Seattle U men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford knew his team would need to rely a lot more this season on Riley Grigsby, the only full-time starter from last season to return.
Hayford also knew he could count on the 6-foot-6 junior guard/forward, who is averaging a team-best 18.7 points for the Redhawks (7-6), who lost 93-92 in overtime to Utah Valley in their Western Athletic Conference opener on Jan. 15.
Why was the coach so confident in his player?
“One day we were talking, and I said, ‘Hey Riley, what is the most trouble you ever got into?’ ” Hayford said. “He says, ‘Coach, I have never gotten into trouble.’ And I said, ‘Even when you were a kid?’ and he says, ‘No.’ And I thought about it, and he’s been around me for three summers — and two full seasons — and he has done every single thing I have asked him to do.”
Hayford had a chat with Grigsby’s parents, who told the coach that Riley “was the easiest kid to raise.”
“I think that’s the most amazing thing about Riley right there,” Hayford said. “It’s here’s the standard academically, here’s the standard working outside of practice, here’s the standard for being a teammate and community service — and it’s, ‘OK, I am going to do it.’ I have coached long enough that it’s rare to have someone buying in that easily all the time. There is never any drama from him. There are no excuses, and he just finds the way to do the right thing all the time.”
Grigsby has done things right on the court this season. In addition to leading the team in scoring, he leads in minutes per game (35.9), three-pointers (30 of 72, 42.4 percent) and is third in rebounding (5.0 per game).
“This year, being the main guy, it’s obviously a lot different,” said Grigsby, who averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. “I’m definitely getting more used to it and I have the skill set to play multiple positions, which has helped me. I feel like I was ready for this situation.”
Grigsby was born into a basketball family. His father, Al, was a power forward for California in the 1990s and was the second Golden Bear men’s basketball player to have his jersey retired. Having persevered through several injuries to finally finish his college career after six years, Al Grigsby’s No. 4 was retired on his senior night.
“I knew his jersey was retired, but I never talked to him about his stats,” Riley Grigsby said. “I did that on my own — I Googled it one day — but everyone told me he was the hardest worker when he was there. He had the injuries and fought through adversity and all that stuff, so I knew that part of it, that he was a hard worker and got the job done.”
Riley said his father didn’t press him to get into basketball, but once he did, Al became his AAU coach, continuing all the way through high school. When Riley started playing in high school at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, California, Al gave a big compliment, saying his son was a better player than him.
“We’ve had our screaming matches on the court, but it has been very good to play for him, and I thank him for that,” Riley Grigsby said.
Grigsby started seven games as a freshman at Seattle U, and averaged 4.3 points and 17.3 minutes.
“In the last 10 years, there are only three freshmen I have played considerably,” Hayford said “The other two — Bogdan Bliznyuk and Venky Jois — have both had great professional careers — and Riley got to play as much as a freshman as those two. I think Riley is on a really good track.”
The numbers bear that out, and Grigsby also thinks the team is on a good track entering conference play. Perhaps the biggest disappointment this season was not winning at Cal — with his father’s jersey hanging from the rafters — after Seattle U had led most of the game.
“Having a new team, and everyone having to learn each other, I would say a 7,” Grigsby said when asked how he would rank the team before the conference opener. “Once we get everyone playing how we should be, I think the sky is the limit for us.”
The Redhawks didn’t get a chance to avenge their WAC-opening loss to Utah Valley because the scheduled game the next day was canceled because of COVID-19 protocol, the first time this season that Seattle U has had a game affected by the pandemic.
Seattle University had to call off games scheduled at Tarleton State on Friday and Saturday. The Redhawks are back practicing, and their next scheduled games are Feb. 5-6 at Dixie State.
The Redhawks have just two seniors, and Grigsby is expecting big things in the future for the team. That doesn’t mean he is giving up on this season.
“If everyone on our team does what they are capable of doing, I think we can have a good shot of winning this conference,” he said before the WAC opener. “But we need everyone to do it.”