Roll Tide, and VCU, too! ‘Bama coach on wild ride
All four coaches in the NIT semifinals gathered for photos
Monday, three wearing snappy suits and ties. Anthony Grant sported
a red Alabama pullover.
If the Crimson Tide coach wanted to remind everyone which team
was his, there was good reason. Grant took as many questions – if
not more – about his former squad at Virginia Commonwealth than his
current one from Tuscaloosa.
”I’m the coach at Alabama,” he patiently reminded
Yes, March has turned into a wild and magnificent ride for just
about anyone with ties to VCU, and Grant is no different.
He spent three seasons on the Rams’ sideline, guiding them to a
pair of NCAA tournaments and a first-round upset of Duke in 2007
before bolting for a bigger job at Alabama two years ago.
Though his team was left out of the NCAAs this month despite
winning the SEC West, Grant quickly got his guys refocused and the
Crimson Tide has rolled into Madison Square Garden, where it plays
Colorado on Tuesday night for a spot in Thursday’s championship
Wichita State faces Washington State in the first semifinal.
Along the way, Grant has kept an eye on his ex-players at VCU.
Darlings of the NCAA tournament, they’ve captivated the country
with their underdog run to the Final Four in Houston.
”I’m just extremely happy and proud for them and what they’ve
accomplished,” Grant said. ”Obviously, when the time is right I
think myself and my family and everybody that had a chance to be a
part of that group certainly will be rooting them on and hoping
that they can finish it out with a championship.”
Suddenly, some of Grant’s overshadowed recruits have blossomed
into national stars. He said he’s watched several VCU games in the
NCAA tournament but missed Sunday’s stirring upset of top-seeded
Kansas because Alabama had practice.
When the Tide’s season is done, Grant is looking forward to
watching the 11th-seeded Rams take on Butler in the Final Four on
”That will be a lot of fun,” he said.
But first, Alabama (24-11) goes for its initial NIT title in its
sixth trip to the semifinals.
A national power in football, the Tide is trying to build some
basketball success behind freshman point guard Trevor Releford,
sophomore forward Tony Mitchell and 6-foot-8 junior JaMychal Green,
who surprised Grant recently by saying he would stay for his senior
season rather than jump to the NBA.
After struggling early against nonconference competition,
Alabama has won 19 of its last 24 games – including a victory over
Final Four participant Kentucky. The Crimson Tide went a
school-record 19-0 at home this season but was left out when the
NCAA field was announced on Selection Sunday.
”Obviously, I’d be misleading you if I told you there wasn’t
disappointment,” Grant said. ”But I think our guys have done a
very good job of turning the page and moving on.”
Alabama beat Coastal Carolina, New Mexico and Miami (all at
home) to make it to New York. Next up, an opponent that also was
seeded No. 1 in its corner of the NIT bracket.
Colorado (24-13) was shocked when it was snubbed by the NCAA
tournament selection committee, and several college basketball
analysts cried foul. But the Buffaloes used that as motivation and
reeled off NIT wins over Texas Southern, California and Kent
”It shows that we can play out in Colorado. It shows that the
program is going in a different direction. The future is bright for
us,” said leading scorer Alec Burks, who averages 20.5 points.
The game pits Colorado’s high-octane offense against Alabama’s
Led by Burks and senior Cory Higgins, the Buffaloes rank 11th in
the nation in scoring at 80.1 points per game. The Tide, meanwhile,
allow only 59.2, eighth-best in the land.
Higgins needs 13 points to tie Richard Roby’s school record of
2,001. Grant called Burks ”one of the best players in the
”The one thing we’ve tried to reiterate to our players is the
tradition, all the great coaches, all the great players who have
played in this tournament, who have coached in this tournament.
It’s a special thing,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
”You never know what life is going to throw at you and three
weeks ago, 2 1/2 weeks ago, we were thrown a little bit of a
curveball. But we hit it, because our guys have responded the right
way. They have not whined about it, cried about it. We’re not going
to do that.”
No. 2 seed Washington State (22-12) has had three prominent
players suspended this season after being cited for misdemeanor
marijuana possession, including leading scorer Klay Thompson, the
son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, the top pick in the 1978
”I think where he takes it from his dad is in the genes I think
is that warrior-type attitude. He doesn’t really show it
emotionally, but he’s a competitor. He’s a real competitor. He
brings it most every possession,” coach Ken Bone said.
Bone will have his full roster available against the Shockers
(27-8), who finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference. They
are carrying the mid-major flag in the NIT just as VCU and Butler
have done in the NCAAs.
”I like to use the term non-BCS, because there’s very little
that’s mid-major about our program. We are a first-class program,”
said coach Gregg Marshall, excited to step inside Madison Square
Garden for the first time.
”This mid-major label or whatever is a misnomer. The bottom
line is there’s a lot of great teams, there’s a lot of great
players, a lot of great coaches. And when given the opportunity on
a neutral floor, you see it more and more and more,” he added. ”I
think people get caught up too often in, if it’s not BCS it’s not
good enough. That’s not the case.”
The Cougars and Shockers are in the semifinals for the first
time. Colorado is the only one of the four teams with an NIT title,
which it won way back in 1940.