Texas Southern is once again viewed as one of the favorites in the SWAC, with returnees such as Malcolm Riley and Chris Thomas expected to lead the way for Mike Davis’ team. Another reason for that status is the addition of redshirt freshman forward Derrick Griffin, who as a high school athlete was considered to be one of the top two-sport athletes in the Class of 2014.
The Tigers fell 80-67 at Syracuse Sunday afternoon, but in his fifth game as a member of the program Griffin showed exactly why he’s expected to be an impact addition for Texas Southern.
Griffin scored 20 points, shooting 9-for-9 from the field, and grabbed nine rebounds in a losing effort. And two of those points came on an impressive one-handed alley-oop in which Griffin displayed the hands responsible for more than 700 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the gridiron this past season.
Griffin was originally a Miami signee expected to play both football and basketball at “The U,” but after failing to qualify academically he landed at Texas Southern.
Texas Southern is 1-10 on the season, but non-conference play for the Tigers (and many other programs in a similar position) is about helping the athletic department balance its budget through “buy games” and getting prepared for a run at their conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Adding Griffin to the rotation gives Texas Southern an athlete in the front court more than capable of giving the rest of the SWAC fits, which could result in another trip to the NCAA tournament come March.
In the last two seasons the Southern men’s basketball program has managed to go 28-8 in SWAC play, winning the regular season title outright in 2013-14 and finishing third last season. But the Jaguars were unable to make that productivity pay off in the form of an NCAA tournament berth, as Academic Progress Rate (APR) issues led to them being banned from postseason play.
In fact, that was the case for all of Southern’s athletic programs due to what the NCAA defined as “inadequate and inaccurate reporting of student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates.”
On Friday the school received some much-needed good news, as the NCAA has lifted the ban according to the New Orleans Advocate. As a result, Southern will be eligible for postseason play during the 2015-16 academic year. This should help head coach Roman Banks, who is also the school’s interim athletic director, as he looks to not only keep Southern in the mix atop the SWAC but also earn the men’s basketball team’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2013.
Southern officials responded to a series of requests by the NCAA to supply usable data for the years in question. The Jaguars also revamped their record-gathering and record-keeping system to avoid future issues.
Banks said the university is still under “the APR microscope,” but the hardest work has been completed.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all roses,” Banks said. “We’ve got to continue to work hard. Each individual sport still has to reach the APR standards. But it’s a more level playing field now.”
As Banks noted the programs still have work to do in order to ensure that they don’t run into this kind of trouble in the future. But at the very least, Friday’s ruling removes a negative that other programs going after the same athletes can use on the recruiting trail. Southern returns three of its top four scorers from last season’s team, including guards Adrian Lynch and Tre’lun Banks.
The APR initiatives hav had the greatest impact on the SWAC, which in each of the last two years has had multiple basketball programs banned from postseason play. Alabama State, like Southern, was ineligible for the NCAA tournament in 2014-15 but both were allowed to play in the SWAC tournament.
Before Coppin State in 1997 and Hampton in 2001, there was the 1980 Alcorn State Braves. That team became the first from an HBCU to win a game in the Division I NCAA tournament. Sunday it was announced by the school that the man who led that team, Davey “The Wiz” Whitney, passed away at 85 at his home in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Whitney led the Braves from 1969-89 and from 1996-2003, winning 566 games and 12 SWAC title during those years. Prior to taking over at Alcorn State, he was the head coach at Texas Southern from 1964-69. In that 1980 NCAA tournament appearance, Alcorn State beat South Alabama in the first round before falling to one-seed LSU in the second round.
Whitney was at the helm for all six of the program’s NCAA tournament appearances, the last of which coming in 2002. Whitney’s best player during his time at Alcorn State was forward Larry Smith, the leading scorer on that 1980 team, and he played 13 seasons in the NBA from 1981-93.
Elected into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Whitney received the school’s Athletic Heritage Award in 2013 and the school’s basketball arena is named in his honor as well.