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”

In the Clubhouse

Sr. Rose Ann Fleming’s special—sometimes loud—bond with men’s basketball: An excerpt from her book, Out of Habit

Out of Habit, My Life as Xavier University’s Unlikely Point Guard, explores Fleming’s powerful role with the men’s basketball team and its extraordinary academic success, due to her work as an academic advisor and support for the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success. This excerpt details her relationship with 1990 graduate Tyrone Hill.

Tall and aggressive, Tyrone Hill could dominate a basketball court, even as a freshman at Xavier. He also had a chip on his shoulder the size of a Volkswagen and a glower that could blister paint. Of course, I liked him right away. He was about to flunk a class because he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—write a philosophy paper that was due. A disgusted assistant coach dumped Tyrone in my office, and I steered him to the library. The smoldering athlete cursed under his breath. A single hissing expletive, the same word, over and over, almost in time with our footsteps. Lacking a dignified response, I just kept walking briskly, hoping he would follow. He did.

The first really great player I would work with, Tyrone was recruited from Withrow High School in Cincinnati and came to Xavier in the summer of 1986. As is often the case, he thought basketball was the main event.

“I’m here to play basketball,” he huffed.

“You are here to play basketball and to get an education,” I huffed back.

We had resident tutors/counselors who were supposed to make sure Tyrone studied. The counselors were cowed by him, but not so fearful that they didn’t spill the beans to me when he didn’t show up at the study table. The next day, I would be in his face. Friendly, but firm, I would walk him through what was expected. It happened more than once. So when it came time for the confrontation over his philosophy paper, we knew each other. I already had a hunch that when I marched to the library he would follow.

He respected me. And I respected him right back.

Besides his curiosity and intelligence, I genuinely admired his athletic ability, and I made it clear that I valued sports. I had several photos on my walls of Xavier teams. “Look at you, Tyrone,” I said, “the tallest player on the team. I bet you make things happen at practice.” Naturally, I went to practice to see if I was right.

Sometimes important bonds are formed just by being there. I think living at Manor House on campus was a distinct advantage for me. My work included finding students who didn’t want to be found. And I could run like a deer.

When it was first announced that basketball players were going to move into some of the units in the Manor House, Tyrone called to warn me.

“You may want to move,” he said.

“Why would I want to move?” I answered. “I’ve been there a while.”

“Because it will be noisy.”

The team had regular drug and alcohol testing, and they were typically exhausted during the season. They were not going to be up all night partying. I assumed they thought I would complain about their music, which was sometimes earsplitting. I said if they promised not to crank up the volume on LL Cool J, I would try not to pray too loud.

In Tyrone’s junior year, he grappled with the choice presented to many top college players—should he play pro ball or should he stay in college another year and get his degree? The NBA offers big money, and the contract doesn’t come with a bookbag and a nag. He asked me what he should do. In my head, I was shrieking, “Don’t go. Don’t squander your hard work. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” But we try to teach our students to make their own good choices.

So, I said calmly: “Tyrone, life is like strategy for a big game. If you maximize all the opportunities and minimize all the obstacles, you win.” He decided to stay and collect the degree he had earned.

Tyrone Hill was chosen by the Golden State Warriors in the 1990 NBA draft and went on to play for Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He retired from basketball after coaching for the Atlanta Hawks, then he spent time in Cincinnati, rebuilding a playground in the Evanston area where he grew up. For a while, he owned a company called All Net Records, which released music by groups including OTR Clique, D’Meka and KompoZur. I am not familiar with these artists, but I assume they are loud.

(Donations are welcome to the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success fund which is part of Xavier’s All For One Fund. Out of Habit is available for purchase at
xavier.edu/alumni/book.)

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.

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.

.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

[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]

[divider] • • • [/divider]

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.”

.

[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.

.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

[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.”

.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

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.

[button link=”#” size=”small” target=”self”]Watch the interview[/button]
Watch a video of the interview

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.

[button link=”#” size=”small” target=”self”]     Additional Content     [/button]
[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.

Game Changer

The official announcement of the worst-kept secret in college sports happened March 20: Xavier is leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference and joining a newly restructured Big East. Talk of the change was a shadow story throughout much of the past year, and making the announcement official was not only a relief, it formally moved Xavier to the place it has been aiming at for the last 30 years—the national stage.

Xavier’s elevation into one of the most dominant basketball conferences in the country was met with a packed Cintas Center conference room and a great deal of pride among Musketeer alumni and fans. But what was lost in the announcement was the fact that the move into national prominence wasn’t an overnight event. Rather, it was the culmination of a well-planned, concerted effort that was decades in the making, starting back even before Xavier entered the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1979.Team 5 LIP 8-20-12 DC

There were little steps along the way—ditching the “Xavier of Ohio” tag, ignoring the “mid-major” label, teaching people that it’s not pronounced “Ex-avier.” There were big steps as well—moving from Schmidt Fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens, joining the A-10, building the Cintas Center. But like walking up a flight of stairs, each step elevated the University until it has now reached what could arguably be considered the top flight.

The question remains, though: Now what? The new Big East is in some ways an experiment in athletic dynamics. It’s now the nation’s only non-football, basketball-centered power conference. It’s also made up of nine Catholic schools and one private school. What does all that mean in terms of national interest? In terms of television revenue? In terms of quality?

[divider] ••• [/divider]

[button link=”#” size=”medium” target=”self”]     Additional Content     [/button]
• New athletic director Greg Christopher shares his views on Xavier joining the Big East.
The competition: A listing of Big East schools and how Xavier compares.
A video of Xavier sports highlights from the past three decades.

[divider] ••• [/divider]

20121011_BASE_BlueWhite_Richard_5In some ways, the creation of the conference is a relief to the plethora of conference realignments driven by television exposure and revenue that have been taking place over the last five or six years. Its creation wasn’t spawned from a drive for more money and power, but from a protest against that.

The old Big East was crumbling from the inside out as its football and non-football schools (informally known as the Catholic Seven) engaged in an internal tug-of-war. By rejecting the idea that football comes first and breaking away on their own, the Catholic Seven not only found relief from the stress of financial inequality, but they found freedom as well—freedom to play for reasons other than commercialism.

“In a mercenary college athletics world drunk on dollars and disdainful of both common sense and the common fan,” Yahoo sports columnist Pat Forde wrote, “it’s nice to see one group declare that something else matters more. Identity matters more. Equality matters more.“083112_OleMiss_001

Arguably, so might mission. With all of the schools except Butler being Catholic, it offers the opportunity for subtle preaching of values and service through its on- and off-the-field actions. Before the first game has even been played, the new league can already boast about one record that most other conferences can’t—academic success. All of the new Big East schools have an NCAA graduation rate of at least 90 percent, with the exception of Butler, which is at 83 percent. Xavier’s 97 percent graduation rate is the best.

David Gibson, a writer with the Religious News Service, even posed the question, “Can a Catholic hoops conference save college sports?” By “the conference’s breaking away in protest,” he wrote, “the schools are offering a corrective example to the way big-money programs, especially in football, are driving (some would say warping) amateur sports.”

It’s a lot of added pressure—being able to compete at the highest level while not engaging in the kind of athletic and moral malfeasance that has dominated sports headlines of late. Still, it could set a benchmark other conferences may be challenged to meet.

Whatever ripple effects the league might have externally, joining the conference will certainly have a ripple effect internally for Xavier. Its effects will be felt in the admissions office and classrooms and bookstore as new audiences of potential students, fans and donors become exposed to Xavier and all it has to offer. What will that mean? Time will tell.

Time begins this fall.

[divider] ••• [/divider]

Crosstown Cooperation

The intense and often-heated Crosstown Shootout, which has drawn the nation’s attention for its fierceness and upsets, has taken on a more sportsmanlike – albeit still intense – air.

The game has been rebranded as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic, relocated to the more neutral U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati, refashioned to be a benefit for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and refreshed to include additional events with students from the two schools.

In October, a collaborative team of students from each school participated in the Bridges Walk for a Just Community, an annual 5K event celebrating the rich ethnic and cultural heritage of the Cincinnati region. That was followed in November by members of the basketball teams from both universities participating in a special day at the Freedom Center that included displays about community engagement, collaboration and service at each school. The event tripled the Freedom Center’s average attendance for the day.

 

Basketball Success

A study by Basketball Times ranked the men’s basketball program 21st best in the country based on winning percentage, number of NBA players, graduation rate, the University’s U.S. News & World Report academic reputation, the program’s history with NCAA rules compliance and the overall quality of the head coach as evaluated by his peers. Basketball Times has conducted an evaluation every five years since 1997, and Xavier is one of only nine basketball programs ranked in each survey. The others are Arizona, Connecticut, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Murray State, North Carolina and Syracuse.

Because I Came to Xavier I…

Each year members of the prestigious 1831 Society gather in the Cintas Center before a men’s basketball game to wine and dine before they head into the arena to clap and cheer.

The gathering is put together by the Annual Fund office as a way of saying thanks to those whose annual gifts of $1,000 or more make them the University’s top donors. While the wine and Pasta Pronto buffet were a nice thank you by themselves, the biggest thanks came from another special group invited to the event—the students who benefit from the Society’s donations, which go toward student financial aid.

As a different twist this year, students were given a button with the words “Because I came to Xavier I….” which they were asked to fill in. Alumni frequently tell Annual Fund director Leigh Ann Fibbe that they never realized when they were students how much Xavier would shape their future, so the buttons not only helped alumni reminisce about their time at Xavier, but helped the students start thinking about it now as well. And they did. Some of their answers:

• “Because I came to Xavier, I have grown in my leadership and have been open to new opportunities and perspectives.” —Ryan

• “Because I came to Xavier, I will work toward justice by serving as an advocate for society’s most vulnerable.” —Brianne

• “Because I came to Xavier, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with world changers! I’ve been able to welcome over 1,000 students to the home that is Xavier University.” —Bobby

“The purpose is to say thanks to this leadership group of donors,” Fibbe says. “They give over 80 percent of the Annual Fund dollars each year. The alumni love talking to the students. And the students love it. They come to me afterward and say they want to do it again next year.”

Sweet 16 Sounds

Some things never get old, like making it to the Sweet 16. Each trip offers its own unique sights and sounds, and this year we recorded a few things we overheard.

“He just kind of wilted, like a flower.” —Joe Sunderman on Dez Wells hurting his toe

“When we played in the Hoosier Dome, the basket looked this big. And it was just floating there. It was like the ball wouldn’t even fit in it.” —Byron Larkin on playing in a dome

“To Kenny Frease. Four years and three Sweet Sixteens. Who else has done that? I love Kenny Frease.” —Joe Sunderman, raising a coffee toast at breakfast on game day

“Wayland Street goes nuts when Xavier wins. The cops came last time. They’re like, ‘Settle down.’ We’re like, ‘We’re in the Sweet 16, we can’t settle down!’” —Arthur Havey, junior

“Oh, you’re the tall guy. Remember me, from yesterday? I was like, ‘You’re so tall!’” —Waitress of Atlanta’s Metro Café Diner to Joe Sunderman

“If any of the Muskies has a toothache, there should be plenty of help available.” —Retired dentist and Xavier graduate Earl Schuh ’52 on the 100th annual dental convention that coincided with the NCAA playoffs in Atlanta (Laura Bush was the keynote speaker.)

“Feed the King!” —Kevin Lavelle encouraging the Musketeers to pass the ball to senior Kenny Frease

“He’s full of wisdom. He says a lot of things that are philosophically deep. I don’t know where he gets it.” —Zach Boothe on Tu Holloway’s Twitter account

“We’ve got a one-of-a-kind gnome. It’s fun.” —Susan Griffin on D’Artagnome, Xavier’s traveling garden accessory

“We fight for the same jobs, the same girls, but in the end we’re not that different.” —Atlanta telecom salesman Luckey Helms ’06 on the crosstown rivalry with UC

 

To relive more Sweet 16 memories, check out the “Let’s Go X” blog at xavier.edu/postseason.