Darrell Griffith never had the chance to play Kentucky that the current Louisville basketball players had.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Darrell Griffith follows every wiggle and blast-off this University of Louisville basketball team has made. You only hope the current Cardinals know about every wiggle and blast-off Griffith made – and how generations of U of L athletes have benefited from the spectacular things he did for the school.
Griffith says that Russ Smith has already achieved enough to have his jersey (not his number 2 – yet) placed in the rafters. Put Griffith down as a big fan of Montrezl Harrell, a guy he compared to his former NBA teammate – Karl Malone, a Hall of Famer.
Call me hopelessly Old School, but it's even more important that Smith, Harrell, Luke Hancock, Chris Jones and the rest of Rick Pitino's team appreciate what Griffith, now 55, means to the U of L athletic family, especially now that he has received the overdue news that he will be inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame Nov. 23 in Kansas City.
Griffith signed with Louisville out of Male High School in 1976 when outsiders were clamoring for him to take his 48-inch vertical jump elsewhere. He stayed and inspired the Cardinals to develop the Doctors of Dunk brand that gave the program its first national mystique.
"It (the Hall of Fame) is right up there," Griffith said. "But nothing can top winning the national championship for your hometown. Even if I had won a championship in the NBA, winning a championship at the University of Louisville was the ultimate accomplishment for me."
Believe that. Griffith stayed four years, scoring a school record 2,333 points, without the three-point line. He delivered on his promise to U of L fans to win that national championship (in 1980). He also delivered on his promise to his parents to earn a degree (also in 1980).
Here is another line that belongs high on the Griffith bio: Doctor Dunkenstein changed the University of Louisville's relationship with Kentucky, even though he never had his chance to beat – or even play – the Wildcats.
How much would Griffith have given for a shot at Kentucky?
"I used to ask coach (Denny) Crum every year," he said. "Why can't we play Kentucky? He said it was out of his hands."
In the NCAA Tournament?
"Any time," Griffith said. "It got to the point where I didn't understand why two power-house state schools never played each other. It came to fruition in 1983, but I would have loved to had a shot at them when I played."
That's difficult for many to imagine considering the two schools have played every season since 1983. Actually they'll be playing for the fifth time in three seasons Friday night in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinals – with Darrell Griffith cheering courtside at Lucas Oil Stadium.
When Griffith came to U of L, even Jefferson County tilted toward Kentucky territory. When Griffith left U of L, the Cardinals and coach Denny Crum had proven beyond a reasonable doubt they could win an NCAA title and build a program with regional and national clout.
First a basketball program – and then an entire athletic program, football, baseball, the works. Louisville stopped tugging on Kentucky's leg and started poking UK directly in the chest. The Cardinals have not stopped.
You can credit a string of people for that – Crum, Bill Olsen, Wes Unseld, Howard Schnellenberger, Tom Jurich, Rick Pitino, Pervis Ellison, the McCray brothers, the Brohm brothers, Charlie Strong and too many others to mention.
Just make certain Griffith's name is near the top of the list. That's where it belongs.
He believed in U of L when guys like Rudy Macklin (Shawnee High to Louisiana State), Ron King and Otto Petty (Central to Florida State), Robert Miller (Central to Cincinnati), Wayne Golden and Ronnie Daniel (Shawnee to Oklahoma State) and Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker (from Ballard to Virginia, a year after Griffith) were fast-breaking out of town.
Griffith and Bobby Turner, his Male High sidekick, stayed.
He arrived as Doctor Dunkenstein, nicknamed by his older brother, a takeoff on a George Clinton/Parliament character. He departed as a national champion, the Wooden Award winner, the second pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and a guy who played for more than a decade with the Utah Jazz.
When his career was grounded prematurely because of a bad knee in 1991, Griffith returned home. He loves U of L as much as any former athlete, rarely missing a game for either the men's or women's basketball teams or the football team. He serves the school as an ambassador to alumni across the area and country. Griffith is also on the board of directors for the West End School.
"Any time you receive an award like this, you go into rewind," Griffith said. "You go back down memory lane and you look at all the things that got you to this point.
"You want to be able to make a difference, not only in your kids', your grandkids' and your family's life, but anything you try to do in life you want to make a difference. I tried to make a difference in basketball as a player to entertain and try to win."