By: Michael Sivo
Most of the talk over the last few months after UConn’s run to a fourth national title has been about how much Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels improved their draft stock throughout the NCAA Tournament. However, the Huskies wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for the super-valuable Niels Giffey.
When the 6-7 German forward came to campus as a freshman in 2010, it wasn’t clear what type of an impact he would have. As a foreign-born player, there weren’t a whole heck of a lot of highlight tapes 0n Giffey, so only Jim Calhoun and his staff knew what kind of player they were getting at the time.
Giffey chose to come to UConn despite having offers from Louisville, Michigan, Gonzaga, and UCLA. Being in company with programs like those meant that Calhoun had surely scored a prospect worth watching, though not one that was overly hyped.
What Giffey went on to accomplish at UConn was probably far more than anyone expected.
It started with his performance at the 2010 Maui Invitational, where the Huskies began their unheralded run to the 2011 title.
If you ask a UConn fan about what the Maui Invitational means to them, they’ll probably mention that it was the launching pad for former guard Kemba Walker. It turned him from a good player into a great one. But while Kemba was hitting acrobatic shots and flashing through the lane at the Lahina Civic Center, Giffey was there, knocking down 3’s.
Walker stole the show by lighting up Wichita State for 31 points in the opening game, but Giffey made his presence felt by scoring 12 points on 4-5 shoooting along with seven rebounds and a block.
When UConn shocked Kentucky to take the Maui title, Walker scored 29 points and dished out six assists, but again Giffey was there, scoring 14 on 5-of-6 shooting. It was then that the Husky faithful started to realize how important this kid from Germany could be to their success.
Fast forward to the 2013-2014 season, where Giffey’s role had launched from reliable bench scorer to impact starter.
Although Lasan Kromah started the majority of the games at small forward for the Huskies last season, it was Giffey took on the starting role late in year.
The senior was one of the nations’ top three-point shooters, hitting 52% of his attempts for the season, good for third on the nationwide list. And on a team that desperately struggled to rebound, Giffey was able to grab boards (3.8 per game) while often playing the stretch-four.
Giffey’s skill set is very similar to other European players. He can shoot, rebound well for his size, and defend multiple positions. He always plays under control, and has an honor-student basketball IQ.
At 6’7, Giffey has the size to stretch to both forward spots, and you can stick him at shooting guard.
How many teams might be interested in a player like that? Quite a few, I would think.
He struggled with his shot at times during UConn’s 2014 title run, but when it mattered most, Giffey was there.
He hit big shots when the team needed big shots. He out-rebounded players well over his size when the team needed boards. He even knocked down two huge three-pointers when the Huskies needed to answer baskets against an uber-talented Kentucky team in the national title game.
His play helped secure him a second ring as a Husky, uncharted territory for all but Napier, Tyler Olander, and himself.
Through a coaching change, the APR debacle, shooting streaks followed by shooting slumps, there was always one constant– Niels Giffey was there and ready.
All throughout his UConn career, Giffey saw his rebounding, assists, field goal percentage and points totals climb. (Check out the drastic change in his scoring numbers from freshman to senior year).
Now, he’s looking for his shot at the next level. Giffey had reportedly held workouts with some NBA teams prior to the draft, and on Friday, RealGM reported that Giffey has accepted a Summer League spot with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Whatever happens with the Grizzlies, at least Giffey’s got one thing now that wasn’t available the last time he was trying to get to the next level.
You can bet there are plenty of those now.