If I’m Damon Evans, I’ve seen enough. I’m on a plane to Richmond today, and I’m scheduling the news conference for Monday, wherein I will introduce Anthony Grant as Georgia’s new basketball coach.
Do I think it will work that way? Nope. I’m guessing the athletics director will feel obliged to conduct what he deems a more “thorough” search. But Evans has had two months now to assess the field, and he’ll not find anyone better suited.
Anthony Grant knows the SEC, having worked under Billy Donovan at Florida. He knows how to recruit, having helped land the signing class — the “Oh-Fours,” those Gators called themselves — that would win consecutive national championships. And he knows how to win on his own, having gone off and done just that.
At Virginia Commonwealth, Grant has taken two Colonial titles and reached the NCAA tournament twice in three seasons. The time he missed, his team was the top seed and lost in the conference semis by two points. If you doubt the Colonial’s bona fides, note that George Mason, which reached the 2006 Final Four, plays there. VCU beat Mason by 21 points in this season’s title game.
There has been talk in Georgia circles that Grant has only piggybacked atop what Jeff Capel began at VCU. Capel made the NCAA tournament once in his four seasons with the Rams. Yes, he left Grant with the splendid guard Eric Maynor, but Maynor was the only senior on this Ram roster. The burgeoning big man Larry Sanders? Grant signed him out of Port St. Lucie, Fla.
If you watched Maynor and Sanders work against UCLA in the Big Dance on Thursday, you saw players who clearly have been coached. The Bruins have been to the past three Final Fours, but Maynor had a shot to beat them at the horn. He’d made that shot two years ago to topple Duke in Round 1, but this time he missed. He missed because Ben Howland, one of the best in the business, double-teamed Maynor on the inbounds.
But here we must credit the man on VCU’s bench: Grant still found a way to get Maynor the ball, and the guard hoisted a reasonable, if contested, shot. Contrast this with Georgia Tech’s behavior against Florida State in the ACC tournament: Paul Hewitt chose to give the ball to a freshman (Iman Shumpert), as opposed to the senior Lewis Clinch, who’d scored 57 points in two days.
This is Evans’ first big hire, and I understand he’d be attracted to bigger names. (An e-mail to Evans inquiring about search criteria went unanswered.) If FoxSports is to be believed, Georgia is prepared to offer Capel $2 million, more than twice what Dennis Felton earned. But Capel’s younger brother Jason told me last week he didn’t see his sibling as Athens-bound. “I don’t think Oklahoma will let him leave,” Jason Capel said.
Know what I say? Good. Sometimes the lesser name is the proper name. Grant seems (at least to me) a better coach than Jeff Capel. Grant seems precisely what Georgia needs.
Let’s recall what Jeremy Foley, considered the best AD in the SEC, did when he needed someone to replace Lon Kruger at Florida. He hired a 30-year-old from Marshall who’d worked under Rick Pitino, and four seasons later Billy Donovan had the Gators in the Final Four.
It’s also instructive that, on the spring day in 2007 that Donovan recanted on his commitment to coach the Orlando Magic, Foley got the word in Richmond, Va. He’d gone there to try to bring Grant back to coach Florida. Evans should take the hint. If a guy’s good enough for the hated Gators, he’s good enough for Georgia.