Griffith's vertical jump can be measured much more easily than it can be explained. He propels himself 48 inches off the floor, so high that the top of his head is four inches above the rim. His older brother, Michael, believes Darrell began building up his legs when he started dunking at the age of 10 by launching himself off the wall of the Griffith garage. By the time he was in eighth grade he was regularly playing pickup ball against pros from the ABA Kentucky Colonels. After perfecting a 360-degree spinning dunk in high school, he spurned a multimillion-dollar offer to skip college and join the Colonels.
When he played in Bulgaria after his freshman year at Louisville, Griffith amazed the Europeans by bounding over a Belgian player and dunking. The Eastern-bloc reporters were convinced that he had undergone some secret operation or that he was literally "high" because of drugs. "I told them it was a God-given talent," says Griffith. "That confused them because I don't think they believe in God."
If his jumping and his speed were God-given, his other basketball skills came through hard, dedicated work. In his junior season at Louisville he underwent hypnosis to help improve his defense. Before his senior year he spent an entire summer dribbling around chairs to improve his ball handling. In the middle of last season he asked Cards' Coach Denny Crum what else he needed to become a great pro. "An outside jumper," said Crum. So Griffith developed one.
Jazz Coach Tom Nissalke likes to tell about his first meeting with Griffith, which occurred a month before the NBA draft. "Here was the best college player in the country," says Nissalke. "We were warned about how much money it would cost us to sign him, but when we went to talk to him he was such a little boy. He asked what our uniforms looked like, if we really traveled first class on planes, whether or not we said a prayer before games. Hell, we never talked about money. He never asked how much he would play or gave any indication of having a big head at all. That's why I was sure he was the player we wanted, and that we would get him signed."
Because he is a rookie, Griffith has made lots of mistakes: in 11 games he has had four turnovers or more. Sometimes his shot selection is erratic. Nevertheless, Dantley says, "He makes them." Despite the occasional error, Griffith's progress so far suits Nissalke. "Darrell's got all the tools for greatness," the coach says, "jumping, speed, shooting, passing, intelligence and humility. He's 100% coachable, and he's learning more each day."
And, let's face it, Griffith knew quite a bit before the day began.