The Comeback Story of Riley Minix and Southeastern U.
The 2021-22 college basketball season has been a comeback story for Riley Minix and the Southeastern University men’s basketball team alike. Those two developments are certainly intertwined. Minix’s return from injury has a lot in common with the Fire’s return as a contender on the NAIA men’s basketball scene and Southeastern’s home court—marvelously dubbed The Furnace—once again serving as a difficult place to play for opponents. With Minix healthy and putting up All-American level numbers, the Fire bounced back from a rare down year and were well-positioned to return to the NAIA postseason as 2021-22 regular season wound down. Last season, Minix was likely on his way to high NAIA honors as a sophomore when his season ended early due to an upper body injury. Through nine games he had averaged 22.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and was shooting 53.5% from the field and a superb 48.4% from three-point range while averaging 3.6 made triples per game. The Fire were 7-1 when Minix suffered the injury that would end up costing him the rest of his season. Southeastern was never the same after, losing 16 of its final 21 games and finishing 12-17, the program’s first losing record since 2017 and just its third in the last 23 years. Minix is back this year, is healthy, and has picked up right where he left off. Through 28 games, the 6-foot-7 small forward was averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5% from the field and 41.4% from three-point range. He ranked fifth in the nation in scoring, eighth in rebounding and 25th in three-pointers made (79), and was an eight-time winner of the Sun Conference player of the week award, as well as the NAIA National Player of the Week Dec. 14. He also was named the Sun’s player of the year, receiving the honor for the first time.
Southeastern has picked up where Minix did too. After a season disrupted by his injury, as well as the COVID-19 virus, the Fire were 22-6 in late February and ranked inside the top 20 in the NAIA’s top 25 coaches poll. Southeastern posted a win over then-No. 1 ranked St. Francis (Ind.) in December, another over a Grace (Ind.) team ranked at the time, and was in excellent shape to return to the NAIA Tournament after a one-year hiatus. Minix has certainly been the headliner for the Fire, but in humble fashion he credits how the team has come together as a group for the turnaround. “I feel that this year our team has truly become a family,” said Minix. “We have bonded together from the jump and really enjoy spending time together outside of basketball. That has translated on the court and has helped our chemistry and trust in one another. We have battled through adversity and have leaned on each other when it has gotten tough. “We are still in the midst of figuring out who we are as a team and are striving to perform at our maximum potential. We continue to work every day to get better knowing what our goals are and what is at stake. We are not an individualized team, and we try to put our egos to the side in efforts to be a unit and ultimately win.” “The players deserve all the credit for this year’s success,” said third-year head coach Kevin Lubbers. “We started the year 7-1 last year prior to Riley's season-ending injury and that combined with some other factors, including COVID complications, certainly influenced our results in 2021. “I use the expression often coined by Jim Leyland, ‘We didn't come here to chew yesterday’s breakfast.’ Meaning this team is focused on right now and the game in front of us always. They have invested the time and energy required to put themselves in a nationally competitive position.” Some might have more prominent bloodlines in the sport, but it’s likely not many current players have a deeper pedigree in college basketball than Minix. Minix’s uncle, Bill Griffin, was a four-year starter at Lehigh in the 1970s and left as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Bill married Mimi Griffin, a 2014 inductee into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and one of the early torch carriers promoting women’s basketball, making her mark serving as an analyst on ESPN and CBS, including working as the first woman analyst on an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game in 1990. Bill and Mimi’s son Kyle also played NCAA Division I basketball at both La Salle and Siena and is currently an associate head coach at La Salle. Riley’s aunt Julie and her husband Will Reybold also both played basketball at the University of Delaware, and their son Shane walked on at UNC-Wilmington and was a four-year player, eventually earning a scholarship. Riley’s mother Kathy was the youngest of eight children in their family, and her parents moved from New Jersey and retired to Vero Beach when she was a junior in high school. With the distance and the age difference, he says he never got to play serious hoops with his cousins, [“maybe someday!” Riley adds], but just the same, he established himself in Florida. Minix was a self-described late bloomer in high school, something that forced him to be able to play every position and develop a variety of skills, including handling the ball. He hit a growth spurt in his junior year, growing to 6-6, and blossomed as a senior at Vero Beach High School, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Photo by Naira Lopez Minix grew up two hours to the east of Lakeland, Fla., home of Southeastern University, a private Christian liberal arts school that is the largest Assemblies of God educational institution in the U.S. His path to Southeastern was not quite as simple as merely hoping to stay near home, though close to home is right where he ended up. “I was talking to a few coaches in different parts of the country and a few coaches in Florida,” said Minix of his recruitment. “[Southeastern] assistant coach Randy Lee came to a couple of my high school games. Head coach R-Jay Barsh came to Vero a few weeks later for an open gym and talked to me about visiting. “When I went to visit Southeastern, they showed my parents and me around campus and they brought in a few professors that spoke about their programs. Then we went into his office and he presented an offer. I felt as if they really wanted me to be a part of their program.” Minix also received some sage advice in making his decision.
“I was also advised by my family to pick a school that I would like even if I could no longer play basketball,” Minix said. Taking a broader view of his school choice paid off soon after he started at Southeastern in the summer of 2019. It was then that he received a call from Barsh stating that he had accepted an assistant coach position at NCAA Division I Boise State. Southeastern turned to Lubbers as its new coach. A former player and assistant coach at NAIA Trinity Christian (Ill.) College in the Chicagoland area, Lubbers came to Florida from across the country after having been an assistant at NCAA Division II University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for a year and head coach at Colorado Christian University for six years, where he won two National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) national titles. Minix joined and Lubbers took over a program that had developed into an NAIA contender under Barsh, making three trips to the NAIA Division II Tournament, including a run to the national semifinals in his second season in 2013-14. In their first year together, the Fire continued to roll, winning 23 games and earning a berth in the NAIA Division II Tournament. Minix blossomed in the second half of his freshman season. After scoring in double figures in five of his first 15 games, he averaged 20.9 points per game over the Fire’s final 16 games and was named Sun Conference Freshman of the Year. Southeastern tied for the conference regular season title and then claimed the conference tournament championship. The Fire qualified for the NAIA Division II national tourney in Sioux Falls, but never got to play when on its second day the tourney was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minix once again took his game to another level during the first part of his sophomore year before the premature end to his campaign. He has only continued to improve and his game continue to grow. His choice of Southeastern has paid off even after the head coach that initially recruited him moved on.
“God had a plan,” Minnix exclaimed. “Coach Lubbers is a great coach and SEU has been a great fit.” “He has really diversified what he can do as a player and is a matchup problem for most teams we face because of his versatility inside and out on both ends of the floor,” said Lubbers. “He has also grown tremendously as a leader both athletically in the context of our daily work but also as a torchbearer for our culture here.” “Over the last three years, my game has significantly improved,” said Minix. “I have gotten much stronger in the weight room which has really translated to the court. I have continued to watch film and be able to adjust throughout the season. “I feel that I have a very well-rounded game and can play any position,” said Minix. “I also am a student of the game and love to watch basketball whenever possible, which has helped me to make better decisions and reads on the court.” Minix also says the injury has given him a new perspective on playing his sport.
“I have learned to appreciate every minute I get to play and leave it all out there,” Minix said. “You never know when your time is up.”
Minix is also an outstanding student, carrying a 3.95 GPA. He is a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District selection and changed his major from sports management to kinesiology, saying “I spend plenty of time with athletic trainers and would love to help other athletes heal and rehab, and protect them from injuries.” He hopes that is sometime in the distant future, though, after a try at professional basketball.
“I plan to play [professionally] for as long as possible,” said Minix. “I’m not ready to give up playing and I want to play at the highest level.” “He is a great teammate first and puts the best interest of the team above himself,” said Lubbers. “He leads with true humility. He is hungry to succeed in all areas of his life on and off the court and is always looking for opportunities to grow and challenge himself. It is a privilege to be with him on this journey.”
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