Saturday, January 21, 2006
Ex-Lobo Danny Granger Wouldn't Have Career Any Other Way
By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS His tooth was bent so far back in his throat it was sideways courtesy of a Kobe Bryant elbow.
He's had stitches in his forehead. Stitches in his mouth. He's been battered, bruised and suffered a concussion. That infamous knee injury? It, too, continues to flare up from time to time.
And Danny Granger's having the time of his life.
"I've got no complaints," Granger says, flashing his patented down-home smile, donned in a retro Houston Oilers jacket and New York Yankees lid. "How can you not just love it?"
Save the physical fatigue, it truly is the lifestyle every kid who's ever fired a jumper through a netless playground rim dreams about. A 7,000-square-foot home, a brand new SUV and a multimillion-dollar contract to play in The League.
But make no mistake, while Granger isn't the only NBA success story around, he is still in a league of his own.
Granted, it's been only seven months since he went from a struggling college kid to the land of riches. But money hasn't changed Granger. It's doubtful either will time.
"He's still exactly the same all right," says Granger's girlfriend, Dionna Kann, rolling her eyes with a smile. "I mean exaaaactly! I don't think some things will ever change. The video games and the computers? He's still on them all the time.
"Any time we go anywhere, he goes to the TV games area, 'Oh, this is a new game' ''
"Xbox 360," Granger says, when asked about his primary play toy these days. "It's real sweet."
So is Granger's other game the one in which he makes his living.
The former University of New Mexico sensation has worked his way into a starting role as an Indiana Pacers rookie. And although he aggravated the knee he injured last season causing his production to decline this week (a combined four points the past three games) Granger still looks to be on the fast track toward long-term NBA success.
"He's a hard-working kid who's got a lot of ability," says Indiana coach Rick Carlisle of his 6-foot, 9-inch forward. "... I love his demeanor and his commitment to the game, and he'll keep getting better."
Indiana president Larry Bird says, "He's a tough kid, first of all. He's long, he's athletic. The thing that caught my eye the most is how he can defend, he can defend multiple players. ... The more he plays, the better he'll get."
Granger has been playing a great deal these days. The departure of disgruntled star Ron Artest, who has left the team waiting to be traded, moved Granger into a starting role. After averaging 13 minutes and 2.6 points the season's first 13 games, he averaged 31 minutes, 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in his most recent eight games until this week.
The extra minutes, however, are speeding up the unavoidable crash into the Rookie Wall, that point of the season most first-year players experience, their minds and bodies seemingly slamming into a brick blockade.
Granger's left knee was so swollen after the Pacers' 98-92 victory against Charlotte on Wednesday, he didn't know if he'd be able to play at all Friday. He did, but just 10 minutes going scoreless. Indiana is suffering through a rash of injuries, reducing the team to eight healthy bodies.
"We only had three guys on the bench (Wednesday), so I had to try and play as much as I could," Granger said. "But I'm feeling it. It's all part of the Rookie Wall.
"... You play a lot of games in the NBA. It can be a good thing or bad thing. If you have a few bad games, it doesn't kill your season like it did in college. But it's harder. Our schedule has been crazy."
Taking care of friends
It's game day, and after the Pacers' morning shoot-around, Granger heads to the team's gift shop to make a large purchase. He greets security personnel on the way to the store.
"Just the nicest young man," one female security officer says of Granger.
Needing to fill requests, Granger begins to pile jerseys with his name and No. 33 on the back over his forearms.
"These little ones are for coach (Ritchie) McKay's kids," he says. "I promised to send them some.
"... It's kind of weird," he says of seeing his name on the jersey. "It was tough to get used to. I'd see people walking around. When I first saw them, I was like 'whoa.' I'm kind of getting used to it, but it's definitely different.''
Rounding up gear for friends and family isn't Granger's only chore these days. His teammates require certain attention as well.
"He's a rookie," says Pacers guard Stephen Jackson. "He has to get bagels and cream cheese every morning. At the beginning of the season, he broke some team rules, buying things for different people but I won't go into that."
"Neither will I," Granger says with a laugh.
Buying is something Granger who signed a three-year, $4 million contract has done often for other people. People close to him. The Metairie, La., native filled his new Carmel, Ind., home with beds, furniture and supplies last summer when he moved a dozen or so family members in after Hurricane Katrina forced their evacuation.
Granger's family has since moved back to the New Orleans area, where he says "they are doing a lot better now. I was just so grateful I was in a position to help. I'm able to pay for my brother to go to school, and I bought him a car, too."
But make no mistake, Granger says he's well aware of the value of money. He says he's heard "horror stories" about players who have tossed away millions, as well as falling prey to scams.
The NBA has programs that educate its players about certain dangers, and Granger says he's already seen a number of hazards firsthand.
"A lot of places we go, girls know who we are before we get there," he says. "They'll know your stat line, where you were born, what your sister's name is. They'll be at hotels.
"And then there are those who act like they don't know who you are, and then will slip. They'll say something, like 'so how was Bradley?' 'Oh, and you didn't know who I was until I got in here? Come on now.'
"It makes you value all the real people, like Dionna and all my friends back in New Mexico. I've got so many people coming at me now because of who I am. ... It makes me appreciate the real people in my life."
Kann, who started dating Granger at UNM two years ago, is one of those. She spent the holiday break with her beau, helping to decorate his abode. On Wednesday it was back to Albuquerque, where she is working on teaching degree.
"It's been tough with him so far away," says Kann, who also works as a nanny and a waitress at Souper Salad. "But we talk just about every night, and I try to support him all I can."
Granger says they aren't engaged, but that's "coming soon, real soon."
There are plenty of real people also trying to knock Granger's block off on the floor. Being a rookie defensive whiz has it's drawbacks, especially when it comes to checking a superstar.
In a recent game against the Lakers, Kobe was torching the Pacers. Granger was summoned to stop the ball-hogging gunner, and Granger did just that four straight trips down the floor.
On the fifth, Bryant found a way to get a shot off firing an elbow into Granger's grill that sent his front tooth toward his throat.
"It was just flat-out dirty," says Aaron Mintz, one of Granger's agents. "That's why Kobe has the reputation he does."
Bird, with a proud papa smirk, says "In this league, no veteran likes a rookie to guard them especially when they know (that rookie) can defend. Danny's got the ability to be a very good player in the league."
Granger, who will likely need a root canal to save the tooth, finished the game.
"I had to come back, they needed me," Granger says. "It was so bad, the nastiest thing ever. (The Lakers') Lamar Odom was like 'Oh my goodness! Kobe did that?' I couldn't even talk.
"But I've got him next time, that's all I'm going to say we do play them again and I will guard him again."
Three times Granger has needed stitches in a game, and once received a concussion something he didn't know until after the contest. But as with the tooth mauling, he finished every game.
"He's had a rough year," Jackson says. "There's a lot of guys in this league who get elbowed, get their teeth knocked out. They'll go in the locker room and sit the rest of the game. Danny comes out and plays. You have to respect a guy for that."
And in Granger's case, for a whole lot more as well.
GRANGER BY THE NUMBERS
Granger's approximate salary over his first three years in the NBA
Number he was chosen by Indiana in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft
Career scoring average at UNM
Division I player Granger who averaged at least 18 points, 8.5 rebounds, two steals, two assists and two blocks a game last year
Friends and family members living at Granger's house during the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina
BORN: April 20, 1983
FAMILY: Son of Danny and Janice Granger, has an older sister (Jamie) and younger brother (Scott)
HIGH SCHOOL: McDonald's All-America nominee before his senior year at Grace King High in Metairie, La.
COLLEGE: Made the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team for Bradley in 2001-02, averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
Highly publicized transfer to New Mexico after the first semester of his sophomore season, having averaged 19.2 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Braves.
First-team All-Mountain West Conference in 22 games for the Lobos, averaging 19.5 points and 9.0 rebounds as a junior.
Runner-up to Utah's Andrew Bogut as MWC Player of the Year, despite suffering a knee injury that required surgery and sidelined him for three games.
NBA: Picked 17th in the June draft