Gant’s home finale at Washington finally arrives

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By TIM BOOTHAP Sports Writer

When he decided Washington was the place to play his college ball, Darnell Gant believed it was a one- or two-year springboard to a future in the NBA.

Five years later, Gant gets grief for being the old man of the program.

”To me, he’s always been the grandfather of the team,” guard C.J. Wilcox joked.

Gant will close out his lengthy home career at Washington this week when the Huskies (17-8, 10-3 Pac-12) host Arizona State on Thursday and then face Arizona on Saturday afternoon. He’ll be one of just two seniors honored on Saturday, along with fan-favorite reserve Brendan Sherrer, with the Huskies still in the fight for the Pac-12 Conference lead.

If Washington can reach the NCAA tourney in what’s been a down year for the conference, Gant would become the first player in Huskies history to reach four NCAA tournaments.

”That’s a big thing for me,” Gant said. ”I’ve always wanted to leave college being in the history books in some way, and if this is my opportunity then I’m going to try and take full advantage of it.”

Gant believed he would be finding his name in Washington’s record books for different reasons when he signed out of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles. He was brash and confident when he arrived, but it only took one practice getting thrown around by Jon Brockman for Gant to realize he needed to redshirt. His redshirt freshman season, when Washington lost in the second-round of the NCAA tourney, Gant started 34 of 35 games, but averaged just 3.1 points. That number dipped as a sophomore, as did his playing time.

Those aspirations of leaping to the NBA after a year or two were tempered pretty quickly.

”I feel like the struggle was the best part for me. At the time where I wasn’t playing much and I had to look back and kind of watch everybody pass me up, I feel like that was the most memorable time because it kind of humbled me and made me work harder and be a better player and get my mind right and prepare for these next two years,” Gant said. ”And these last two years, for the most part, I’m proud of myself and just proud of the state of mind I’m in because I came from thinking one way to thinking in a whole different light.”

Seeing his role and playing time diminish caused Gant to reinvent his game. He never attempted a 3-pointer during his first two college seasons, yet has grown into a being a nearly 37 percent 3-point shooter his final two seasons. He started 34 games as a freshman and a total of 36 in the three years since, becoming one of coach Lorenzo Romar’s first options off the bench.

There’s also a level of resiliency Gant showed earlier this season. Against California, in a key Pac-12 matchup and without an injured Wilcox, Gant had the worst night of his career. He finished with one point and missed all nine of his shots, including an open 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime. Instead of a hangover, Gant came back to score 17 points two days later against Stanford, the second-best scoring game of his career.

”That other guy was a young adolescent that came here; now he’s much more of an adult than he was before. It’s been great to see him blossom these last five years that he’s been in school. It’s been a joy to see that,” Romar said. ”Still has a great heart. He came with a great heart and is going to leave with a great heart – but just has matured so much.”

Gant finished his degree in performing arts last June. He was part of a school production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream in the spring of 2010 and was among the most excited players when the Huskies took a trip to New York in December that included the chance to take in two Broadway productions.

He still has the same NBA hopes that he did when he first arrived at Washington, but those now come with a different perspective.

”The years I’ve been here we’ve won and I’ll forever be remembered because we won here,” Gant said. ”I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”

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