Cherokee Bluff senior Griffin Neville started playing basketball out of necessity, but it has grown into his greatest passion.
As a kid, Neville preferred baseball, and he remembers spending hours playing catch in the front yard with his dad. But when his dad was called away for work at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, often for weeks at a time, Neville had to turn to other athletic pursuits.
“We always had a basketball goal outside, so when I started missing him, I would just start going outside and playing basketball, and that would take my mind off of it a lot,” he said. “That’s really where I started falling in love with the game.”
Class of 2020
The Times puts together this special senior recognition each year, highlighting a few standout stories from our local seniors, but this year we’ve added graduation lists from our local schools in an effort to honor as many graduates as we can. We hope you’re inspired by these stories and join us in celebrating the class of 2020. You can view these stories online as well as upcoming photo coverage of this year's graduation ceremonies.
By the fourth grade, Neville started taking the sport seriously, “because I realized how bad I was.” By sixth grade, he had quit baseball to focus on his hoop dreams year round.
Neville began his high school career at Gainesville but transitioned to Cherokee Bluff as a junior, the first year the South Hall school opened.
He made the decision partly because his mom got a job teaching at Cherokee Bluff and partly because his former coach at Gainesville, Benjie Wood, made the switch to coach the Bears basketball team at the same time.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Neville said. “It wasn’t that hard of a transition either. I had a ton of friends on the basketball team. It was fun.”
Neville saw a heavy increase in play time at his new school, letting him catch the eye of college recruiters as his game developed.
Playing at the college level has always been a part of his plan.
“It’s been a dream really, not even just a goal,” he said. “It’s been a dream since about when I started playing in rec league games and it was a real game — we were keeping score and the refs weren’t just teaching us not to travel and double dribble. It’s been a dream ever since then.”
Neville attended a basketball camp at Young Harris College in the fall of his junior year, and the coaching staff there made an immediate impact on him. The Mountain Lions coaches saw something special in him, too.
Young Harris assistant coach Andre Smith came to watch Neville play during a summer game when he was a rising senior. Smith called Neville after the game to deliver the good news: Neville would be receiving a scholarship to play basketball at Young Harris.
He remembers getting the call while waiting in line to order a sandwich at Schlotzsky's with his mom.
“It just felt really emotional,” he said. “I didn’t want to cry about it, but I was like, all my dreams are coming true. Now I can’t wait to get up there.”
Neville said he’s excited to get onto the Young Harris campus, where his dad went to school back when it was a two-year college. But even as he moves on to the next phase of his life, he will always remember his time at Cherokee Bluff and the positive impact the school made on him.
“Cherokee Bluff has left a huge mark on me,” Neville said. “It’s taught me how to be a better person, and it’s taught me how to be a better basketball player. You walk in and it’s just an amazing atmosphere. I loved being at Cherokee Bluff.”
Cherokee Bluff High School graduating seniors
A tentative list provided by Hall County Schools
Daniel Castro Avitia
M. Caleb Dolan
Jonathan Servin Garcia