NCAA BK

High-scoring Grant gets hall of fame nod

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)

College basketball's greatest scorer shot his way out of poverty with a tennis ball and a 5-gallon bucket tacked to his house. Long before he became known as "The Machine" at Kentucky State, scoring more points than even Pete Maravich, Travis Grant was just a kid in the segregated South who loved basketball. No money for a real basket, he cut out the bottom of that bucket, grabbed a 25-cent rubber ball, a tennis ball, whatever he could find, and shot. Anything to shoot. When he could, Grant paid a dime to watch the high school team play outdoors, on a dirt court lined in chalk. He later became a star when the team moved indoors - after the school could afford to build a gym. Grant went on to win NAIA championships, become college basketball's all-time leading scorer and play professionally. Now, finally, that kid with the tennis ball and a dream is headed into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. "Travis should have been in all the hall of fames a long time ago," said William Graham, Grant's Kentucky State teammate and former coach at the school. "It's been like 40 years since he's been in school and he deserves to be in quite a few hall of fames. If it's basketball, he should have been in the hall of fame." The big names in Sunday night's induction ceremony in Kansas City will be Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, whose epic battle in the 1979 NCAA title game spawned the modern era of big-time college basketball. Johnson's coach, Jud Heathcote, former Oklahoma star Wayman Tisdale, NCAA patriarch Walter Byers, longtime coach Gene Bartow and contributor Bill Wall will also be inducted. Grant? He's the answer to a trivia question most people get wrong: Who is the all-time leading scorer in college basketball? The most common response? Maravich. But Grant scored 378 more points than Pistol Pete. He just did it at a small, historically black teaching college in Frankfort, Ky., while Maravich caught the nation's eye with his magic act at Louisiana State. Grant chose Kentucky State over bigger schools because of his relationship with coach Lucias Mitchell. The two had met early in Grant's high school days while Mitchell was coaching at Alabama State. When Grant graduated, he followed Mitchell to Kentucky State. Turned out to be a great decision. After spending the first half of his first game on the bench, Grant entered in the second half against Campbell College. He hit his first shot, another, eventually 10 straight. Grant became an instant cult figure with the Kentucky State fans, who dubbed him "The Machine" on the spot. Grant kept churning out points after that. The 6-foot-7 shooter led the Thorobreds in scoring as a freshman, to three straight NAIA national championships from 1970-72, and became the first small-college player to win the Lapchick Trophy as college basketball's player of the year as a senior. "He was a phenomenal shooter," said Graham, now a professor at Kentucky State. "We basically just had to get the ball to him. If he was open, it was two points. Guaranteed shooter." Grant didn't have an easy road to the top. He grew up in rural Alabama during the civil rights era and heard his share of racial slurs. His father left before he turned 6 and his mother, Mattie Mae, spent her days working in the homes of white families around Clayton to support Travis and his four sisters. Basketball was Grant's ticket out. All those shots at the makeshift rim turned him into a high school star. Earned him a chance to attend college. Took him to California for a professional career. Once he had made it, Grant came back. Using the signing bonus he received from the Los Angeles Lakers, who had taken him with the 13th overall pick of the 1972 draft, Grant bought a car, drove back to Alabama and went around Clayton paying off his mother's bills. Then he bought her a house. "That might have been the best day of my life," Grant said. His life's about to circle around again. Kansas City was the site of some of Grant's greatest moments on a basketball court. He went through what's been dubbed the toughest tournament in basketball - five games in six nights - three times there, ending up with the NAIA trophy each time. Grant went on to play a short but relatively productive professional career, playing limited minutes in 1972-73 with a Lakers team that included Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West then averaged a career-best 25.2 points for San Diego in 1974-75. Injuries and contract disputes ended his career after four seasons. Grant went back and finished his degree and has spent the past 29 years as an educator. He's now an assistant principal at Panola Way Elementary School in Lithonia, Ga. There, he's just Mr. Grant, member of the staff, his past concealed - at least until the recent buzz about his hall induction - by a humble man comfortable with his accomplishments. Now, just before the 40th anniversary of his first national title, the 59-year-old Grant gets to relive those glory days, maybe puff out his chest a little and get the recognition he probably deserved a long time ago. "It's going to be a great weekend," said Grant, who's married and has two children. "Just to get back to Kansas City will be special. It's like a home away from home. It's fitting the (hall induction) will take place there." All because of a tennis ball and a bucket.

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