(Former Clemson Basketball great Horace Grant has been named to the 2015 class of ACC Basketball Legends. They will be recognized during the 2015 ACC Tournament. One player or coach from each of the 15 schools will be recognized.)
A True ACC Legend, Horace Grant
by Sam Blackman
Horace Grant and his twin brother Harvey came to Clemson very quietly. Grant was aptly nicknamed “Slim” thanks to his 6-9, 187-pound frame.
They were not heavily recruited and they were not well known, but then Clemson Head Coach Bill Foster recognized something in the pair-two diamonds in the rough.
Virtually inseparable since birth, they played high school basketball together and naturally they wanted to go to the same college. However, after two years at Clemson they separated. Harvey wanting to establish his own identity, headed off to Independence (Kan.) Junior College and eventually to the University of Oklahoma.
That left Horace to make a name for himself during his final two years at Clemson, and did he ever! During his senior year, he became the first player in ACC history to lead the league in scoring (21.0 average), rebounding (9.6) and field goal shooting (70.8 percent). In 1987, the Tigers’ opponents knew Littlejohn Coliseum as Grant’s Tomb. For his spectacular season, Grant was named Clemson’s first ACC Player of the Year.
“It was an honor,” Grant said a year later as a member of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. “I think it proved that if you work hard, good things come to you. At the time, it didn’t mean a great deal to me. But after the fact, it means a lot because no Clemson player had ever done that.”
Although Clemson Coach Bill Foster saw immense potential in Horace, and Harvey, as high school players in Sparta, Ga., even he did not envision that either would eventually be the ACC’s top player.
“We went down to Sparta the night before we signed them and spent the night in a motel,” says Foster, who left Clemson following Horace and Harvey’s freshman season to coach at the University of Miami. “It’s hard to believe now, but Clemson, Georgia Southern and Southern University were the only schools that wanted them. We’re talking about two first—round NBA draft choices.
Finding diamonds in the rough was certainly nothing new to Foster. He had done the same with Cedric Maxwell at UNC-Charlotte and with Larry Nance at Clemson. Both of the Grants were unheralded players out of high school but developed into outstanding college players and professional stars.
“After Maxwell and Nance, every time we showed up around other guys, everybody would take a look at who we were recruiting,” Foster says. “So, with the Grants, we never went down to Sparta much. We just kind of laid back and hoped nobody would notice them.”
Foster had actually spotted the twins at a summer basketball camp in Milledgeville, Ga., which is just 19 miles down Highway 22 from Sparta. In the Grants, Foster and Assistant Coach Dwight Rainey saw a couple of skinny, 6-foot-8 kids who were mostly arms and legs. Like Maxwell and Nance, the Grants had exceptionally good hands and coordination.
Sensing he had unearthed a couple of gems, Foster agreed to offer both of the Grants a scholarship if they promised not to tell a soul until signing day. Meanwhile, Foster kept forwarding Clemson posters to the towering twins.
“Horace just kept getting better and better,” says Foster. “He was very team oriented. I knew from day one that he was going to be a great player. If you had a team full of players like him, you could coach for 100 years.”
“The whole thing was such a secret,” Foster says. “The first time I went into their home was when we signed them. They had Clemson paraphernalia wall-to-wall.”
What Foster got in the Grants was a pair of fierce competitors.
“When Harvey and I were growing up, we were the only guys our size,” Horace says. “We really thrived on the competition between the two of us.”
At Clemson, Harvey was red-shirted his first season. Horace sometimes wondered if maybe he, too, should have used an extra year on the sidelines to nurture his game. In his first games at UNC and N.C. State, Horace managed only a field goal in each.
“Right then I knew I was in for a long battle,” Horace says. “I told myself that I had to improve, had to work a little harder, which I did.”
Horace became more dedicated in the weight room. Not only did he bulk up to 220 pounds, he also grew to 6-10 by his sophomore year. He also developed a more well-rounded game by playing away from the basket as a forward under Foster, then playing more of a back-to-the-basket, inside game under Coach Cliff Ellis.
Perhaps the key to Horace’s development, though, was Harvey’s departure.
“Many people considered Harvey and I as one,” said Horace. “We’re twins but we wanted our own identity. Harvey didn’t want to be in Horace Grant’s shadow. His leaving did us both a lot of good. Now people know me as Horace Grant, not the twin brother of Harvey.”
Horace had made his mark by the end of his junior year (16.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 72.5 percent field goal shooting), then spurred himself and the Tigers even higher in 1987. Under his leadership, Clemson finished second in the ACC for the first time with a 10-4 record. The Tigers earned a Top 10 ranking and 25 wins (against six losses) were the most ever for a Clemson team.
Grant was named to the ACC’s 50-Year Anniversary team, one of two former Tigers selected. After his senior season, he was the consensus ACC Player-of-the-Year, Clemson’s first ACC Player of the Year ever in basketball. Grant was a second-team All-American according to Associated Press, Basketball Weekly, and Kodak (Coach’s Association) in 1986-87.
In a game at Virginia his senior season, Clemson trailed 90-87 with 10 seconds remaining. Grant, who had never attempted a three-pointer, trailed the play and spotted up for a game-tying three-pointer. In storybook fashion, Grant made the shot with four seconds remaining. Clemson went on to win 94-90.
“That was one of the best comebacks I’ve been associated with,” recalls former Tiger Coach Cliff Ellis. “We had a lot of close wins that year and a major reason was we had Horace to look to down the stretch. He was a leader and a player who never gave up and that’s why he was a very successful player in the NBA.”
Grant was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls, 10th pick overall of 1987 draft. He was the winner of Clemson’s Frank Howard Award and IPTAY Athlete-of-the-Year for 1987. He won three NBA World Championships with the Bulls and was the first former Clemson player to win an NBA World Championship ring. He finished his career with four World Championship Rings, also winning one with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He signed a free-agent contract with Orlando Magic in the summer of 1994, he helped the team to the NBA finals in 1995. Grant was a four-time NBA All-Defensive team (second-team) pick, 1993-96. He was a veteran of 170 career playoff games. He was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 1999 and the state of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
Horace was a great find for Clemson. His outstanding play, his long NBA career, and his love for the game is why he is so deserving of the ACC Legends honor.
April 19, 2019