His entrance into the college basketball world could be compared to that of Superman’s intro: “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
With the dunk at the height of public appeal, Louisville’s Darrell Griffith was a spectacle to see. You see although he averaged 18.5 points per game during his four-year stay at Louisville, the only thing everyone wanted to witness was an aerial display of verticality highlighted by a 48-inch vertical leap.
As a 6-foot-4 guard, it appeared to be surreal when Griffith took flight, however, there was so much more to his overall game. Opponents who had heard so much about his extraordinary athletic ability often were surprised by Griffith’s lethal jump shot—and unsettled by their inability to stop it.
Stepping onto Louisville’s campus in 1976 as a high school sensation, Griffith was expected to turn an already Final Four caliber program into a sure-fire national champion. He was mostly a reserve during his freshman year and thought about jumping ship and taking his talents to the NBA after both his sophomore and junior seasons.
When Griffith was a sophomore, in a Midwest Regional first-round game, he totaled 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting as the Cardinals defeated rising St. John’s 76-68.
But with the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, Griffith challenged himself to address some criticisms of his game.
Birth of Dr. Dunkenstein
One word describes Griffith’s senior year – “dominant.” He would average 23 points per game while also grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists. His outstanding play earned him the prestigious John Wooden Award. Griffith led his Cardinals to a 33-3 record and the school’s first NCAA basketball championship in 1980.
During his stretch run, he posted numbers of 25, 5, and 5 including a Four Four best 28.5 points per contest. In addition, he also locked up the opposing team’s top scorer’s — Kansas State’s Rolando Blackman, LSU’s Howard Carter, and UCLA’s Michael Holton — who all struggled to even get open looks at the basket. He passed, rebounded, defended and scored. Notice I didn’t say he dunked.
But when he did it was a spectacle. Had he played in today’s era of YouTube and SportsCenter highlights…you already know the answer.
In his four seasons with the Cardinals, he helped the school to a combined record of 101-25; two regular-season Metro Conference titles; two Metro tournament championships; four straight NCAA tournament appearances. then he was the No.2 overall pick in the NBA Draft and won Rookie of the Year with the Utah Jazz.
His jersey number – 35 – was retired at ceremonies following the 1980 basketball season and his road uniform is on permanent display at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The Utah Jazz would eventually retire his number as well.
Everyone should appreciate the overall level of play Griffith displayed. And while the legend of Dr. Dunkenstein will live on forever, Griffith was also named to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. In fact, it is mind-boggling as to what took so long. The Kentucky native is without question one of the 50 greatest players in the history of college basketball and remains the best player to ever roam the court in Freedom Hall.
It is long overdue and time to pay respect to not only a Tourney Titan, but a pure basketball legend.