Center Court

$25 Million in Improvements at Cintas Center Benefit Fans and Athletes

If you like the new D’Artagnan’s Deck and the skyline silhouette on the court, you’ll love what’s coming next. It’s all part of a seven-year, $25 million renovation of the Cintas Center, a makeover of the Xavier landmark that’s well underway, as fans discovered last year. Continue reading “Center Court”

Back on the Pitch

After his first day of practice with Xavier’s men’s soccer team, Mike Mossel called his mom back home in The Netherlands.

“I don’t think I can compete,” he said. “All of these guys are a lot bigger and stronger.”

mosselDon’t give up, she said. He didn’t. On day two he began noticing something. The American players were bigger and stronger, true, but their skills weren’t quite as sharp as players he competed against around Europe. Their touches weren’t as sharp. Their footwork not quite as skillful. Suddenly the tall, lanky forward who came to Xavier at the invitation of former coach Jack Hermans, also a native of The Netherlands, found himself in a stark reversal of roles. Not only was he able to compete against the others, but the others were suddenly struggling to compete against him.

Propelled by an upbringing with the Dutch youth sports philosophy that emphasizes developing skills over winning, he excelled. In just two seasons, Mossel etched his name in the Xavier record books for both goals and points, surpassing, in some cases, others who played all four years. But he found more than just on-the-field success while playing soccer in America. He also discovered a career.

“I had this idea in 1993 when I graduated,” he says. “What this country needs is what I went through. The Dutch philosophy is to focus on developing players on and off the pitch. Off the pitch you develop them through intellectual, moral, social and physical growth. On the pitch you focus on developing technical skills in players ages 5-10 and tactics from age 10-12. After that you get them into an academy and develop them into pro players. In the U.S., the focus is all on winning. We don’t care if you lose 10 games as long as you’re improving as players.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sports marketing, Mossel played professionally for 15 years in Belgium and the United States before retiring and forming the Dutch Lions Group, a Netherlands-based organization that owns a wide variety of soccer-related businesses—a youth academy and player agency group in Brazil, a player agency group in Portugal, and business organizing soccer tours in Europe.Most importantly, at least for Mossel, it also owns a series of minor-league soccer teams and youth development academies in the United States.

The group owns two teams in Dayton, Ohio—a women’s team and a men’s Pro Division team that’s the farm team for the MLS’ Columbus Crew—as well as a youth development academy. It owns another youth development academy and men’s Premier Development League team in Houston. And, starting this year, it owns a men’s Premier Development League team in Cincinnati.

Mossel wanted to start his U.S. businesses in Cincinnati because of his familiarity with the region, but another organization had the league rights to the market at the time.  When those rights became available, Mossel was on the phone with the league the next day. His second call was to Xavier to secure a home field. The team finished second in the league with a 6-4-4 record in its first year, including a 4-1-2 record on Mossel’s one-time home turf—or what is a close proximity to his one-time home turf.

“The field was grass when I played here,” he says. “And my first year they didn’t want us tearing it up by practicing on it every day, so we had to practice on this field down by Reading Road in Norwood. It was full of holes and bumps. I kept turning my ankle and pulling muscles. In The Netherlands we wouldn’t let our cows on a field like that. I said,  ‘We need a better facility. Who do I talk to?’ I was told the president made the final decisions, so I went up to see Fr. Hoff. He invited me in and explained that there was a plan to upgrade the facilities. He was very nice about it, but looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking—a 20-year-old student telling the president we needed a better field.”

Interestingly, one of Mossel’s goals now is to help the University improve the soccer facility. He loves the intimacy of having the fans close to the field, but he wants expand the seating and put a cover over the stands to protect them against the weather. It would benefit his team, he says, which plays on the field from March-August, as well as Xavier, which plays on the field from August-November. But one step at a time, he says. “We’re taking things slow,” he says. “We’re in this for the long term.”

The long-term business plan, he says, has the Dutch Lions Group owning five youth academies throughout the U.S., three Premier Development League teams, one Pro Division team and one MLS team. Financially, it’s a solid business model, he says. It covers all levels, includes a predictable income stream and
creates a pipeline of players—preferably those trained in the Dutch philosophy. He also has a solid group of investors backing him.

It’s a risk, he says, but so was coming to Xavier sight-unseen 20 years ago. And that worked out well.

“Even my wife tells me I’m crazy,” he says. “But one of the things that Xavier did more than anything was make me aware that if you want something, you go get it.”

Baseball Grabs Big East Title

It didn’t matter that it was May and the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean along the New York shore was somewhere between cold and frigid.

It didn’t matter that people were walking along the Coney Island Boardwalk. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have swimsuits.

20140525_122259The Xavier baseball team was going for a plunge. The impromptu swim was actually a celebration following the team’s 5-0 win over Creighton that gave Xavier the 2014 Big East Championship title.

Xavier just barely made the Championship, claiming the final spot, and got off to a rough start, both on and off the field. Off the field, the team’s flight to New York was late, the bus to the hotel had a flat on I-95, and when they got to the hotel, the rooms were flooded because of a plumbing issue so they had to go to a second hotel and didn’t arrive until midnight. That was followed by a 9-2 opening game loss to—of all opponents—top-ranked Creighton. But wins against St. John’s and Seton Hall in the double-elimination tournament set up the rematch against Creighton.

Outfielder Mitch Elliott was named the tournament’s MVP, while five other Xavier players—Dan Rizzle, Joe Forney, Derek Hasenbeck, Sean Campbell and freshman pitcher Trent Astle, who threw the title-winning three-hit shutout—were also named to the all-tournament team.

The title earned the Musketeers a trip to the College World Series, where they lost their opener against Vanderbilt, beat Clemson and were eventually knocked out in an extra-innings loss to the University of Oregon. The team finished the season with a 30-29 record.

Together Again

Romain Sato and Justin Doellman were teammates on the men’s basketball team for just one season, 2003-2004.

Sato was a senior, Doellman a freshman. But together they led Xavier to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Ten years later, the pair found themselves back together, this time in Valencia, Spain.

sato2They also found themselves just as successful on the court. The two led Valencia to the Eurocup Championship this year, beating Kazan (Russia). Both Sato and Doellman were named to the all-Eurocup team, with Doellman adding the championship MVP award to those honors.

This was Doellman’s second Euroleague season.

Sato also won a Euroleague title in 2011 with Panathinaikos (Greece) and an Italian League title in 2009 with Siena and a League MVP award in 2010.

[divider] Video Highlights [/divider]

• Watch highlights from Game 1 of the Finals.

• Watch highlights from Game 2 of the Finals.

• Watch an interview with Sato.

• Watch an interview with Doellman.

• Watch highlights of Doellman’s MVP performance.

Strategic Planning

magisOne year into his tenure as athletic director, Greg Christopher published a road map for Xavier athletics for the next five years. And it’s a rather ambitious map, as well. The strategic plan ties athletics goals with the University’s goals, and includes such aspirational ideas as pushing attendance at Cintas Center to 500,000 annually, selling out all men’s basketball games, updating the Cintas Center, becoming financially self-sufficient and winning a national championship.

Read the report.

Beasts of the Big East

No one knew what moving to the Big East Conference would mean for Xavier’s athletic teams. Could the teams—especially some of the non-spotlight teams—compete at this higher level? Or would they be overwhelmed and become an anchor at the bottom of the standings?

The answer came in February from an unlikely source: the men’s swim team.

The team delivered the University its first Big East Championship—this from a team that never won a conference title. Ever.

Senior Chad Thompson earned six gold medals and was named the Big East Most Outstanding Performer, while fourth-year head coach Brent MacDonald was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading Xavier to the championship.

Off the Field: Students of Service

landynFans are still filing out of the Cintas Center after watching Xavier beat Providence as Landyn rolls his wheelchair out onto the court.

His brother and sister grab basketballs and start tossing them wildly toward the basket that towers several feet above them. Inspired by their efforts, Landyn steps out of the wheelchair and joins the fun. It’s a struggle.

The 6-year-old has spina bifida, a degenerative spinal disorder that makes it difficult for him to walk, much less play basketball. 

As he works on his game, Matt Stainbrook, Xavier’s 6-foot-10 starting center, walks out onto the court, still in uniform, and offers him a little help. He lifts Landyn onto his shoulders and turns toward the basket. With the new height advantage, Landyn easily scores.

Landyn was brought to the game by SAAC, Xavier’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council, as part of a fundraising effort to send him to Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Each year for the past three years SAAC has singled out an individual to help go on a Make-A-Wish trip. 

Three years ago it raised about $1,000 to send a boy to Disney World. Last year it raised roughly $2,100 to send a boy to the Bahamas to swim with the dolphins. And this year through raffles, donation tables and general awareness, it raised more than $5,000 for Landyn and his family.

Although each of Xavier’s 18 sports teams always holds at least one community service project each semester, a resuscitation of SAAC three years ago ramped up the amount and level of community service performed by Xavier’s teams. As part of his hiring, Erik Alanson was asked to turn SAAC into something more than an organization on paper. He recruited soccer player Andy Kaplan and golfer Ariel McNair to represent and organize Xavier’s 300-plus student-athletes. Their goal was threefold: 

One, to represent Xavier’s student-athletes at the conference and national levels. The NCAA, for instance, asks for input from student-athletes whenever it is considering policy changes. 

Two, to take student-athlete concerns to the administration. Some professors, for instance, have a zero-tolerance policy about missing a class, which is not a possibility for student-athletes due to their extensive travel schedules. 

“I know saying we represent the interest of student-athletes sounds a bit entitled,” says Kaplan, “but it really is a huge group of people working full-time jobs and going to school.” Xavier’s 300-plus student-athletes represent about 7 percent of the overall undergraduate population.

And, three, to increase the level of community service. The group opens up its monthly meetings—which can’t take place until around 9:00 p.m. because that’s the first time during the day when none of the teams are practicing or committed to another activity—to ideas. Helping Make-A-Wish was one idea. All teams are now involved with mentoring and tutoring at the Academy of World Languages. In November, an idea was brought up for a canned food drive for St. Vincent DePaul. More than 1,000 cans were collected.

“That’s one of the best things about this—you have 300 Type-A competitive people involved trying to out-do each other,” says Kaplan. “When Ariel and I started, we did everything. We struggled to get people from each team to the meetings. Now we don’t have enough room.”

What’s even better, says Alanson, is that not only has SAAC grown, it now has grown to include specifically designed roles and responsibilities, which gives student-athletes job-specific experience they couldn’t get otherwise.

“We didn’t want SAAC to simply be a bullet point on a résumé,” says Alanson. “It’s much more intentional. All of these student-athletes are going to have to compete for a position of employment after they graduate, but being a student-athlete works against them. Traditional students have time for internships; student-athletes don’t. So we asked: What are some of the things SAAC can do that can give them experiences that is applicable to the real world?”

“As much as I’d love to get an internship with Procter and Gamble, that’s just not realistic,” says Erin McGualey, a sophomore soccer player who’s co-president of SAAC this year with Stainbrook. “Time really is the biggest issue with student-athletes.”

“It really does turn it into an internship,” says Adi Taraska, SAAC’s community service manager.

Art majors, for instance, are put in charge of all design work. Public relations majors handle press releases and social media. Communication arts majors are in charge of SAAC’s next project—the remaking of a video that shows new student-athletes what it means to be a Xavier student-athlete and what kind of commitment they have made.

In the end, unlike their games, everybody wins: The student-athletes get valuable experience, the community gets support—and a 6-year-old boy with spina bifida gets to go to Disney World.

Brian Grant

The four boys are spread out along the end of an otherwise empty football field, running around and sweating in the heat of a summer Portland sun.

“Cut and change direction,” Matt James yells at them. “Good. Slide, slide, don’t run. We’ll run in a second. This is exactly what you need for lateral movement and changing directions. Give me five seconds, all you’ve got. Set. Go. Good, good. See, you’re better, and we’re going to keep working on that.”

James is a master trainer for Nike and putting the boys, who range in age from 14 to 17, through an endless barrage of agility and conditioning drills. James is more used to putting professional athletes through their paces but has been hired by the boys’ father, who sits on a grassy hill off to the side.

“This is how our workouts went down, as I recall,” he says to the father.

Brian Grant laughs. For 12 years, Grant ran the courts of the National Basketball Association, enduring the ruthless pounding and punishment of games thanks in part to the same relentless conditioning drills that James is now putting his sons through.

But things are different now. It’s a new era.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener1.jpg”]opener1[/lightbox]James turns back to the boys. “Here’s another drill for you. I’ve got lots of them.” They strap parachutes around their waists and run sprints, the drag of the chutes providing resistance.

“You going to do this one, daddy?” says Anaya, Grant’s 10-year-old daughter, who’s passing the time by riding her bike and doing cartwheels over on the side.

“No, baby, my knee won’t let me.”

He pushes himself up off the grass with a slight groan.

“But I’ve got to get in shape,” he says. “My knee’s been acting up and I haven’t worked out in a month. I used to weigh 268, now I’m 300 ponds. I hold it well, but I’m 300 pounds right now. I’ve never been that heavy.”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener2.jpg”]opener2[/lightbox]He looks down at his knees, which are decorated with the scars of seven surgeries. The disintegration of cartilage in his right knee eventually left bone painfully scraping against bone and forced him to retire. As he gets up to encourage his sons, though, the most noticeable physical difference isn’t his weight or his knees. It’s his left arm. It shakes. Endlessly.

Five years ago Grant was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder whose symptoms include the uncontrollable tremors that now dominate his left arm. The man who made a life out of his remarkable physical abilities and motor control is slowly being robbed of that gift.

But the disease has also given him something else in return—something more: A new direction, a new focus, a new life. While many athletes struggle to reinvent themselves and find a new calling after their playing days end, Grant has found his: helping others. What he couldn’t find when he was told he had Parkinson’s was basic information about the disease. What does this mean? Am I going to die? What will my future look like? What can I do to help myself? If he had those questions, he says, then others must have them as well. So he started a non-profit organization to raise money and educate the 60,000 people who are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Using his fame and personality, he has led the organization in raising more than $1 million and put it in a position to become a prominent player in the Parkinson’s world alongside the foundations created by the disease’s most identifiable victims, Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener3.jpg”]opener3[/lightbox]For the moment, though, all that is secondary to what his sons are going through on the field. James has one last drill for them, a 300-yard shuttle run—down the field, back and down again in less than 60 seconds.

“This is exactly what they need,” Grant says.

They line up for their 300-yard dash.

“This ain’t no walk,” Grant shouts at them. “You’ve got to go all out on these.”

James looks over at Grant. “This is some Pat Riley stuff.”

Grant smiles and nods.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener4.jpg”]opener4[/lightbox]“When I was with the Miami Heat,” he says, “we had this drill that we had to do at training camp. We had to go baseline to baseline 10 times in 65 seconds. We had to do three of them. You got a two-minute rest in between and you could bank time, so if you did the first one in 59 seconds, you had six seconds in the bank, because by the time you got to that third one you were shot. You had to do it every morning until you made it. I got mine done the first day. We had this one cat who did it four days straight. He was messed up.”

The boys begin to get weary.

“Stride it out. Last one. Stride it out.”

They finish in a youthful 48 seconds.

“I know this is hard work, fellas, but I’m telling you right now, you do this twice a week and with all the other stuff you’re doing, you’re going to see a big improvement in your quickness, lateral speed, everything.”

As the boys gasp for air and James encourages them to control their breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth—Grant begins to pack up. He lifts Anaya’s bike into the back of his red “rasta rig” pickup truck. Anaya jumps in the passenger side.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/opener5.jpg”]opener5[/lightbox]“Help coach Matt pick up the gear,” he says. “Then you’ve got the rest of the day. You can chill or whatever.”

The boys decide they’re headed for a post-workout fast food feast. He nods. They’re old enough now to head out on their own. It’s a new era. So he reverses the truck out of the parking spot, shifts it into drive and turns toward home.

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[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XavCX5k_igU&feature=youtu.be” target=”_blank” rel=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XavCX5k_igU&feature=youtu.be”]Grant-video[/lightbox]

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The home has five garages—three attached to the main house and two detached off to the side. His beloved boat, which has carried him through countless hours of fishing on Portland’s many waterways, rests in between.

The garages are filled with the kind of supercharged fun one might expect from the wealthy and athletic—jet skis, four-wheeled ATVs, testosterone toys that he tows to his cabin at the foot of Mount St. Helens about an hour to the north.

It’s a transition house, one in between his old house along the edge of the Willamette River, which stayed with his former wife, and the new one he’s moving into on Lake Oswego this fall when he remarries and becomes a father for the seventh time.

Like the boys undergoing the training, this, too, is the start of a new era for Grant. Life is finally back on the upswing after a year and a half of what he describes as pure hell that started in 2008 when he retired from the NBA, got divorced, suffered a deep depression and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

For any professional athlete, being told you’re past your prime at an age when most people are just getting into theirs is a severe shock. Although the NBA offers seminars on life after basketball, Grant says, there’s really no way to adequately prepare someone for exiting what he calls the “vacuum of non-reality” that is professional sports.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-layup.jpg”]grant-layup[/lightbox]“The life that you live, once you’re in the NBA, it’s just not real,” he says. “Normal people don’t live their lives the way we do. I don’t mean that in a bad or good way, it’s just the fact. The fact that you have so much money that you can do what you want to do. You go places and get in. And when you retire, it’s like smacking into a brick wall. ‘Oh, this is what’s real. This is what the majority of the world goes through.’ You were just in that small class of non-reality. You begin to think about retirement, but nothing can prepare you for the actual retirement.”

[View a slideshow of Grant’s NBA career.]

The reality throws many athletes into a depression, and it did so for Grant. He would stay in bed, unmotivated to do anything. And the trouble making the transition was multiplied not only by marital problems, which eventually led to a divorce from Gina, his wife of 14 years, but also unknowingly because of the Parkinson’s.

“Once I hit retirement, instead of sliding into depression, it was like jumping off a cliff and not being able to find my way back up until I went and got professional help,” he says. “I went into a deep depression for eight months. But part of it was also because of Parkinson’s. My brain had depleted so much dopamine that once you don’t have that amount of dopamine, you’re always teetering on being depressed.”

Although Parkinson’s manifests itself through tremors in the arms and legs, it’s actually a neurological disease. The brain stops producing dopamine, the chemical the body uses to coordinate movement. For most Parkinson’s patients, the symptoms begin to show in their late 50s. For others, like Grant, Fox and Ben Petrick, who played four years of Major League Baseball with Parkinson’s, symptoms start showing as early as their 20s or 30s. Grant was 36 when he was officially diagnosed in 2008, but he noticed changes a few years earlier.

“My last year in the NBA, I noticed that I couldn’t jump off my left leg,” he says. “I was a little uncoordinated. I’m like, Wow that’s my good leg. I just thought it was what happens when you’re going into your 12th season and the body starts breaking down. There was an excuse for it. I also had this little skin twitch in my wrist. I asked about it, and they said it’s normal.”

[View Grant’s career NBA stats.]

He wasn’t fully diagnosed until moving back to Portland at which point he began trying to research what life was like with Parkinson’s. His research turned up nothing. Fox’s foundation deals with raising money for research. Ali has a foundation that helps those with advanced stages of Parkinson’s. No one touches on information for new patients—what does it mean, what to expect, how to manage your health. So he filled the need.

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYbFFevRW_Q” target=”_blank”]grant-and-fox-video[/lightbox]“I didn’t want to start dipping into the same pot that was already being filled,” he says. “I said to myself if I could have something available to me when I was first diagnosed what would it be? And it was a website that could give me direction on nutrition and exercise or could help me find a psychologist who could help me talk to my kids, things like that. I wanted to answer how to maneuver through life with the disease, because your problems are not going away.”

His work, in many ways, fills the gap between Fox’s research and Ali’s eldercare, putting him in a prominent place within the Parkinson’s community—a place, perhaps, equal to the others and one that, ultimately, may leave him even better known than for his basketball skills.

“If that happens, great. If it doesn’t, that’s OK, too,” he says. “I’m not really concerned about how I’m remembered. I’m concerned about reaching people and it being a useful tool for Parkinson’s patients, especially newly diagnosed patients. I just want to help people.”

Helping others, though, is nothing new for Grant. In 1999, the NBA gave Grant its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in recognition of his outstanding community service and charitable work.

[Read more about Grant’s charitable work.]

“I think helping underprivileged kids comes from being underprivileged myself,” he says. “And I think sick children just appeal to me. When I was in second grade I had double pneumonia and was in the hospital for two months. One day the Ruth Lyons Fund came by and gave out presents. I got one of those little Tonka trucks. I always remember that. So when I would go visit a little kid. I would always tell myself, ‘Remember how you remembered that moment. These kids are going to remember that moment, too.’ Whatever I have on me, not necessarily monetarily, but who am and the way I speak to them or their parents is going to stick with them the rest of their lives. I think that’s where that comes from.”

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[divider] • • • [/divider]

Grant walks into the house and eases into a chair in the living room. Three framed movie posters adorn the walls behind him—Bruce Lee, Shaft and Super Fly. They are, he admits, man-house decorations and have a limited life-span outside of the basement or garage once he gets married. For the time being, though, they dominate the room.

He pulls out his phone and calls up an app that allows him to control the room’s built-in sound system and begins scrolling through his music collection.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/shaft.jpg”]shaft[/lightbox]“When I was at Xavier, we lived in the Manor House,” he says, “and I was in the same building as Erik Edwards and DeWaun Rose. It was the battle of who had the biggest tower speakers. They were constantly blowing things up.”

He scrolls down until he gets to Bob Marley on the list and hits play. Reggae fills the room.

Hey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights/Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.

Grant subtly sways with the song, which he knows intimately. When he was with Sacramento, he and Gina went on vacation to Jamaica and ducked into a little hole-in-the-wall bar one evening. Marley began playing on the jukebox, and the music and lyrics immediately caught his attention.

“Who is this?” he asked the owner.

“Dis is Bob Marley, mon. You know Bob Marley, right?”

“Umm. I think I might have his ‘Legends’ album.”

“You don’t know Bob Marley? Hey, get this mon a 12-pack of Red Stripe. We need to educate him.”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-marley.jpg”]Grant13a[/lightbox]The education ended at 5:30 a.m. but the lessons have lasted a lifetime. When Grant got back home, he got a tattoo of Marley and the word “prophet” inked on his right shoulder. He also began growing the dreadlocks that made him one of the most identifiable if not iconic players in the NBA. When Marley’s kids were touring the U.S., they invited Grant onto their tour bus.

“The way you play,” Ziggy Marley told him, “you represent Daddy good.”

It was the ultimate compliment. Marley changed—and in many ways defined—Grant’s life. Specifically, he says, it was his song “War,” the one he heard on the Jamaican juke box.

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior/Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned/Everywhere is war/Me say war. 

Until there is no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation/Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes/Me say war.

The lyrics resonated strongly within his soul, taking him back to his childhood in Georgetown, Ohio, and the racial wars he repeatedly had to fight.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/young_withkids.png”]young_withkids[/lightbox]The irony of Georgetown is that it is the home of Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general whose military mastery helped win the Civil War for the North and abolish slavery in the South. And yet despite the freedom created by its best-known son, the small, southwestern Ohio town still hadn’t lost its grip on racism 100 years later when Grant was growing up.

He was always getting into fights as a youth, defending himself against the racial taunts and insults that were hurled in his direction. It was just one of the many challenges of growing up in rural Ohio, where money was scarce and life was hard. Instead of playing away the summers, Grant spent his picking and stripping tobacco on the local farms, digging potatoes and baling hay.

The physical labor made him strong, though, both physically and mentally. And it gave him a sense of what was important and a perspective on life that many never develop. It’s what pushed him to strive for something more, something better, and what prompted him to tell his mom after hearing a commercial for a college on the radio that he was going to go to college and get out of the country. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know where. But he was going to get there. He promised.

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[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/youngbball.jpg”]youngbball[/lightbox]The first time Dino Gaudio came to Georgetown High School to watch a basketball practice, he sat in the stands and was filled with uncertainty. Someone had anonymously been calling Xavier about Grant, and the Musketeers’ assistant basketball coach was there to make sure that the calls weren’t just some sort of prank. Practices, after all, often reveal more than games.

When the practice was over, Gaudio walked into the office of the team’s coach, Tim Chadwell, a former Xavier player himself who graduated in 1980.

“Who knows about this Grant kid?” asked Gaudio.

“No one,” said Chadwell.

“Let’s keep it that way.”

Until that time, Grant was considering an offer from an NAIA school—the smallest of colleges. It wouldn’t be stardom, but at least it would be college and Grant would be able to fulfill the promise he made to his mom.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-xavier.jpg”]grant-xavier[/lightbox]Based on Gaudio’s recommendation, Xavier’s head coach Pete Gillen went to see this unknown kid from the country for himself. Xavier only had one scholarship left. Gillen offered it to Grant. It was a gamble.

[View slideshow of Grant at Xavier.]

Grant didn’t disappoint, though, earning a starting spot as a freshman and going on to become a two-time Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year and honorable mention Associated Press All-American. He was inducted into the Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and became one of only four players to have his jersey retired by the University. His selection as the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft is still the highest Xavier draft pick ever.

In his 12 years in the NBA he played for five teams—Sacramento, Portland, Miami, Los Angeles and Phoenix—scoring just shy of 8,000 points and earning a reputation for his lockdown defense, earth-shattering picks and willingness to play against guys much bigger than him, guys like Shaquille O’Neil and Karl Malone. It was his willingness to stand up to the Hall-of-Fame center Malone, in fact, that made the basketball community stand up and notice Grant. In Game Five of the Western Conference semifinals in 1999, Malone sent Grant flying with a powerful elbow above his right eye. Grant bounced up, bloodied, and held a nose-to-nose, profanity-laced discussion with Malone in the middle of the court, informing him that he wasn’t intimidated.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-malone.jpg”]grant-malone[/lightbox]In the next game, Grant walked out onto the court, a Band-Aid over his eye, to what he calls the most deafening crowd he’s ever played in front of, many of whom were wearing Band-Aids over their eyes in a show of solidarity.

Grant held Malone to just eight points in 44 minutes, and the Trail Blazers advanced to the conference finals. Grant endeared himself to an entire city that night. Everyone was happy.

Except Malone. “I don’t like him,” he said of Grant, “and he don’t like me.”

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Karl Malone called.

“Heard you were sick,” he said. “How can I help?”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/alaska-fishing-3.jpg”]alaska fishing 3[/lightbox]When Grant set up his first fundraiser, Malone suggested they auction off a hunting and fishing trip with the two of them to Alaska. Four people paid $100,000 to join the former NBA players on the excursion.

Michael J. Fox called.

Grant’s neurologist is on Fox’s board of directors and told the actor about his newest patient, who was just diagnosed with Parkinson’s and trying to figure things out. Fox knew of Grant from his days playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I’m a movie buff, so I was kind of star stuck,” Grant says. “His words were uplifting. He’s got a really great outlook on life. He’s been dealing with it for a long time. What he told me, though, was that I had to lose my vanity. He said, ‘That’s going to be hard for you because you’re an athlete. It’s hard for me because I’m an actor, but until you lose that vanity, you’ll struggle with things.’ I’m slowly starting to lose it. I’m a lot better now than I was before. I used to go into a room at an event and just leave because I would get so much anxiety thinking that people were looking at me or thinking, ‘Oh my God poor him’ or something.”

Mark Starkey called.

Who? Starkey is a former basketball player at Wright State University in Ohio who was creating a TEDx event in Portland and wanted Grant to speak about Parkinson’s and his life. The theme of all the talks was all of the “What if…” moments in life. Even though he was a communications major at Xavier and spoke to the media countless times, public speaking was new—and terrifying—to Grant. As he began to recount all of the “what if” events in his life, though, it became less daunting because he began to realize how all of the moments in his life fell into place—like dominoes, one tumbling into another. What if one of his high school teachers hadn’t given him a second chance on a test so he could remain eligible for basketball? What if someone hadn’t anonymously called Xavier? And what if he hadn’t gotten Parkinson’s and been told to lose the vanity?

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az4huvs71d8&feature=player_embedded” target=”_blank”]grant video graphic[/lightbox]It helped bring it all into perspective: The foundation never would have been formed. He would still be depressed. And there would be people out there today who would still be struggling about what to do and where to turn for information about their Parkinson’s.

“There’s been major results” he says.

This year he expanded the foundation’s mission to include an exercise program with the Portland-area YMCAs specifically for people with Parkinson’s.

“Exercise has been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Right now we’re just local, but we’re expanding to Seattle and Tacoma, and if that’s successful in a year we’ll have our meeting about going to a national program.

“But what I would love to do is build a wellness center here in Portland, where we have an on-staff neurologist, physical trainer, yoga, psychologist, where it’s a one-stop shop. So when you’re diagnosed, you can take a three-day trip to Portland and have everything available to you right there in one place.[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/grant-speech.jpg”]grant-speech[/lightbox]

“My second goal is to go on the road and hit three cities a year where we’re doing a symposium that highlights all of these areas, and partner with groups in those cities to let people know you have this place that is doing a wonderful exercise program, or you have one of the top neurologists in this area. Those are my goals.”

The doorbell rings. The house that was momentarily quiet once again becomes a flurry of activity. Grant unfolds his 6-foot-9 body from the chair and excuses himself to take care of some personal matters. About 60 percent of his time these days, he says, is spent on personal issues—taking his kids to personal training sessions, getting his daughters to dance—with the remainder spent in conjunction with the foundation.

If he doesn’t go into the downtown Portland office on any given day, he’s on the phone making decisions or handling details. It may be the most demanding job he’s had. But it’s worth the effort. His fight with Parkinson’s, after all, has not only given him a new venue to help others, it’s given him something more: A new life.

[divider] More videos of Grant [/divider]

Climbing Mount St. Helen                     Interview on Live Wire radio

mtsthelensvideo livewire-video

Main Musketeer

Greg Christopher was hired as athletic director in March. We asked him about himself and his vision for Xavier sports as the University enters the Big East.

Q: What attracted you to Xavier?
A: Really three things. First and foremost is the institution. It’s a first-rate institution with a values proposition that, quite frankly, our society needs. Secondly, it’s the athletic part. There’s a tradition and a history of winning here, and there are the resources to be successful. Selfishly, as an athletic director, the thing you want the most are those resources. They give you the ability to be successful on a national level. And then, from a family standpoint, my wife and I spent at least six years in this corner of the state, so we knew what a great area Cincinnati is.

Q: How familiar are you with the Jesuit ideals? That a nun has the authority to tell a coach his star player isn’t going to play.
A: That’s different from what you might see at a public school. I think a lot of the private schools have that type of a values proposition. But I don’t care if it’s a nun, the president, the coach, the athletic director—the short version is there’s accountability. If you’re a student-athlete and you come to a Xavier, you adhere to that. That’s part of why you are here, that accountability. Is that going to turn off a few recruits? Perhaps. But if it does then I don’t think they would be great fits for Xavier anyway.

Q: You created the Falcon Leadership Academy for student-athletes at Bowling Green. What is that and can we expect something similar here?
A: I would never be presumptuous enough to take something we did at Bowling Green and bring it here to Xavier, but after I accepted the position Fr. Graham laid out three or four priorities for me and that was one of them—some form of character development/leadership that is specific to student-athletes. Another prong about why I was attracted to Xavier is that in terms of a leadership academy, that already exists here. I think what will probably happen is we’ll take what the coaches are already doing, what’s already being done on campus and incorporate a few new things and develop it into something that is specific to student-athletes.

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Q: What were the other priorities you were given?

A: The first was anything and everything related to revenue. As we move to the Big East and all that come with that, the message is clear: Athletics needs to generate more revenue on its own. There will certainly be an institutional commitment, and that’s not wavering, but what are the opportunities we have to generate more revenue? The second was all things Big East. It’s a big moment for the institution, a great opportunity, but it also comes with some challenges. We just need to make sure we are big enough for the stage, that we are an equal partner and not just a tag-along. The character development of our student-athletes. And the fourth was to create a strategic plan. You have a lot of things coming together to make that important right now: The University just finished its strategic planning process. You’ve got a brand new athletic director walking in the door on the heels of an AD who was here 15 years. Take that plus the Big East layer and it’s time to develop a new road map for athletics.

Q: You helped raise $111 million at Purdue and $60 million at Bowling Green. So we can expect you to do a lot of fundraising as well?
A:
It clearly needs to be a priority, but that is true for any Division I institution. And it’s not as simplistic to say going out to people and asking for money. It’s looking at really how are we integrated and cohesive across the board and how we drive revenue or look at revenue within athletics. And even beyond that within the institution. The fact is there’s a business side to what we do. You can’t gouge your customers. That’s not the message I want delivered in any way shape or form. But are we as efficient as we can be in operating from a revenue standpoint?

Q: You mentioned the Big East as a priority. Can we compete?
A:
I’ve been to two Big East meetings so far, and you sit around that table and a couple of things jump out at you. First and foremost, we’re in the right group. Conferences ought to be about ideology and being with like-minded institutions. And I think that’s why the new Big East makes so much sense on a lot of levels. Second, it’s terrific for Xavier in that joining the conference is strategic not just from an athletics standpoint but from an institutional standpoint. Ohio and the Midwest are not tracking the right way from a demographic standpoint to try to grow an institution. So you have to look a little more national. And the Big East is in the right markets for Xavier going forward. And then the third part that readily comes out as we talk is that we are built the right way. Every single school in the Big East, the bandwidth of budgets is really tight. We’re not the top budget in the Big East, but we’re also not the bottom. We probably have some gaps that we’re going to need to address. We’ve also got some places that we’re absolutely built to compete. Are we going to walk in the dominate? No. The bandwidth is too tight. But I think we can be very successful out of the gate.

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[The competition: A listing of Big East schools and how Xavier compares.]

Q: How will joining the Big East help grow the institution as whole?
A:
It’s not easily measurable, but you don’t make this kind of a move if you haven’t thought it through from an institutional standpoint. Absolutely it’s about getting Xavier visibility in some key markets that are important to the University. We have to think more nationally from an admission and enrollment standpoint as we look out over the next 10, 20, 30 years. Also it reframes the institution a little bit in that when you look at our peer groups, it’s not just a more external group from the athletic standpoint, but also the academic standpoint. For the institution, to maximize this, let’s make sure we’re visible from an academic standpoint, not necessarily the students in the classroom and their engagement from a research standpoint, and also making sure they are using the platform to get the Xavier message out.

Q: Will Xavier add any new sports?
A:
Each school has its own sports portfolio and that will be something we do take a look at through the strategic plan. Do we have the right sport mix, especially under the ender equity standpoint? The good thing is all of our sports are under the Big East umbrella—we won’t have any orphan sports off in different conferences. I think it’s a good portfolio of sports that we do have, and now it’s our job to make sure they keep getting better.