Postcard from N.C. State
With height, international flavor, Pack could surprise
Posted: Tuesday October 23, 2007 11:52AM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 2:10PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's the afternoon of North Carolina State's first day off since practice began on Oct. 12, and Gavin Grant is sitting on his bed, ready to hit play on a DVD. There's a row of movies on top of his dresser -- including Shottas, a famed gangster film from his native Jamaica -- and other discs are scattered about the spartan environs of the apartment he shares with forward Brandon Costner on the top floor of The College Inn. But Grant's viewing option on this Thursday is a low-budget, local production: one-camera footage of the previous day's Wolfpack workout.
Grant has the remote in hand, fast-forwarding and intermittently pointing things out to a visitor. "There's Farnold," he says, as Iowa State transfer Farnold Degand, N.C. State's potential replacement for departed MVP Engin Atsur, brings the ball up the floor. Degand, who is beginning his third year of college but has yet to play in an actual college game, is the X-Factor of the Pack's '07-'08 season. "He's fast as hell -- about as fast as [North Carolina point guard] Tywon Lawson, but bigger. He's definitely going to be a legit contributor, with his speed, and the heady game that he plays."
Amid all the veterans -- Grant, the lone senior, plus returning starters Costner, Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley -- a big kid is wearing No. 1 and looking like the most imposing presence on the floor. That would be J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 McDonald's All-American who should make State's frontcourt among the best in the nation this season. "He's a beast, he's well-polished, he's got moves," Grant says of Hickson. "He's as good as they come out of high school."
Grant, a 6-8 forward from the Bronx who averaged 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, is monitoring himself, too. For body language. For positioning on plays. Because he needs to back up the bold statement he made earlier this summer -- that he didn't think the Wolfpack, who were 18-15 last season and 5-11 in the ACC in Sidney Lowe's first year as head coach, would lose more than four games this time around. After making a surprise run to the title game of the 2007 ACC tournament as a 10 seed, N.C. State was already going to be a trendy sleeper pick this season. Grant just decided to take it up about 10 notches, and now a team that most pundits thought could battle for second place in the ACC is a self-proclaimed Final Four contender.
There was a chance that Grant wouldn't even be in Raleigh to see his senior season through -- because was supposed to have been deported. The ordeal began his sophomore season, when INS agents arrived at an N.C. State practice that October and took him away to be fingerprinted. Says Grant, who came to the U.S. with his mother from Jamaica in 1994 and never became an American citizen, but is now married to one in New York: "I didn't know what was going on. I was like, 'Am I getting locked up?'"