By Joseph Staszewski
Tyrone Grant came to a Wings Academy boys’ basketball practice in the Bronx two years ago with the intention of just giving the team one inspirational talk.
It was his first, but it certainly hasn’t been the last.
The former St. John’s University hoops star has caught the coaching bug. Grant joined the Wings staff as an assistant for his first stint on the sidelines. Wings coach Billy Turnage knows Grant through a mutual friend, former Cardozo guard Duane Woodward. It’s been a joyful and eye-opening journey for Grant.
“I wanted to experience it, just to see how it was,” the 38-year-old Grant said. “It’s very gratifying to deal with these athletes.”
No experience was more satisfying for Grant than helping the Bronx school win its first PSAL Class AA championship. Grant has been a champion throughout his career, just not at the high school level. He played in the Big East Championship game a senior and reached the Elite Eight. Grant also won multiple professional titles in Italy. The best he did during his time at Grady was two straight semifinal appearances.
“I won except for high school,” Grant said. “Now I added this to my resume. I’m sky high right now.”
Grant’s responsibilities at practice center around working with the team’s big men and that means Georgetown-bound center Jessie Govan. The 6-foot-10 center was complimentary of the work Grant has done with him. He has taught him about behind patient and adapting to the defense instead of forcing the issue.
“He played at the highest levels of basketball,” Govan said. “To have somebody to teach you the tricks to the game, keys to the game, ways to get easy scores, has been a great help,” Govan said.
He isn’t with the Wings all the time because he flies back and forth from his home in Milan, Italy every few weeks. Grant founded a non-profit after-school athletic program called Team First. In between running his businesses Grant watches practices streaming on his iPad or has videos sent to him. That dedication, his insight and his position as a role model have been important to the Wings players’ success this season and hopefully later in their careers.
“I try to get guys who have done it at a high level who have been where these guys are aiming to be,” Turnage said.
Coaching helps Grant remember what life was like as a high school kid growing up in New York City. It reminds him of the struggles that occur both in a kid’s personal life and in developing his game that came before all the accolades and money from playing professional basketball.
“Your head is in the sky,” Grant said. “I could do whatever I wanted. I could buy whatever I wanted. You kind of forget. I got into the coaching and it brought me back to those Grady days.”
The goal now is to help Wings bring home the state Federation Class AA crown from Albany this weekend. For Grant it would only add to the experience that started with a simple talk.
“I never won a high school championship,” Grant said. “That’s why I am so excited about winning this championship.”