The Griffin of classical mythology was part lion and part eagle, a hybrid of strength and wisdom. Six-foot-nine-inch, 229-pound Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin is no mythical creature—not yet, anyway, even if followers of the 18th-ranked Pirates suspect otherwise—but finding a balance between strength and wisdom has been the central tension of his young life.
Griffin has long possessed strength out of proportion to his age, and he hasn't always shown wisdom in its deployment. As a child, Eddie's outbursts of temper—scraps with kids in school and at home with his older brother, Jacques—alarmed his single mother, Queen Bowen. When Eddie was 10, she decided that he needed to have more male supervision and sent him from their home in Philadelphia to live with his adult half-brother, Marvin Powell, in East Hartford, Conn. "Eddie likes things to be even and exact," she says. "Things have to be just right, nothing more for someone else than for him."
Eddie rejoined his mom 3� years later and a year after that enrolled at Philly's Roman Catholic High. Last March, three days after leading the Cahillites to the city's Catholic League title for the second straight time, he was expelled for fighting. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia permitted him to graduate only after he finished the last six weeks of his course work at home, underwent anger-management counseling and accepted that he'd be barred from walking at commencement.
Griffin took his punishment and brought his ample talent to Seton Hall. But following a 78-66 loss to Georgetown on Jan. 6, the Pirates' locker room remained closed for more than an hour, for reasons school officials have refused to divulge. When the doors finally opened, junior guard Ty Shine walked out with a bandage under his right eye, and the school announced that Griffin had been suspended for the Pirates' next game. It didn't take a Detective Sipowicz to find out what had happened.
Griffin was apparently angry that Shine hadn't fed him the ball in the final minutes. According to one report, Griffin told Shine during a late timeout, "You look me off again and see what happens after the game." In the locker room, Griffin went after Shine and punched him. Senior Kevin Wilkins, who intervened on Shine's behalf after another freshman, Marcus Toney-El, tried to play peacemaker, was also suspended for one game.
Despite two well-publicized instances that argue otherwise, Griffin disputes that he has trouble with his temper—and at first denied that he owed Shine an apology. "It wasn't like an apology was needed," he said two days after the incident, following the Pirates' 78-76 defeat of Notre Dame, which he watched from the bench. "Things happen on a team. There's no bad blood between us. We had a team meeting, everybody let his feelings out. It was just something that got out of hand."
In fact, Griffin had apologized during a 10-minute visit to Shine's dorm room the previous day. Apparently he was too proud to admit as much to the press. By the middle of last week he was telling Newark's Star-Ledger that he "felt real bad about it. I don't want people to get the wrong idea about the kind of person I am."
For his loss of temper in high school Griffin paid a far steeper price than a one-game suspension, and in penitence he seemed to find some wisdom. Isolated with a tutor, Griffin turned in a string of A's after having done B-work over the previous five semesters. Instead of writing off school entirely and leaving for the NBA, an option pro scouts agree was his, he earned his diploma and honored a commitment to enroll at Seton Hall.
Griffin is pretty good one-on-one, as that tutor and most of the Pirates' opponents can attest. There had never been a recorded triple-double in Seton Hall's 97 seasons of basketball until Dec. 4, when Griffin got one in his fifth collegiate game, against Norfolk State, with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. In two other victories, over Clemson and Penn, he blocked a shot at the buzzer to snuff out each of those opponents' bids for a win. Griffin, who leads the nation in rebounding (12.8 per game) and is second in blocked shots (5.1) while averaging 19-5 points, is the front-runner for the title of this season's most impressive freshman. "Anytime you're 6'9" and you can post up, you have vision and you can get your shot off whenever you want, you're going to be a pro," says Illinois coach Bill Self. Indeed, NBA scouts are always looking for a guy who wants the ball in the final moments of a close game—although perhaps not someone who wants it quite so badly.
The mixed blessing of Seton Hall's current circumstances—which included an 11-5 record after Monday night's 99-91 loss to Georgetown—can be traced to an act of gallantry by Tommy Amaker, the coach who took over the Pirates four seasons ago. In 1997 a woman approached him on campus, asking how to find the gym in which a team from a nearby high school, Seton Hall Prep, was playing a tournament game. "She didn't know me and I didn't know her," says Amaker, who might have simply given this visitor directions. Instead, he squired her to the court where she could watch her son.