Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) High assistant girls’ basketball coach Ben Sokolowsky can’t help but shout after watching guard Taryn Griffey dribble left on her defender, upfake and draw contact before converting a 5-foot leaner off the glass. The next time through the drill, Taryn blows by on the right for an easy layup.
Sophomore Taryn Griffey is a serious force on the basketball court -- and a playful prankster off of it.
With two drives in a mostly meaningless practice, the 5-foot-6 Taryn has demonstrated the speed, athleticism and aggressiveness that make her one of the nation’s top players in the Class of 2014.
It’s the first day of open gym for Dr. Phillips, just two months after the squad punctuated its Class 6A state championship season by winning the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in North Bethesda, Md., in early April. In between Coach Sokolowsky, head coach Anthony Jones and a handful of their hoops players -- including, initially, Taryn -- took to the gridiron for flag football.
Hannah Schaible, a rising junior captain for both teams, threw 50 touchdown passes to lead the Panthers to the state flag football title. They accomplished this without their most talented asset: Taryn. She fractured her right ankle during the NHSI final and missed most of the flag football season as a result. A piece of the bone chipped off, but she didn’t need surgery and is fully healed now.
“If she had continued to play flag, she probably would have been the best player in the state of Florida, by far,” Coach Jones says.
Being the best seems to be the M.O. for Taryn, 15, the daughter of Major League Baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr. and Melissa Griffey, and the sister of 17-year-old Trey (who has multiple Division I football offers himself) and Tevin, 9. She quit softball at age 12 in part because she was so far ahead of the competition. She excels at swimming, track and tennis. She’s even an excellent piano player.
But in addition to the family’s penchant for athletic excellence, Taryn seems to have inherited another Griffey trait: silliness. Her primary partner-in-crime is fellow rising sophomore Jade Cheek.
“We just act like we’re like 5 years old when we’re together,” Taryn says. “We have play dates and everything. Before games we like to focus, but after the game? It’s like we’re [kindergartners] again.”
Hannah, who roomed with the pair during the state basketball tournament, confirms this. Some of their antics included talking in different voices and playing dress-up. And then there was their preferred mode of communication.
“They’re talking on walkie-talkies but they have no actual walkie-talkies, so they’re talking into their hands,” Hannah says, cracking up at the memory.
When it comes to basketball, there’s no messing around. Taryn ran the show for a talented, well-balanced team that featured Hannah in the post or mid-range and sharpshooters Jade and Sydnei McCaskill on the wings. But Taryn was the engine.
She averaged a team-high 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds and added 4.7 assists per game. In the second game of her high school career, she finished one steal shy of a quadruple double. Most important, she provided on-court leadership for a young team (eight of nine players return this year) that seemed to meet every challenge thrown its way.
First, the team was without its best player from the previous season: Taryn’s close friend and AAU teammate Lexi Brown, the daughter of former NBA star Dee Brown, who moved to Georgia with her family in the offseason. But Taryn filled her shoes admirably.
In the state championship game, Dr. Phillips was up against defending champ Lake Mary, which featured among its several seniors All-American Morgan Jones. Despite coughing up a late lead, the Panthers prevailed in overtime behind Taryn’s 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“Taryn was amazing that game,” says Coach Jones. “The way she played, you couldn’t tell she was just a true freshman.”
The team went to the NHSI tournament as the lowest seed but knocked off one elite opponent after another on its way to the title, culminating in a decisive 60-45 win over perennial power Murry Bergtraum (New York, N.Y.) in the championship game.
Across the country, at a Michael Jordan charity golf tournament in Las Vegas, legends like Wayne Gretzky, Julius Erving and Roger Clemens found themselves watching the tournament in the clubhouse. At first they weren’t sure why Ken Griffey Jr. was so rapt with attention over a high school girls’ basketball game -- until they saw Taryn.
“Guys sports always sell,” Ken says, “but there are girls out there who are doing just as well -- and better -- at their sport than some of the guys. If you go to a girls’ basketball game [you see that] they’re more fundamentally sound than the boys.”
Taryn has the fundamentals and the superlative natural ability. She also has a mischievous streak, something her teammates -- like the one who found her drink inexplicably salty one day -- and coaches know all too well.
“She’s quiet now, but in her head she’s planning a big prank,” says Coach Jones.