To tip off (basketball lingo!) our player preview series (NB: this was going to be the first in the series, but Brad rushed his Jeff Robinson piece to press. He's selfish like that), we're going to take a look at Xavier reserve forward Griffin McKenzie. McKenzie is a long-time reader and fan of the site - going back to our days on Blogger - and thus occupies a warm place in our hearts. On the court, Griffin was not the recipient of a whole ton of playing time during his freshman year, despite the lack of depth on the squad. Part or all of that may be attributed to the assault McKenzie weathered between his senior year of high school and his enrollment at X and the subsequent rehabilitation process.
Most of McKenzie's past playing time was (obviously) in high school, where he distinguished himself as a good catch-and-shoot, uh, shooter and a player with good court vision for a big man. Even before his injuries though, he lacked the bulk and often the assertiveness to make himself a menace on the glass. Despite his physical limitations, McKenzie did enough to grade out as a legitimate three-star recruit; X doesn't just bring kids in because they're local.
Like Jeff Robinson, McKenzie has a big year ahead of him. Xavier has become almost spoiled for choice in selecting who should supplement Kenny Frease in the middle, but each of the players in question has some distinct limitations. If any one of them can step up and show that his abilities both fit into the team's needs and outstrip those of his teammates, he has the chance to earn an expanded role going forward. If not, there are a lot of bodies between the end of the bench and the starting five this year.
Best case: While McKenzie isn't the biggest, strongest, or most athletic of the bigs the Muskies have, he may be the most offensively refined. If McKenzie forces his way onto the floor for long periods of time, his court vision will allow him to establish a rapport with the primary scorers on the squad. His shooting range - which he demonstrated in his cameo appearances last year - will be troublesome for any team defend while accounting for the other weapons on X. Anyone who follows @BigGriff44 knows he has focused on bulking up this summer. His defensive limitations will keep him from being a 30 minute guy, but he can provide enough firepower to be a viable option for 15-20 minutes per game.
Worst case: Griffin plays soft in the early going of the season, and Coach Mack can't rely on him on the defensive end. With a wide spectrum of experienced and talented options available to him, Mack consigns McKenzie to the bench, puts his best interior defender at the 4, and relies on the other four positions to carry the mail for the offense. McKenzie is relegated once more to the role of human victory cigar and the last shooter of the bench. Disheartened, he transfers to McNeese State.
Most likely: McKenzie is ready to go when the guarantee games come around and proves himself a capable offensive threat. As the season gets tougher, Mack limits his minutes to keep him from being exposed on the defensive end. Despite that, he's good for 10 minutes per game of stretching defenses and providing X a valuable change of pace at the four spot. If the team is in need of deep shooting late, Griffin gives the Muskies a shooter who can fill the five in case there's not time for defensive substitutions.