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Tom Archdeacon: Family comes first for new Dayton Flyers coach

Friday afternoon at their home in Oklahoma City, Anthony Grant and his wife Chris were getting all ready for the big affair:

Today’s “Welcome Back” press conference at UD Arena? The one where Grant — a former Dayton Flyers basketball player — gets introduced as UD’s new head coach?


Friday was prom night for the Grants’ son, Preston.

“It’s a big deal. His mom wanted to be here when he came home,” Grant said. “So we won’t leave for Dayton until early (this) morning.”

His wife has been to Dayton once, Grant said:

“Back when I was at Marshall, however many years ago that was? Maybe back in ’95 or ’96. Anyway, we had an off day and I said, ‘Let’s go up to Dayton. I want to show you where I went to school.’

“That was her first time meeting Coach Donoher. I can’t remember what else we did except maybe drive around the campus.”

WATCH: Don Donoher interviews Anthony Grant in 1986

Since those days on the Thundering Herd staff of Billy Donovan, Grant spent a decade as a Florida assistant — again working for Donovan — and then went on to a successful three-year stint as the head coach at VCU, where he had a 76-25 record and his teams got three straight postseason invites, twice to the NCAA Tournament and once the NIT. After that he ran the Alabama program, went 117-85 in six seasons and had another NCAA and three NIT appearances. Even so he got fired in March 2015 by an impatient administration, which, by the way, hasn’t had a noticeable increase in basketball success since his departure.

10 Moments: A look at Anthony Grant’s coaching career

Since Alabama, Grant has worked in the NBA, rejoining Donovan’s coaching staff with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Over these past two years, several colleges have sought him out to take over their programs, but he has turned each down.

He enjoyed the NBA job and he and Chris had planned to stay put at least until Preston and his sister Jayda (they also have an older son, Anthony Jr., and a younger boy, Makai) graduated from high school.

But then last Saturday Archie Miller left UD to coach the Indiana Hoosiers and everything changed.

That same day OKC had begun a three-game road trip that would include a Sunday afternoon game in Houston, a Monday night game in Dallas and a Wednesday night game in Orlando.

The day of the Dallas game, Grant got his first call from UD athletics director Neil Sullivan.

“We had a brief conversation and then we exchanged texts and made arrangements to meet face to face,” Grant said.

In the meantime, Grant went to speak to Donovan. He was concerned because OKC is in the stretch drive to the playoffs — after Friday night’s game they have seven regular season games left — and he didn’t want to disrupt anything.

“I’m sensitive to the situation this puts them in,” he said. “It’s not that I’m a big piece of what they’re doing, but obviously the change in the middle of the playoff run is tough.”

RELATED: Neil Sullivan proud of search team’s effort

At the same time, he was working through the idea with his wife over the phone.

“Initially our mindset had been to let the kids graduate, but when this one came up I just said, ‘Honey, this one is too good,’ ” he said. “Everything seems to be falling into place and if it does happen we got to do it. Dayton is special to me.”

Regardless, the whole thing was “a bit hectic,” Grant said:

“I was on the road in the middle of scouts (game preparations). I’d get in at 3 a.m. and get up at 7 and try to make phone calls and figure everything out. It was kind of a blur, everything just happened so fast.”

After more phone conversations, Sullivan met with Grant again Thursday and offered the job.

Grant accepted but told Donovan he would finish out the season with the team, rather than put them in a bind.

Donovan gave him his blessings and told him to go.

“He’s done right now with us,” Donovan told Erick Horne of The Oklahoman. “I don’t say that in a negative way. I just say that in a way of, he’s gonna have other things he’ll have to do. It’s a great opportunity, and we don’t wanna to hold him back in any way.

“I think he only wanted what’s best for his alma mater. They made it very clear that they thought he was the right guy for the job at this time, and they really wanted him there.”

Friday afternoon Grant expressed his gratitude to the Thunder ownership, the entire organization and Donovan “for allowing me to do this.”

RELATED: Grant ready to lead charge into next era

And Donovan was right. Grant does have plenty to do in Dayton.

He said he needs to put together a staff or, as he put it, “at least part of one…real quick…so we have the opportunity to visit kids at home and watch them play. I can’t do it all by myself. But I’m also not going to rush until I’m sure I have the right people that complement each other and fit what I want to do and who I am.”

His first priority though, before assembling his assistant coaches, is meeting with the returning Flyers.

“Obviously I’ll see all of them (today) as a group, but then I want to visit with them individually,” he said. “This is a big change for them. And that’s a compliment to Archie.

“Those guys are devastated now. They lost their coach and that means Archie and his staff did a great job.  I’ve got to come in and build relationships with the guys.”

RELATED: Early look at 2017-18 Flyers roster

And the next thing is the recruits, he said:

“I know Archie and his staff felt really, really good about the group they had signed. They felt those guys could be difference makers, the cornerstones of the program.

“I’ve got to go try to build a relationship with those guys, too, and make them feel comfortable about honoring their decision to come to Dayton.”

He also knows there are programs trying to poach some of the commitments since Miller left:

“They’ll get hit by some other schools who say ‘Come with us. You don’t want to do that. It’s different now.’

“I’ve got to go make it happen for us. Now that their coach is gone, they have to be able to trust me and see that this is still a really good situation for them.”

But before he deals with those teenagers, he had to deal with one of his own Friday night — prom night.

“Oh yeah, he’s getting all dolled up,” Grant laughed. “I think he’s all set.”

UD is hoping he is, too.

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