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To Denver and Back: Cam Griffin’s Journey from DU to the Denver Nuggets

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Matt Meyer



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Cam Griffin dunking in a DU uniform

Photo credit: DU Athletics

There was a moment during the COVID-19 pandemic when Cam Griffin returned home to visit his mom in Texas. The University of Denver alumnus (BA ’15) had his life uprooted when the head basketball coach at Chipola College in Florida, where Griffin was assisting, took an assistant coaching job at an NCAA Division I institution, leaving Griffin without a clear path forward.

His mom’s advice was simple and full of parental confidence: just write to Gregg Popovich, legendary head coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

“I was like ‘Mom, I don’t think it works that way,’’’ Griffin says with a laugh. “But I appreciated the thought, and when I was home she was reiterating that, and I thought that I might just do that in a sense. I started reaching out to so many random people.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Griffin is part of the coaching staff for the Denver Nuggets, the NBA team atop the Western Conference standings, thanks to some non-so-random connections from his time at DU.

Griffin’s journey from playing in college and the minor league to middle school coach to the pinnacle of the sport started when he reached out to Joe Scott, who coached Griffin and many other Pioneers during his nine seasons at the University from 2007 to 2016.

Scott returned to Colorado to lead the Air Force Academy men’s basketball program in the spring of 2020. Griffin had maintained contact with Scott since his days as a player, utilizing his former coach as a mentor when he left DU and made the transition from NBA hopeful to middle school girls basketball coach. Their relationship continued as Griffin moved through the coaching ranks at Abilene Christian University in Texas and then Chipola.

Griffin expressed interest in joining Scott’s staff at the Air Force Academy and the pieces fell into place. Among those on Scott’s fledgling staff was Jared Czech, a graduate assistant with the Pioneers during Griffin’s junior season and another close contact.

“(Czech) called me one day and asked if I wanted to work [at the Air Force Academy],” Griffin says. “I was like, ‘Is the sky blue right now?’ So, I went out there and interviewed, joined the staff, and I’m just so incredibly blessed and thankful for that opportunity.”

Griffin’s path to coaching has been guided by his love of the game—and those who play it. Initially, he strived to reach the NBA as a player, going undrafted but playing two seasons with the Texas Legends and the Stockton Kings in the NBA’s G-League, the minor league system. His transition to coaching started with a desire to train other high-level athletes, while also making ends meet on a small G-League salary. It was there that a love of coaching—a passion for helping athletes improve and succeed—overtook his personal desire to play. That morphed into a job coaching middle school girls basketball and then a spot assisting the high school varsity team at a private school in Houston.

“That year of coaching was probably the most rewarding of my whole career,” Griffin says. “The 6th grade girls ended up winning districts. Just being able to see kids who have never really played the sport end up loving it and not only that, but succeeding and building on those relationships, that’s what really pushed me into coaching. I’m thankful for it because that’s how I ended up here.”

But throughout his playing and coaching experiences, he never let go of the NBA dream. While coaching in Colorado Springs, Griffin would frequently return to Denver to visit friends and former teammates who were still in the area. When the Nuggets needed an assistant video coordinator, a position on the coaching staff, he jumped at the opportunity.

Griffin says his particular skill set was appealing to Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. Griffin is insanely passionate about the sport and also has deep knowledge of the style of offense the Nuggets use called the Princeton offense, which favors post players who can pass, like the Nuggets’ twice-reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Nikola Jokic. Griffin is also still in playing shape, regularly working out and honing his game. This means the former Pioneer can perform as an extra player as needed during practice, providing hands-on assistance to some of the best athletes in the world.

“I didn’t think an opportunity like this would present itself,” he says. “Now, I’m just happy to be back in my old stomping grounds, working for the team that I was admiring while I was in college. I wake up every morning and I just kind of pinch myself. I’m rebounding for Nikola Jokic, the two-time—might be three-time—MVP. It’s just a lot of surreal moments like that.”

While coaching, Griffin provides extensive pregame preparation along with other members of the staff, assisting with various in-office projects as needed. Most days, he’ll play with and against various players on the roster, often working with rookies or veterans who had limited minutes in the previous game.

Game days are a different beast, with coaches often arriving at 7 a.m. and not leaving until late into the night. Griffin travels with the team, too, adding an additional layer to his responsibilities. Beyond normal workouts and shootarounds, each player has a 15-minute window for personal, game-specific scouting, where they’ll be instructed on their upcoming matchups.

Despite the crazy hours and stress of frequent travel, Griffin is living his NBA dream.

“It’s just God working in mysterious ways,” he says. “I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

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