It all began with The Judge. Or maybe it was that noisy furnace. Then again, maybe it began, as so many things would, with one talented, determined older brother who always seemed to light the way for his siblings. Whatever the reason, once the Grant family discovered basketball they attacked it like they did everything else: with the fury of a full-court press, down by one.
Did they ever do anything any other way? A career in law? How about a judgeship. Children? A nice even dozen. A big new home on a tight budget? Build it yourself, with the kids. A place for the children to play? Build a gym, too. Religion? Eight missionaries, and counting.When Paul Grant - a.k.a. The Judge - saw an athlete in his first child, Greg - or perhaps saw what he wanted to see in his first child, who knows - he set up a basketball hoop in the basement of the family home. Not just any basket set up any old way, but a full-sized metal hoop nailed at the exact height for a 3 1/2-year-old that a 10-foot basket would be for an average-sized adult.
Greg spent endless hours in the basement playing one-on-none basketball, until he noticed The Furnace. It had five burners, and when they all kicked in they roared. Greg dashed upstairs to his mother Bonnie in the kitchen.
"There's a lion in the basement!"
"From then on one of us had to sit on the stairs with him while he shot baskets," says Bonnie.
One day, after taking his turn guarding against lions, The Judge announced to Bonnie, "Greg is going to be a very talented basketball player. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be a college player."
Why? his wife asked.
"Because he has great anticipation. When the ball hits the side of the rim, he always knows where it's going to bounce."
Eventually, all but one of the Grant children took up basketball. The sport became the focal point of the family. There were school games, church games, family games, pickup games, practices, camps. The Judge was never far in the background. He was at courtside during games and practice, or in the family gym with his boys, teaching, cheering, correcting, yelling, willing them to be better players, to be better than he was.
From this family came three major college basketball players - all of them starters, two of them conference Most Valuable Players. Playing for Utah State, Greg became the all-time leading scorer in Big West Conference history and the 1986 league MVP. He averaged 18.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while starting every game for four years. He ended his career with 2,127 points and 1,003 rebounds.
Nate, the second son, followed Greg to USU, and by his sophomore year he was a starter, but a back injury the following year cost him two seasons and part of his game. He managed 458 points and 312 rebounds in an abbreviated college career.
Josh, the third son, is wrapping up his career at the University of Utah. He was the Most Valuable Player in the Western Athletic Conference in 1991, but missed last season with a knee injury. With Josh in the lineup that season, the Utes won the WAC championship and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Without him last season, but with the rest of the team intact, the Utes finished tied for fourth in the WAC and failed to make the NCAA tournament field. Now Josh is back in the lineup and the Utes are again on top of the WAC.
So far Josh has 1,817 points and 965 rebounds. By the end of the season, he is projected to rank second only to the legendary Billy McGill on Utah's career scoring and rebounding lists.
So far, the Grant brothers have totaled 4,402 points and 2,280 rebounds, although such statistics hardly gauge the impact they have on a game.
Some time next month, Josh will finish his college career, which likely will end the Grant line of basketball players.
"It's been a great run," says The Judge. "It's been great fun for our family."
When Paul and Bonnie married, they had it all worked out. They would have two children. Later, after listening to a Sunday School lesson on multiplying and replenishing, they revised that number - to three. They had 12.
The babies kept coming and coming. Greg was first. Then came Elizabeth, Nate, Kathryn, Josh, Melissa, Jeremy, Jason, Rachael, Adam, Seth and, 19 years after the first baby was born, Chrissy. You can't watch a home movie in which Bonnie isn't pregnant. She spent nine years of her life in a state of pregnancy, although only one child was planned.
"I consider myself a great failure in life," says Bonnie, "because I spent all my life trying not to get pregnant."
The sheer numbers were overwhelming. The children slept in two large bedrooms, in king-size bunkbeds. They sat at three tables for dinner. By the time the food was passed around it was cold, so they ate cafeteria style: serve your own food, often from the large built-in grill and french fryer, and find a table. Vacations were taken in a Winnebago, or in shifts.
"If we went anywhere together, like to a restaurant, people started counting," recalls Melissa.
There was no hiding, either. The Grants were all tall and rangy, which made them easily distinguishable. The Judge and Bonnie - that's what everyone calls them, even their children - are 6-foot-7 and 5-9, respectively. They passed their height onto their brood. Several of the girls topped 6 feet. Josh is the tallest at 6-9, then Greg 6-61/2 and Nate 6-51/2.
The Grants were a casual, independent community that tended to stay up late and, if possible, sleep late. Friends would come over after midnight to get the boys for a toilet paper raid and the entire family would be up eating pie. The Judge and Bonnie were awakened in the wee hours to the smell of french fries and the pounding of the basketball.
"It was noisy, but fun," says Melissa. "There was always someone around."
"We were probably strange to outsiders," says Josh. "Our house was crazy."
They were confrontive, teasing, outspoken, opinionated. Maybe they had to be in such a crowd. "I was not a calm, organized mother," says Bonnie. "I'd yell at them. I'd throw things at them, and they'd throw them back. That's why they have good hands."
"We weren't the typically conceived wonderful family together," says The Judge. "None of the children is much alike. They were quite confrontive. We have complete frankness in our family. If you don't like who someone is dating, you say, `Why are you dating that creep?' It comes from me."
The Judge is nothing if not outspoken and frank, whether at home or in a courtroom. At the age of 33 he was elected a city court judge. Eventually, he rose to the circuit court, where he earned a reputation as a decisive, no-nonsense judge with a quick, dry wit.
Once, during a long-winded explanantion by a female defendant, The Judge's chair rolled out from underneath him as he leaned forward, landing him bottom-first on the floor. The dumbfounded woman stopped in mid-sentence, but The Judge never missed a beat. "Please continue," he told the defendant as he sat on the floor, his head still high enough to peer over the top of the bench.
Another woman once incurred The Judge's wrath by wearing curlers to a court appearance. "Couldn't you get dressed and fixed up?" he asked. The woman replied, "My boyfriend's coming to pick me up, and he's more important than you are." The Judge replied, "Can he get you out of jail?"
Then there was the time a man appeared before The Judge for driving 90 miles per hour up a canyon. "What kind of car do you drive?" The Judge asked. When the man told him a Ford Maverick, the Judge snapped, "Case dismissed. I own a Maverick, and I know it can't go that fast."
Last year, at the age of 56, The Judge retired and moved the family - those still living at home - to Wyoming, having long since grown so bored, cynical and even disgusted with the job that he talked several of his children out of pursuing law careers. "I expected to stay on the bench for eight years, but there's the tyranny of the paycheck," he says.
And money was always tight for the father of a dozen. The Grants required a big home, but couldn't afford it. They bought an acre lot on what was then the outskirts of suburbia on the east bench of Salt Lake City, and, except for the framing and the foundation, the Grants built much of the home themselves, 6,000 square feet of it. The kids, especially the older ones, helped with odds and ends of the project, drilling holes, holding boards, putting on the shingles, installing insulation, while Paul handled the electrical and plumbing work. It took 18 months to build the home, and when they were finished they had a house, a separate garage, and, connected to the back of both buildings, half under ground and half above it, a gym.
"We had a large family," says The Judge. "We needed a playroom."
The gym was 25 x 50 feet with a 20-foot high ceiling and a cement floor. It had a basketball hoop at one end, of course, but the gym served all purposes. Volleyball. Badminton. Hockey. Winter biking.
Money was tighter than ever when the home was finished. For years, the home's plywood floor was covered only by a braided rug, and there was no furniture in the living room. Sizing up the situation, Josh insisted on giving his parents a year's worth of earnings from various odd jobs he had worked - about $2,000.
"We calculated how much (the gym) cost," recalls Paul. "It was $8,000. We figured if one kid gets a basketball scholarship it will pay for itself. We got three of them."
The way The Judge sees it, it is a father's duty to ensure that his children are better than he was, and surely he carried out that duty with a passion. He was determined that his boys would succeed in basketball where he had failed.
"I was a bench sitter," he says. "I wanted my kids to do better."
The Judge played basketball at West High School and continued playing at the University of Utah under legendary coach Jack Gardner. He played for two years, redshirting one of them, and then served a Mormon Church mission. Two years later he returned to Utah and played for a season with the varsity team. The following year The Judge planned to enter law school and play basketball, but Gardner said it wasn't possible to do both. The Judge agreed. He quit the team. Years later, when there was more free time, The Judge resumed his career in church ball and led his team to two All-Church national championships, while Greg sat in the stands and absorbed the game.
When The Judge discovered talent in Greg, he took steps to ensure that his son would realize that talent. He oversaw his entire career. Was The Judge suffering from the Frustrated Jock Syndrome?
"There was some of that," he says. "I admit it."
The Judge didn't allow any of his children to play organized basketball before the age of 12. He was convinced that small children develop bad shooting habits when trying to heave a ball to a 10-foot hoop, and in those days adjustable-height rims were unheard of.
"I didn't get to Josh soon enough with his shooting," he says. "He'd go play with the older kids, and he developed bad habits. He moves in contortions when he shoots."
The Judge insisted that his sons play other sports until they came of basketball age. Greg and Nate played little league football and baseball, "because I knew they would never be pros in those sports." He had Josh play soccer to build stamina and footspeed, although he hated the sport.
"I tried to get them all to take ballet lessons to help their basketball, but they wouldn't do it," says The Judge.
The Judge began to drill the game into Greg when he turned 12 - and to his other sons to an increasingly lesser degree as they came along. The Judge and Greg got up early, at 6 a.m., before school, and went to the gym to work on the son's game. The Judge demanded sound fundamentals - passing, shooting, footwork, using both hands. Over the years he had picked Gardner's brain, learning the nuances of the game that he would pass onto his sons. He never allowed Greg to shoot long shots; only shots that were short enough that he didn't have to break form to reach the basket. The Judge put Greg through drills. In one drill, he would take three balls and pass them to Greg as fast as he could shoot them until he could barely lift his arms to shoot another. They honed Greg's release and worked on speed drills. Later, The Judge studied videotape occasionally, looking for wasted motion in Greg's technique.
The Judge struck a deal with Greg's coach East High coach, Dick Milne: during the season, Greg was Milne's, but during the off-season Greg was his. "He taught him to be a high school player; I taught him to be a college player," says The Judge. The Judge had a similar agreement with Greg's Utah State coach, Rod Tueller: "He drilled Greg all summer, but once practice started he stayed out of his face," says Tueller.
The Judge was a taskmaster when it came to basketball and his oldest son. He was a familiar sight at games, sitting and shouting in the stands. Their private sessions were no lighthearted father-son outing; they were serious business, and The Judge, intense and earnest, often lost patience with the easy-going Greg.
"I was way too hard on Greg," says The Judge. "I saw the talent, and I drove him real hard. I yelled at him all the time. It was way too intense. If he had been another kind of kid, he'd probably have punched me. If I could do it over, I'd do it differently. I wouldn't be so demanding. I'd be more positive with him. He'd have been more productive and it would have been more enjoyable. He became good despite me. He handled it exceptionally well. It's the only regret I have."
"He was very hard on Greg," says Bonnie. "He'd yell at him, `No, you're not doing that right!' But Greg says he never would have made it without his dad making him do things right."
For his part, Greg says, "I don't think he was too tough on me. I don't have a lot of motivation. I need to be pushed. Plus, it was a chance to spend time with my father. I don't remember having any animosity toward him."
Greg continued to show the early promise his father had seen years earlier in the basement, but there was one major obstacle. Greg was slow to mature. All the Grants were, it turned out. They entered high school in the 5-foot-6 range, skinny, weak, slow, and lagging behind their peers. They shaved only a handful of times before they reached their 20s. The Judge decided to hold Greg out of school for a year to let his body catch up with him. In essence, Greg was redshirted.
"There was no question in my mind he could play college ball," says The Judge. "And there was no question he was going to grow. My wife and I were both late bloomers. I grew three inches in three months as a high school senior. The doctors said Greg's growth plates were wide open. I had redshirted a year at the U., and I knew what it could do for you."
After discussing the matter with coaches, administrators, and teachers - who said Greg was immature in the classroom, as well - The Judge pulled Greg from school halfway through his freshman year and didn't return him for one year. Greg, in the meantime, worked odd jobs, serving ice cream cones and pushing a rake with a landscaping business. The Grants were criticized over the years for their redshirt decision, but they never regretted it.
"The frustrating thing was that after a whole year he had hardly grown any," says The Judge. "But he definitely matured. It was a completely positive experience for him. He had worked now and had decided that he didn't want to work with his hands for a living. He did better in school."
Greg grew quickly during the next two years and became an all-state player. The slow growth had had one advantage for all the Grant Brothers: it forced them to play the guard position early in their careers, which forced them to develop a little man's ballhandling and shooting skills. Greg became a prize collegiate recruit - at least until he and The Judge made another unusual move; they decided that Greg should serve his mission before beginning college, instead of following his freshman year, as was the practice. It was an almostunprecedented move at the time,
and it scared off nearly every recruiter except Tueller.
"Kids tend to blow off their freshman year in college," says The Judge. "He did so much better in the classroom when he came back. He was a lot more mature."
Thus, Greg established a path that all the Grant children would follow. They would play basketball. The boys would sit out a year of school and work. They would serve missions for their church. They would attend college.
"It was Greg," says The Judge. "He started it all. He set the tone. He was a significant influence on the others."
Basketball became the hub of the family. Besides the three oldest brothers, Kathryn and Melissa played basketball for East, and Rachael played church ball. Jeremy, the runt of the family at 6-31/2, played at East, but was never passionate about it, and, besides, a birth defect (he has only one functioning eye) left him with limited depth perception.
"He's the sensible one," says The Judge. "He plays basketball for exercise regularly and forgets about it. He lives a sensibly balanced life."
Jason played three years for East and a year of church ball. Adam and Seth play high school basketball in Jackson, Wyo. Chrissy plays for her junior high team.
Six of the children played on basketball teams at one time, which meant the Grants divided their free time among Utah State, East High and little league games. They produced a computer printout of all the game schedules and pinned it to the kitchen wall. It was eight feet long.
"We went to six or seven games a week," says The Judge. "I attended three games in one day every week through one winter, and four or five the rest of the week. I had no time to be a judge."
The Grants drove to California to watch Greg's road games. The entire family filed into the Spectrum for his home games. "I can remember carloads of Grants coming to the games," says Tueller.
For Bonnie, there was nothing finer than those moments spent watching her sons on the court. Sometimes she went to the church gym and sat on the stage to watch the boys practice. Just practice. "I just loved to watch my boys play," she says. She often stood in the kitchen of their home and watched her boys through a window that looked onto the gym floor. She loved to hear the familiar thump, thump, thump of the ball throughout the house. Sometimes she would awaken at 2 a.m. to the sound of that ball echoing out of the gym.
"Basketball has been very big," says Bonnie. "Maybe too big. It has been detrimental to the boys' studies. They could've studied harder if they weren't so involved in basketball. It has been a real big thing in all our lives. For a while there we ate, lived and breathed basketball. It made the girls a little jealous because we spent so much time with the boys."
Basketball wasn't so big that the Grants didn't give it up for two years to serve a mission. The first eight children have all served, and No. 9 is on the way. The mission was life's little halftime.
"Basketball may have become too important," says The Judge. "For a while it was our whole way of life, but it worked. It kept the boys away from drugs and girls. I'm proud of them. Each made it his own way with his own dedication."
The Judge grilled Nate and Josh on the court when they came of age, though never as much as he did with Greg. He was tough with Nate, who was three years younger than Greg, but it didn't seem to matter. Nate was less talented than the other two, and smaller, but he was intense, like the old man, and he could handle it. They were both hard-nosed. Greg and Josh were different. They were of sweeter temperaments, sensitive, more laid back.
"I'd feel guilty if I didn't go practice one day," says Nate. "My dad would ask me, `Did you practice today?"' Nate borrowed the keys to the church and practiced alone on the wooden gym floor, sometimes late at night. During breaks in his summer job, he went to the gym for a quick practice.
"The whole family understood you couldn't just play the games," says Nate. "You've got to get in the gym by yourself and practice."
"My boys don't have gobs of natural ability," says The Judge. "They're where they are because of dedication."
The Judge was not so demanding or regimented with Josh as he was with Greg and Nate. He didn't need to be. Josh had two older brothers who were as hard on him as The Judge had been on them. He was seven years younger than Greg, and he received on-the-job training during pickup games with his brothers. It was here Josh learned there was more to basketball than being a shooter. He became a passer, a rebounder, a stealer, a shot blocker; he became the player he is today. Josh's role in life, as his brothers saw it then, was to pass the ball to them, precisely to them. If they had to so much as step for a pass, sometimes they wouldn't try to get it. They made Josh retrieve the ball and throw it again.
"I didn't start to enjoy basketball until I was 14," says Josh. "I hated my brothers yelling at me all the time."
For years, the boys and The Judge went down in the gym to do family battle. At first it was Josh and The Judge versus Greg and Nate, but as the boys caught and surpassed their father, it became Nate and The Judge - the two bangers - against the finesse players, Greg and Josh.
"We had wicked games," says The Judge. "As I got older I had to play rougher to stay with them. Josh and Greg were the lovers; Nate and I were the fighters. By his senior year, Greg was as good as I was, but not as dirty."
The day Greg flew home from his mission in Australia, The Judge told Nate, "If we're ever going to beat him, we've got to do it after he gets off that plane, while he's tired." A few hours after Greg got off the plane, the Grants dragged Greg to the gym at midnight and played a three-game match. Greg and Josh lost, but they were unbeatable after that, and the family games became fewer and eventually faded out.
Following Greg's freshman year at Utah State, Bonnie asked The Judge, "Are you going to work with Greg this summer?"
The Judge thought about it for a moment. "He's past me," he said. "He's learned everything I have to teach him. I can't teach him anymore."
The Grant Brothers all made their own way. They served missions, earned scholarships, produced surpassing basketball careers and left school with a degree. But if life has always gone smoothly for the Grants, it has not been so lately.
Nate, 29, is still trying to decide on a profession and has bounced around from various jobs. He coaches Park City High's basketball team on the side for now. Josh has had a difficult year of adjustment. He had a lengthy recovery from knee surgery, then married a close acquaintance of his coach, Rick Majerus, and recently became a father.
Of all the Grants, Greg has struggled the most. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, but didn't make the cut. He had been forced to play inside in college, but he lacked the size to play there in the NBA and didn't have the speed or the chance to develop the skills to play outside. He played a year of pro ball in Spain but hated it and quit. He planned to pursue a career in banking (he has a degree in finance), but that didn't work out, and he has spent the past few years in an intense, demanding study to be an air traffic controller. But this isn't the worst of it.
One morning a few years ago he woke crying from a dream while staying at the family house. He told his mom that he had dreamed that his wife Deanne bled to death. "I've never really had anything bad happen to me to test my faith (in God)," he told his mom at the time. "Everything has gone my way. I'm afraid something is going to test me, but I hope that isn't it." Two and half years later his wife died of cancer. "She bled to death," says Bonnie.
Greg has struggled to manage schooling and the beginnings of a career while being a single parent of his 5-year-old daughter, Chelsea. They lived with his parents for a while; now they live with Deanne's parents in Orem.
"He's far from over it," says Bonnie. "I ask him when he's going to go out again. He says, `Mom, when you've had a Cadillac you can't go to a Ford.' He says he probably won't get married again, but I think he will."
"It's been very difficult to be a single parent," says Greg. "I don't know how anyone does it. Chelsea still misses her mom. In some ways, I'm still not over it."
For their part, The Judge and Bonnie sold the family home after he retired last year and moved to Moran, Wyo., where they converted an old two-story log barn into a home, doing much of the work with their own hands, again. This summer they are scheduled to begin a three-year church mission.
They still watch their boys play ball. On Tuesday nights Greg and Nate play on the same Salt Lake rec league team, and, if they're in town, The Judge and Bonnie will watch them from the stands, although it drives The Judge crazy. "It's more of a social thing, and I've never been able to approach basketball in a social way," he says, laughing at himself. "They're even friends with their opponents."
The Judge and Bonnie regularly drive to Salt Lake City to watch Josh and the Utes. When they can't make the Ute games live, they listen to the radio or watch TV, or stay in a motel in Jackson to catch the game on cable.
In her free time, Bonnie likes to watch videos of Greg's old games. She's watched some of them a hundred times, and the kids all laugh at her she says. But surely they must know by now. She just loves to watch her boys play.
CHART: Grant stats
Utah State (1984-87, 1988-89)**
Utah State (1982-86)
University of Utah (1988-91, 1992-93 to present)
*Official stats for blocks were kept for only two of the four years Greg Grant played at USU.
**Playing time significantly reduced by back injury.