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Indystar article on Granger - Happy landing in Indy
The voice on the other end of Ritchie McKay's phone sounded like a child who had met his idol for the first time, not a 22-year-old potential lottery pick weeks from being selected in the NBA draft.
"He was like, 'Coach, coach, I met Larry Bird. I was in his office and got to talk to him. It was something special; I'm excited,' " McKay, the University of New Mexico basketball coach, recalled Wednesday morning.
"I was like, 'Did you ask for an autograph?' " McKay said. "He didn't want to do that."
More than three weeks later, Danny Granger, sporting a baby blue suit and a million-dollar smile, sat between Bird and his new coach, Rick Carlisle, as the Indiana Pacers introduced their first-round pick Wednesday afternoon.
"He's not only a Hall of Famer, he's up there with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. That's like the top three. It's breathtaking," Granger said. "It's settled in now. Now I can talk to him."
Granger, along with the Pacers, have received a lot of attention since he was selected with the 17th pick in Tuesday's draft. Draft experts projected Granger to be among the first 10 players taken.
"I couldn't believe my eyes as the draft was unfolding," Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said. "We got us a real special player."
Once he slipped out of the top 10, Granger, along with his agent, hoped teams would continue to pass on him so he could fall to the Pacers.
"When I came here for my workout, I loved it," Granger said. "Once you get into the lower range, there's not that big of a difference going 12 or 15. When we got to the 16th pick, and that was Toronto, we were praying that they didn't take me with that pick because I wanted to go to the Pacers."
The Pacers are getting a player who can play three positions and knows what it takes to succeed.
Granger grew up in a strict family where swearing, drinking, smoking and drugs weren't allowed. Academics were at the top of the list.
A Louisiana native who was lightly recruited by LSU and Tulane, Granger passed up opportunities to attend Yale and Columbia so he could play basketball and study civil engineering at Bradley, which he said has one of top departments in the Midwest.
Granger left halfway through his sophomore season when the coach who recruited him was fired and several teammates left the team.
"I was really close with that staff," Granger said. "We were all close. Midway through my sophomore year, I really didn't want to be there anymore."
Granger picked New Mexico because his coach at Bradley, Duane Broussard, became an assistant with the Lobos.
Granger led the Mountain West Conference in scoring as a junior (19.5 points per game) and sparked talk about his NBA potential. The Lobos, however, finished 14-14, and Granger couldn't go out like that.
"I think winning is the ultimate thing," Granger said. "When you lose, it gives you a feeling you don't want to have."
He showed his commitment once again as a senior. A knee injury was supposed to sideline him at least three weeks, but he missed only two games.
"We were playing BYU and our center goes out about seven minutes into the half," McKay said. "I walk down to the end of the bench and Danny goes, 'I'm going to check on him in the locker room.' Danny came out and said that our center couldn't play anymore. He told me, 'Put me in if we want to win.' He loves to win and loves to compete. He was determined to make our program great. We were rebuilding when he got there, but then he helped us get to the NCAA Tournament."
Granger's stock continued to climb as the season progressed and he played well during workouts. He said playing four years of college basketball prepared him for his next challenge.
"A lot of kids come out of college early," he said. "I think going through four years of college is an experience. Whether it's a good experience, whether it's a bad experience, you learn from it one way or another."
Granger will get ready for the Pacers' summer league next month in Minneapolis. Granger's father, Danny Sr., is retiring 20 years early from working on forklifts so he can relocate to Indianapolis to be close to his son.
"I'll tell you what: I never thought this would be the case," Danny Sr. said. "I thought I was going to retire like everybody else at 65. I'm going to have to work. I can't sit around and not do anything. I've been working with forklifts since I was 17. I'll do something in regards of Danny, like being a manager. I'm really proud of him and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the NBA."
So is Bird and the rest of the Pacers.
Thomas on summer team
Former Notre Dame and Pike High School guard Chris Thomas will play on the Indiana Pacers' summer league team in Minneapolis next month.
Pacers Ron Artest, who hasn't played since the Nov. 19 brawl with fans in Auburn Hills, Mich., and David Harrison also are supposed to play.
Oft-injured forward Jonathan Bender also might play.
Assistant coaches Dan Burke and Chuck Person are expected to coach the team."