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GRANT CAN'T WAIT TO GET TO REST OF HIS LIFE, AND HOPEFULLY, NBA

A LOT HAS HAPPENED since we last saw Josh Grant as an official member of the University of Utah basketball team. Marriage. Fatherhood. Knee surgery. Rehabilitation. Weight gain.

Middle age? Not quite. Then again, he is 25 years old. All Grant lacks is a career, which is why he's back at the University of Utah this winter to try his aborted senior season once again.Twenty-five. Grant graduated from East High School in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was still President. He (Grant, that is) went on an LDS Church mission, then joined the Utes two years later. His teammates then were guys named Mark Lenoir, Jimmy Madison, Mitch Smith. Grant looks around at practice these days and sees a lot of strangers. He is seven years older than some of his teammates.

If Grant had had his way, he would have been gone a year ago, but a knee injury changed all that. With the greatest of reluctance, he redshirted last season to rehab the knee. He was anxious to get on with the rest of his life, and who could blame him. He was a family man, getting up there in years by a student's standard.

But after enduring a season in limbo, Grant is back on the court for the Utes, who are only too happy to have him. With Grant in the lineup two years ago, the Utes produced their greatest season ever. They won the Western Athletic Conference championship, advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and finished with a glossy 30-4 record. Grant played no small part in the whole business. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the WAC, having led the Utes in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and minutes.

But without Grant in the lineup last season, the Utes failed to make the NCAA tournament. They managed 24 wins, but 10 of those came during a soft preseason schedule. Yet, except for the absence of Grant, it was virtually the same team that had won 30 games a year earlier."The knee is fine," Grant says to a question he's been asked about a zillion times in the past 16 months. As if to prove it, he has tallied 57 points in two exhibition games this month, including a brilliant 40-point outing against a good Athletes in Action team Tuesday night.

Last season's layoff was a long time coming. The left knee bothered Grant even in high school. As a college sophomore he began to take aspirin before some games to control the pain. By his junior season he was taking aspirin before every game. After the long junior season, which included preseason camps, the regular season, the NCAA tournament, national-team tryouts and the World University Games, the knee gave out.

Grant's doctors found more than the cartilage damage they expected when they opened the knee. One-quarter of the patellar tendon had become detached from the kneecap and was dying. The surgeons removed the dying tissue, anchored the tendon with a metal screw, and then gave the knee what they call a "killer injection" - a procedure in which they inject novacaine into the patellar tendon, but while they're at it they scratch and jab the tendon to cause bleeding, which in turn promotes healing and the breaking up of scar tissue.

"I had scar tissue in the patellar, so when I had jumper's knee (tendinitis) it couldn't heal because the blood couldn't get in there (past the scar tissue)," says Grant.

Grant spent the year off resting and lifting weights, trying to add muscle to his lanky, Gumby-like body. His weight soared from 205 to 230. "Some of it was good weight, but some of it around my stomach wasn't, so now I'm around 218," he says.

Three weeks after getting medical clearance to play full-speed, full-court ball in June, Grant attended the first of two basketball camps - the Red Auerbach camp in Boston, and a big man's camp in Cincinnati - where he was able to scrimmage against NBA players.

"It was good for me to sit out last season," says Grant. "I was able to learn a lot just watching. It slowed me down. I realized some things I need to do. I feel a lot more intense when I'm playing now. My whole life I've been dreaming of the NBA. Right now it's more within my grasp. It's a possibility, and that fact drives me."

That, and perhaps a changing lifestyle. Six months ago, his wife, Tina, gave birth to Josh II. "I go to school, go to practice and then get home as quick as I can," he says.