An In-Depth Look At Anthony Grant
The first choice of Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore and Executive Athletics Director Dave Hart to be head coach of the Crimson Tide men's basketball team was the third year head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, Anthony Grant. The burgeoning star was lured to The Capstone after his successful stint at VCU, accepting the Bama offer over those from several other BCS schools.
It is significant that Grant becomes the first African-American to be head coach of a revenue-producing sport at The University. Grant's task is also significant. He is charged with extricating a program hard hit by apathy, returning Crimson Tide basketball to a level of exciting play and championship contention at the Southeastern Conference and national levels. It is expected that attendance will increase dramatically later this year in Coleman Coliseum.
Education trumped athletics in the Grant household in Miami as deceased parents Alexander, a construction worker, mechanic and elementary-school dropout, and Victoria, who completed nursing school later in life, encouraged their six children to pursue college degrees. Youngest sibling, Anthony, was a promising freshman athlete at Belen Jesuit Prep, a private school known for its academic reputation and selected by Grant's father. Anthony, enamored with the legendary high school coach, Marcos A. "Shakey" Rodriguez of Miami Senior High School, had a notion to transfer, but faced a formidable opponent in his father.
Rodriguez's meeting with the adamant Alexander failed to yield an air of confidence about the proposed change. Persistent prodding from Anthony and his mother saw his father acquiesce to the public school request, but only with assurances his son would continue the pursuit of academic excellence. Achieving all-city first-team selection and Dade County Player-of-the-Year, the scenario of earning trust would be replicated three years later as college suitors flocked to recruit his talented son.
Former University of Dayton Assistant Dan Hipsher, presently at the University of South Florida, recalls the disconcerting living room encounter between the elder Grant and Flyers Head Coach Don Donoher. "His father made a comment about ‘Tell me about your team.'"
Hipsher said that Donoher assumed the question required elaborating on the amount of playing time his son would receive, Donoher proceeded to answer accordingly. The father clarifying his interest addressed the two astonished coaches with a directive. "I don't want my son around any trash. I don't want him around any of these street kids, bad kids. This kid has been raised right and he knows right from wrong and that's what I want him around,"
The conversation alleviated the apprehension felt by Donoher and his lead assistant. Anthony Grant was the quintessential individual they sought for their program.
Winning pervades his thoughts like blood flows through veins. Rodriguez head coach of the 1998 Florida International University's squad that defeated Alabama 68-66 in Tuscaloosa, describes Grant's obsession with his reaction after a devastating loss. "We lost in the district finals. He wanted so badly to win a state championship. We went in the locker room and he wasn't there. Everyone is really concerned. Where is Anthony? He lived approximately four miles from the arena."
Rodriguez traced the path to Anthony's home by vehicle and found Anthony inconsolably trudging along the streets of Miami still dressed in his uniform. "I know how much it meant to him. He got in the car and I drove him home." The disappointing defeat taught the young Grant a valuable lesson.
"He has a championship quality mentality," said Rodriguez, the current head coach of Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School. "Anthony is fearless and not afraid to sell out and put his heart into something and have it broken. Anthony was one of those guys who wouldn't ever complain. We worked him to death. We put weight jackets on them while they ran the stairs. The will to prepare to win is what he is after and he will instill that in his players."
Donoher, a member of the 1984 Olympic coaching staff along with Alabama's basketball search consultant C. M. Newton, raves about Grant as a player and individual. "He was very respectful and a very good competitor. He was a very coachable kid. You never had to worry about him on the floor or off the floor. He was one of the most responsible players I have coached. He has all the integrity in the world. When he was here at the University of Dayton he was about as fine a student-athlete as we've ever had," said Donoher about the tough, undersized power forward who subjugated his natural small forward skills for the sake of the team. "I always attributed that to his upbringing. His Dad was a good man and a tough man. He was raised properly." Named team captain and MVP as a senior while leading the private Catholic school in scoring and rebounding, Grant appeared in two NCAA tournaments - one an Elite Eight trip as a role playing freshman and also an NIT berth.
After a brief one year professional fling with the Miami Tropics of the USBL, Grant sought a recommendation from his high school coach for a position at an area school. The principal of his alma mater in conjunction with Rodriguez thwarted the move by creating a position on their staff for the celebrated alumnus. Five national rankings and three state titles later as an assistant (1987-92) at Miami Senior High School, the state of Florida's most dominant program became the incubator for his cherished love affair with coaching.
Prior to launching his college coaching career as a Stetson assistant (1993-94) where he was reunited with Hipsher as a member of his staff, Grant was the head coach at Miami Central High School (1992-93). "He had a great work ethic. I thought he had a good feel for the game mentally. He was a conscientious caring person so I knew he would do the right thing for kids," prophesized Hipsher. "I thought he would be able to combine discipline with compassion. He has that ability which makes him a great leader. He's a demanding person but everybody knows that he cares about them and has their best interest at heart for them which lets you be as demanding as you want."
Florida's Billy Donovan, the SEC's reigning statesman, forged an alliance with Grant while as a Kentucky assistant recruiting Allen Edwards out of Miami Senior High School. The dozen year coaching association began in 1994 with the first two as Donovan's top Marshall University assistant followed by a decade in Gainesville with Grant serving as associate head coach the last five. Recruiting became his forte as nine McDonald All-Americans chose the Gators due to Grant's efforts, seven who emerged as NBA first-round draft selections. During his Florida tenure the program captured two Southeastern Conference regular-season titles and a pair of SEC Tournament titles. The stockpiling of talent culminated in 2006 with the Gator's first NCAA basketball championship, a feat duplicated in 2007 after Grant exited to take the helm of the VCU Rams.
Grant's initial campaign in Richmond saw his VCU team upset Duke 79-70 in the NCAA first round followed by an NIT berth the next year and a 2nd invite to March Madness in 2009. Three CAA regular season championships along with two league tournament titles were achieved during his time with the Rams. He was bestowed with CAA Coach of the Year honors following the 2007 program's best 28-7 record.
Extracting performance from players through motivation is his strong suit, although his physical features are influential. "He's got a presence about him and command of people," said Hipsher about the 6'5" impeccably dressed Grant. "You don't have to be a screamer and a yeller to be demanding. He gets his point across. He's got a look. When he looks at them, they know what he means." "He'll stare holes through you," Donoher concurred. "He was that way as a player. He was very intense. When you'd get in his face, he would give you that stare." The perceived mellow, low key Grant possesses the indomitable toughness to accompany the intimidating gaze.
Grant is a devoted family man, married to the former Christina Harrell of Miami, Fla. They are proud parents of three sons – Anthony, Preston and Makai – and one daughter, Jayda Danielle. Precious leisure moments away from coaching are spent with his family. His flourishing career has not affected friendships or sense of self. "He handles success as well as any guy I've ever seen. He never forgot his friends and he never forgot his roots," asserted Rodriguez. "He is such a thoughtful kid. If we ever have a problem in the family as all families have their up's and down's, he'll be the first guy to call," Donoher fondly divulged.
Displays of Grant's loyalty have reached foxhole kinship proportions and are reciprocated in kind by his friends. Frank Martin, both a teammate and coaching colleague of Grant's at Miami Senior High School, was dismissed while head coach of Miami High School amidst allegations of impropriety with players addresses. "When I went through that stage, he was one of the few people that was a constant in my life. He remained there to help me be strong and positive." Grant, godfather of Martin's son, actually convinced his life long friend in the aftermath of the personal affliction to continue in the coaching profession. Martin embraced the heartfelt words, resurrected his career and presently is thriving as the successful head basketball coach of the Kansas State Wildcats.
Grant's inspiring press conference accepting The University of Alabama head basketball coaching position was not the first time he received accolades appearing at a podium. Upon receiving his high school diploma, 860 senior classmates spontaneously rose to their feet for an extended applause paying homage to the stylish young man exuding class. "We all followed his lead because of the work ethic and the pride he had for his team. He communicated with everyone in the school building," professed Martin about the articulate honor student.
Effective leaders understand group dynamics and Grant's style breeds harmony. "He demands that his players compete at a high level. He gets people to play together and co-exist. He has no ego so he makes sure his players don't have any individual egos. His ego will be Alabama basketball and everyone that's around him will have an Alabama basketball ego," assured trusted confidant Martin. "You're not going to come across a classier person than Anthony Grant. When you couple that with a work ethic that is second to none you've got someone that is going to be a tremendous representative of the university for a very long time."
Beneath the pristine cool veneer is a fiery passion stoking the under belly calmness striving to uphold the commitment he pledges to his family, friends and basketball team. He is not immune to jawing with officials having drawn occasional technical fouls in his career. Although projecting a serious business minded temperament, he relishes laughter and making people smile with his discreet sense of humor. He still teases his college coach by saying he thought Donoher said "Daytona" when he came to south Miami to lure him to the cold climate of Dayton.
Young impressionable student-athletes on a college campus away from the parameters of adult supervision require continued guidance and nurturing which Grant will provide according to Rodriguez. "He develops the total person and that's what makes him unique. He'll sit down in his office and talk to a young man for an hour about everything not just basketball. Young people will enjoy playing for him because they know that he cares for them as a total human being and he has their best interest. That's probably the most important single thing he does." Yet his leadership style is absolute. "It will be a no non-sense approach. The inmates won't be running the asylum under Anthony," claims Donoher.
The genesis of his coaching philosophy was conceived under the tutelage of his high school coach. Applying pressure on the ball and intense effort were two trademarks of the perennial national high school power. "He understands the value of pressure and playing hard. That's what he's done all of his life. He believes in it. He believes in controlling the game from the defensive side of the ball," exclaimed Rodriguez. "That's how he learned to play and learned to coach." The team motto "RP32" signified relentless pressure for 32 minutes. His man-to-man half court principles were refined during his playing days at Dayton and first collegiate staff position at Stetson.
Although Miami is the cradle of his basketball acumen, the maturation occurred as a disciple adhering to the gospel of Billy Donovan's tactical sermons. Grant preaches the frenetic style of extending the defense and transition offense in stark contrast to the deliberate nature he's displayed over the years considering career moves. He knows attempting to execute the pressure defense and offensive up-tempo schemes without the requisite skilled players would be basketball suicide but regardless of the current roster's athleticism, his teams will play with intensity and to the limit of their capabilities.
Grant is not infallible as he did balk at one request made by his head coach years ago. "The only problem we ever had with Anthony was we had a Christmas tournament here in Dayton. It always seemed it was a couple of days after Christmas. Trying to get him back here to practice Christmas night was kind of a chore. His mother never understood why we were holding practice on Christmas night," replied the amused Donoher. "And I wasn't much interested in practicing either on Christmas. It's one of those things that you had to do you know. So he was kind of reluctant to come back for that but he always posted. I always kid him about that. I understand he doesn't like to practice on Christmas to this day."
Christmas is a reverent day for the Grant family and for the last three years basketball practice was absent from the day's schedule. All the other days of the year Grant will be diligent in his quest to create a culture pledged to the reincarnated college version motto "RP40" along with the acronym addendum "F4FUA" – Relentless Pressure for 40 minutes producing a Final Four for The University of Alabama.
Grant's father yearned for his son to achieve his best. Thus far he has been the embodiment of class, loyalty and toughness on his path to being a proven winner on the hardwood and beyond. Maybe he's agreed to become the Crimson Tide's head men's basketball coach because he identifies with the Alabama voices clamoring to be better. The solo voice of his father's wishes will now be joined with the chorus of crimson and white faithful encouraging Anthony Grant to lead Alabama to their best.
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