Adrian Griffin's rise to NBA head coach adds to Seton Hall basketball's coaching tree

Adrian Griffin during his Seton Hall playing days

In the months before he arrived as a freshman at Seton Hall in 1996, Shaheen Holloway would come to campus and work out with an outgoing Pirate senior whose attitude he greatly admired.

Adrian Griffin.

Unlike Holloway, who was just coming off being MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, Griffin had arrived in South Orange with zero hype and became an All-Big East forward and winner of the Haggerty Award as the best college basketball player in the metropolitan area.

“He’s a guy that wasn’t highly recruited – nobody knew anything about him,” Holloway said. “Everything he did, it was because of hard work.”

Griffin went undrafted that June, yet managed to play nine seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot-5 wing. Now he has become head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks after a successful stint as a Toronto Raptors assistant that included an NBA title in 2019.

Holloway, who just finished his first season as Seton Hall’s head coach, said he could see this day coming since Griffin got a foothold in the coaching profession in 2008.

“He made it in the Big East because of hard work, got in the NBA because of hard work, worked his way up from assistant coach,” Holloway said. “I’m proud of him – it shows what hard work can do."

Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin during a game in November of 2018.

The hiring is a proud moment for the Seton Hall hoops family, which now boasts an NBA head coach, an NBA assistant coach (Mark Bryant, with the Suns), an NBA executive vice president (Arturas Karnisovas, with the Bulls) and five Division I men’s basketball head coaches (Holloway, newly minted NCAA champion Dan Hurley at UConn, Binghamton’s Levell Sanders, Wagner’s Donald Copeland and NJIT’s Grant Billmeier). In all of college basketball, only Duke counts more former players in D-1 head-coaching posts.

“That’s impressive, man,” Holloway said. “That goes back to the character of the people and the character of the school. It’s in the water; it’s in the blood.”

He added, “for Seton Hall, it shows you the type of people the school develops – people who are going to do great things with their life. That’s a product of (former longtime academic advisor) Robin Cunningham and all the work she put in with us – and all the academic advisors we’ve had. Those people deserve a lot of credit.”

Griffin is the third Seton Hall alum to become an NBA head coach, joining Bobby Wanzer (who coached the Rochester and later Cincinnati Royals in the 1950s) and Dick Vitale (who coached the Detroit Pistons in the 1970s).

Adrian Griffin during his Seton Hall playing days

The Seton Hall pipeline

The question – why does Seton Hall produce so many coaches – has been asked of those coaches in recent years. Here’s a sampling of their responses.

Griffin: “The way P.J. (Carlesimo) ran his practices, the structure, the hard work involved, you can see the influence he had on us. I remember being a kid from Kansas and I was so impressed with Seton Hall, this smaller school going to the NCAA Tournament and going (toe-to-toe) with Duke. Everybody knew who Duke was but P.J. put Seton Hall on the map. It’s a credit to his coaching skills.”

Hurley: “A couple of us played in great high school programs, and obviously we played for great coaches at Seton Hall…We were in such a great basketball environment. That will spawn or produce coaches.”

Copeland: “It’s just in our blood. The work ethic that goes into being in this position, it comes from a place.”

Carlesimo, who coached Griffin, Bryant, Karnisovas and Hurley, certainly takes pride in his burgeoning tree.

“They’ve done well,” he said in 2018. “I’ve got to give credit to my assistant coaches. We might not always have gotten guys you would call one-and-dones today, but we always had good people.”

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Bucks hire Adrian Griffin, Seton Hall basketball alum & Big East star