LAKE STEVENS — At an early age, Kylee Griffen experienced the excitement of state-tournament basketball under the bright lights of the Tacoma Dome.
Back when her father, Dexter, was the Mariner boys coach, a young Griffen served as the team’s water girl during trips to the Hardwood Classic.
“That was always super exciting,” she said.
But for the first three years of her high school career at Lake Stevens, Griffen’s quest to reach state as a player was an agonizing series of near-misses. The Vikings lost six consecutive winner-to-state contests over those three years, including three season-ending defeats by a combined seven points.
This year, the Griffen-led Vikings broke through.
The ultra-talented 6-foot-2 senior capped her spectacular prep career by leading Lake Stevens to Wesco 4A and Northwest District titles, the latter of which sent the Vikings to the Hardwood Classic in the Tacoma Dome.
“It felt really good,” Griffen said. “The first three years of it ending the same way was really disappointing. So that moment when the buzzer finally went off (after we won) the district championship, it was amazing.”
Griffen, a versatile small forward and Gonzaga University signee, recorded 13 double-doubles this season and averaged 20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and three assists per game.
For her sensational campaign, Griffen is The Herald’s 2018 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“It’s just a byproduct of her work ethic, her tenacious attitude and great motor,” Lake Stevens coach Randy Edens said of his star senior’s success. “Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make her a fantastic Division I player for Gonzaga. She’s always had that.”
Griffen, a four-year starter, topped 1,300 career points and was a first-team All-Wesco 4A selection all four seasons of her prep career.
“Her legacy here is going to last a long time,” Edens said.
Of her numerous standout performances, perhaps the most impressive came Dec. 22 when she tied a single-game school record with 42 points against eventual 3A state quarterfinalist Seattle Prep.
“It was one of those things where she was doing it from outside, inside, the free-throw line — it didn’t really matter,” Edens said. “They had nobody who could stop her.”
Griffen, ranked by ESPN as the No. 87 senior recruit in the nation, is a unique talent with impressive versatility.
After growing up primarily as a post player, she expanded her game in high school while playing a mix of guard and forward. Though she spent more time in the post this season due to team personnel, her well-rounded arsenal was a massive luxury for the Vikings.
“We could do a little bit of everything (with her),” Edens said.
Griffen dominated teams inside with her polished post moves and relentless rebounding. From the perimeter, she used her length and agility to drive past defenders to the basket. And she’s developing a smooth outside shooting stroke to further prepare her for the college level, where she is expected to play guard.
“You’re really kind of hamstrung with what you can do defensively (against her),” Edens said. “It’s not like (she has) just one thing and they can take that away. And ultimately that’s why she’s had the success that she’s had.”
Griffen credits much of her success and versatility to her parents, both of whom played Division I college basketball. Her mother, Alisa, played at Boise State University and Dexter played at both Eastern Washington University and Montana State University.
“My dad was more of a guard and my mom was more of a post, so I was lucky to have different perspectives on different positions,” Griffen said. “My mom would give me different post moves and my dad would help me more on my shot and counter moves.”
Throughout high school, Griffen said her parents sometimes watched film with her before big games.
“We would put it up on the TV, and then sometimes we’d even break out cups to represent players,” she said. “(We’d) go over how to get through other teams’ defenses and how to guard good players. They really taught me how to use (watching film) to make my game better.”
Edens said Griffen’s never-ending motor separates her from others on the court, especially in rebounding.
“I think that’s really what set her apart on the glass,” Edens said. “It wasn’t necessarily just always about points. She got denied, face-guarded, double- and triple-teamed — and that didn’t stop her. … She still found ways. She was able to find gaps and get those extra opportunities and putbacks.”
Griffen is focused on further developing her perimeter game in preparation for Gonzaga, where she is interested in studying physical therapy. Playing for the Bulldogs figures be a family affair for Griffen, who has grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living in Spokane.
“They’re all really excited and buying their season tickets and stuff,” she said. “So it’ll be cool to have them all over there.”
Edens said Griffen’s drive and work ethic should serve her well as she transitions to the college game.
“She’s a gym rat,” Edens said. “She wants to be in the gym all the time. She’s going to do whatever it takes to help the program out. And with those kinds of traits and characteristics, she’s going to have a ton of success — I have no question.”
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