- By Tom Archdeacon Staff Writer
Anthony Grant was “very interested” in the vacant Dayton Flyers coaching job, and the possibility of returning to his alma mater. This despite a plum gig as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Grant went from interested to hired Thursday morning. The school announced Grant as its new head coach on Twitter, through a post on its Twitter page and in a press release.
Grant will be 51 in about two weeks and I’ve known him since he was a teenager growing up in Miami. I was a sportswriter there and he played for my pal, Shakey Rodriguez, the head coach of the Miami High School Stingarees, a perennial power in Florida prep basketball.
Over the years I’ve written over a half-dozen stories on Grant – as an All-City player in Miami, as a UD player his senior season when he was a captain and the MVP of the team, then when he played for the Miami Tropics of the United States Basketball League and later when he was the head coach first at VCU and then Alabama.
Dayton Flyers: Anthony Grant announced as new coach
I’ve chronicled his longstanding relationship with his former UD coach Don Donoher, who he has reached out to in all the big moments – good and bad – in his life, a man he’s said in the past is like “a second father” to him.
I wrote about him when, as the Alabama coach, he brought his wife and four kids to the FedEx Forum in Memphis and they all sat behind the UD bench to cheer the Flyers to victory in their Sweet 16 game against Stanford and another time I wrote about his visit to Dayton to speak to the Agonis Club and how, just days before, he and his team had gone out and helped into the disaster-stricken neighborhoods after a deadly EF4 level tornado with 190 mph winds had roared through Tuscaloosa.
Although Grant declined comment Wednesday, I knew he was being considered for the UD job and think you should know something about who he is.
I don’t know for sure who else athletics director Neil Sullivan and UD president Eric Spina considered – they were keeping the search process under heavy wraps – but I heard some names speculated by others in the media.
I know three UD assistants who were on Archie Miller’s staff before he left last week for Indiana University – Kevin Kuwik, Tom Ostrom and Allen Griffin – were in the mix, and the pool was all the better for it. Each one is a fine man with a good basketball presence who has shown he knows what Flyer hoops are all about and how to help make the program successful.
The other coach who I heard mentioned and who I’ve known for several years is James Whitford, the Ball State coach who first made his mark as an assistant at Miami, Xavier and Arizona. He’s a real talent, as well.
Grant is the one I’ve known the longest and there is no one I feel more sure about.
As Shakey Rodriguez, now the head coach at Mater Academy in Miami told me Wednesday: “He’s a natural fit for Dayton.”
He said it’s not just that he played at UD, but that he’s always kept the place dear to his heart.
Grant has also shown he can win at the college level. After several years as a high school coach – five as an assistant Rodriguez at Miami High and then as head coach at Miami Central – he spent a dozen years as a college assistant, first to Dan Hipsher at Stetson and then to Bill Donovan at Marshall and Florida.
After that he took over the VCU program and in three seasons – from 2006 to 2009 – he led the Rams to a 76-25 record and took them to two NCAA Tournaments and the NIT. In six seasons at Alabama his Crimson Tide teams went 117-85 and got one NCAA and three NIT bids. He was fired at the end of the 2015 season and soon after rejoined Donovan, who is now the Thunder head coach.
As a college coach Grant also showed he can recruit, especially the way he mined South Florida talent that gave the Florida Gators some of their best players during his Gainesville tenure.
But just as important – and it’s something you hear time and again when his name is mentioned – is that he is, as Rodriguez said Wednesday, “a real solid guy, just a good human being.”
He had a blue-collar upbringing by parents who wanted their children to strive higher. “They wanted the best for their kids.” Rodriguez said. “One brother ended up a doctor. Another was a lawyer.”
Although he was a standout player in high school, Grant played inside and at 6-foot-4 was considered undersized and was overlooked by some schools. “To this day (former Florida coach) Norm Sloan says it’s the biggest mistake he made. He says he should have recruited him….Anthony was a winner.”
Dayton got Grant because of Hipsher, Donoher’s assistant who had been a junior college coach in Miami and had become friends with Rodriguez.
Grant has talked to me in the past about the big transition he had coming to Dayton from Miami.
“I was just 17 years old and on my own for the very first time,” he once told me. “I had to grow up, to persevere and thankfully I had people like Coach Donoher Coach Hipsher, Coach (Jim) Ehler and Coach (Jack) Butler. They were mentors to me. They helped me grow up and understand what I needed to do in life.
“Looking back, I realize what a good experience Dayton was for me I came in there a boy trying to be a man and I think it allowed me to become the man I am now.”
Playing for the Flyers from 1983 to 1987, Grant was part of two NCAA Tournament teams and an NIT squad. He played in 105 games, averaged 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds for his career and as a senior led the team in both scoring and rebounding.
Donoher declined to discuss Grant this week. Rightfully so, he doesn’t want to back any one person over another.
But in the past, under different circumstances, he has talked about Grant. “Just a jewel of a guy,” he once called him.
And both men have previously talked about their bond.
When his mother died, Grant reached out to Donoher and he did the same when he and his wife lost a son just before birth in 1999. When Oliver Purnell left UD in 2003, Grant was interested in the Flyers job and talked to Donoher about it. And the first time he made the NCAA Tournament with VCU, one of his first calls from the locker room he made was to Donoher.
Another person Grant is close to is South Carolina coach Frank Martin, who has now led the Gamecocks to their first ever Final Four.
The two were high school teammates. Grant was the All City star, Martin was a glorified manager but was just as dedicated to the Stingarees’ success.
Eventually both were assistant coaches for Rodriguez and then each worked his way up through the ranks to the lofty status that has followed.
Martin made Grant the godfather of one of his sons. But before that he did something more telling.
After high school, when Grant went to Dayton on a full scholarship, Martin ended up a regular student at Miami Dade Community College.
For the very first college paper for his English 1101 class, he was asked to write about someone he admired.
He wrote about Anthony Grant.
“He cared about people, his school, his friends,” Martin told a reporter a couple of years ago. “He walked in the hallways and teachers and students all respected him.
“That’s something I’ll never forget.”
And that’s something I thought you should know.