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Derek Griffin makes his mark
By Drew DeVries

Derek GriffinIt took a couple of tries, but Derek Griffin ended up right where he was supposed to be. The basketball player’s journey led him to Calvin after brief stints at both a four-year college and a community college. But it didn’t feel quite right at either place.

“It’s turned out great for me,” said Griffin, a senior guard and tri-captain who transferred to Calvin as a junior. “It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve made some of the best memories of my life and have gained lifelong friends.”

He didn’t always know that he’d end up a Knight. The one thing he did know, however, was that he wanted to play basketball. Given his family history, it’s understandable. Griffin’s sister Melissa was a Division I Honorable Mention All-American volleyball player at Ohio University this past fall, and his father was an exceptional sixth man at then Grand Valley College back in the 1970s. The athletic genes don’t stop there as his father’s cousin, Paul Griffin, spent six years in the NBA after a standout Western Michigan University career.

“Watching my dad play and coach definitely made me want to play basketball,” Griffin said. “I’d just want to ball with my dad and his cousin, and all I wanted to do through high school was go to college and play ball.”

He was recruited by MIAA schools, as well as other state competitors. After determining that he couldn’t see himself spending four years at his original choice, he transferred to Muskegon Community College where he played for Gene Gifford, now head coach at Olivet College. That’s when he began feeling the push to go to Calvin.

“From day one, he [Coach Gifford] told me that I would love it at Calvin College,” Griffin said. “He told me that I’d fit in and that even in Division II, I wouldn’t find a better atmosphere to play in. He was very pushy in getting me to come to Calvin and is a big reason why I ended up here.”

Griffin also knew he wouldn’t be the first player to transfer to Calvin from Muskegon Community College. Dan Davis did it in the mid-1980s and became a two-time MIAA MVP. Then Dan Aultman did so in the early 2000s; he was a two-time first team All-MIAA selection and helped Calvin reach the NCAA III Final Four in 2005.

“My first concern was that I wasn’t from a private school,” he said. “I went to church growing up, but I felt I would be a step behind religiously. I didn’t know if I’d fit in, but I was completely wrong.”

Griffin soon learned that Calvin was the perfect fit. “One of the first things Derek focused on when he got here was fitting in,” said Calvin basketball head coach Kevin Vande Streek. “He didn’t come in cocky but instead worked on getting to know our guys and the system right away. He’s worked hard at learning and being a leader, and we’ve really enjoyed having him here. He’s been a really good fit."

Because of his leadership role, he traveled to Montana last summer for the Gainey Athletic Leadership Retreat.

“Christianity wasn’t really a priority in my life growing up,” Griffin said. “But Gainey was an eye-opening experience for me. My faith was impacted the most, and I wasn’t expecting that. I would say that trip was the most memorable and best thing that’s happened to me here because I learned things about myself and my faith that I never thought I would. I guess I realized what I had been missing.”

As much as he has been affected by his Calvin experiences, Griffin has made his own mark at Calvin both on and off the court. He was a first team All-MIAA selection last year. Calvin fans also won’t forget him hitting the game-winning jumper with three seconds left to not only win the MIAA tournament championship last year — sending his team to the NCAA III Tournament — but also knock off rival Hope College.

With a major in sports administration, Griffin hopes to possibly attend graduate school to become a high school athletic director or work in a professional sports organization. But he’s also not quite ready to give up the game of basketball.

“If the possibility of playing ball in Europe comes up, then I would love to do that,” Griffin said. “To play ball and see the world would definitely be one direction I’d want to go in.”