Pelphrey, Grant Forced To Put Friendship Asid

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- At first, they were just two new acquaintances, two new members of Billy Donovan's first coaching staff at Marshall University. But then, those first two months they knew one another, John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant were inseparable.

Fresh on the job, they "spent every waking hour of the day together," Arkansas' first-year coach said. Their families hadn't yet made it to West Virginia, and Pelphrey and Grant quickly became more than coaching comrades.

"We were playing ball at 6 in the morning and then came back and played at like 8 at night after recruiting all day long," Pelphrey said. "There's a lot more than basketball there. We've shared a lot of common things there that are very real and on a different level than basketball.

"I'd do anything for him."

Except for one thing -- lose.

Pelphrey's Razorbacks and Grant's Virginia Commonwealth Rams play at 4 p.m. today in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off third-place game, and neither seemed too excited about competing against the other.

After all, those two months turned into a 13-year friendship both cherish, and close coaching friends -- no matter who they are -- usually hate to beat up on a confidant. It occurred in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, when Pelphrey led South Alabama against Florida, where Grant was still an assistant coach.

Florida, on the way to its first of two straight national championships, defeated South Alabama 76-50.

"It was very weird to go against someone who's as close to my family as John and his family is," Grant said.

Pelphrey and Grant spent two seasons with Donovan at Marshall before moving with him to Florida in 1997. They then spent six seasons together in Gainesville. They helped Donovan turn the Gators into a consistent Southeastern Conference and national contender before Pelphrey accepted his first head coaching gig at South Alabama in 2003.

Along the way, Pelphrey came to know Grant as "as good a human being as I've ever been around."

"I consider the guy part of my family," Pelphrey said. "I'd do anything for the guy. I'm really happy for him and the success they had last year."

In his first season as a head coach, Grant led VCU to a first-round NCAA Tournament upset of Duke. His Rams lost some key contributors from that team but still returned standout guard Eric Maynor.

Pelphrey and Grant talked about that and many other subjects Wednesday night when they hung out at a Puerto Rico Tip-Off hospitality function. Both admitted that they haven't been able to speak with one another as much as they did before. They both have to tend to their families, and they both have increased duties as head coaches.

But they both said they thoroughly enjoyed their chat Wednesday night.

"It doesn't take a long time to get back in the moment and talk about some of the fun things in the past," Pelphrey said.

Today will produce another interesting conversation topic for the future.

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