Unable to find NBA spot, Griffey extends career in Austria

At the end of the Feb. 7 contest between No. 1 Indiana and Illinois, senior Brandon Paul prepared to deliver an inbounds pass with 0.9 seconds remaining in a 72-72 tie game. Fellow senior Tyler Griffey ran out to the perimeter where he was sandwiched between two Hoosiers. Griffey cut to the basket, waving his hand to make sure Paul could see how open he was. Even Griffey was in disbelief after his lay-up beat the buzzer, sending a packed Assembly Hall in a frenzy.

That moment was the highlight of his 2012-13 season, the final one of Griffey’s career.

His college career, that is.

After signing a one-year deal with the Allianz Swans Gmunden, an Austrian team, Griffey has the opportunity to continue playing basketball, even if he’s thousands of miles from the U.S.

“I had a lot of teams requesting my information from my agent, but together, we decided this would be a good fit for me,” Griffey said. “I was more worried about the comfort of living abroad instead of dollar signs. I wanted a chance to showcase my skills and get exposure for possible moves to the better leagues across Europe.”

Griffey, who finished fifth on the team with 7.2 points-per-game last season, went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft and wasn’t invited to an NBA summer league team or training camp. The NBA Development League, which last season included two of Griffey’s former teammates (Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis), was not an option Griffey even considered. The options were dwindling for the once top-100 high school prospect.

“I guess you could say I thought about (giving up on basketball),” Griffey said. “But I came to the conclusion that I might as well keep playing while I still can. I know I’d be kicking myself later on in life if I hadn’t taken this opportunity.”

That opportunity for Griffey is in Austria, playing in a country he had never been to and a league most basketball fanatics have never heard of. Nonetheless, Griffey was intrigued by Austria, even if it’s not exactly the NBA.

“I chose Austria because it’s a beautiful country to live in and the league is a good starter league for rookies like myself,” Griffey said. “I have known four or five guys who have started their professional careers here and they all had nothing but positive things (to say).”

Griffey has enjoyed his downtime, as he regularly posts pictures and statuses on Facebook detailing his travels in Austria. Whether he’s visiting Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg, cliff jumping into Wolfgangsee Lake or just walking the streets of Austria, Griffey is enjoying his time in Europe.

“I’ve just tried to take it all in,” Griffey said. “The city, the team, the culture, it’s been an adjustment, that’s for sure, but a positive one.”

Part of the adjustment for Griffey has included being away from some of his favorite American staples — Starbucks, Subway, Jimmy John’s and Potbelly’s. Of course, he misses his family, too.

“Oh, I can’t even begin to describe how much I miss the things at home,” Griffey said. “I definitely miss my family and my girlfriend, but hopefully they all will get a chance to come visit at some point during the year.”

A former Illini, Trent Meacham, has helped Griffey with his transition to playing professionally in Europe.

Meacham, who is fifth in Illinois history in 3-point percentage (.408) and 10th in makes (178), has thrived while playing for various teams in Europe the past three seasons. Last year was not only Meacham’s best professional season individually, having averaged 12.8 PPG while shooting 44.7 percent from behind the arc, but also as a team. His club, JSF Nanterre, won the French league title, meaning the team will play in the Euroleague for the first time in its history next season. The Euroleague consists of the top teams in Europe including powerhouses such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Panathinaikos. Meacham quickly re-signed with Nanterre, giving him the opportunity to play next season in what many consider the greatest basketball league in the world outside the NBA. Griffey can relate to Meacham, who began his journey playing for WBC Kraftwerk Wels in Austria.

“I’ve talked to Trent Meacham a lot about his life overseas,” Griffey said. “He is doing very well playing in Pro A France, actually winning the cup this past year. He’s been a great resource for making the adjustment easier.”

At 6-foot-9 with range extending past the 3-point line, Griffey has a game that fits the European style of basketball. Many of the top shooting big men in the NBA, such as Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari, played professionally in Europe before coming to America. With 70 career 3-pointers at a 33.2 percent clip, Griffey wasn’t exactly a sharpshooter during his time at Illinois, but he was regarded as having one of the smoothest strokes on the team. Maybe Griffey won’t become the next Dirk, but he’s enjoying the experience while it lasts.

“Honestly, I don’t really have any goals for the long term, I’m taking this one day at a time,” Griffey said. “I wake up every morning just trying to make the most of each day.”

Griffey’s first preseason game with Gmunden is Friday. A month later the regular season begins, with about one or two games each week until mid-April. Even Griffey doesn’t know what to expect, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“I went in with no expectations. I still don’t really know if I have any (expectations) because I’m so unfamiliar with the country, league and rules,” Griffey said. “It’s all new to me and definitely a different kind of basketball than the Big Ten. It’ll be a fun experience, though, I can already see that.”

Michael can be reached at [email protected]