In the beginning, Don Donoher had one concern about Anthony Grant.
“When he came in here for his first visit we were skeptical,” the former Dayton Flyers coach recalled with a chuckle Thursday afternoon. “I mean nobody in their right mind is going to leave the sunshine of Miami, Florida and come to snow-belt Dayton, Ohio.
“Years later when we’d bring that up, Anthony would joke: ‘I’d swear you guys said Daytona.’ ”
Since coming out of Miami Senior High School in 1983, Grant has shown he’s been able to find plenty of sunshine in Dayton.
He did so as a player, starting three years for the Flyers, becoming a captain and the team MVP as a senior and being a part of two NCAA Tournament teams — including the Elite Eight squad of 1984 — and an NIT team.
PHOTOS: Anthony Grant as a player at UD
And Thursday the sun never shined brighter for him here, as he was named the new coach of the Flyers, replacing Archie Miller, who left for the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday.
Grant’s hiring has been saluted around the basketball world and especially by three men who helped shape him as a player and a coach and, to this day, remain his close friends.
“This is awesome,” said Dan Hipsher, the Donoher assistant who recruited Grant out of south Florida, then coached him at UD, hired him as his assistant when he took over the Stetson University program and later became Grant’s assistant at Alabama.
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Hipsher has had his own prominent 40-year coaching career — both running his owns programs and now as the associate head coach at Oakland University — so he knows the college game. And he sees something special in the pairing of Grant and UD:
“This is the perfect marriage. It’s two class acts getting together. Anthony and his family are great people. As a player he was the true definition of a student-athlete and since then he’s shown the same character and dignity in the way he operates.
“And I’ve always thought the same about UD. It’s an unbelievable place. To me, Anthony and UD are a perfect fit.”
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Down in south Florida, Shakey Rodriguez is a legendary coach with over 600 victories at the high school level and as the coach at Florida International University for five seasons.
He molded Miami High into a powerhouse that won five state titles in his 14 seasons as coach. Not only did he coach Grant, who became the Dade County player of the year under him, but he then brought him into the coaching profession, hiring him as his assistant coach after college.
“He’s as honest and decent of a man as you’ll ever find,” Rodriguez said. “If it’s about teaching kids to be men, you can’t do any better than that. He’s a role model who does everything the right way.
“Look, I coached a lot of years, a lot of players. And I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a better human being.
“He became my lifelong friend. He was my assistant coach. I was the best man in his wedding and now I look at him as family. The guy is one of the treasures in my life. To me Dayton could not have done better.”
Donoher was equally supportive:
“I’ve got to applaud the school for giving one of our guys a shot. Of course now he’s got to get the job done, but he’s a big boy and he’ll come in with his eyes wide open.
“He’s got a tough act to follow in Archie, but he’s never been one to back down from a challenge. As a player here he only had to take over for Roosevelt Chapman (UD’s all-time leading scorer)!
“After he sat behind Roosevelt that first year, he filled in admirably already as a sophomore. He was a physical kid. Just hard as a rock, like he was cut out of stone. He was tough.”
Donoher said no one appreciated Grant more than his teammates. And that was evident Thursday afternoon when Donoher returned home from a luncheon in Springfield:
“I had at least 30 calls on the answering machine and a lot of them were from his teammates, including Roosevelt. They’re all glad he’s getting the opportunity to coach the Flyers.”
Brief pro career
Before he joined the Dayton staff in 1980, Hipsher was an assistant coach at Miami Dade Community College South for two seasons. That’s when he first met Rodriguez and a few years later they reconnected and the Miami High coach told him he might have a player for him.
Hipsher liked what he saw in Grant and then brought Donoher down for a look and eventually a visit with Grant’s parents.
“Anthony’s mom was a nurse, his dad worked construction, I believe,” Hipsher said. “Anyway, they were hard-working people who wanted their kids to succeed. I remember Coach (Donoher) went in their house and Anthony’s dad immediately wanted to know who he had on the team and what they were like. He wanted Anthony around good people and wanted to make sure he graduated.”
After he got his UD diploma and played briefly with a U.S. Basketball League team in Miami, Grant joined Shakey on the Miami High bench. Another assistant — who had been on the USBL team with Anthony — was Frank Martin, now the coach of South Carolina, which plays Gonzaga in the Final Four on Saturday.
“Much like with Frank as a coach, there’ll be no shortcuts with Anthony,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody will have to earn their stripes. But he does it differently than Frank. He’s not a screamer, not a yeller. But in his own way he’s just as tough.”
After Miami High, Grant became coach at Miami Central High until Hipsher introduced him to college coaching as a Stetson assistant. From there Grant began a long association with Billy Donovan, first as an assistant at Marshall and then Florida and until Thursday as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“There’s no doubt he picked up a lot in these last two years in the NBA,” Hipsher said. “Think about it. He’s gone through 160 games in two years. That’s the equivalent of five college seasons! You’re gonna get something out of that.
“Whether it’s being around the NBA or as a college coach, he’s had great success. Anthony is a guy who’s always learning, studying film, watching other teams, watching his team.
“He’s not one of those guys who thinks he invented the wheel.”
Stayed in touch
Over the years, even when he was going 193-110 in nine seasons as coach at VCU and Alabama, Grant never forgot Dayton. In fact, he had been interested in the job back in 2003 when Oliver Purnell left and Brian Gregory was hired.
He always stayed in contact with Donoher. He returned here to speak to the Agonis Club and he brought his Alabama team in here to play the Flyers two seasons ago
Donoher went to the Tide’s shoot-around the morning of that game.
“Anthony called the team over to meet me and it ended up a question-and-answer session with all the players,” Donoher laughed. “They wanted to know about Anthony Grant the player.
“It was the same when I went to a Florida practice when Anthony was an assistant there, Billy (Donovan) brought the players over and they all wanted to know what kind of a player, what kind of a guy Anthony was. You could see the respect.”
A few years ago Grant and Hipsher returned with several other Flyers for a reunion honoring Donoher.
“We drove though campus,” Hipsher said. “Anthony hadn’t seen it in a while and he was really excited about all the changes. He was proud for his university. He always has been.”
During Grant’s playing days here Donoher recalled just one hitch.
“The only problem we had was really with his mother,” Donoher laughed. “When we’d have a game tight on the heels of Christmas, we gave the players a break, but they had to be back for a practice on Christmas night.
“Mrs. Grant did not have eyes for that.
“The way she saw it, if Anthony wasn’t going to be in the house on Christmas, he was going to be in church. And that was always a might of a problem. We always sweated it out: ‘Was he gonna get back in time for practice?’
“’When was Anthony coming back to Dayton?’ ”
Thursday he answered that question in emphatic fashion.