KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - College basketball's greatest scorer
shot his way out of poverty with a tennis ball and a 5-gallon
bucket tacked to his house.
Long before he became known as "The Machine" at Kentucky
State, scoring more points than even Pete Maravich, Travis Grant
was just a kid in the segregated South who loved basketball. No
money for a real basket, he cut out the bottom of that bucket,
grabbed a 25-cent rubber ball, a tennis ball, whatever he could
find, and shot. Anything to shoot.
When he could, Grant paid a dime to watch the high school team
play outdoors, on a dirt court lined in chalk. He later became a
star when the team moved indoors - after the school could afford to
build a gym.
Grant went on to win NAIA championships, become college
basketball's all-time leading scorer and play professionally. Now,
finally, that kid with the tennis ball and a dream is headed into
the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
"Travis should have been in all the hall of fames a long time
ago," said William Graham, Grant's Kentucky State teammate and
former coach at the school. "It's been like 40 years since he's
been in school and he deserves to be in quite a few hall of fames.
If it's basketball, he should have been in the hall of fame."
The big names in Sunday night's induction ceremony in Kansas
City will be Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, whose epic battle in the
1979 NCAA title game spawned the modern era of big-time college
basketball. Johnson's coach, Jud Heathcote, former Oklahoma star
Wayman Tisdale, NCAA patriarch Walter Byers, longtime coach Gene
Bartow and contributor Bill Wall will also be inducted.
Grant? He's the answer to a trivia question most people get
wrong: Who is the all-time leading scorer in college basketball?
The most common response? Maravich.
But Grant scored 378 more points than Pistol Pete. He just did
it at a small, historically black teaching college in Frankfort,
Ky., while Maravich caught the nation's eye with his magic act at
Grant chose Kentucky State over bigger schools because of his
relationship with coach Lucias Mitchell. The two had met early in
Grant's high school days while Mitchell was coaching at Alabama
State. When Grant graduated, he followed Mitchell to Kentucky
Turned out to be a great decision.
After spending the first half of his first game on the bench,
Grant entered in the second half against Campbell College. He hit
his first shot, another, eventually 10 straight. Grant became an
instant cult figure with the Kentucky State fans, who dubbed him
"The Machine" on the spot.
Grant kept churning out points after that. The 6-foot-7 shooter
led the Thorobreds in scoring as a freshman, to three straight NAIA
national championships from 1970-72, and became the first
small-college player to win the Lapchick Trophy as college
basketball's player of the year as a senior.
By the time he was done, Grant had scored 4,045 points, still
the all-time, all-division NCAA record. His name dots in the NAIA
tournament record book, too, including points in a career (518), in
one tournament (213) and in a single game (60 against Minot State
"He was a phenomenal shooter," said Graham, now a professor at
Kentucky State. "We basically just had to get the ball to him. If
he was open, it was two points. Guaranteed shooter."
Grant didn't have an easy road to the top.
He grew up in rural Alabama during the civil rights era and
heard his share of racial slurs. His father left before he turned 6
and his mother, Mattie Mae, spent her days working in the homes of
white families around Clayton to support Travis and his four
Basketball was Grant's ticket out.
All those shots at the makeshift rim turned him into a high
school star. Earned him a chance to attend college. Took him to
California for a professional career.
Once he had made it, Grant came back.
Using the signing bonus he received from the Los Angeles Lakers,
who had taken him with the 13th overall pick of the 1972 draft,
Grant bought a car, drove back to Alabama and went around Clayton
paying off his mother's bills. Then he bought her a house.
"That might have been the best day of my life," Grant said.
His life's about to circle around again.
Kansas City was the site of some of Grant's greatest moments on
a basketball court. He went through what's been dubbed the toughest
tournament in basketball - five games in six nights - three times
there, ending up with the NAIA trophy each time.
Grant went on to play a short but relatively productive
professional career, playing limited minutes in 1972-73 with a
Lakers team that included Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West then
averaged a career-best 25.2 points for San Diego in 1974-75.
Injuries and contract disputes ended his career after four seasons.
Grant went back and finished his degree and has spent the past
29 years as an educator. He's now an assistant principal at Panola
Way Elementary School in Lithonia, Ga. There, he's just Mr. Grant,
member of the staff, his past concealed - at least until the recent
buzz about his hall induction - by a humble man comfortable with
Now, just before the 40th anniversary of his first national
title, the 59-year-old Grant gets to relive those glory days, maybe
puff out his chest a little and get the recognition he probably
deserved a long time ago.
"It's going to be a great weekend," said Grant, who's married
and has two children. "Just to get back to Kansas City will be
special. It's like a home away from home. It's fitting the (hall
induction) will take place there."
All because of a tennis ball and a bucket.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)