"Dad, I’m Ready to Play"
There comes a point in a young athlete's career when the inevitable questions arise and decisions must be made. Am I truly willing to make the necessary sacrifices to succeed? Could it possibly be worth it? Do I really want to rise above, or just hang with the crowd?
For Danny Granger, the moment of truth came when he was 12 years old.
The family lived in a rough area of Metairie, La., so his father purchased the lot next door and built a full basketball court because, the elder Granger said, "I wanted to keep an eye on him."
One day, while playing against some of his father's friends – a bigger, stronger, older crowd – Danny caught an elbow and went down in tears.
"I said, 'You've got to go inside if you can't take the pressure out here. You can't be weak,'" said his father. "I was just trying to teach him this is a contact game. I wasn't being mean. He didn't get hit hard.
"He went inside and I told him when he was ready to play he could come back outside. Five minutes later he came out and said, 'Dad, I'm ready to play.'"
Nothing would knock him down again.
Granger eventually blossomed into one of the most complete basketball players in the country, a versatile 6-8 forward the Pacers felt fortunate to acquire with the 17th pick in the NBA Draft.
"I think we got a quality young man that will have an opportunity to do a lot of things in this league," said team President Larry Bird. "He’s one of the good guys, so I hope this league after two or three years doesn’t poison him, but he’s got a lot of things going for him other than on the court."
What should've been Granger's moment of triumph came with an unexpected dose of adversity.
After two spectacular seasons at New Mexico -- as a senior, he was the only NCAA player to average at least 18 points (18.8), eight rebounds (8.9), two steals (2.1) and two blocks (2.0) -- Granger found himself near the top of the heap. Universally projected as a top 10 prospect, he anticipated going as high as the fifth pick but certainly no lower than 14. A pre-draft workout in which he reportedly schooled Syracuse's Hakem Warrick, a player with a much higher national profile, had the scouts raving.
He was among the select group of players brought to New York for the draft by the NBA, but he spent an unexpectedly anxious night in the green room. Team after team bypassed him for no apparent reason. Though he had a minor knee injury during his senior season, he missed just three games. Whatever the cause, the slide was costing him millions of dollars (the salary difference between the fifth pick and the 17th is roughly $4 million over three seasons) as well as prestige, Granger was once again faced with a decision.
Rather than allowing this elbow to knock him down, he chose to play on. There was no bitterness over the slide, only exultation that it resulted in his selection by a winning team and quality franchise.
"A lot of my friends told me, 'You get to go play with Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal' and stuff like that," Granger said. "And it’s really rewarding because I know we’ll make the playoffs next year and that’s even more experience for me. Sometimes if you get drafted really high you go to a losing team and you might not make the playoffs for another two or three years, luckily, I’m in a good situation."
His father echoed that sentiment.
"The franchise that's here, they're bidding for a championship," he said. "They had some little problems last year but, man, this is a blessing in disguise that he was able to slip like he did and get here. We were rooting that he would go to Indiana in the green room and he made it."
What the Pacers have is not only a player of superior physical talent, but remarkable intangibles. A late-bloomer in high school, he was recruited by colleges primarily for his academic prowess. He had opportunities to attend Yale and Columbia but opted for Bradley University because he wanted to be a civil engineer and felt strongly about that school's program.
He quickly established his ability, averaging 19.2 points and 7.9 rebounds his sophomore season when the coaching staff was fired. Showing loyalty, Granger followed one of his favorites, assistant Duane Broussard, to New Mexico, where he blossomed into an elite, complete, player.
He played both inside and out, showing strong rebounding and shot-blocking skills. After shooting 24.3 percent from the arc in two seasons at Bradley, he went to work on his perimeter game and shot 39.2 percent at New Mexico, including 43.3 percent as a senior.
"I do a lot of things well, and I guess that’s what makes me special," he said. "I rebound, I block shots, I pass, I’m a pretty good passer and I make threes. I think I have the ability. My role just isn’t to score, I can do a lot of other things to affect the game. A lot of players, if they’re not scoring, they’re not really making their presence known on the court. I can do that."
The statistics only begin to tell the story of his game.
Raised in a religious household by Jehovah's Witnesses, Granger always has held himself to a high personal standard that has separated him from the pack.
"I was taught respect, we weren’t allowed to curse as kids, we were brought up in a really respectful way and that really matters," he said. "I think that helped me coming into my own as I evolved into a man. These days a lot of kids are brought up in the wrong way and luckily my family brought me up the right way."
Don't be misled, however.
By all accounts, Granger is a nice, polite young man off the court. Inside the lines, his personality transforms. He shows a mean streak that was born on that blacktop in Metairie but has grown into a manifestation of his desire to win.
"You have to play with some kind of chip on your shoulder in the game," he said. "Once you’re off the court you should always be friends again, (and) leave it all on the court. But once you’re on the court, it’s a competition, the weak don’t survive, so you play hard and then shake hands afterward, go out to dinner or something. While you’re on the court, you compete."
Though he is indeed pleased to have landed with the Pacers, Granger won't forget the helpless feeling of draft night, watching team after team call someone else's name. He said he'd circle the dates on the calendar when those teams face the Pacers.
"They're going to see," said his father. "Danny can play. He really can. I've watched him grow and I've watched him develop and I watched him go through some adversity last year with his knee injury, and I know he is a competitor. And they're going to be sorry they passed him.
"But that's OK because we're glad to be here."
The feeling couldn't be more mutual.