You have seen Rashard Griffith slam the ball home with authority. You've seen him guard the middle, effortlessly swatting away shots while smaller opponents sigh in frustration.
But Griffith has a confession to make:
"There was a time when I couldn't do anything," he says.
That was back in 7th grade, when a tall (6 feet 7 inches), awkward kid first picked up a basketball at Marcus Garvey Grammar School on the city's South Side and decided to give the game a whirl.
"I didn't even like it at first," Griffith says, thinking back to his introduction to the sport that has given him some notoriety.
"My grandmother said, `How do you know if you'll like something unless you try it? I tried it. I liked it."
And what followed for Griffith has been a storied route through high school basketball.
He went into King High School as a highly touted 8th grader, helping the Jaguars to a state title as a freshman in 1990. Now, 113 victories later, he is preparing to leave King having led the Jaguars to another state title and an award that closes the book on quite an impressive high school career.
Who else could be the 1993 Mr. Basketball of Illinois?
"Everybody's not ignorant, you know," says King coach Landon Cox.
Cox has company on this one.
Griffith won this year's award, which is presented annually by the Chicago Tribune and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, outdistancing Westinghouse guard Kiwane Garris and Tyrone Nesby, a junior guard at Cairo High School.
In the voting by the state's basketball coaches and media members, Griffith received 1,329 points, including 221 first-place votes out of the 422 ballots returned. Garris, who is headed to the University of Illinois, ended up with 630 points. Nesby finished with 290.
Griffith will receive the award at the IBCA Hall of Fame banquet on April 24 at Illinois State University in Normal.
Griffith became the third King player to win the award in the last six years, joining Jamie Brandon (1990), now at Louisiana State University, and Marcus Liberty (1987), a forward with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
Not bad company for a guy who had no interest in the sport to begin with.
"I hated it," Griffith says with a laugh.
That was until Griffith realized he could become quite good at it. That revelation came during the summer before he entered 8th grade. Griffith attended a basketball camp at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he realized he not only was taller than the rest of the kids but also had the potential to become a pretty good player.
"I just sort of blossomed from there," Griffith says.
Griffith blossomed so quickly, in fact, that when he arrived at King he immediately was inserted into the starting lineup at center. Of course, it didn't hurt matters that he was 7-foot tall. And the Jaguars needed a big man.
Griffith was content to stay in the background while learning the finer points of post play. That team belonged to Brandon, who along with Griffith, Johnny Selvie and Ahmad Shareef, helped lead King to the state title and a perfect record.
"I learned to be a role player," Griffith says. "I think that was the most important thing I learned in my freshman year."
But, after that, expectations were higher for Griffith. By his sophomore year he had become one of the most talked-about players in Illinois and one of the top basketball prospects in the nation.
With Griffith and fellow 7-footer Thomas Hamilton in the starting lineup, King was supposed to win another state title. Forget that the two were just sophomores. That didn't matter. King still was supposed to win it all.
Another lesson for Griffith.
"In my sophomore year," he says, "I learned there is a lot of pressure when people are depending on you to do certain things in just about every game."
But Griffith continued to blossom, with another solid year, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. The season ended, however, with the Jaguars falling to Marshall in the semifinals of the Public League playoffs.
By then, Griffith had really started to make a name for himself, with college recruiters coming from all over to watch him play. There were bushels and bushels of letters from everywhere. The phone was ringing off the hook.
Everybody wanted to make Griffith the focus of their program. He would worry about that later. All he wanted to do was win another state title.
Another harsh lesson for Griffith.
"In my junior year," he says, "I learned that there is even more pressure on you if you're supposed to win. If you don't win, it's like you're not a human being or something; you can't fail."
King came up short again, this time falling to Westinghouse in the Public League title game. But Griffith's game kept improving. Where once he was strictly a post-up player, he added a couple of shots to his repertoire. He was running the floor well, and he learned how to play physical defense without fouling too much. He averaged 22 points and 14 rebounds.
"Rashard stepped his game up a notch every year," says Cox. "And he has adjusted to different things every year."
Now, about that state title. Well, let Griffith explain it.
"In my senior year," he says, "I learned how to take control."
Griffith took control, all right, helping top-ranked King to an undefeated season and the Class AA title, again averaging 22 points and 14 rebounds. He also averaged seven blocked shots.
A perfect ending to his high school career.
"Now I can go out saying I only lost four games during my high school career," Griffith says. "And I had two undefeated seasons. I think that's saying a lot."
What's next for Griffith? Well, he has signed to play his college basketball at Wisconsin.
"My goal is to go in and make a big impact," Griffith says. "I want to let everybody know that Wisconsin is not a pretender; Wisconsin is a contender."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun