Grant fills in admirably with Zo out

Grant fills in admirably with Zo out


Published Sunday, March 25, 2001

The shots were falling, not every one, but enough to get Brian Grant to grin as he egged on some amateur shooters at a clinic.

Two hours after the converted Heat center finished practicing -- in preparation for today's game against the best-in-the-NBA San Antonio Spurs -- his young chuckers were beating those supervised by Heat assistant Marc Iavaroni at the other basket.

``I challenged my players,'' Grant said proudly, victory assured. ``And they stepped up to the call.''

Now he knows how his coach feels.

Upon signing Grant in August, Heat coach Pat Riley declared the dreadlocked addition was ready to play 35 to 40 minutes per game. Some wondered if Riley was ready to be committed.

Grant never had averaged more than 31.8 in six years with Sacramento and Portland, and had missed significant time the previous four seasons.

Grant knew the doubts.

``I've always had a group of haters for one reason or another,'' said the 29-year-old, who will battle Tim Duncan and David Robinson today. ``I shouldn't say haters, but people who don't believe in me.''

Surely, Grant would break down when he was switched from his natural power-forward spot. Instead, he has broken out as a leaner center, averaging 34.7 minutes and a career-high 15.8 points. Instead of fading or sitting in March, Grant is averaging 18.2 points on 52.8 percent shooting.

``There have been times when I've been so banged-up, right before All-Star break, I didn't know if I was going to make it through a game,'' Grant said. ``But I did. Now I know that I can do it. This was kind of the last step I had to take. People know I can play, but they wanted to know, `Can he stay healthy?' ''

He has. Every game. Every practice.

``So far,'' he said, his hand searching for some wood to knock.

It found some. Just like critics will find other parts of Grant's game to knock. He is not a center, after all. And he is not Alonzo Mourning. He knows this. So he didn't flinch when asked at the clinic, ``When is Zo coming back? We need help at center.''

When Grant has needed guidance to play the position, he has found assistant Bob McAdoo.

``I was undersized,'' the Hall of Famer said. ``I told him I never felt overmatched any game, even though people outweighed me by 40, 50, 60 pounds. I always felt an advantage, and my advantage was quickness. And that's what I felt he should do. He should use his quickness to beat the bigger guys up and down the floor, to keep them out of the lane, which would help us with our rebounding. He listened. He took to that.''

And he has taken to his new role. Grant served as a primary scorer before Anthony Mason emerged; he is a primary scorer again in Eddie Jones' absence.

Yet he remains a work in progress.

``I'm really trying to change my whole philosophy and approach to the game,'' Grant said.

He was the banger, the screen-setter, the garbage man. He would toil all summer on his perimeter game and in training camp he was instructed to ``bang, bang, bang, post, post, post,'' and pass before shooting.

``Here, that's not what they want from me,'' Grant said. ``They want me to be a post presence, but they want me to be more of a perimeter-quick center player that will take the bigger centers off the dribble, that will shoot from the outside and will know those moves that I am not used to doing.

``It is all new to me.''

As are certain frustrations of the center position. At times, he will ``kind of lose [his] head a little bit,'' and try to post a 7-footer, knowing he has no chance.

``It's really breaking a lot of habits, which is absolutely great for my game, because I get to take it to another level,'' Grant said. ``I get to see what I can do that I didn't think that I could do.''


You can reach ETHAN J. SKOLNICK by e-mail at



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