Grant Discusses Perception Of SEC

When Alabama Coach Anthony Grant met with Alabama beat writers last week to discuss the state of the program, the topics flowed out of that narrow range into other areas, including the pereception of the Southeastern Conference as a basketball league.

Back in the day when Alabama basketball was competing for NCAA Tournament qualification, then-coach C.M. Newton would occasionally challenge his players, "I'm going to the NCAA Tournament. Now, are you?" NEXT: Anthony Grant's thoughts about the perception of the Southeastern Conference, particularly with two SEC teams – Florida and Kentucky – in the Final Four.

The NCAA Tournament is a gathering place for college basketball coaches, including Anthony Grant, who was seen in Memphis as Florida and Grant's former mentor Billy Donovan won en route to the Final Four. And Grant was also seen watching Donovan and the Gators go down to Connecticut. Nevertheless, the SEC team did have two of the four teams in Dallas and one of them, Kentucky, is playing for the national championship.

Earlier this year Grant had mentioned that at some point in a season a team will "get it" and turn things up a notch. He agreed with a question that Kentucky seems to have done that.

"They are playing really good basketball right now," Grant said. "You have to give credit to Coach Cal (Kentucky Coach John Calipari) and his staff and players. You want to be gelling and playing your best basketball at the end of the year. I think anybody that's watched the tournament has seen the way those guys have played. I think certainly they're playing as good as anybody in the country right now."

Grant then got to his point that only three SEC teams – Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee – made it into the 68-team field. Grant pointed out that Florida, ranked number one in the nation at selection time, got a number one seed, but that the SEC's second place team, Kentucky, was an eight seed, and the Vols, the league's fourth place team, got in, but had to win a play-in game to reach the round of 64.

"All three teams had success, advancing at least to the Sweet 16," Grant said.

He added that no SEC teams got a number one seed in the second tier tournament, the NIT.

Grant said, "So I think the perception of our league, whether you feel like it's warranted or not, as coaches, we have to look at it and self evaluate and say, 'Yeah our league needs to get stronger, needs to get better.' The only thing that each of us can do is look within. At least that's what I try to do. And how can we get better, how can we improve our teams and improve the reputation or standing of our league?

"And that's what we're trying to do and that's one of the reasons why, for us, last year, we played one of the top five non-conference schedules in the country, to try to put ourselves and our league in a position where we can all elevate the reputation, the status of our league.

"But as always what you have to do when you do this is you have to win. That's what it comes down to. When you do that, obviously you improve the overall standing and reputation of your league. In spite of the troubles that we had last year in terms of the results, the win-loss record, we still finished as one of the top 100 teams in the country in RPI, despite the losses. I think for us, to do our part, we've got to continue to play an extremely competitive non-conference schedule. I think what we'll need in our league is for all the teams to understand how we can help each other and be willing to go out and challenge ourselves.

"Like I talked about with our team a lot: as a coach, I'm not afraid to fail; I'm not afraid to put ourselves out there. Because I understand the vision I have, I understand where we want to take this program and what needs to happen in order for us to be able to do that. And we've got to be willing to go out and do that. So I think as a league, we have to be willing to do that.

"And you can argue which league is the best in the country; this league gets six teams in, this league gets four teams in or five, and the SEC only deserves two, three, four, or whatever. Right now we've got two teams in our league that are in the final four. So it's an opportunity for all of us in the league to try to raise the profile individually and then do that collectively for our league. I think that's the goal every coach wants to try and accomplish."

"My vision is to put this program in position where we're a consistent participant in the postseason and NCAA tournament. To put ourselves in position where we can play for championships.

"When I was an assistant at Florida, you consistently had five to six teams in this league that were in the NCAA tournament. If you went 9-7 in the SEC, you had a great chance of getting in the NCAA tournament.

"Obviously, the landscape has changed. If you look at the last 3-4 years, two of the last four years we won 12 games in this league and went to the NIT. You look at a Tennessee team a couple of years ago that I think won 12 games or 13 games and went to the NIT. Georgia this year. So I think the landscape has changed.

"So, for us to be able to do the things we want to do as a program, who we elect to play in the non-conference and being able to go win those games will create opportunities for us to play for those championships and go to the postseason. In order to do that, we're facing really good teams. We open the season up against an Oklahoma team that turned out to be a really good team. We played a team in Wichita State that went undefeated this year and we were right there. Maybe a rebound or a possession away from maybe having a different outcome. Same thing with the Xavier team that went to the NCAA tournament. Going out at UCLA, with one minute to go in the game and it's a one-possession game.

"So we've had opportunities all throughout. But sometimes what happens, when you don't get those results that you want, when you're dealing with 18 to 22 year-olds, you can lose confidence and you can lose focus a little bit. I'm not afraid to go out and challenge our team to go out and play those games because I understand in order for us to get where we want, where everybody expects our program to be, we have to be able to do that. So my comment last night was more in terms of not being afraid to face those giants in order to where we want to get to, we have to be willing to do that and we have to be consistent in our approach and the way we're doing it, not worry about the distractions or the sideshow that goes along with being where we are. We can't control that. We have to stay focused on the task at hand.

"I'm pretty comfortable and confident in terms of who I am, why I do what I do, my vision for where I want our program to be. So that's all I can control. I can't control anything else. The rest of it is just noise. So we're going to stay focused on what we have to do to get this program where it needs to be."

But the bottom line is winning more games. How does Grant propose to do that?

"We have to get better," he said. "Last year is last year. There will be different challenges as we move forward. It's about how do we go about getting better individually, collectively, mentally, physically.

"That's a part of the process of the offseason no matter whether you ended your season with a loss or you went all the way and won the last game. You've got to always think about how you get better.

"We tried to get better every day. We didn't always get the results we wanted at the end of the game. I think you can look at over the course of the season despite the adversity we went through we continued to try to do that. That's going to be the same thing throughout the offseason. Individually, guys understand what they've got to do to become the best they can be. Collectively, as a team, understanding what we have to do to become the best team we can be."

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