RICHMOND, Va. – The tales of Anthony Grant’s legendary focus are not born from whimsical bouts of mythology. It’s real. With blinders of coaching affixed to his temples, a fiery motivator smolders beneath a Rushmoresque stoic façade. What you see is what you get.
The only game in Grant’s day planner is the next one. He’s famously resistant to any effort to discuss a game other than the next one on his team’s schedule, not to local media and national pundits, not on his own coaches radio show, not to anyone. It’s like coaching in a pre-Christopher Columbus world. Ships that sail around the next game on the schedule immediately fall off the face of the earth and into an abyss. Okay, maybe a little mythology.
His approach to the game at hand is similarly singular, free of distraction and emotional attachment, other than the desire to win the game.
Thursday afternoon, faced with the prospect of returning to VCU Saturday in the Verizon Wireless Arena, a place he called home for three seasons from 2006-09, Grant was typically deflective.
“I know I say this all the time and I know it sounds like a broken record to you, but that never goes into my train of thought, it’s never about me, it’s about our team,” Grant said. “VCU has an excellent team that we’ve got to get prepared for.”
Jeff Capel faced a mixture of cheers and boos when he walked his 17th-ranked Oklahoma team into the Siegel Center in 2009. During the game, the atmosphere bordered on frenzied. In addition to Capel’s return, it was the first time the Rams had hosted a ranked opponent in the building since it opened in 1999. VCU won 82-69 and a sellout crowd stormed the floor at the final horn.
Famously intense, Grant has had 10 days between games to reflect on back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Dayton. But that’s not to say he’s ignorant of what awaits him Saturday in Richmond.
“It’s a great basketball environment. I think it’s about a 7,500-seat arena, sold out, great involvement from the community, great involvement from the student body,” he said. “It’ll be a challenging environment for our guys to go into, so we’ll need to make sure we’re focused on the things we can control in terms of how the game is played and what we’re doing. We expect it to be a great atmosphere.”
On the floor, emotional attachment will be minimal. The only player remaining from Grant’s successful three-year tenure is senior David Hinton, who redshirted one season under the Alabama coach. On the floor, it’ll be VCU and Alabama battling it out in what expect to be a game of NCAA Tournament contenders. A win for either team will be a valuable postseason resume builder.
From that perspective, it’s easy for Grant to separate emotion from action. But VCU fans likely won’t feel the same. For them, it’s all about emotion. Many are thankful for Grant’s 76 victories and two conference championships, not to mention the program-boosting NCAA win over Duke in 2007. Others will see a coach who left the program on the way up, one who picked somebody else over their school.
Grant has returned to Richmond since his departure in March of 2009. He has a brother that still lives in the area, and he also attended VCU graduation at the Siegel Center in 2011 to congratulate former recruits Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon.
But it’ll be his first time coaching in the Siegel Center from the opposing bench, within earshot of the rabid student section that once cheered his every move. Will it be strange, sitting in the visitor’s locker room, beyond to doors of the VCU Basketball suite his team’s successes ushered into existence?
“Probably,” he said. “I coached at the University of Florida for 10 years, and it was awkward going there and being in the opposing locker room. I played at the University of Dayton and had never been in the opposing locker room, so this will be no different.”
But that was about all the personal perspective Grant was willing to concede.
“But not to make light of it, but it’s a road game for us, it’s a hostile environment,” Grant added. “It’s a really well-coached team that we’re preparing for, so we’ve got to understand that. I think my job is to make sure my guys understand that and are prepared to play.”