Travis Grant

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Travis Grant

Postby rlee » Tue Apr 28, 2009 4:34 am

A Man, a Machine and a Champion

By Mark Story
The Lexington Herald-Leader

-As the story goes, Travis Grant became "The Machine" the very first time he played in a college basketball game in Kentucky.

In a game Grant's Kentucky State Thorobreds were losing to Campbell College in the second half, coach Lucias Mitchell sent Grant in for his first college action.

"Travis, he hit like 10 shots in a row, something unheard of," Mitchell said. "Some guy up in the stands said 'That guy is a machine.' It stuck with him."

Before he was done at the Frankfort university, Travis "The Machine" Grant compiled more points (4,045) than anyone who had played college basketball at any level to that time.

"A phenomenal shooter," says William Graham, who played with Grant at KSU, then later was head men's hoops coach at the school. "One of the best shooters I have seen in all my years around basketball."

On Wednesday night in Louisville, Grant is among eight -- including the late University of Kentucky basketball star Mike Casey and former Herald-Leader horse racing writer Maryjean Wall -- who will be inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-8 Grant was the building block around which Kentucky State assembled teams that won three straight NAIA national championships (1970-72).

Those fast-breaking, full-court pressing teams were so strong that KSU backers claim they were the best college team in the commonwealth of Kentucky in that era.

Yet for all Grant accomplished in his years playing college basketball, his greater achievement may have been making it to college in the first place.

Dirt court, hard life

Grant grew up in the 1960s in the small Alabama town of Clayton.

In an era when the Civil Rights movement was an on-going struggle, one suspects Clayton was not the easiest place for a young black male to grow up.

"We didn't have much," Grant says. "I was basically raised by my mother. I didn't know my father that well. I was 4 or 5 when he left. I didn't know much about my dad. I remember him only vaguely."

To support Travis and his four sisters, Mattie Mae Grant worked as a household domestic for white families in Clayton.

As he grew up, Travis Grant fantasized about somehow being able to make his mother's life easier.

Until he was in eighth grade, the high school that Grant would ultimately attend, the Barbour County Training School, did not have an indoor gymnasium.

The school played its basketball on a dirt court. For a dime, the school children could attend the outdoor hoops games.

Inspired by those events, Grant would shoot tennis balls or 25-cent rubber balls at a five-gallon can. That had to pass for a rim at his house.

By the time Travis got to the eighth grade, the school opened a new gymnasium. "Can you imagine how my life would have been different without a gym?" Grant says.

As a high school freshman, Grant was starting for the varsity team. As his career unfolded, he became a standout.

Midway through his senior year, his coach departed after a dispute. Stepping in to fill the void was a math teacher, James B. Redd.

"He was really important in my life," Grant says. "He didn't just play me with my back to the basket. He moved me to the top of the key where I could take advantage of my jump shot."

Today, if a big man with a guard's shooting range were coming out of the state of Alabama, every big university in the South would make him a prime recruiting target.

When Grant was approaching college age, however, major Southern sports conferences like the SEC and ACC were only beginning to integrate.

Many of the best African-American prospects of that era were still matriculating at predominantly black colleges.

When he was head coach at Alabama State, Mitchell had formed a relationship with Grant. After the coach moved north to Kentucky State, his interest in Grant remained strong.

"My high school coach helped me with my decision," Grant says. "I remember him saying 'If it was me, I'd go with Mitch.'"

Travis Grant was Kentucky bound.

Better than UK, U of L?

Grant was not the only high-level talent Mitchell was wooing to Kentucky State.

From Macon, Ga., the coach got word of a 7-foot-1 center that could run and jump, but had played only one year of high school basketball.

At KSU, future NBA standout Elmore Smith developed into a defensive force that erased mistakes at the back of Mitchell's full-court press with shot blocking.

Of the three NAIA national championship teams at Kentucky State, the middle one (1971) is considered the best.

It featured Grant and the 6-7 Graham at forward, Smith in the middle, and a pair of Cleveland products, Jerry Stafford and Jerome Brister, in the backcourt.

You might say the Thorobreds were playing Pitino Ball long before Pitino. During that '70-71 season, KSU averaged 103.5 points a game.

It is fun to speculate on whether that 1971 Kentucky State team with Grant and Smith could have beaten Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville or Western Kentucky, which went to the Final Four in '71 led by Jim McDaniels.

"We could have played with anyone in the country -- UCLA, Kentucky, anyone," Graham says.

Adds Mitchell: "There is no question in my mind that that '71 team could have played with anybody."

Grant said the Kentucky State players used to travel to Lexington and play against UK players in pickup games.

"Kentucky State won every time," Grant says. "I'm not saying anything against them, but a lot of times it wasn't even close."

The 1972 NAIA championship had special meaning to Grant.

Before that season, Smith had turned pro, Graham had graduated, "and we started 5-5," Grant said. "That (championship) wasn't expected."

Grant ended his college career having averaged 33.4 points a game.

Lakers and Colonels

After his senior season, Grant was a first-round NBA draft pick -- chosen 13th overall -- by the Los Angeles Lakers.

With his Lakers singing bonus, he bought a car, drove back to Alabama and picked up his mom.

He drove her all around Clayton, paying off every bill she owed.

"Then I bought her a little house, something more comfortable," Grant says now. "Even now, that day might have been the best day of my life."

In Los Angeles, Grant joined the Lakers of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain -- a stacked team with little playing time available to rookies.

"The Lakers were a great organization," Grant says. "It was a great experience for me. Except, I wasn't playing. I was really young. I'd been such a star in college. I was expecting to play."

When Chamberlain bolted the Lakers to become player/coach of the ABA's San Diego Conquistadors, Grant went with him.

Because of legal action by the Lakers, Chamberlain did not get to play in the ABA. He did coach. Grant loved playing for the legendary big man.

Grant averaged almost 15 points a game in his first year with the Q's, then upped that to 25.2 in his second season (1974-75) in San Diego.

When the Conquistadors' franchise floundered financially, Grant signed with the Kentucky Colonels.

In the highly-structured offense Hubie Brown had installed while leading the Colonels to the 1975 ABA championship, Grant was the proverbial fish out of aqua.

"It was not a good fit for me," Grant says. "It wasn't how I was used to playing."

The guy who averaged 25 points the year before, scored 5.6 in 22 games for the Colonels. He finished out that 1975-76 year with the Indiana Pacers.

It was his last season in the pros.

Grant returned and finished up his college degree at Kentucky State. Eventually, he got into education as a teacher and high school coach in the Atlanta area.

Now 59, Grant is an assistant principal at a Georgia elementary school. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children, Travis III, 32, and Amber, 24.

Grant's mother, Mattie Mae, is 90.

"The Machine" is excited about his election to the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame because he hopes it will call renewed attention to the championship Kentucky State University teams on which he played.

"I don't think this is just for me," he says. "I wish it was 'The Kentucky State Thorobreds' going in. I'm hoping this award is only the beginning of bringing attention to Coach Mitchell, Elmore (Smith) and our team."
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Machine, not Machine Gun

Postby rlee » Mon Nov 23, 2009 5:57 pm

Travis Grant was basketball's greatest scoring machine

By Blair Kerkhoff,
The Kansas City Star

It's just a small detail, but it's not "Machine Gun."

"No, just 'The Machine,' " Travis Grant said. " 'Machine Gun' came later. I tried to correct it, but..."

You know how it goes with catchy nicknames, but with Grant nearing retirement after a post-basketball lifetime in public education, the original, "The Machine," worked better.

Besides, the gun part came with another connotation.

"It meant you shot a lot and missed," Grant said. "I didn't miss many."

No, he did not. Playing at Kentucky State in the early 1970s, Grant became college basketball's most prolific scorer.

His 4,045 career points are recognized as the most by a player in any NCAA or NAIA classification. Grant averaged 33.4 points -- for his career. As a senior, Grant, a 6-foot-6 forward, averaged 39.5.

Here's the truly amazing part. He was a 63.8 percent shooter, and more often than not took his offensive game away from the basket.

"He didn't have to play near the basket," said George Gervin, the former ABA-NBA star who introduced Grant. "Shoot it from many angles, from the left side, right side, anywhere."

Gervin's Eastern Michigan team played at Kentucky State, and Gervin didn't know much about Grant.

"People say he scored 60, but I think it was 70," Gervin said. "That's when I got my introduction to The Machine."

The legend, and nickname, originated from his college debut.

Kentucky State was playing Campbell College, and Grant was on the bench. Throrobreds coach Lucias Mitchell, who had known Grant while he was growing up in Clayton, Ala., sent his young star into the game.

Ten shots, 10 baskets, like a machine, said somebody in the stands. Grant finished with 32 that day, and a legend was born.

Except Grant's college career was largely unappreciated until the end. He put up amazing totals and along with another great, center Elmore Smith, helped the Thorobreds to multiple NAIA championships.

But as a historically black college, Kentucky State wasn't in the mainstream. Games weren't televised. You had to look for Travis Grant to find him.

Discovery on a national scale came during Grant's senior season. His scoring totals were too great to be ignored, and in 1972, when UCLA sophomore Bill Walton won most of the national player awards, Grant was selected the game's top player by The Sporting News.

The season was satisfying for other reasons. Smith, the 7-footer, had moved on to begin his successful professional career. This was Grant's team. Kentucky State started 5-5 but roared to its third straight NAIA championship, matching the record set by Dick Barnett's Tennessee State teams in the late 1950s.

After the season, Grant became the Lakers' first-round draft selection, No. 13 overall, and with his signing bonus he returned to Alabama and bought his mother a house.

"We were well below the poverty level," Grant said. "We didn't have much when I was growing up."

Certainly not a regulation basketball hoop or ball. Grant would nail a five-gallon can to the side of the house -- "I could do that because it wasn't much of a house" -- and use anything resembling a ball to shoot.

Grant got into a gym for the first time as an eighth-grader. The next year, he was starting on his high school's varsity team.

College choices were few for African-Americans in the late 1960s. Integration had just started in the South, but Grant decided to follow Mitchell, who had become familiar with Grant while coaching at Alabama State.

Grant considers it one of the best decisions of his life because Mitchell became more than a coach.

"He knew that basketball wasn't going to last forever, even for the best players," Grant said. "We talked a lot about the transition from basketball to real life and how to be prepared for it."

Grant's own pro career didn't materialize as he had hoped. There was scant playing time for a rookie on a Lakers team with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. He averaged 3.8 points in his first year and made it three games into his second before joining Chamberlain in the ABA with the San Diego Conquistadors.

Wilt never played but coached the Conquistadors and Grant had his best seasons as a pro, averaging 15.3 and 25.3 in two seasons.

His four-year pro career ended the next season, splitting time between Kentucky and Indiana. Grant then returned to college to earn his degree and began teaching. He's been in the high school ranks, as a teacher and coach, and will finish his career in public education as an assistant principal of an elementary school outside of Atlanta.

And like his college playing career, the honors have come somewhat late in the game. Earlier this year, Grant was inducted in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. He enters the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in the fourth year of its existence.

"To go in with guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Wayman Tisdale, I never would have believed it," Grant said.
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Travis Grant gets recognition for past hoops glory

Postby rlee » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:18 am

Travis Grant gets recognition for past hoops glory

By Carroll Rogers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6:00 p.m. Thursday, January 28, 2010
For a man of his basketball portfolio, Travis Grant has lived in relative obscurity.

The all-time leading scorer in college basketball history scored his 4,045 points at Kentucky State, a historically black school, in the early 1970s, when college basketball was just beginning to integrate.

His fame was largely confined to the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, where 10,000 fans watched the full-court pressing Thorobreds rip off three consecutive NAIA championships from 1970-72.

Grant returned to that city in November to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. It was the kind of full-circle recognition that had been 40 years in the making.

Still is. Kentucky State plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday. When Tech coach Paul Hewitt was asked about Grant this week, he didn't know who he was or that he was the NCAA's all-time leading scorer.

"Did not know that," Hewitt said.

It's not exactly common knowledge that Grant went into the Hall of Fame alongside Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, that he played on the same Lakers team with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and scored more points in college than Pistol Pete Maravich.

But over the years, Grant's need for recognition, at least from the masses, has worn off. Now 60 and an assistant principal at Panola Way Elementary in Lithonia, what's more important for him is the recognition he has gotten from a few.

"It hasn't been something like people don't know me," said Grant, who attends National Basketball Retired Players Association meetings each summer. "Sometimes it's better that everybody doesn't know you all the time."

For the kid who grew up with a mother and three sisters in a three-room house in rural Clayton, Ala., just making it to college was the primary goal.

His mother cleaned homes for white families. As bad as it got, with no central heat or air, no telephone or TV, she never let him quit school to work in the cotton or peanut fields.

Grant's escape was shooting tennis balls, or 25-cent rubber balls, into a five-gallon can he nailed to the house. He honed an incredible shooting touch that helped him shoot a whopping 63.8 percent from the floor in college.

He averaged 42 points at his segregated high school, which didn't get a gym until he was in the eighth grade. He was a sophomore in 1966, the year Texas Western's all-black team defeated Kentucky's all-white team for the NCAA title. That was also the year he started getting recruited by Alabama State coach Lucias Mitchell, the coach Grant would follow to Kentucky State.

Grant had offers from small traditionally white colleges and junior colleges but wanted to play for Mitchell.

"In my era, there were still a whole lot of blacks going to black schools because [the basketball] was extremely strong," said Grant, who had turned down a chance to go to a predominantly white high school his senior year. "It would have been a tough adjustment. Although we had a chance to go there, there was nothing guaranteed on how they were going to treat you when you got there."

In his first game for Kentucky State, Grant came off the bench to score 10 consecutive baskets. A fan yelled out that Grant was a human machine.

"The Machine" nickname stuck and so did the scoring. Grant averaged 33.4 points per game, including 39.5 his senior season when he won the Lapchick Trophy as college basketball's top player. The 6-foot-6 forward shot anywhere from two feet out to 25, well before there was a 3-point line.

"He's the most phenomenal shooter I've ever seen," said William Graham, a former teammate of Grant and now a professor at Kentucky State, who can recall the date Grant dropped 75 on Northwood Institute: Feb. 18, 1970. "I've never seen a guy shoot the ball like he did. It's almost like he was automatic. You'd have to see it to believe it."

Not many people did, since Kentucky State didn't play on TV. But NBA scouts did. The Lakers drafted Grant 13th overall in 1972.

Grant's proudest day was using his $30,000 signing bonus to buy a Cadillac Eldorado, drive to Clayton, pick up his mother and take her from store to store to pay off her debts.

"My mother just turned 91," Grant said. "She still talks about that day."

Grant's professional career was short. He spent only a year in LA, struggling to crack the Lakers' veteran lineup. He followed Chamberlain to San Diego of the ABA but played only three years in the league before it folded.

Grant never cemented his name in the pros as other black college standouts such as "Earl the Pearl" Monroe or Willis Reed did.

It wasn't until ESPN aired a 2008 documentary on old black college basketball that Grant's name was back in circulation. A year later, the Hall of Fame called.

Its Class of 2009 poster features action shots of Bird, Johnson and Wayman Tisdale, each with a ball in his hand. The photo of Grant looked to be cut out of a team photo.

It didn't matter to Grant, who found redemption from his fellow honorees. At a press conference, Bird told a story about seeing Grant score 50 points against Marian College in a game held at Bird's high school in Indiana.

It didn't take many more stories like that before Magic Johnson, who hadn't known of Grant, was giving him a business card, telling him to call if he needed anything.

Personal interactions meant the most to Grant, like the day all the kids at Panola Way wore his old No. 33 pinned to their shirts, or when some took to calling him the Machine.

He cherishes a note he got from Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who knows a few things about basketball in Kentucky. He also saved one from a fan in North Carolina, who commended his career in education as much as basketball.

"Those are the things that make you feel that you've done something worthwhile," said Grant, a former coach at McNair and athletics director at Stephenson.

He also keeps a letter from a lawyer named Jere Beasley, a former Lt. Governor of Alabama who is also from Clayton. Grant thinks his mother might have worked for the Beasleys.

"I have always been very proud of you," Beasley wrote. "But, the fact that you never forgot your family is the main thing that I am proud of."

Looking back, Grant never thought his records would stick. But college basketball has changed. Even with the 3-point line, such prolific scorers aren't likely to stay for four seasons.

Grant's name is going to be at the top for a while. Maybe more people will come to know it.
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Re: Travis Grant

Postby rlee » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:30 pm

It’s never too late to learn the story of Travis Grant, the most prolific scorer in college basketball history and an epic winner.

Originally published in SLAM 172

by Michael Bradley ... asketball/

What it must be like to drain shot after shot. To put up 59 points in a game. Or 68. Seventy-five. To feel the ball leave the fingertips and know that it will settle smoothly into the twine so far away. Most of us will never know. But Travis Grant does. Trouble is, he won’t talk about it all that much. Won’t take us to that state of mind where the basket seems bigger than a hot tub, and tossing the ball into it is as easy as drawing a deep breath while in a sound sleep.

“My teammates were responsible for it,” the man dubbed “The Machine” says. “They had to sacrifice a lot for me.”

What’s the fun in that?

“Points didn’t mean that much to me,” he says.

Now, that’s saying something. For all of his points—a collegiate-record 4,045 of them—The Machine cares most about one number: three. That’s how many NAIA national championships his Kentucky State teams won in a row. It wasn’t just the Travis Grant Experience in Frankfort. This was an ensemble. And winning it all was all there was.

And you don’t believe that, do you? How can a guy average 33.4 ppg over four years and tell you it was all about the team? It’s hard to blame the doubters. After all, basketball history is filled with gunners who wanted theirs first. And second. The team mattered little, if at all. Grant swears that wasn’t the case, and three titles support his argument.

“Coach [Lucias Mitchell] made sure we played as a team,” Grant says. “I didn’t think about how many points I scored. That’s not what the team was about. We were a team. I was fortunate that I shot a better percentage than the other guys, and they passed me the ball.”

At no time was that more evident than during Grant’s final game for the Thorobreds, the 1972 NAIA championship final against Wisconsin-Eau Claire. KSU had won the previous two titles, but the losses of stalwarts Elmore Smith—the third overall pick in the ’71 NBA Draft—and William Graham had pushed Kentucky State from the favorite’s spot in the 32-team, six-day tournament. Grant’s bunch was seeded third overall, and 29-1 Eau Claire was expected to win it all. Even after Grant set a tourney record that still stands by scoring 60 in an opening-round, 118-68 win over Minot State, the Thorobreds were underdogs. Eau Claire coach Ken Anderson made that clear after his team won its second-round game by saying how tough it was for his Blugolds (a combo of the school’s colors) to focus, when Stephen F. Austin loomed in the title game three days later.

Anderson is a legend at Eau Claire, and the school named the court for him a couple years back, but that statement was a bad idea. Kentucky State dumped SFA in the semis, and in the championship game, Grant’s 39 and 8 propelled the Thorobreds to a 71-62 win and their third straight title.

“All of the championships were big, but Coach Mitchell said the third was most satisfying because we lost three starters from the team my junior year, the best team I played on at Kentucky State,” Grant says. “We had good size and quickness, and we could have competed with any team in the country.”

It wouldn’t have mattered if the Thorobreds had lost four starters, the team manager and the mascot. They would have still been tough with Grant. In addition to his status as college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, he holds numerous NAIA tourney records, including most points in a tournament (213 in ’72) and highest career average in NAIA tournament games (34.5 ppg). But the most impressive thing about his four years in Frankfort is that he shot 64 percent from the field. And we’re not talking about some lane-bound giant who shot nothing but two-footers. Grant had range. Serious range. And he made way more than he missed.

“He was the guy who could shoot it from anywhere on the floor,” Graham says. “He could hit them from way behind the three-point line, from mid-range, and he scored quite a few points driving to the basket.

“There were games where he could have scored 100 if we gave him the ball enough.”


At a time where sixth graders wear $150 sneakers and have personal trainers, it’s tough to imagine the most prolific shooting stroke in college basketball history was honed by shooting into a five-gallon bucket. But if you were poor—and black—in 1960s Alabama, you didn’t have too many hoop options. Even the rich white kids had their problems finding good facilities, because Bear Bryant and football ruled the Yellowhammer State then, and basketball was something you played when there weren’t enough kids around to get on to the gridiron.

“It wasn’t always with a basketball,” Grant says. “Sometimes, it was a tennis ball or a rubber ball or anything I had. I developed a good shooting stroke. I think it was a gift from God.”

When Grant wasn’t shooting, he would watch some of the older kids ball on a dirt court. Some of them earned a shot at college ball, but few of them lasted the full four years. “They would go away for maybe a year and then come back,” he says. As Grant became more and more successful at Barbour County HS in Clayton, AL, he received offers from junior colleges and Historically Black Colleges and chose Kentucky State. Mitchell, who had been at Alabama State when Grant was a senior, convinced him to head north. He almost didn’t make it.

Grant’s first airplane ride was on his trip to Kentucky at the start of the school year. Over Nashville, there was engine trouble, and the plane had to land prematurely. “I didn’t want to get back on it,” Grant says. He did, though, and return to Alabama until spring break. The Thorobreds practiced “seven days a week and twice on weekends,” and Grant moved quickly from reserve to first team. “He scored 30-plus points coming off the bench in a game, and he started after that,” Graham says. After one game, in which Grant scored 32, a KSU student shouted, “That’s a human machine.” From that point on, Grant had a new nickname.

The Thorobreds pressed fullcourt and didn’t have more than “one or two set plays,” according to Graham.

They ran a motion offense, and the goal was simple: get the ball to Grant. Others shot, but none could match his production. He scored from everywhere, and he was almost impossible to stop. Grant scored 26.6 ppg as a freshman, and KSU trampled several opponents, often topping 100 points, sometimes reaching 120 and 130.

“He had such a comfortable jump shot,” says Smith, who spent eight years in the NBA and is now a restaurateur and businessman. “Watching Travis helped me develop my jump shot.”

By the time Grant’s sophomore season dawned, Kentucky State was a national force, and Grant was all but unstoppable. He averaged 35.4 ppg and converted 70 percent of his shots. One memorable back-to-back performance still stands as the collegiate standard for pure, undistilled scoring destruction. On Feb. 18, 1970, Grant scored 75 (on 35-50 shooting) in a 141-93 rout of Northwood Institute. Nine days later, he put up 59 in a 159-79 demolition of Franklin College. The 134-point, two-game binge remains the highest tandem total ever.

“He could hit it from anywhere,” Graham says. “You look at the guys who are shooting in the NBA now, and Travis was doing that back in the day. He was 6-8, and he could get the shot off fast, like Dan Marino used to pass. He would catch it, and it would be gone.”

But Grant wasn’t some hot dog playing to the crowd and trying his best to score as many as possible. First off, Mitchell wouldn’t allow that. Any Thorobred who was a minute late for practice was in trouble. Mess up in school, and things got worse. “We were afraid to miss a class,” says Grant, who graduated with a degree in health and physical education and later earned a pair of Master’s.

More important was Grant’s makeup. Most bigs are unabashed egomaniacs. In order to justify their high shot totals, they had to live as if the basketball was their property and that teammates were merely borrowing it. Grant wasn’t like that. He shot because it was his job.

“He was very quiet and very humble, the most humble guy you would want to meet,” Graham says. “If he scored one point or he scored 50, he was the same guy. It was amazing.”

Smith agrees. “He never talked about himself,” he says. “He had confidence in his ability, and that helped all of us. It was a pleasure to give him the ball.”

The ’70-71 team was KSU’s best. Not only was Grant putting up 31.2 ppg, but Smith was rebounding and swatting away shots in the middle, Graham was pounding the boards and rivals were helpless. The Thorobreds tore through most of the opposition and whipped every rival in the NAIA tournament by double figures. The 102-82 win over George “Iceman” Gervin’s Eastern Michigan squad was a fitting end to a tremendous season.

The team was a thresher. Its scrimmages were more competitive than most games, and coterie of professional scouts and personnel executives attended workouts religiously. “It was like you auditioned for the NBA in practice,” Graham says.

It wasn’t just the fact that Kentucky State bum-rushed the NAIA rabble. In the offseason, the Thorobreds would head over to Lexington for a little pickup action with the University of Kentucky, which was still reticent about adding African-American players to the roster. The games were spirited, but there was no doubt—at least among the KSU contingent—who had the better team.

“We would do very well,” Graham says. “We had some players.”

Grant is less diplomatic: “The games were not close.”

After ’71, when Smith (drafted No. 3 overall to the Buffalo Braves, early ancestors of the L.A. Clippers), Graham and another starter left Frankfort, the Kentucky State run was expected to end. At least that’s what Eau Claire’s Anderson thought. Boy, was he wrong. It didn’t matter who was gone, because Grant was still there. He averaged 39.5 ppg and shot 62 percent. His 1,304 points were the third highest all time in college history. On Feb. 28, 1972, Gervin came to town with his EMU team that had won 18 in a row. Grant busted the Iceman’s crew apart with 68 in a 121-76 win. As usual, it wasn’t about the stats for Grant. It was about the wins, and after leading the Thorobreds to their third straight title, his job was complete.

“A lot of people scored points,” he says. “Not a lot of people scored points and won.”

Grant’s Kentucky State career should have been a mere overture to an incandescent NBA tour. From the start, though, he was plagued by poor representation, shaky advice and bad luck. He was drafted 12th overall by the world champion L.A. Lakers, but he says other teams might have drafted him earlier had his agent not made some unreasonable demands. The Lakers were about the worst situation for Grant, since they had a stacked lineup and weren’t in need of an offensive Machine. Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Jim McMillian took care of that. Grant showed flashes of the talent that had made him so great at KSU, but in parts of two years with the Lakers, he played in only 36 games. His star turn came in ’74-75 with the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors, when he averaged 25.2 ppg. But that was short lived; injuries and the ABA’s demise ended his pro career.

“The good thing was that I had my education to fall back on,” Grant says. “Basketball was a vehicle to get me there. Education kept me there.”

Grant spent 30 years as a public school teacher, coach and administrator. He retired in 2010 and spends his time in Atlanta golfing, tending to his wife and two children (son Travis played at Florida A&M) and coaching a sixth-grade team at his church. Perhaps his happiest moments come when the members of the ’71 title team get together Memorial Day weekend to reminisce. “We have to find something for our wives to do, so they don’t have to hear the same stories over and over,” Smith says, laughing.

The players don’t mind. And no matter how legends grow over the years, it would be damn near impossible to overstate Travis Grant’s college career. He scored points and hit shots. But Grant would prefer we take his measure another way. He won.
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