Adrian Griffin spent years trying to get into the NBA as a player, a path marked by a year in Italy, three years in the Continental Basketball Association and frequent doubts that he was ever going to reach his destination.
Griffin's journey into coaching wasn't nearly as adventurous.
The season after his playing career ended in 2007, Griffin, a Wichitan who was an All-State player at East, joined the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant coach. He was one of those assistants, though, who sat behind the bench.
This season, Griffin has moved up a row and will be sitting at the side of new Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a 36-year-old rising star in the NBA coaching ranks.
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Griffin's story is one of perseverance rewarded, so it's no surprise he's on the coaching fast track. Few people thought he would amount to much as a college player, but he became an All-Big East performer at Seton Hall, in Orange, N.J.
Surely, however, that was the end of the playing road. Griffin went to one summer camp after another, and was politely told he wasn't NBA material. Pretty soon, he started believing it.
"After I didn't get drafted, I was pretty devastated,'' Griffin said. "But my father (David), he seemed to always say the right things at the right time. He encouraged to keep going after my dream.''
Finally, the Boston Celtics gave Griffin a chance. He played with Boston in 1999 and 2000, the beginning of a career that would be defined by a willingness to do whatever it took. At 6-foot-5, Griffin was a tweener; lacking the shooting ability to play guard and the physical presence to be a forward. Yet he found ways to contribute and learned more about the game than many of the superstars which whom he played.
When a coach spoke, Griffin listened.
"I played for P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall and Rick Pitino at Boston,'' Griffin said. "I played for Don Nelson, Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles. I took something from each one of those guys. And I was the type of player who would always pay attention because I was on the bubble. If a coach threw me into a game, I wanted to be ready. I always believed in knowing exactly what it was the coach wanted, so I listened in practice and during huddles.''
Griffin's wife, Audrey, whom he met at Seton Hall, told him he'd be a coach soon after they met. He didn't believe her; coaching wasn't something that interested him at the time.
"But that's something she continued to tell me,'' Griffin said.
His attention to detail, his work ethic, his impeccable attitude and his team-first approach worked in his favor. Coaches love players like Griffin, who are never a problem and are a good influence on younger players.
Because getting to the NBA as a player was so difficult, Griffin never took a day in the league for granted. He knew the only way he could stick around was to reach his maximum potential. Even so, he finished his career with averages of 4.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
Players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant get those numbers on three trips down the floor.
Griffin couldn't rely on talent alone to make his career. He had to excel at all the stuff the average fan doesn't even notice.
"I think those years in the CBA really helped me to stay humble,'' he said. "I knew what it was like not to have. I always felt like playing in the NBA was a privilege, not something that was owed to you. I knew I wasn't the best player. But when I look in the mirror, I know I squeezed every ounce of talent I could out of myself.''
He's using that same approach as a coach. Griffin has always capitalized on opportunities.
"I talk to younger players and I tell them it's about more than just basketball,'' he said. "It's attitude, how you approach things. My main message to them is to stop trying to win a battle because you want to win the war. A lot of young guys want to argue with a coach over this and that, to feel like they have to be confrontational because they're not getting this or that. All they're going to do is anger the coach and put themselves in a bad situation.''
The expectation for instant gratification is a disease among many younger NBA players, Griffin said. There's nothing wrong with a little patience.
"I was fortunate to have a good name in the league and to be able to play as long as I did,'' he said. "Based on my athletic and skill level, sometimes I'm amazed I played as long as I did. I had some good years, where I felt I really belonged. And I had some years where I felt pretty lucky.''
Griffin doesn't get back to Wichita often. His mother, Helen, moved to Dallas when he played there. So did his two sisters. His older brother, David, still lives here.
Griffin was surprised to get a job offer in Chicago, where he had three stints as a player.
"I had another year on my contract with Milwaukee and had no intentions of leaving,'' he said. "It didn't even cross my mind.''
But the Bulls requested permission to speak with Griffin and the Bucks gave him the go-ahead. Convinced he was leaving for a better opportunity, Griffin joined the Bulls in early September. Chicago is expected to challenge in the Eastern Conference.
"I really believe my coaching career started back when I was a player,'' Griffin said. "I didn't know it at the time, not until later on in my career. The relationships you build, the way you carry yourself, people don't forget that. I know a lot of former players who would like to get into coaching, but the way they conducted themselves as a player kind of turned people off a little bit.''
Griffin, meanwhile, was always a desired player, even with his limited abilities. He was, he thinks now, a coach on the floor. Now he's a coach on the bench, one step closer to being the coach who calls the shots.