When Aaron Griffiths was in the fifth grade, he had the magical ability to stop time.
In the driveway of his home he imagined he was an East Jackson Trojan locked in a tight Snowfest battle with the Napoleon Pirates. His friends and teammates, his family and perhaps the entire civilized world depended on him to hit the big shot at the end of the game to win it for EJ. So the countdown would begin from five seconds down to four and then three and he’d put up that game winning shot and…
… well, if it didn’t go in he’d just rewind time and do it again. Or maybe there was an imaginary foul resulting in a pair of free throws to win the game. And if he missed one of those free throws, there’d be a lane violation resulting in another chance… and another… and another…
But that enchanting ability to stop time had long since passed when Griffiths, JTV Sports 2013 Boys Basketball Player of the Year, watched the final seconds tick away in EJ’s Class C District Championship game – and thus season ending – loss to Hanover-Horton in early March.
“It was really weird,” Griffiths said. “I looked up at the clock and I saw three seconds and then two and it seemed to move so slowly and it was dead quiet. I was lost in my own thoughts. And then the clock hit zero and the Hanover-Horton crowd went crazy and I knew it was over.”
A fantastic season ended that night for the Cascades Conference champion Trojans (17-5). And a fantastic career ended as well.
“We went through a three game losing streak in January,” Griffiths said, reflecting back on the season. “We weren’t playing well and the season really could have gotten away from us. Coach asked us if we wanted to have an ordinary season or a special one, and as players we made that choice that it was not going to be an ordinary season.”
At that point Griffiths, the consummate team player who led the Trojans this year in scoring (11.7 ppg), rebounds (5.9 ppg), steals (2.6) and assists (7.6) recalled on-going conversations with former Trojan and good friend Terry Calgon.
“I talk to Terry all the time and I know he misses playing with us this year,” Griffiths said of Calgon, who graduated last year. “He told me over and over again this year to leave it all on the floor and not leave the court with any regrets. Go all out every game, every minute because it’ll be over before you know it.”
And now it is.
But before it ended the Trojans rebounded from the rough patch and rattled off thirteen wins in a row before that season ending loss to the Comets. Along the way EJ claimed the league title outright and knocked off Concord and Vandercook Lake on the way to the district title game. But the game that stood out the most to Griffiths, a team captain, was a conference win over Hanover-Horton during the midst of the winning streak when EJ was down by 18 points heading into the second half.
“We were in the locker room at halftime and we’re just getting killed,” he said. “I remember coach smiling and looking over at me and saying ‘well, are you ready to have the biggest second half of your life?’ And we did.”
The Trojans outscored HH 45-21 in the second half that night to win 72-64 on the way to their first conference title in fifteen years.
“Aaron was a point guard in the truest sense for EJ this year,” Coach Greg Zeller said. “He ran the offense and called the defenses on the floor. He was a great distributor of the ball for us and was always able to find the right guy at the right time. He set game (19), season (167) and career (296) assist records this season as our captain. He’s been a great player and, more importantly, a great teammate.”
“My uncle Roy Smith played basketball overseas in the Army and he was always helping me with my game,” Griffiths said. “He was always telling me to do everything well, not just one aspect of the game.”
Appropriately, Griffiths ability to manage a basketball game as a floor leader may be a harbinger of what the future holds for him.
“I think I’m going to study business management in college,” he said. “I like the idea of running my own business. I like to manage things.”
Indeed he does – and he’s very good at it. Putting people in the right places and setting them up for success is the mark of a great floor leader in basketball and a great business person, as well.
For Griffiths, though, there would never be a good time for the season to end.
“I remember taking my jersey off for the last time after we lost to Hanover,” he said. “I remember taking it off and sort of staring at it. I was like ‘it’s over. I’ll never put this blue and white jersey on again.’ That’s when it really hit me.”
And so this time there would be no turning back the clock. There would be no imaginary lane violation or foul or clock malfunction that would give Griffiths one final chance. The magic of a fifth-grader’s imagination couldn’t be called upon to give this team captain another minute, another shot or another game. At least in high school…
But Aaron Griffiths, JTV Sports 2013 Boys Basketball Player of the Year, isn’t only good at one aspect of the game, nor is he only good at basketball. This multi-talented floor general understands the concept of moving on to the ‘next level,’ which could mean Olivet College, it could mean JCC or it could mean somewhere else.
Wherever it is, though, there’s no forgetting the indelible mark he’s left on East Jackson Trojan basketball. Somewhere there’s a fifth grader working on his game in the front yard of his home. He’s imagining game situations, counting down clocks and winning championships with last second baskets in front of screaming fans. It might be the next great floor leader, the next great captain, the next great point guard for East Jackson High School. But it won’t be the next Aaron Griffiths, because this young man was one of a kind.For the complete list of the JTV Sports All-Area Team tune into the Locker Room this weekend at 10am, Noon and 6pm Saturday and Sunday.