What his former coaches and players are saying about Boyd Grant’s legacy

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KSEE/KGPE — Former Fresno State men’s basketball head coach Boyd Grant passed away on Monday at the age of 87. Grant, still the winningest coach in program history, took Fresno State to never before seen heights from 1977-1986, leading the Bulldogs to three NCAA Tournament appearances and a memorable 1983 NIT title. We reached out to many who played a part in Grant’s Bulldog basketball legacy, and they offered some poignant thoughts on the coaching icon.

Jim Thrash
Fresno State assistant (1977-1983)

Coach Grant was like a brother to me. I went to Fresno State with him and enjoyed working side by side with him for 6 years. We had a lot of success because we worked very hard and did things the right way. I recruited good players who were good people and kids who I thought had good self discipline and would enjoy playing for Coach Grant. Not all 18 year olds could handle Coach’s discipline. But, the ones who could, learned a lot about life and how to succeed after basketball. Coach Grant was a very good coach, a good friend and a great man. He will be missed!

Ron Adams-
Fresno State assistant (1980-1986) and head coach (1986-1990), current Golden State Warriors assistant

Boyd Grant was a great coach, a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a mentor to many coaches and players, myself included.  He had a simple approach to the game and to life – do your best with all the energy you can muster.  He lived by this motto and those of us around him tried to meet those expectations too.  Boyd and I had a great time together.  He was a close friend more than anything else.  He loved his players and he loved the Fresno community.  His biggest fear was that he would fail them — he never did.  I already miss him.

-Rod Higgins-
Fresno State forward (1978-1982)
, Played 13 seasons in the NBA, current VP of Operations for the Atlanta Hawks

Obviously a tough day with the passing of Coach Grant. Excellent coach the way he demanded we play defense first and offense second. Ultimate competitive and demanding coach, who made winning important to his players. Personally, he helped me realize some things that if I hadn’t attended Fresno State, I might not have achieved. Legacy-wise, Fresno State was so fortunate to have him build the program! I’ll never forget one time, when I was in the company of the late Dean Smith, and we were out in Carolina somewhere. Dean Smith was talking to me, and he said, ‘you know, your coach, Boyd Grant, was an awesome coach.’ So, coming from Dean Smith, and complimenting the coach I played for in college. That made me feel real good as a player, knowing that I was taught the game really well.

(On what Grant meant to him as a coach and mentor)
As a coach, very well-prepared, each night, each practice, each game we went into, we were very prepared for the task at hand. Disciplinarian, no-nonsense guy when he was on campus. It was all business. You could never be late. You had to always be on time. You have a scheduled meeting at a certain time, it’s best to be there 5-10 minutes early, be ready, just in case something happens.

(What made that such a special time for Bulldog basketball?)
What I remember first and foremost, (we had) pretty good teams, (especially) my junior and senior year. But just the support we had from the community and the Red Wave, and just coming to the arena, to Selland Arena every night knowing you had a really good chance to win if you played the right way and played hard. And the fans would just show up, not only in Fresno, but when we travelled. When we went to Long Beach or Irvine, or wherever, conference tournaments, the Red Wave was always there. Those are some of the great memories, just having that travel party, that travel support, so that makes it special because you know people are appreciating what you’re trying to do.

-Charlie Smith-
Fresno State guard (1982-1986)

Coach Grant will be missed and not forgotten. He was a great coach, a great man, who compiled winning records, impacted countless lives, and much more. I consider myself blessed to have been a former student-athlete and graduate of Fresno State. Coach Grant wanted his players to graduate, develop into leaders and be role models within communities around the world. Winning the NIT Championship in 1983 in Madison Square Garden in New York against DePaul University is one of the highest honors in Fresno State Basketball history. Having also been crowned PCAA Conference Champs in 1984 and beating #3-ranked Houston with Akeem Olajuwon in the 1983 Hawaii Chaminade Christmas Tournament Classic Championship was another great memory for me, Playing in the NCAA Tournament as well against Karl Malone. We won as a team. Great Coaches, great teammates, great university, great fans, great community support.

-Kenny Cook-
Fresno State guard (1984-1986)

I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Coach Boyd Grant. Words cannot express my feelings of gratitude that I have for Coach Grant and the Fresno State program for providing me with a basketball scholarship to Fresno State. Arriving to Fresno State was a life changing experience for me. Coach Grant provided me with an opportunity to escape from the gangs, the violence and the streets of Compton. Under his leadership, I learned structure and discipline. These two principles extended far beyond the basketball court. Coach Grant believed that if you can get up and work hard at his six a.m. practices, you will have no problems getting and working hard on a job. Coach Grant was about business and believed in structure, hard work and discipline. These concepts stuck with me and I am better man because of his teachings. Rest in peace Coach Grant.
“The only thing that comes to a sleeper is a dream… Wake up” Coach Boyd Grant

-Bobby Anderson-
Fresno State guard (1977-1981)
, Chicago native (part of Grant’s first Bulldog recruiting class)

(On Grant’s legacy)
Undoubtedly, the greatest basketball coach in the history of the school, as evidenced by what he did, wins and losses, championships. The icing on the cake are all the student-athletes, all of my buddies that went through the program, that I now see having success in life. Boyd Grant had a lot to do with that and he knows it.
He did great things for a lot of people. He helped a lot of people. He’s known all over. He’s a good man. I never thought I’d be out in California, and he gave me an opportunity to come out here as a student-athlete, not only to play ball, but to get an education. And then I did. I got my masters, my doctorate, then became a dean (at Merced College). We all had great success, and it was mostly because of the foundation that we had built through basketball and winning.

(How did Grant turn around the program?)
That first year, he said we’d outwork the other team, and it was like ‘no, no, no, when I signed to play basketball for you, I said I signed to play basketball for you, but not at six o’clock in the morning (when Grant held practices).’ When you win though, all that goes to the side. It’s like living with your brothers and sisters. You can’t stand each other because you’re in the same house every day — you go at it, but you still love them, and you don’t let anybody else mess with them. So, that’s the type of ball we played. The team concept mattered, and we worked together to help each other, and we all had success, not only on the basketball court but after.

(What did you learn from Grant?)
Being accountable, wherever you were supposed to be, (be there) 15 minutes in advance, don’t be walking in right as you’re supposed to interview. He was a stickler for, being the right type of person, give respect, treat people how you like to be treated, just like your mother said, and give it your all. In the real world, you have to be accountable for your actions. (Boyd’s teams) were so competitive, and the real world wasn’t as competitive as that. So, it actually prepared you and made it easier for us to adapt to the real world, and win a championship after going through hell. Look at the guys who played for him, and see what they’re doing now, they’re all successful. Also, we learned how to play together as a team, to win championships. That’s what Boyd did for us. He taught us about life. He made us accountable about basketball, but it taught us about life, how to survive in the real world.


-Mike Mitchell-
Forward who played for Grant at Fresno State (1985-86) and at Colorado State (1989-90)

He should be remembered as a champion. He preached on doing things the right way, and I think his years there (in Fresno), taking the team from where it was to winning the NIT in 1983. He did it the right way. He didn’t cut corners, and he didn’t do anything that he shouldn’t be doing. He played the game as it said in the rule book. He should be remembered as a special person and a special coach.

(On how Grant created a buzz with the program)
Fresno was such a close-knit community. They loved their sports. When they brought him in there, he took things to another level, with the Red Wave in Selland Arena. It wasn’t on campus like it is now, yet we still, every night, every game that we played, there were no less than 10 thousand people in there. And we used to have the Red Wave tunnel to go onto the court, that was one of those signature moments. It was a special moment to do that. Playing in that gym, playing in front of those fans, and all those people from Fresno, and doing it for Coach Grant was a blessing.


(On Grant’s defensive style)
We would go through a 2-hour practice, out on the field, doing defensive slides in Fresno, and it’s 105 degrees and we’re in the sun, just going crazy, doing defensive slides, with him and Coach Adams and Coach Litzenberger. It was always defense first, but there’s never been a college basketball game that was 2-0, so we still gotta put the ball in the basket. We still gotta work on our offensive stuff. But defense will be No. 1. Defense will keep you on the court. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think I might’ve been the first true freshman that started for him because I did play defense.

(On something nobody knew about Coach Grant)
It was literally my first few days there at Fresno. He came and picked me up from the dorms, when I was staying there, and we drove to his son’s Little League baseball game. At that point in time, you knew it was gonna be family first there. That’s the one thing that I’ll never forget, seeing his son playing Little League baseball out there in 100 degree weather, and he was grinning ear-to-ear. And always inviting guys, whenever he had a free moment, get everybody to come over to the house. And he would just sit there and tell war stories, from when he played at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State), He was just that family guy, and he taught us the right way, taught us to be the right way on campus, and to do all the right things.

-Jervis Cole-
Fresno State forward (1985-1989)
, current Edison HS boys basketball head coach

Coach Grant made my dream come true. I always wanted to play at Fresno State. Playing for Coach Grant and the Bulldogs was my dream while playing at Washington Union High School. I played for Coach Grant for only one season, but learned a lifetime of knowledge. We spoke for the last time a few years ago. But he was never far from my thoughts. Coach Grant will be missed and cherished by many. He built a legacy at Grant’s Tomb, and to this day, it hasn’t been duplicated at Fresno State. Rest in heaven Coach Grant. Thank you for everything you did for me Coach and all the ex-Bulldogs.

(On the mark Grant left on the program)
He put a standard in place that a lot of coaches haven’t been able to reach, because not only was he winning games, but he put a ton of people in the seats. There were tickets being scalped to our games. You couldn’t get into our games. Every game was on television. The players were very well-known.

(On the life lessons learned from Coach Grant)
Right now, when you really watch a lot of people, even in business or coaching kids, they have excuses. We were taught day one (at Fresno State), there are no excuses for anything. And in your life, if you don’t make excuses, and always persevere and live through everything that goes negative in your life, on the court or in business, you will be able to succeed. And that’s kind of what I lived by, no excuses. If you miss 20 shots in one game, the next game you may hit every shot. There’s no excuses for failure. It’s always something I got from the coaching staff at Fresno State and from Boyd.

(Where does Grant fit in the pantheon of Bulldog basketball?)
What he established — they were okay before he came in — but when he came in, they beat teams like Clyde Drexler and Phi Slamma Jamma. They played in the Sweet 16 against Georgetown with Patrick Ewing. They played in some huge games. They sent a lot of guys to the NBA. Coaches have been successful since he came in, but noone has really been able to duplicate the fan base that he was able to generate with Grant’s Tomb at Selland Arena.

(How should Grant be remembered?)
As the coach that brought the Red Wave and Grant’s Tomb to Fresno. He gave a lot to the community. We did a lot in our community, so the players are very well-known. So every coach or every person that knows Boyd, It’s hard to reflect on what’s going on now to what was going on then. When we started doing our alumni events, players that haven’t been here since Boyd Grant, and they are kind of surprised that the atmosphere isn’t what it used to be. And I think that’s going to be the legacy which a lot of coaches have to try to live up to. Coming to Fresno and playing Fresno State when he was the coach, was always difficult for any team. I don’t care if they were No. 1 in nation. I think the way he set our team up was very difficult. With him and Ron Adams, they were No. 1 in the nation in defense. We had a slow down game but we had the toughest defense in the country, so people had to figure out how to beat us.

-Justin Hutson-
Current Fresno State men’s basketball head coach
(Bakersfield native)

I have a lot of memories of being part of the Red Wave, driving up the 99 going north to go to Selland Arena. He recruited a young man named Otis Jennings from my dad’s high school team (at Bakersfield HS) in the early 80s, and he came down and did a visit with us, and I was a young kid, and boy, was I in awe, because I had been to so many games, and that memory still sticks out with me today. When we first met, he was really happy that a guy from the Valley, a Valley guy that remembered who he was, and really respected who he was and what he built here, was at the helm now. His teams played hard and they played together, and they played great defense. Back then, they held the ball some times, and some times they played a little faster than that, and he was just a great coach. He recruited good student-athletes. He always had a nice staff, and he was a great leader.


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