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Weekly Countdown: Family bond helped turn Granger into star

The disaster. There is always a bigger picture, and Danny Granger usually is forced to see it. He was a rookie forward for the Indiana Pacers in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the homes of his extended family in New Orleans. Within days he was waking up to a house full of family.

"They all came to Indiana," said Granger, the 26-year-old Pacers forward. "We had about 17 of them staying with me for about three months. The younger kids, we got them into schools, and the rest of my family was trying to find jobs. I had just bought a house, it was four or five bedrooms, we had two mattresses in each room and we still needed more space. But we had a lot of fun. When you have that much family around, it's a lot of fun."

Sometimes the fun was too much. On game days he had trouble completing his afternoon nap. "When you've got little cousins running around the house tearing stuff up, it's kind of hard," said Granger. "Oh yeah, I let them know. Like, 'Be quiet! I'm trying to sleep.'"

With one exception they're all back in New Orleans now, thanks in no small part to Granger, who helped them financially with their new or repaired homes. That one exception is his father, who continues to live in Indianapolis.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and end. Granger is one NBA star who doesn't view his career as the end, the culmination. He understands that he wouldn't be the reigning most improved player and an All-Star last season if not for his troubled beginnings, and especially the roots laid down by his father, Danny Granger Sr.

As difficult as this season has been for 6-8 Granger and his team -- the Pacers have the league's eighth-worst record at 26-46 and Granger's averages (23.7 points, a career-worst 42.9 percent shooting and 0.8 blocks) have dropped since last season -- he envisions better days to come.

"I've always been a late bloomer," he said. "Once I'm in my prime, I'm going to try to keep that going as long as possible. And then when I'm going out of my prime, there's still things I can continue to improve with some of my athleticism gone, because you've always got to tweak your game to play to a different style. With my work ethic and the way I'm always working on new things, I'll be OK."

His upbringing. Granger can recall so many times when he might have been done in for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"When I was 12 or 13, I was with one of my friends at the corner store," said Granger, who grew up in Metairie outside New Orleans. "I didn't know it at the time, but he was going on a drug deal. And I showed up with him. After awhile, I kind of knew what was going on but I was like, OK, whatever. So one of the older ladies in the neighborhood saw us, and she told my daddy. Oh, I caught hell for that one.

"I caught a bullet in my leg when I was about 12. There was a street in my neighborhood called Calhoun Street that my dad told me to never go on. We knew they had a crack house and people were always getting killed on the street. I'd been playing basketball with some friends and I was going down the street and a drive-by happened. They were shooting at somebody we were playing with. I dove in the bushes and caught a ricochet in the leg. I didn't tell my daddy until like 10 years later. The bullet went right down my leg [along the shin] and it's still bruised to this day, it never healed right.

"One of my cousins was shot when I was 9 or 10; he was older than me. Then I had a good friend that I grew up with, he got into it with a girl on the corner and stabbed her. He served a lot of time in prison. He went in when I was young, and [two years ago] he came up to my house in Indiana and he came to one of my games.

"Another one of my friends, who I had played basketball with in high school -- he was really good -- he ended up selling drugs and he was shot about 17 times. He survived by some miraculous way, but he's paralyzed in jail."

In recounting these stories, Granger seemed amazed he didn't follow their path.

"I am amazed," said Granger. "Because I can think of a lot of times when I could have been in trouble. I think of one of my good friends. I came back from college and I went to his house and he had all these bags of money in his closet. I was like, man, I knew what he was doing. The next day they raided his house. What would have happened if I'd been in his house when they raided it? I didn't even know what was going on when I walked in there. I didn't have anything to do with it. So I think of all the times when I was so close to going the wrong way."

That's why his father built a basketball court. Danny Granger Sr. was a mechanic who worked for himself repairing and reconditioning forklifts. His wife left the family when Danny was 12. They grew up in a trailer sandwiched in between a pair of additions his father assembled before finally removing the trailer altogether to build a new midsection of the house. He did everything that needed doing to raise his children against the elements. Danny would spend most of his free time playing on the basketball court at home, though that wasn't always the safest place either.

"We came home a couple times and the door was open and they had took the TV, took the VCR, tore the kitchen up," said Granger. "My daddy's tools would get stolen all the time. And it was funny; he would always find them, because he knew everybody in the neighborhood. He had a 200-to-300-piece set of tools that he used for his business, and a crackhead would sell them just to get a quick fix, like two for $10.

"Everybody knew him and respected him, he got along with everybody and he had a very respectful family. And so he would ask one of the young kids, whether the kid was a gang-banger or whatever, and they would be like, 'Mr. Granger, it was so-and-so.' And he would go find him and get the tools back.

"He's mellowed some now, but I remember one guy had broken into the house and threatened my little brother. My dad was about 270 pounds and 6-4 and so strong from turning the wrenches. He picked the guy up and he had him like this up high and he slammed him to the ground."

All three of the children have grown up to be successful. Danny's younger brother, Scott, is a musician and backup singer who has toured with AliciaKeys and Jordin Sparks. His older sister, Jamie, is an engineer in Arizona.

Earlier this season, Danny Granger Sr. recalled a conversation he'd had with Danny on the subject of childhood discipline. He said they went back and forth like this ...

The son: "When I have kids, I'm going to discipline them too. You know, Daddy, you really, really disciplined me, and when I was younger I didn't understand it sometimes."

The father: "I do remember that every time I disciplined you, you knew that you did something wrong.''

Son: "Yes, I did."

Father: "I didn't always discipline you harshly. Sometimes I punished you, and sometimes I had to discipline you severely. I tell you what, did I hurt you? Show me the battle scars."

Son, laughing: "No, it didn't hurt me like that."

Father: "But what it did do, it allowed you to make $64 million, didn't it?"

His career. Granger said he didn't begin to realize he had a future in basketball until he was a 19-year-old at Bradley University -- older than many rookies who have become instant stars in the NBA. "I was always better than anybody else but I wasn't a big-time recruit," he said. "I didn't get an offer from LSU or Tulane, and I was from Louisiana. A couple of Division II schools offered me, and real small Division I schools, like Bradley, and I had an opportunity to go to Yale.

"When I was 19 at Bradley, my sophomore year, that was when everybody was like, 'He's really good.' Then I transferred [to the University of New Mexico] and it took off from there."

He averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore at Bradley when he decided he needed to move to another program in order to keep improving. His father was against it.

"That really disappointed his dad," said Pacers president Larry Bird. "Danny had to step up and say, 'This is what I want to do. I want to go to New Mexico.' And I'm sure there was some turbulence there. They probably weren't getting along the best, because I went through that same thing, and it's not easy."

Said Granger: "I had to be a man and make my own decision because my daddy was totally against everything I was doing. He wanted me to stay and I wanted to go. I had one of my friends loan me $300 and I hopped on a plane and went down to New Orleans and showed up at the house. I said I'm transferring. We blew up at each other."

Granger invested himself fully in a basketball career after majoring in engineering at Bradley. "Engineering was so time-consuming, I would stay up late-night drawing plans, and with basketball, it was 10 times harder," he said. "I switched to something easier -- university studies, where you took a whole bunch of different classes to get your degree."

Granger entered the 2005 draft as a senior who averaged 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in two seasons at New Mexico. He left without his diploma -- he promises to return to school and earn it eventually -- but the point was that he invested himself fully in basketball. The Pacers acquired him with the No. 17 pick, and he succeeded in raising his scoring average annually through his opening four years in the league. In 2008, he signed a five-year extension with $60 million guaranteed.

"That was a time when he really asserted himself as a man," said Danny Granger Sr. of his son's transfer to New Mexico. "He said, 'Look, Daddy, I'm transferring and nobody's going to tell me what to do, I'm my own man and I'm going to do it this way.' And I learned something from that. Sometimes you're dealing with your kids and you think you know everything that's best for them. But they're experiencing things in their own lives, and they have the inside scoop on a lot of things that you think you have but that you don't really have."

His relationship with his father. The father: "When I watch his games, I focus on him and everything he does. I can read his body language, so I know pretty much where he is and which way his game is going to go."

The son: "He still lectures me like I'm 16, but what can you expect from a father? I just had a conversation with him the other day and I said, 'Dad, I am a grown man now.' 'Yeah I know, but you need to listen to me and, blah blah blah.' Then he'll tell me about stuff I need to do on the court -- and he's never even played organized basketball."

The father: "I played high school and I played semi-pro with 'A' and 'B' leagues around the city. I couldn't go to college because I got married at 17 and I had to take care of those kids. But I was a very good basketball player myself, and I see the game better than a lot of people because of the level that I played. And so I see certain things that I think I can help him with. And he'll be like, 'Um, Daddy, um, I got this, I got this.' He'll be like, 'Have you ever checked a 7-footer? Did you ever block a 7-footer's shot going to the goal?' And I'll be like, 'OK, Danny, all right, OK.' But then he listens to some stuff."

The son: "The game is so intricate once you get to the NBA. We're breaking down defenses, you've got different assignments, you're playing percentages, you're giving up a shot in the corner that you're not giving up on the wing -- it's all so technical. All he sees is, 'Why did you leave this man open to make a shot?' Or, 'Why did you drive when you had the one-on-one?' The answer is you got Dwight Howard on the weak side and you can't just go at the defense when it's already set. But he doesn't understand any of that. He'll say, 'Just jump into him!' And I'll say, 'He blocks a hundred shots!' But my dad doesn't understand that."

The father: "When he beat me in basketball the first time he was 17, maybe 18. It took him a while to beat me because I played the game, I really did. I really played the game. He'll tell you.

"I'll tell you one time I thought he broke my nose. He was in that last year in college and I went to the workouts a lot of times, and they decided to play some basketball. They needed another man and I decided to play with them. And Danny wanted to play against me -- he did not want to play with me. And he came down that lane and he almost broke my nose. Blood went everywhere. And the next morning it was all in the newspaper -- Son Against Father. It was all over the paper and I didn't even know the media were there. That was at New Mexico."

The big surprise. "Oh yeah, was I surprised," said Danny Granger Sr. "I was thoroughly surprised, I promise you. I had no idea. We rode on the plane together and nobody was saying anything. We got in the car that took us to the hotel, a nice exclusive place against the mountains, and nobody said anything. Then they had the minister come out, the chairs were set up and everything, and they exchanged vows. I didn't know they were getting married until they were walking down the aisle."

This happened at All-Star Weekend last year in Phoenix. This was how his son was married.

"We were going to be married in New Mexico or New Orleans, we weren't sure yet," said Granger. "Then I made All-Star and we just said let's do it in Phoenix. The problem was we had so many family members who wanted to come, so we just decided to make it a lot easier for everybody and surprise them, so whoever came to the All-Star Game could also come to the wedding."

Said Danny Sr.: "Since he was at All-Star and he had that tight schedule, I thought it was going to be something he had put together for the family. I was wearing a Nike jumper suit -- all white. I said, 'Man, Danny, you could have given me the heads up some kind of way.'

"He was like, 'Well, Dad, was it a surprise?' I said, 'Well, you really surprised me.' But it was all good and they were happy, so I'm happy for them. The girl that he married, she's a doll, she really is. She's a very, very good-hearted person, down to earth, funny nature, and I could see why he picked her."

Granger had a four-hour window in between appearances. Dionna Kann walked down the aisle to marry him, they cut the cake, the groom ate a slice and then someone said, "Danny, we've got to go." And he was out the door, resuming the unusual career he was meant to achieve all of those years ago in New Orleans when they were just trying to get by.

As Danny Granger Sr. stood eating cake in his white sweatsuit that afternoon in Phoenix as his son headed back to work, he thought about how the roles had changed, and he realized, not for the first time, that his son was now his friend.

"I don't hang around him as much as I would like to," said Danny Sr. "But he's so busy and he has so much responsibility, and now he has a wife. So I can't really be in that inner circle right now because he has so much that's on his plate. And I do miss that because I had fun raising my kids."

There is no trace of sadness to any of this talk. "You want to see your kids grow up and handle their life," he said, smiling. "You want to see that happen."

On to the rest of the Countdown ...

Darren Collison has played extremely well in place of the injured Chris Paul. But how much value will Collison have when Paul returns? What do you see as the best scenario with the two point guards in New Orleans?-- Brandon, Shreveport, L.A.

Having two points is a strength, especially as both Paul and Collison can score. The rookie can come off the bench behind Paul, and he can play alongside Paul too. In the next couple of years, the Hornets may have to trade Paul in order to avoid losing him to free agency, and in that case, Collison can be prepared to become his eventual replacement.

Why does Steve Nash, who has never played in a single NBA Finals game, get more hype and praise from the media than other point guards who have accomplished more than him? Jason Kidd led the woeful Nets to two NBA Finals appearances and Chauncey Billups won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP. These two point guards don't receive the same praise and hype as Nash, yet they have achieved more in their careers.-- Jay, Chicago

When Kidd was leading New Jersey to the Finals, the MVP went to TimDuncan; no one can complain about that. As good as Billups has been, he has never put up the kinds of numbers Nash has produced throughout his career. When people complain about Nash winning two MVP awards, do they consider the alternatives in those seasons? In 2004-05 I thought Shaquille O'Neal was just as deserving for the award, based not only on his positive impact at Miami but also on the problems the Lakers had in his absence. But there was no doubt Nash was the choice the following year.

Nash controls a game offensively with his playmaking as well as his scoring, and this year Phoenix has exceeded all expectations thanks to his leadership. He deserves all of the praise he receives.

Who has been the most surprising player to you this season?-- Aaron, Portland, Ore.

It has to be Brandon Jennings, who might have drifted into the 20s in the draft last June had the Bucks not taken with him the No. 10 pick. For most of this season, I've figured Tyreke Evans to be Rookie of the Year, but based on the Bucks' climb over the last month, I'm considering changing my mind. Point guards should be judged by the success of the team, and Jennings has quarterbacked Milwaukee -- a preseason contender for last place in the conference -- to a winning record and the likely No. 5 seed in the East. The guy is a winner.

If owners know a future lockout is possible, why would they bother to offer the top free-agents-to-be (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) enormous contracts if they know they won't be able to afford them in the near future? What sense does that make?-- Carlos J., Fayetteville, N.C.

In one sense, I agree with you, Carlos: Most players aren't going to be worthy of huge investments, considering that the collective bargaining agreement in 2011-12 will make it more difficult than ever to rationalize enormous salaries. But some players are worth any price. Any team that signs James or Wade is essentially spending money to make money, with the understanding that either of those stars will bring in extra revenue by selling tickets in the regular season as well as the playoffs, with the postseason gate serving as a financial bonus to the owner. Some teams around the league doubt that Chris Bosh or JoeJohnson is worthy of a max deal, but the market will likely push them in that direction, with the teams signing them ultimately feeling lucky to acquire them this season.

On charter flights. "That's the reason I'm still here," said Sloan, in his 22nd season as coach of the Jazz. "I wouldn't have lasted this long; I don't feel like I would've been able to [otherwise]. It's so much more convenient than lugging around [baggage] and waiting around in the airport. You get off the bus, and [the team has] 120 bags when you're back East [on an extended trip]. That would take a lot to go through."

Flying by private charter "certainly gives those guys a chance to be able to be in condition to play and take care of themselves. You have a chance to get a better game. We have some bad games once in awhile, but for the most part guys play pretty hard."

On trying to return to the Western finals for the first time since 2007. "They've been together for awhile," said Sloan of Deron Williams, CarlosBoozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. "The thing about it was we had a little success when they were really young. And sometimes that success makes you think you don't have to work as hard. But that's when you have to work a little bit harder, because other teams get better and you have to be able to compete against them. That's where we are.

"The one year we got to the finals of the West, and that's when we had DerekFisher and Matt Harpring, and those guys gave us some toughness. And we lost those guys, we had to regroup, and that hurt our team. But that's the way life is in this business. You've got to find some other way, or somebody else has to step up to help us play better, to help us be effective."

On fast starts. "I'm never comfortable if we have a big half. We had a Houston game where we scored 70 points in the first half and I thought, 'Oh gees, that usually comes back to average out.'" That night last month, the Jazz went on to beat the visiting Rockets 133-110, which goes to show that a coach never stops worrying, not even after 22 years.

With impressive showings in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, these players raised their value for the 2010 draft. Here's what an NBA scout had to say about their potential.

Ryan Wittman, 6-7 senior forward for No. 12-seed Cornell. "He has good size, but being a shooter alone won't do it for him. You see guys in the league who are really good shooters with size -- guys like [Jason] Kapono, SteveNovak -- and they have trouble getting time. If you don't move well, it's hard for the coach to play you except situationally, because it's so tough for that player to defend his position, especially with all of the isolations you see on the wing -- having to guard KobeBryant or Paul Pierce is really difficult if you're a below-average athlete. If you can't guard those guys then you're probably not going to be a regular rotational guy; you'll be a situational player who comes in at the ends of quarters or when you need shooters to make a comeback.

"From my experience, the second weekend of the Tournament is when things change. Now you're on the scouting report, and you usually have the top two or three teams in the bracket trying to shut you down. It does get lot harder, and looking at that Cornell-Kentucky matchup, I can't think of two more different teams in terms of their style of play, the way they recruit, their academic standards. Kentucky is almost like a pro team with NBA guys sitting on their bench, a traveling party of 50 and unlimited resources.

Wittman had difficulty prying himself open while shooting 3-for-10 for 10 points in Cornell's 62-45 loss to No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday.

Omar Samhan, 6-11 senior center for No. 10 St. Mary's, which plays No. 3 Baylor on Friday. "Samhan is the one who has a real chance to move up in the draft. He really dominated those first two games against Richmond and Villanova. He has good size and a really nice soft touch -- he shoots it pretty easily over the top of the defense. But this next round is going to be a tough matchup because of Baylor's length and athleticism and size. Baylor has [6-10 Ekpe] Udoh, who will be a first-round pick, and they have some long athletic wings in [6-10] Anthony Jones and [6-7] Quincy Acy, who will help and come off the weak side to challenge Samhan. This is going to be a different look than he had against Villanova, where he was able to just shoot over the top of their post defenders.

"Samhan was not on everybody's extended draft list prior to the tournament. The assessment was that he wasn't athletic enough, that he doesn't have a whole lot of lift. Unless you're so physically dominant -- like Shaq, who at this point of his career doesn't need to jump because he's so big and strong -- it's tough to be 6-11 and not be able to move, because in the NBA you'll be playing against guys who are the same size as you and have a little bit of hops. Since Samhan's not a leaper and he's not going to be a big-time shot-blocker, he'll be a situational defender."

Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire will be profiled Sunday on 60 Minutes in his first American interview as he prepares to take control of the Nets this spring. Here are two questions he can't yet answer: (1) Will John Calipari be the Nets' coach next season, and, (2) can LeBron James be convinced to sign a short contract with the Cavaliers this summer that will enable him to join the Nets as a free agent in 2012, when they're expected to move to Brooklyn?

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