January 23, 2024
After conquering adversity, sizzling Grizzle is home at FAMU
Ahriahna Grizzle competes with a quiet swagger and a savage fury
Beneath her calm facade, Ahriahna Grizzle competes with a quiet swagger and a savage fury.
Looking at Grizzle’s face and body language, you wouldn’t know whether the lightning-quick 5’9 Florida A&M University graduate guard unleashed a crossover dribble that elicited a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd or committed a turnover.
Grizzle could win the Powerball, and nobody would ever know it.
“Through my life experiences, I’ve learned not to get too high and not too low,” Grizzle said. “When you’re at an even level, you can make sound decisions, figure things out and identify situations while being as calm as possible. The court is a safe place for me and an outlet. My mind goes blank. I am just hooping and allow the game to come to me. I love every moment of it.”
She almost lost that love.
Grizzle needed a reset.
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A change of scenery and FAMU’s first-year head coach, Bridgette Gordon, helped her rediscover her passion for basketball. Grizzle transferred to the highest of the seven hills in Tallahassee after enduring a frustrating three years at the University of Alabama, where she played 20 games and scored 21 points. It wasn’t what she envisioned when she began college.
“I feel like during my basketball career, I’ve been tested,” Grizzle said. “It’s easy to love the game when you’re young. The game is lighthearted when you’re younger. As I got older, I questioned why I played and whether it was worth it.”
She also leaned on a familiar voice that provided encouraging words and a listening ear.
“My mom has always been my backbone through everything,” said Grizzle, who grew up in Toronto. “I admire her so much. She is smart and beautiful; her word means so much to me.”
In blossoming into one of the elite performers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Grizzle has sizzled. After averaging 10.5 points per game and leading FAMU in steals and assists last season under last year’s head coach, Shalon Pillow, Grizzle entered this year as a Preseason Second-Team All-SWAC selection.
The psychology student has lived up to the hype as she is second in scoring (16.5 points per game), third in field goal percentage (44.0), fourth in free-throw percentage (79.1), sixth in assists (3.1) and eighth in steals (2.0) in the conference.
Grizzle has scored in double figures 14 times this season, including a career-high-tying 31 points against North Florida on Dec. 29. She also scored 26 points against North Alabama on Dec. 8. Her 15 points helped FAMU defeat a Southern squad that beat Oklahoma on the road and represented the SWAC in the NCAA Tournament last year on Jan. 13. She dropped 23 points in a road win over Mississippi Valley State on Jan. 22.
While FAMU’s 3-13 overall record doesn’t reflect the hard work and growth in the program, Grizzle is a bright light with her character, leadership, work ethic and relentless positivity.
The mentally strong Grizzle can score at all levels. She attacks the basket, often finishing with flourishes. Grizzle consistently knocks down mid-range jumpers and sinks 3-pointers. She’s a treat to watch because she has the rare understanding of when to look for her own shot or set up her teammates for quality scoring opportunities.
She may have been immediately comfortable on the court, but adjusting from Alabama to FAMU was a refreshing change for Grizzle, who appreciated all the responsibilities she inherited, such as learning to enroll in classes and taking care of personal business.
“I had to learn a lot on my own, which was good,” Grizzle said. “At predominately white institutions, you’re fed a lot. Here, I had to figure out things for myself, which was a great moment of growth for me on and off the court. Things weren’t easy, and I feel it’s more realistic for the real world. I am allowed to navigate my own life. You fall behind here; nobody will care unless you care.”
Overall, Grizzle is happy to be home at a historically Black college and university (HBCU) that boasts NFL Hall of Famer Ken Riley, ESPN commentator Tiffany Greene, pioneering reporter Pam Oliver, tennis legend Althea Gibson and numerous others as distinguished alums.
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“I wanted to get back on the court and make an immediate impact, Grizzle said. “FAMU had space and an opportunity for me. It also helped that my best friend from Canada came here as well. It was a good decision to make the switch to come here. Coach B’s system and the atmosphere change here took me back to my AAU days of working hard and giving it all you got. It’s 10 times better, and it helps. I love it here.”
Gordon is building something special in Tallahassee. Grizzle is the bridge to future success for the Rattlers. While the world sees her poker face, Gordon witnesses a different side of her.
“She’s outgoing and a lovable person,” Gordon said. “She’s fun to be around, and her teammates trust her. She’s the one her teammates confide in. When she told me that she rediscovered her love for the game, it assured me that I was doing the right thing as a head coach.”
Grizzle has always been active in sports. Her mom, Pamela, had her in karate, swimming, gymnastics, and basketball. Grizzle focused on basketball full time at the start of ninth grade. She fondly recalled intense pickup games inside the Joseph J. Piccininni Community Centre. Those were fun moments for her.
There’s only one thing that Grizzle loves more than basketball. It fueled her fire while she traveled to high school from the city into the suburbs.
“I want to get involved in the juvenile system because I am passionate about giving back to kids,” Grizzle said. “The area I grew up in pushed me to make a change and help kids who may not have hope. I believe that if there are more role models, the trajectory of many lives can change. I want to lend a hand in that. I noticed people who didn’t make it or do what they wanted to do for whatever reason. I also believed somebody could’ve made a difference. I want to be that person.”
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That’s the future.
The Rattlers are improving with each game. Even though they dropped a heartbreaking triple-overtime decision to a Grambling team that beat Arizona State on Jan. 15, Grizzle was proud of her teammates after she fouled out in regulation.
Grizzle knows she’ll leave the FAMU program in great hands when she takes off the sacred green-and-orange uniform for the final time. She’ll smile knowing that players like 6’0 sophomore guard Olivia Delancy, who averages 11.6 points per contest, and 5’10 junior guard Nashani Gilbert, who contributes 9.0 points and a team-leading 5.2 rebounds per contest, are building blocks for future FAMU success.
With no plans to play professionally, Grizzle is cherishing the remainder of her hoops career.
“I have a different sense of urgency going into every game, and it makes me play with a different type of intensity because I know I won’t get this game back,” Grizzle said. “Don’t take any play for granted or moment. My career is nearing its end, and I don’t take it lightly.”
Written by Rob Knox
Rob Knox is an award-winning professional. A member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame, Knox currently serves as the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.