TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Anthony Grant walked off the floor on Wednesday night, having survived another scare on his home court against Auburn. The usually stoic coach trotted toward the locker room, but before he left, he threw up a five-fingered salute to the student section, signaling the Tide’s fifth straight win over their in-state rivals.
A smile flashed across Grant’s face and, just like that, he was gone. Back to work. On to the next game.
It isn’t in Grant’s workmanlike demeanor to dwell on wins and losses, no matter the magnitude. There’s one goal on his mind and it doesn’t show up in a stat column. The trajectory of his team is the primary concern, where his players are headed and not where they’ve been. Given the trials of this season, that mindset has served him well.
If you were to judge Grant on where his team has been, you might walk away unimpressed. Remember the Tide began the season ranked No. 17 in the country and fell out of the top 25 by Christmas.
If you were to judge Grant on where his team is now, you might consider the job he’s done to be the best in the SEC. John Calipari will likely walk away with the honor of Coach of the Year in the SEC, but there’s something to be said for the way Grant has handled his team from the first game to the close of the regular season.
Alabama’s path to 20 wins has been a turbulent one, wrought with drama and disappointment. There have been suspensions and reinstatements, long periods of success followed by interminable losing steaks.
Grant has had to traverse inconsistency on the court, married with an equally inconsistent roster. It was difficult enough to acclimate seven players without a single minute of college basketball experience, let alone deal with the upheaval of four starters being suspended, one for the rest of the season.
He could have easily kept his two leading scorers on the team despite disciplinary problems. No one would have been the wiser. But that’s not the way Grant handles adversity. From start to finish, his goals haven’t changed, nor has the way he’d like to achieve them.
Throughout it all, Grant has stayed the course, doing things the “right way” as opposed to the “winning way.” Yes, winning cures all, but the fix is temporary. What Grant is doing with the Tide is built to last.
Grant is building a program from the ground up. Against Auburn, fans saw flashes of the future: Trevor Lacey growing into the team’s go-to man on offense, Levi Randolph playing lock down defense and Rodney Cooper knocking down big shot after big shot. Tide fans also saw what a coach can do with discipline. When Trevor Releford turned the ball over one too many times, Grant yanked him in favor of the seldom-used Ben Elben. Eleven players saw the court against Auburn and every one of them contributed in some form or fashion. Even Carl Engstrom, who logged just one minute of play, screened out two Auburn defenders to pave the way for an easy layup in the first half.
With just one regular season game remaining, Grant will have to call on all 11 players -- and maybe one or two more -- to lend a hand.
When the updated tournament predictions roll out, Alabama will likely be considered a shoe-in. Twenty wins and an above-.500 winning percentage in conference play ought to be good enough to go dancing.
Though euphoria of a tournament berth will likely wash away many of the pains of the regular season, it’s important to remember the work that’s been done to get here.
Without the steady hand of Grant, who knows where Alabama might be.