Posted: Aug. 7, 2009
If the old adage that a man is really measured by his achievements, consider former Suns guard Greg Grant a true giant. And that’s saying something for an NBA alum who only stands 5-foot-7.
Selected 52nd overall in the 1989 NBA Draft, Grant played one season in Phoenix en route to a seven-year career in the league after a standout collegiate career at Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey). Still the school’s career scoring leader with over 2,600-career points, 1989’s Division III Player of the Year parlayed his perseverance and work ethic into NBA stops in Phoenix, New York, Philadelphia and Denver.
Suns.com recently caught up with Grant about his stint on a Suns team that featured the likes of Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek, his annual basketball camp and academy, and his upcoming autobiography (written with Martin Sumners), “94 Feet and Rising: The Journey of Greg Grant to the NBA and Beyond.”
Suns.com: What motivated your new venture as author of 94 Feet and Rising?
Former guard Greg Grant: Everybody has always had a million questions, so they want to know how the NBA was and what was different about it. And I also just want to allow the kids in my hometown to get the message that if you really put your mind to something you can do what you want to do. I wanted to get a message out to a lot of the youth, but also insert a lot of adult questions that people have posed to me over the years, too.
As for the title, the court is 94 feet. And it’s about actually putting time on the hardwood playing all of my life. Rising is still rising after basketball. I’m still doing good, still working in the community, still trying to be positive. So the rising is still going. I haven’t just stopped because I stopped playing basketball.
Suns.com: You’ve stayed close to your New Jersey roots. Talk about giving back to the community with your annual basketball camp and sports academy.
Grant: I was always doing the summer basketball camps even when I was in the league, but afterwards, I wanted to do something during the fall season that would take up the time that I was playing basketball. So I decided to start a sports academy and train kids athletically as far as basketball and do other sports. I have also gotten into the academic side of it, and I turned it into an academic sports academy where now I run afterschool programs.
Suns.com: The Suns selected you with the 52nd overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. I would imagine that was an excruciating night for you, up to the point you were actually selected, of course.
Grant: I have a little bit of an ego where I know that I outplayed a lot of the Division I players in the pre-camps and I thought I would go higher. But then I realized that that’s part of being young, and I didn’t know the business side of it. When you’re from Division III, they aren’t going to pick you over a Mookie Blalock or a B.J. Armstrong. Then I realized that where I came from: working in the fish store and going on to have a decent career in college. I was being drafted from a Division III school at a time when they just cut the draft from six or seven rounds down to two. So to be one of 54 players drafted and being from a Division III school was probably the biggest achievement of that draft. So I was just excited and everybody that grew up with me in my hometown was just as excited. It was a moment where I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know too much about Phoenix at that time, so I was just so happy that somebody wanted me and took that chance.
Suns.com: Your efforts at the rookie camp in Los Angeles went a long way toward earning you a slot on the 1989-90 squad. You set an L.A. rookie league record with a 51-point, 16-assist night, and then followed that up with a 37-point, 14-assist effort en route to co-MVP honors. Suns assistant coaches Paul Westphal and Lionel Hollins were certainly impressed.
Grant: I had games like that in the summer league and in my home town of Trenton. The problem was that no one at that level had seen me do it. I had some 50-point college games. But no one there had ever seen it, so it was probably amazing to them. I had games like that but never at that level.
They were like, “Don’t pass the ball and you’re not coming out.” The thing was, Paul Westphal was a great scorer – he never met a shot that he didn’t like, and Lionel was a good scorer, too. So I had two good coaches to play for that night. They both knew what it felt like when a player gets it going. They were like, “When you get tired just call a timeout.” That was just an unbelievable night, and I was just so excited after that game. They were just as happy for me, as well.
Suns.com: Impressing Westy and Hollins went a long way to get yourself in the good graces of Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. In your book, you say he was thrilled to have a guy on the team he could finally share clothes with.
Grant: Cotton was a funny coach with a great sense of humor. He was also a no-nonsense coach, but he was a players’ coach. He was tough, he stayed on you, he wanted you to do the right thing every day in practice and every day in a game. When you would talk to him, he would really give you some grown-man advice especially when you are young and we had a lot of rookies that year. We had about five or six rookies on the team and a lot of guys were only in their second year, as well. So that was probably the best team I could have gone to in the NBA at that time. Full of veterans, full of youth, and an experienced coaching staff. He was just a first-class act.
Suns.com: With names like Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Steve Kerr, Kenny Battle and Michael Morrison, there was certainly a formidable list of talent at guard heading into that season. What was your mindset when it came to the long odds of securing a roster spot?
Grant: The one thing I knew, was that if you put somebody in front of me and you give me a fair shot, I will win every time. I knew that going into camp. I was the best conditioned guy at camp, I was the most determined guy, and I knew that if Phoenix gave me a legitimate shot, there was not one guy in that camp that would outplay me. Cotton and Paul actually saw that. They just really gave me a legitimate chance to make that team.
Suns.com: Even though your time in Phoenix was short (3.1 ppg, 2.5 apg in 67 games), that sense of perseverance seems to be a predominant theme in your book, too.
Grant: I was brought up in an era and a time where you have to play no matter what size you are, who you are, and no matter what your skill level is. I learned a long time ago that the one thing that a lot of players are afraid of is somebody that plays hard all the time. When you come at them hard all the time, and not stop and be very consistent, no matter how good they are, it just wears on them and it breaks them down. I always just trained and conditioned myself to get to the point where I will always be on the attack. As long as I felt that way, I didn’t care about everybody else’s talent. I knew eventually I would get to you. That carried me through my whole life and it carried me through seven years in the NBA.