Anton Grady likes the feel in the gym at Wichita State and that might seem like a no-brainer in a winning basketball program. Grady doesn’t take it for granted and the fresh perspective of an outsider reveals something important and, perhaps, overlooked as a factor in WSU’s success.
“We were in open gym and when anybody made a good play everybody was just acknowledging it, ‘Good shot, good play,’ high fives,” Grady said. “It’s a different environment. Everybody is for each other to win. Everybody respects and accepts what everybody brings to the table. That’s real different.”
It may seem like that should be the way every pickup game operates among teammates. Grady transferred to WSU in May from Cleveland State, where he described an atmosphere where athletes viewed a teammate’s success as an obstacle to personal success.
“More enemies,” he said. “Everybody wasn’t on the same page. (At WSU), it’s more ‘I’m happy that guy can shoot the ball because that will help us win’ more than ‘He can shoot the ball, he going’s to take some of my minutes.’”
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Grady (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) is eligible immediately at WSU for his senior season in 2015-16. The NCAA’s graduate transfer rule allows athletes who complete their undergraduate degree to transfer without penalty of sitting out a season.
He appears to be the perfect fit to replace Darius Carter, an honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Conference pick, as WSU’s veteran post player. Like Gabe Blair, a power forward who transferred to WSU from East Carolina in 2008, he wants to finish his career in the NCAA Tournament. Grady was All-Horizon League last season, averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Vikings.
“He’s very serious about maximizing this year,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He keeps saying, ‘I just want to win, I just want to win.’ He’s very diligent in terms of his focus and listening and trying to get better.”
Grady, from Cleveland, picked WSU for its NCAA Tournament success. His campus visit and talks with players and coaches sold him on those goals. When he started workouts and pickup games earlier this week, his appreciation for the atmosphere rose.
“The foundation of the team is that everybody wants to win,” he said. “When everybody wants to win, people will do anything it takes to get on the same page. I didn’t know how deep it was. From these guys’ body of work you can already tell they win. You don’t really know the secret or what’s the formula until you get here and then you start seeing that there’s something that they do different.”
Marshall’s roster presents plenty of large and skilled options in his rotation of bigs. Sophomore Shaq Morris earned All-Freshman honors in the MVC after strong January, February and March performances. Senior Bush Wamukota earned important minutes in March with his defense. Sophomore Rashard Kelly is an aggressive rebounder and sophomore Rauno Nurger displays enticing offensive skills in his minimal playing time.
None, however, offer the package of skills and experience that Grady’s 74 starts and 21 career double-doubles represent.
“He’s real finesse-like around the rim,” Morris said. “Crafty. He can definitely step out and hit shots.”
Grady is working to improve that jump shot and show he can be a pick-and-pop option with WSU guard Fred VanVleet and a consistent mid-range threat. He made 48.8 percent of his shots and 64.5 percent of his free throws as a junior at Cleveland State. He made 4 of 10 three-pointers, a skill he also wants to expand.
“I’m not saying I’m a shooter, but I believe I can hit three-pointers on a consistent basis,” he said.
Grady’s defensive skills are just as appealing. He blocked 47 shots and grabbed 51 steals last season to earn Horizon League All-Defensive team honors. Cleveland State coach Gary Waters emphasized defense and Grady takes on that role with enthusiasm.
“It was a defensive-oriented system, so that was something you had to buy in and do,” Grady said. “I wanted to become a complete player.”
The Shockers need that complete presence in the lane. Grady, after three seasons watching others play in the NCAA Tournament, needs the right teammates and coaches to keep him active into late March. He believes he found the right gym.