Senior Alyah McGriff leads in last season at GC basketball
As she dashes down the court, sneakers squeaking, to hurl a basketball through the net, senior Alyah McGriff is also focused on another, larger goal: leading her team to victory in the Peach Belt Conference in her last season at GC.
McGriff, a double major in management and marketing, was recently named to the preseason all-PBC team, but that nominative title bears little impact on her preparation for the coming season.
“It means nothing if we can’t do anything as a team,” McGriff said. “The most that it means is that people know who I am, and they’re going to come after me in the game. It just means you have an ‘x’ on your back.”
Over the past few months, McGriff has been preparing for her senior season by promoting team chemistry. Even before everyone arrived at GC to begin classes in August, McGriff was building friendships by inviting the team over to her house and cooking them dinner.
“She’s kind of a mom in that way because she takes care of everybody,” said teammate Sydney Cleveland. “If you have a question or need to know something, whether it’s what time practice is or what are the MAX’s hours, she always has the answer.”
McGriff said she planned to focus on leadership this year because she felt like she could have played more of a guiding role on the team during her junior year but didn’t take the opportunity.
“I don’t want to look back at the end of this year and say that same thing about leadership,” McGriff said. “So I’ve tried to be more vocal and to unite the team and achieve our goals.”
“McGriff has achieved a position of respect on the team,” said women’s basketball head coach Maurice Smith.
According to an old saying, you can either be a thermostat and set the temperature, or you can be a thermometer and reflect the temperature, Smith explained. “Alyah is a thermostat,” Smith said. “She sets the temperature and the tone every day in our practices and our games, and that’s the type of person and player she is, that she’s very influential. She’s a genuine person who has the best interests at heart for her team, so she’s easy to follow.”
McGriff goes out of her way to encourage others, according to Jeremy Mayweather, assistant women’s basketball coach. She made a point to make him feel welcome when he was new at GC last year.
“She made me cupcakes on my birthday,” Mayweather said. “That was the first time I ever shed a tear as a coach.”
This semester, Mayweather has helped McGriff step up her game for the upcoming season. She focused on conditioning and added shooting 3’s to her abilities. Each year, she tries to add new skills to her game.
“Just to see her development on the court is really tremendous,” Smith said. “When Alyah rst got here as a freshman, she had so much room for potential and growth and leadership ability, and she has grown leaps and bounds.”
From her sophomore year to her junior year, McGriff dramatically enhanced her game, nearly doubling her scoring average, going from 7.9 points per game as a sophomore to 15.1 as a junior. She also saw an increase in her rebounding numbers, increasing from five to eight rebounds per game as a junior. With increases in both categories, McGriff finished the 2016-2017 season with a team-high six double-doubles.
Despite her seriousness about basketball, the 6-foot-tall forward doesn’t forget to have fun on the court. Mayweather described a moment when McGriff was on the free throw line during a game at the University of North Georgia, and the announcers pronounced another player’s name wrong.
“The game’s on the line, now.” Mayweather said. “Alyah turns around and looks at me and Coach Mo and says ‘They pronounced her name wrong,’ while she’s on the line, shooting a pressure free-throw.” Mayweather leaned forward over his desk with laughter.
Finding Her Way to GC
McGriff picked up a basketball for the first time in eighth grade, which is considered late for students who go on to play college basketball. When the former track star’s best friend convinced her to join the team, she had never even considered playing basketball before.
“It’s fortunate for us that she didn’t because if Alyah would have picked up basketball earlier, she probably would be playing at UGA, or Tennessee, or South Carolina or another Division I school,” Smith said. “So everything works out for a reason, and we’re glad she started late.”
GC’s recruiters did not discover McGriff until April of her senior year of high school, when Smith’s former assistant coach Toby Wagner saw her play for the first time at a regional all-star game.
“Wagner called me back after this all-star game,” Smith said, “and he said ‘Mo, I just saw the best high school basketball athlete that I think I’ve ever seen, and she’s not signed anywhere.’”
McGriff said she had been to GC before when attending a high school basketball camp hosted by the university but had never considered attending college here. When she found out on her official visit that GC’s business school is internationally accredited, however, her decision was made.
“I didn’t want to tell them right away,” McGriff said with a laugh. “But I knew, in the back of my mind, I’m coming here.”
The Court at Home
McGriff finds inspiration at home from a family of basketball players. Her dad coached her in high school AAU basketball, and her two sisters, Joshlyn and Jessica, play college basketball at Augusta University and Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, respectively.
“She has a very kind heart,” said Joshlyn Belcher, McGriff’s older sister. “You can always count on her for good advice.”
The three sisters played basketball together in high school and still play together when they are all home on break at the same time. And because Augusta University and Georgia College are in the same conference, Belcher and McGriff sometimes play against each other during the regular season.
Throughout the years, Belcher said she has watched McGriff mature on and off the court. McGriff always turns to basketball, she said, whether she’s having a bad day or just got a great test grade back.
“Basketball is her outlet,” Belcher said. “As she grows as a person, so does her basketball game.”