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Basketball (M)

Men's Basketball: Dwayne Grant Was One of Catawba's Best Players

by Mike London, The Salisbury Post, salisburypost.com

There was a stir in the packed bleachers when a man wearing the ugliest red plaid jacket in the universe, with almost-matching checkerboard slacks, entered West Rowan's gym.  Everyone knew the man with the wacky wardrobe was Stormin' Norm Sloan, and everyone knew Sloan had coached N.C. State to a national championship in 1974. 

Everyone also knew Sloan, the man who had successfully recruited David Thompson, was in Mount Ulla to eyeball a 6-foot-5 Davie County War Eagle named Dwayne Grant.  Sloan's presence made Grant uneasy, but not because he fretted about performing in front of him.  After all, Grant was averaging 30 points a night. 

No, Grant, the nicest guy in the world, knew he'd have to break the news to Sloan after the game that his heart had always belonged to Dean Smith and the Tar Heels.  That did worry him.

"Sure, I remember that night," Grant said. "Coach Sloan came to West Rowan to watch us.  He had that plaid coat on, so there was no mistaking him.  I remember I had a super game."

Grant had limped out of a game with South Rowan a week earlier with a bum ankle, but he had come right back with 39 points against Mooresville.  Against West, he scored 31.  Just another night at the office for Grant.

Mocksville was barely a dozen miles away, so Catawba coach Sam Moir knew all about Grant long before he was on the radar of Division I coaches such as Sloan.  Grant was averaging double figures for the Davie varsity as a freshman.  By his sophomore year, his 23-point games were off-nights, and he just kept getting better.

"We always had a pregame steak on Saturdays, and we'd always invite Dwayne to come over," Moir said with a chuckle.  "Dwayne ate a lot of steaks because we recruited him pretty hard for three years."

Grant scored 317 points as a freshman at Davie, 401 as a sophomore, 570 as a junior, an amazing 719 as a senior.  In Grant's next-to-last high school game, he had a legendary NPC tournament semifinal performance against South Iredell on Catawba's floor.  Grant didn't score in the first quarter, but he poured in 30 in the second half and finished with 40.

Grant wore a Davie uniform for the final time in the NPC tournament championship game, a lopsided loss to North Rowan.  Grant had 26 points when he fouled out early in the fourth quarter, but he went over 2,000 points for his career that night.  He ended with 2,007.

"It's great to look back at Davie and know my records are still up there -- the 2,007 points, the 45 in one game, and to know I did it with no 3-pointers," Grant said.  "I was like ninth in state history at the time I graduated."

Moir loved Grant's game and his personality, but he was smart enough to know Catawba had no chance to get him.  Grant, who could play any position on the floor, was clearly big-time -- ACC, Big East or Southeastern Conference big-time.

Moir figured the next best thing to signing Grant himself would be keeping him in the family.  So he called his brother, Charlie, the coach at Virginia Tech.
"I told Charlie there was a kid who could play for him, but he was leaning in the direction of Florida.  I told him I knew we couldn't get him, but he might be able to."

Virginia Tech signed Grant and was glad it did after he was the leading scorer in the 1977 East-West All-Star Game with 18 points.  Grant added eight rebounds and a game-clinching dunk to the West's 97-90 victory.  Starting alongside Grant at forward was Duke-bound Kenny Dennard.

Small world.  Dennard's brother, Tom, had just wrapped up his career at Catawba.

Local fans though they'd seen the last of Grant, but things didn't work out at Virginia Tech.  The one place where Grant had always felt comfortable was Catawba, so the Indians caught a break when he came back home.

"Dwyane just didn't like it up there, so we brought him back, and what a joy and what great player and person he turned out to be," Moir said.

Grant was ready to play for the Indians as a freshman in 1978-79.  He debuted with 16 points against Limestone and scored 18 the next night against Winthrop.  His first two home games were in the Civitan Classic against Lenoir-Rhyne and Guilford.  In the Guilford game, he came off the bench and established his reputation as a clutch player, a tag that would stick with him for four years.

Catawba trailed the Quakers 60-56 late, when Grant hit a jumper, stole the ball and hit another jumper to tie the score.  Catawba kept the momentum and won 67-62.

Dwight Durante, the 5-foot-8 1960s whiz was unquestionably Catawba's greatest scorer.  Garland Davis was without a doubt the greatest rebounder.

The greatest player in Catawba history?

Grant, a first-team NAIA All-American as a senior and a three-time All-Carolinas Conference player and a co-player of the year would have to be on the short list of nominees.

He scored 1,582 points, without the 3-pointer, while shooting 53 percent from the field.  Not only is he Catawba's No. 8 all-time scorer, he ranks seventh in assists with 443.

"Dwayne averaged something like 13 points one season, but we all knew it could've been 30," Moir said.  "When it got down to the last three or four minutes, I'd call timeout and remind them, 'You know who shoots the ball now, don't you?' "

They all knew.

His last three seasons at Catawba, Grant played on balanced teams that went 71-24.  Moir said in 1982, Grant's senior year, that it was the best team he'd ever coached.
After watching the tall, talented 1981-82 Indians, TV analyst Billy Packer voiced the opinion that the only better team in the state was in Chapel Hill.

"We always shared the ball, and I was fortunate to play with so many super guys," Grant said.  "We had a lot of Division I players, players that coulda played anywhere.  We had one of the best teams around."

The game Grant remembers best is the one that everyone who played in it probably remembers best. 

Catawba 10, High Point 9 on March 1, 1980.  Goodman Gym, Carolinas Conference tournament championship.

Grant shot 2-for-4 for four points in that famous stall game.  High Point, the defending champion and the No. 1 seed in the tournament held the ball.  Catawba, the No. 2 seed, had hit its stride in February with 10 straight wins, and the Panthers coach Jerry Steele had no interest in running with them.  With no shot clock, his players were under orders not to shoot until ordered to do so.

"I remember that game like yesterday," Grant said.  "High Point didn't think it could match up with us.  But not many teams could."

Every player remembers his last game, and Catawba's loss in Kansas City after winning the district title Grant's senior year is another strong memory.

Catawba had shot 53 percent from the field to beat Johnson C. Smith 85-76 for its first district championship since 1945 and was seeded seventh out of the 32 teams that reached Kansas City for the national tournament.  But the Indians fell to Moorhead State (Minn.) in the first round.

Mark Simpson was sidelined by a scratched eyeball and Catawba's other four big guys got in early foul trouble.  Grant put it all on his shoulders, scoring 30 points, but Catawba lost 82-75 and finished 26-7.  Grant hit a shot with seven minutes left for a 65-64 lead, but it would be Catawba's last one.

Grant was inducted into the Catawba Hall of Fame in 1993 and is also in Davie County's hall.  He spent 18 years with Phillip Morris after leaving basketball behind.

A bad back has slowed him in recent years, but he remains as upbeat as he was in his high school days and his smile can still light up a gymnasium.  If he had it all to do over, he'd still choose Catawba.

"Coach Moir always talked to me like a dad, and coming back to Catawba was the greatest thing that could have happened to me," he said.  "I had opportunities to play on super teams, and just being part of the Catawba legacy means a lot to me."


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