DU Hoops Transfer Overcomes Horrific Beating

Griffin McKenzie
by Shannon Russell

Six-foot-nine sophomore forward Griffin McKenzie is transferring to the University of Denver from Xavier University after two seasons with the program.

The Moeller High School [Cincinnati] graduate played in 28 Xavier games throughout his career. 

This season he averaged 2.3 minutes in 11 contests and finished with two points and five rebounds.

Said McKenzie: “After the season was over, I sat down with my family and we decided I might be a better fit at a different school. I have no ill feelings toward Xavier and I really appreciated the opportunity Coach (Chris) Mack gave me to play here.”

McKinzie's story took a strange twist the summer before he went to college.  He attended a high school party where he was beaten so badly that he lost consciousness and needed surgery to repair a jaw broken in three places.

He doesn't dwell on the 2.5 days he spent in the hospital recovering from the jaw breaks, a broken nose, and four missing teeth.

McKenzie would prefer not to think about the eight weeks his jaw was wired shut or the fact that six months later, he still has nerve damage in a small area from his chin to his right cheek where he can feel nothing.
Court documents paint a grim picture of what transpired that June night. They allege that a juvenile invited friends to her parents' home - while the parents were out of town - following a concert the night of June 18.

It was there that Jonathan Spatz, 22, of Indian Hill, threatened two male juveniles and prevented them from leaving the property about 2 a.m., court documents allege.  At the time Spatz was a member of the University of Cincinnati Track & Field Team.

McKenzie said he intervened to "defend the two Moeller students who were being harassed."

Spatz and a juvenile then repeatedly punched McKenzie in the head, court documents allege.

But why?

McKenzie believed it to be a case of mistaken identity. Some high school and college-aged kids, he said, erroneously thought one of the Moeller students had been involved in a previous run-in at a different concert.

After they "got in the (Moeller) kid's face," McKenzie said he stepped in - and that, he said, escalated an already hostile environment.

"I was actually still barefoot. I didn't even know what was going on. I was in the pool," McKenzie said. "Five minutes later, I was just knocked out."

The 6-foot-9 McKenzie said it started as a nine-on-three battle. Eventually, he said he was "being attacked by five guys."

"I didn't have any time to really defend myself just because of the angles that they hit me from," McKenzie said. "And I never even really got to defend myself like in any sort of aggressive manner to where I was able to strike back. It just happened really quickly."

He said he fell back against a car when he was knocked unconscious. They "just kept drilling me in the face" after that because he somehow was propped up against the vehicle, he said.

Then, when he hit the ground, he said they kicked his face.

It was only later, long after his friends drove him to a nearby hospital, that McKenzie grasped the reality of what happened.

"For me and my friends, it was pretty unprecedented. No one's ever been just beaten up that bad," McKenzie said. "I was just shocked. I mean, everyone was just kind of shocked."

Months earlier McKenzie had been at the top of his high school game, averaging 11.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while helping the Crusaders to a 22-5 record and state runner-up finish.

Within days of the incident he was physically depleted. McKenzie said he quickly dropped 25 pounds and struggled to keep down his basic diet of rice protein.

Xavier coach Chris Mack wasn't sure McKenzie would be in any shape for his first college basketball season, so the coach opted for a wait-and-see approach in terms of red-shirting him.

Then McKenzie surprised everyone.

After eight weeks of "not doing anything," he said - not even lifting light weights - he went to Xavier with purpose. He ate everything he could once his jaw wires were removed and immersed himself in a new college diet and weight lifting.

His body responded so well that he packed on a total 41 pounds from his lowest point (184 pounds) until now (225).

"I really thought when it first happened that, 'Wow, he may not be able to play for this year.' I was shocked and surprised by how quickly he gained the weight back and more," Mack said. "He got to a point before the season started where he had never weighed that much. It's a testament to how hard of a worker he is."

McKenzie doesn't make excuses, but he wonders what impact he might have had with a good offseason.

"I never really got the chance to prove my game at all that summer. I was more just concerned with getting back up to where I was before I was injured," McKenzie said.

Jonathan Spatz, later pleaded guilty to felonious assault and was sentenced by Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to two years in prison, a sentence agreed to by prosecutors and Spatz as part of a plea deal.


Anonymous said...

Are the winners of the fight available? Sounds like they worked as a team and that's what our basketball program needs, more teamwork.

Dunker said...

Stupid comment on all ends. Actually the teamwork on our basketball team is excellent.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Xavier grad living in Denver. I watched nearly every X game this year, and quite a few of DU's. Sadly, Xavier's style has changed a bit over the past few years. In the past, a player like McKenzie fit our style well. Now, it's much more about individuals creating, rather than an inside outside game. That said, McKenzie fits DU perfectly. I think you'll find that McKenzie is a taller version of Rob Lewis. He has a great outside stroke, but isn't afraid to get on the Boards some. He's the perfect team player, and will be excellent in Joe Scott's system. He also comes at a great time. He'll sit this next year, but be a junior when Udofia is a senior and DU will be a strong contender for the WAC/WCC/Big Sky/ Summit title.....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, Anon 1:23. Sounds like McKenzie is a very good pickup for DU.

Anonymous said...

He should be on the hockey team. They are used to getting beat up

Anonymous said...

Never mind the trolls.

Thanks for the insight, 1:23

Hope to hear more from you on these boards in the future.

dggoddard said...

Xavier is playing a very nasty game of releasing or not playing guys from their scholarships when they don't pan out.

I believe McKenzie if the fourth and final guy from his recruiting class to leave school.

Anonymous said...

I'm the same poster as 1:23. It's a shame to see that the title of the article was the beating. From everything I've read and know, the fight had absolutely nothing to do with McKenzie. I know folks close to our program (Xavier) who say that Griffin was nothing but a model teammate and student. Interestingly, and a great nod to DU, is that he primarily considered heading to Ivy League schools or other strong academic D-I schools (Tulane and Winthrop were a few). The kid has solid talent and plays a disciplined brand of basketball. He's also gone up against some great competition during his two years at XU and during high school (played at Cincy's Moeller High, which plays a somewhat national schedule). I definitely look forward to getting over to Magness to root him on.

Anonymous said...

dggoddard - In response to your comment about Xavier playing games, it is partially true, but not entirely. First of all, a number of prominent members of administration and alumni boosters are not happy at all with the behavior of some of the recent players (the fight against UC is exhibit #1). This is one of the reasons that Griffin is transferring. Xavier doesn't intentionally force kids out, but they bring them in, then change the systems around them. This leaves the option of either sitting on the bench for the rest of their time, or leaving. We also seem to land at least one high-profile transfer every year, which lends to the changing dynamic. It's a very successful program, but one that is now dealing with bigger egos rather than building up players like they have in the past (David West, etc.). I suspect there might be a big, painful shakeup for the program in the next year or two. That may not be a bad thing.

Again, you guys got a real good kid in McKenzie.....

dggoddard said...

Thanks for the response and insight.

I have no trouble weeding out the the bad seeds, but it looks hypocritical when schools release large percentages of players over the years.

No doubt Xavier has had some great teams in recent years.

Seems like Xavier runs the risk of running afoul of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate.