost time.

"We're still together, but we've got to get focused. We've had some real good practices lately, some of the better ones of the season I think. We got after it and got better. With the NCAA tournament looming, we've got to win games."

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