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Former Lobo star Granger knows about tournament time

Listen to the Talking Grammer podcast episode with Danny Granger

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – More than a decade ago – before his prolific NBA All-Star career and before he became a successful businessman in Arizona and a CBS Sports Network college basketball analyst – former University of New Mexico Lobo Danny Granger knew he had an opportunity in March 2005.

It wasn’t at the same venue where his former team will be trying to win this week’s Mountain West Conference tournament title, but it was the same event, played that year in Denver.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Granger, who will be working this week in the Inside College Basketball studios in New York as the CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports televise this year’s MWC tournament Thursday through Saturday.

Granger and his 2004-05 UNM Lobos, who won 26 games under Ritchie McKay and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, entered the league tournament as the No. 2 seed behind nationally ranked, top-seeded Utah with eventual No. 1 NBA draft pick Andrew Bogut.

“I knew that was my opportunity to take the team to the next level,” Granger said. “To be honest with you, Utah was the better team, per se, and had a better season. Bogut was the No. 1 pick that year. They were really good. Well-coached team. But I knew I could be the x-factor. If I brought my game to another level, I thought we could actually win this thing.

“And we did. My teammates, credit to them. They stepped up a lot. Mark Walters hit some big shots. Alfred Neal hit some big shots. (David) Chiotti shut down Bogut. We brought it together and we won that thing. I just had to score the ball and they did everything else.”

Former Lobo Danny Granger, right, works CBS Sports alongside Rich Waltz at a 2017 game in the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

He did a little more than just score. In wins over BYU, San Diego State and Utah in the title game, Granger averaged 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.0 blocks and 1.7 steals en route to being named tournament MVP.

It’s feeling he hopes a current Lobo feels this week.

Granger follows this year’s 17-14, No. 3 seeded team from afar. And he’s excited about the future if for no other reason than his relationship with three staff members. They are assistants Brandon Mason, the former NMSU Aggie who became friends with Granger running his basketball camps when still playing in the NBA; Jerome Robinson, who was a senior at Bradley when Granger was recruited there and the two have remained close; and UNM Director of Player Development, and former 2005 Lobo teammate, Chiotti.

“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Granger said of the direction of the program under first-year coach Paul Weir. “… I’m so familiar with a lot of the staff, there’s nowhere to go but up because all those guys coach Weir is surrounding himself with, they’re great character guys.”

MORE ON CHIOTTI: “Listen, David is an outstanding human being,” Granger said. “I love David Chiotti. I had the best relationship with him. I spent the most time with him throughout my career at New Mexico.”

And when he heard Chiotti gets physical in practice with current Lobo big men: “Of course. Listen, he is made of bricks. That guy, we got into it a bunch of times at practice. That’s one of the reasons I respect him so much. I wasn’t going to back down and he wasn’t going to back down. We had a very high level of respect for each other in college. Dave was no joke in college, trust me. He would bruise you up.”

ON THE FBI PROBE IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL: “I’m kind of encouraged by it, to be honest with you. … Do the players deserve to be compensated for their performance? As a former student athlete, I experienced that. We’d play in front of 18,000 people and we couldn’t get any help from anyone. I just don’t think it’s fair. I also think this will really promote some kind of change.”

Of his time in college: “I recall a situation where I had transferred (to UNM). I obviously couldn’t receive benefits. I could barely afford to eat at McDonald’s and I was on a billboard in the city. I’m like, this is crazy.”