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That preference jibes with the strain of reluctance that runs through his basketball career. At Reston's Twin Branches Park, where such future college stars as Carlos Yates, Dennis Scott and Michael Jackson regularly ran, Grant remembers having to be begged to join the action. "I never thought I was good enough," he says. "It was kind of like what's gone on the last two years—everybody trying to get me to be more assertive." The biggest trauma of adolescence, father and son agree, occurred when he was a freshman in high school. As an eighth-grader he had been water boy for the ninth-grade team on which most of his friends played, and he looked forward to joining them the following season on the jayvee team. But that fall South Lakes coach Wendell Byrd invited him to try out for the varsity. Grant balked. "Coach Byrd told me to go home and talk to my dad," he says. "Well, he'd already talked to my dad."
Calvin urged him to at least give the coach a chance to make the decision. Grant said he would but wanted Calvin to know he felt he was being forced to. He tearfully accused his father of child abuse. Of course Grant made the varsity and his friends were genuinely excited for him, and within a few days the issue was moot, "I guess I always wanted to be liked by everybody," he says. "Here my father was in sports, my parents had money, and I'm thinking that if I do well in sports, people will get jealous of me and not like me. I didn't want to seem better than everybody else. Eventually I realized I was better."
After concluding his freshman season at Duke with an end-of-the-millennium, one-handed jackknife slam off an alley-oop in the 1991 NCAA title game against Kansas, he found himself wondering what he might have accomplished if he had had that whole year to do over again. Last season, pressed into running the team when regular point guard Hurley went down with a broken foot, he strung out line after line of ample points, rebounds, assists and minutes played, all with minimal turnovers. Watching the 6'8" sophomore fill in for the 6-foot kid from Jersey City, Krzyzewski was struck by the difference. Bobby just does stuff, the coach decided; Grant is always analyzing: If I make this play, four moves later this will happen. (It's always dangerous to traffic in stereotypes, but if you must, let it be this: The child of the city, not the black one, plays by instinct; the suburban kid, not the white one, thinks things through.)
Whether he's the tallest Duke player on the floor or he's playing the point, Hill has a carriage so liquid that his game appears to have evolved not from trial and error but from trial and success. In what may be the first documented instance of a basketball player attributing his achievements to the crucible of suburban life, Grant credits the youth soccer he played in Reston with giving him his quick first step and agility.
"Christian and Bobby were the MVPs [of the 1991 and 1992 Final Fours]," Krzyzewski says, "but the guy who played as well as anybody in those four games was Grant. But he didn't mind staying out of the limelight, because last year it was Christian's and Brian's [Davis] turn, and the year before that it was Christian's and even Greg Koubek's turn. Grant's made the biggest jump with his shot and his assertiveness and being consistently excellent. To make the next jump, he'll need to play without Bobby and be the leader."
He'll be around to make that jump, for he'll return for his senior season. Janet and Calvin recently became cochairs of the Duke Parents' Program fund drive. When they signed on in July—as they announced in a fund-raising letter that warmed a certain Polish-American heart—they agreed to serve for two years.
But before he leaves, Grant, despite his aversion to conflict, may throw himself into an ongoing controversy. Five years ago Duke pledged to significantly increase the number of its black faculty members. Since then the ranks of African-American professors on campus have hardly grown at all. Members of the Black Student Alliance arc pressing the issue, and Grant is thinking of joining them. "It's not like I'd like to be Charles Barkley and speak out on everything," he says. "But if it's something I really believe in, I'll speak up. Hopefully it will help bring about change."
If he does join the protest, he'll do so carefully. He's still talking with people around campus whom he trusts, getting their advice, thinking, as usual, four moves ahead. "Right now I'm talking about what I could do, what I should do. I may not do anything. But I don't want to be unprepared."
An only child of only children has no brothers, no sisters, no aunts, no uncles, no first cousins. Grant Hill's rooting section must make up in quality what it lacks in quantity.
Janet is the realist. She says things like, "As much as Calvin and I value education, we know you can make it in this world without Chaucer. You can't make it without common sense. Grant has a tremendous amount of common sense."