Henricksen: Zion Griffin is the breakout, stock-rising senior in 2018

Zion Griffin (35) of Hinsdale South hauls in a rebound and pushes the ball down court. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Every summer there is a breakout player in July. In good years there are a few.

When the July evaluation period for college coaches wraps up next weekend, there is no question Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin is that player from Illinois. The highly-athletic 6-6 forward will have gone from a relatively unknown to the “breakout player” and “biggest stock-riser” in the Class of 2018.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report began singing the praises of Griffin when taking in a Hinsdale South game last December. Griffin skyrocketed up the Hoops Report player rankings midseason and continued to climb. The Hoops Report profiled Griffin as an unheralded and under-recruited prospect and one to watch prior to the April evaluation period.

Mid-major programs still took awhile to jump on board. After Griffin played out the month of April he picked up only two offers from Division I schools following the “live” period –– from Wright State and Chicago State. He added a few more later in the spring from UIC, UTEP and Western Michigan.

Then the mid-major flood gates opened last week after Griffin put on a show in the opening weekend at the Chicago Summer Jam in Romeoville. Multiple offers came flying in from Missouri Valley, Horizon League and Mid-American Conference schools. Each one of those schools kept their fingers crossed Griffin would not play himself above them over the course of the next two weekends.

Now, after another dazzling weekend playing with his Illinois Hoopers club team in St. Louis, high-major programs are taking notice. Griffin and his camp have heard from a number of high-major programs, including an offer from Iowa State Sunday night.

That’s what one big weekend in July will do for an unknown prospect who plays above the rim and with boundless energy.

Among the Hoopers opponents this past weekend, Griffin faced the The City Rocks from New York, Boo Williams out of Virginia and Minnesota’s Howard Pulley program. All three are Nike EYBL heavyweights who went a combined 36-12 in EYBL regular season action this year. And all Griffin did was average 28.6 points a game in St. Louis.

In a matchup with Howard Pulley, Griffin shot 17 of 25 from the field, including 9 of 14 from beyond the arc and scored 42 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

Last weekend in a four-game stretch the City/Suburban Hoops Report watched Griffin play he knocked down 16 three-pointers.

This from a player who says he made “four or five three-pointers” throughout his entire junior season at Hinsdale South, where he averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. This from a player who needed to prove he could shoot the ball as his off-the-charts athleticism and body, along with a high motor, have been constants.

But make no mistake about it, Griffin is a different player than he was this past winter when he worked with his back to the basket while playing and knocking down shots in the mid and high post areas.

“In high school I always played the five and wasn’t asked or needed to shoot the three,” says Griffin. “But I’m in the gym every day. I get up 500 shots every day. I’ve been working non-stop, and I think since April I’ve gotten a lot better with my shot and with my confidence.”

Now the lefty rises off the floor with a high release point on his jumper that’s difficult to defend. He finishes thunderous alley-oop dunks and has a nifty fadeaway jumper from 10-12 feet. There are certainly parts of his game that need polish, particularly his ballhandling, but the ceiling is enormous for a player with his body and athleticism.

Quentin Garrison, who runs and coaches the Illinois Hoopers, has been up close in watching Griffin develop and soar to new heights.

“He’s had an opportunity to show a lot more with this team,” says Garrison. “He’s worked really hard on his jump shot and that’s become a huge addition to his game. He’s exuding confidence, realizing he’s the best player and no longer just blends in.”

As far as recruiting, Griffin says he’s taking it all in right now and will simply play out July and see what happens. But it’s changing for a player who was a Hoops Report fringe top 10 prospect and now ranks as the No. 3 prospect in the senior class in Illinois.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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