By: Rich Flanagan
Photos: Mike Nance & Geanine Jamison
PHILADELPHIA – When looking back on all that Lynn Greer III and Matt Griffin have accomplished together, it’s even more astonishing considering how their paths almost didn’t cross.
Roman Catholic Head Coach Matt Griffin - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Roman Catholic had just concluded a dominant two-year run that included two Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA Class 4A titles behind Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostick and Lamar Stevens, all of whom committed to Penn State and big man Paul Newman, now at Bucknell. The architect behind the Cahillites’ return to prominence was head coach Chris McNesby but in May 2016 he chose to step down to spend more time with his family. The search for the next head coach lasted roughly a month and Griffin was brought in to lead the Cahillites.
A former player at St. Joe’s Prep under William “Speedy” Morris, Griffin had prior knowledge of how the Philadelphia Catholic League became so prominent in Pa. basketball and after serving as an assistant for two seasons on Morris’ staff he was ready for his head coaching job.
Greer had every intention of playing at the corner of Broad & Vine but he was surprised by the news that McNesby would not be the one instructing him from the sideline.
“I didn’t know he was going to be the coach,” Greer said. “I thought Chris McNesby was going to be the coach. When [Matt] came in, he told me I was going to be his point guard and I was going to run the show. It was his first year so we wanted to build that chemistry for the next three years. Having him by my side since freshman year was great because he stuck by me and helped me improve throughout the years.”
Griffin’s first action as a head coach was contacting all current and incoming players, and with Greer being the only freshmen who would play varsity minutes that first season, he offered reassurance about the direction he wanted to take the team.
“When I got the job, I had known he was going to Roman Catholic so my first call was to all the players, him being one of them, to get reassurances that they were still coming,” Griffin said. “My first call was to his father and to confirm that they were still going to have him enroll at Roman. I got the job in July and my first goal was to build a relationship with them.”
The Marlton N.J. native had played in Jr. All-City Classic only a few days before McNesby announced he was leaving his position as head coach. Playing on a team with Noah Collier (Westtown School), Zahree Harrison (Cheltenham/Archbishop Wood), A.J. Hoggard (Huntington Prep/Archbishop Carroll), Lance Ware (Camden) and Tyreese Watson (Bonner-Prendergast), the possibility of being swayed to join another program instead of one with a new coach coming in was prevalent but Greer had only two choices on his radar.
“I’m a Jersey guy so I wasn’t really too knowing of schools around Philly,” Greer said. “I only knew about Roman and Westtown because I used to practice at both schools for AAU. It was one of those two schools.”
Greer and Griffin’s first year brought its share of growing pains. Alongside Seth Lundy (Penn State), Allen Betrand (Towson) and Da’Kquan Davis (Arcadia), Greer averaged 9.8 points per game in leading the Cahillites back to the Palestra, where they fell short of bringing a three straight league title to Roman Catholic. Neumann-Goretti took home the semifinal victory and Greer was injured in the game, causing him to miss the state tournament.
Lynn Greer III went from averaging 9.8 ppg. as a freshman to 15.8 ppg. as a sophomore, earning him a First-Team All-Catholic distinction - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
The Cahillites were knocked out in the opening round by Perkiomen Valley and Greer could only watch. During the summer, he was named a finalist for the 2017 USA Basketball Men's U16 National Team and while he didn’t make the team, it was another driving factor into what year two would bring.
His sophomore year saw a change in his playing style and a change on the roster. Greer was much more assertive, as evidenced by 15.3 ppg and his selection as First Team All-Catholic. Lundy and Betrand were back and the Cahillites added Kingsway (N.J.) transfer Hakim Hart, now at the University of Maryland.
Greer’s relationship with Lundy and Hart transcended into a wealth of success on the hardwood.
“They’re both South Jersey guys so having that connection of seeing each other out of school was great,” Greer said. “Playing with them was great, too because Hakim improved a lot from his junior to senior year. His junior year, he was more of a catch-and-shoot guy but he took off his senior year by being able to score the ball with ease. Seth is a great energy guy and a leader. It was great playing with those two.”
That bond was obvious in the 2018 Philadelphia Catholic League title game. With Isaiah Wong (Miami (Fl.)) guarding him, Greer had his teammates space out so he could isolate his defender and have the game be decided with the ball in his hands. Lundy set a pick up high and Greer turned the corner at the left elbow on the switch but as the helping defender came over he saw Hart flash to the block and the result was his first league crown as a player.
“It’s crazy because on that last play I was actually about to shoot it and I didn’t see Hakim cut down, at first,” Greer said. “My initial reaction was, ‘Alright, I passed this guy.’ The next guy came over and showed a little bit but I could still finish the layup. I just wanted to win the game and I saw Hakim cut down so I had to make the right pass.”
Griffin entrusted his sophomore point guard to make the right play and he remained back as Greer directed his teammates while the clock wound down. The poise to freely make the decision on the fly to isolate his defender speaks volumes about the type of player he evolved into with that possession but Griffin stressed how that was Greer’s best quality on display.
“He was one of the best guards I’ve seen at getting into the lane,” Griffin said. “I’ve rarely seen any player we’ve played against over four years prevent him from getting to the lane, which is an outstanding quality for any guard.”
With his dad on hand, Greer took control and that became a turning point in his career. His father, Lynn Greer II starred at Engineering & Science, playing alongside Will Chavis, head coach at Bishop McDevitt, and taking his school to the Philadelphia Public League title game in 1997. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer before heading to Temple University. Greer II played five years at Temple under John Chaney, where he helped lead the Owls to the 2001 Elite Eight and finished his career second all-time in points (2,099). He played the majority of his professional career in Europe but also appeared in 41 games with Milwaukee Bucks in 2006. As if his father’s success wasn’t enough, his grandfather, Lynn Greer was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1973.
With his father and grandfather having previously ridden their success of the basketball court to the National Basketball Association and beyond, there may not have been direct pressure on Greer III to get to that plateau but Griffin knew it was there in some form.
“We never talked about it but it was real,” Griffin said. “Everybody in the city of Philadelphia knows Lynn Greer II, what he’s done in college and even in high school and obviously the career that he had. Even the grandfather, Lynn Greer had a great career. The name holds a lot of weight in the city. Lynn Greer III, who is extremely talented as a young person, automatically drew the spotlight. It can be an extremely challenging circumstance and he handled it extremely well. Although he dealt with some pressure, he handled it well and his body of work speaks for itself.”
That body of work includes the PIAA Class 6A Tournament title in 2018. He scored 20 points against Abraham Lincoln to add to an already impressive sophomore season.
Unfortunately, the momentum of that campaign was halted after the season as Greer transferred to Oak Hill Academy (Va.), a high school program that has produced a wealth of Division 1 and NBA talent, most notably Kevin Durant. He joined a team that featured point guard Cole Anthony (North Carolina), a player he became close with and one who may hear his name called in the 2020 NBA Draft.
“When I first transferred to Oak Hill, he brought out more of me. He made me a better player by seeing him play and the approach he took to the game. It definitely helped me out,” said Greer.
Still, he ultimately missed being at home and with his Roman Catholic teammates. He was enrolled for six weeks and never played a game. After returning home, he was reinserted as the starting point guard, alongside Lundy, Hart and Louie Wild (Bloomsburg), and was named First Team All-Catholic again.
Not only did he ride his return onto the first team but more importantly he led the Cahillites to their second straight Philadelphia Catholic League crown by thrashing La Salle.
Lynn Greer III transferred to Oak Hill Academy (Va.), before reenroling at Roman Catholic to finish his junior year - PSD Photo by Geanine Jamison
Still, all the success of his junior season was stymied as the PIAA implemented new transfer rules and he was ruled ineligible for the state tournament. The Explorers got revenge in the 6A quarterfinals and stopped Roman Catholic’s bid for a second consecutive state title.
Without Lundy, Hart and Wild, the 6-foot-3 player was both the floor general and the senior leader in his final season. He had talented sophomores in Justice Williams and 6-10 big man Jalen Duren but Griffin knew if the Cahillites were going to be successful Greer had to lead the way.
“He was required to do more such as rebounding and leading the team more than he ever has,” Griffin said. “As you grow older, your responsibility increases and obviously you earn that responsibility, which he did. His junior year playing with all those guys, it was a situation where we were more well balanced from a scoring standpoint. Anyone could score 20 on any given night and this year scoring was dominated by three individuals. In order for us to win, he had to have terrific production.”
As he was only 17 years-old, Greer chose to reclassify to the Class of 2021 and while his final season of basketball before college will not be at Roman Catholic, he still helped orchestrate one final, memorable year. He avg. 18.2 ppg which included a career-high 37 points against Bonner-Prendergast in the regular season. He was named First Team All-Catholic for the third time, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since Quade Green (Neumann-Goretti) from 2015-17 and the first Roman Catholic player to do it since Shep Garner from 2012-14. Some other players who have been named first team three times include Neumann-Goretti’s Tony Chennault, Archbishop Carroll’s Juan’ya Green and St. Joe’s Prep’s Steve Vasturia.
He was instrumental in the Cahillites win over the Friars on the road in the league quarterfinals then helped propel them to a decisive win over top-seeded Archbishop Wood in the semis, and despite the losses of those accomplished seniors, he was back in the title game for the third straight year. He joined Roman Catholic players like Carr, Donnie Carr (La Salle University assistant coach), R.C. Kehoe (former head coach at Holy Family) and Lonnie McFarlan, who scored 1,052 points at St. Joe’s, to appear in three league title games.
The Cahillites fell to the Saints in the final but Greer saw his seventh career game at the Cathedral of College Basketball as a success and opportunity for growth.
“We definitely lost some chemistry because [Hart, Lundy and Wild] were a part of our starting five,” said Greer. "We were able to fix it and bring it back with these guys. It took some time but we ended up coming together.”
It was even more astounding that he was able to lead Roman Catholic back to the title game after suffering a severe hip injury versus Bishop McDevitt in the regular-season finale. He played through the injury for that final Philadelphia Catholic League playoff run but it was too much to overcome during the team’s run in the PIAA 6A Tournament, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Greer walked off the Palestra floor for the final time in his high school career with his head held high and Griffin smiled as it was just another validation that the senior point guard had fulfilled expectations that many had set for him, all of which had started with that fateful pass two years prior.
“The one thing that would define him is a winner,” Griffin said. “He’s won a lot of games. He and I came in together so we’ve spent four years together and won almost 80 percent of our games. He’s won two Catholic League, two District 12 and a state championship. He’s been a First Team All-Catholic three times and he’s established and defined himself as a true winner. You can’t really deny that fact. He’s someone who came in, competed and hated to lose.”
Greer avg. 13.9 ppg at the Palestra in his career. Roman Catholic went 44-10 in the Philadelphia Catholic League over his four seasons. He finished with 1,392 career points, eighth-most in school history. That’s more than Bradley Wanamaker (Celtics), Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison, Maalik Wayns, Carr and the late Rasual Butler.
For Greer, the accolades and individual success were rewarding but ultimately he hopes he will be remembered as someone who left it all out on the floor and helped other players improve.
“I hope I’ll be remembered as a hardworking guy and someone who would do anything for his team to win,” Greer said.
For a player who was once part of a Team Final squad consisting of Hoggard (Michigan State), Jon Bol Ajak (Syracuse), Konrad Kiszka (Princeton), Lucas Monroe (Penn) and Mikeal Brown-Jones (VCU), who began his career at Roman Catholic, on the 2018 Nike EYBL circuit and personally knows Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, a South Jersey native and the Jerry West Award winner, it’s safe to say Greer has improved the play of others.
He will play at IMG Academy (Fla.) next season, where Brown-Jones transferred to and helped claim the GEICO High School Nationals Championship in 2019, and with a multitude of offers to his name such as Louisville, Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Marquette and Temple, his father’s alma mater, he’s excited for what’s next.
“I wanted another year to get my body ready for college,” Greer said. “I felt IMG was the place where I could lock in and be ready for that next level.”
Griffin and Greer began their Roman Catholic careers four years ago and their road together has taken them from losses at Palestra to wins at the GIANT Center in Hershey. This season marked the end of Griffin's coaching relationship with Greer but the head coach in him noted that while the 17-year-old still has room to grow, he’s ready for the next level, wherever it takes him.
“I always looked at developing his skills from a coaching standpoint thinking that he could continue to develop his perimeter game especially playing like a two guard by being ready to shoot,” Griffin said. “One thing he’s still developing is catching and shooting and becoming a guy who can come off of screens. When the lights were on and we needed a bucket, he would knock down perimeter shots. I think he can prove that he has a skillset within him to do whatever it is that a coach asks him to do. He’s got the talent and basketball IQ from growing up in his family and having played at Roman Catholic. He’s prepared to fulfill any role a college is going to ask him to do.”