UMass basketball coach Frank Martin’s friendship with Dayton’s Anthony Grant has endured decades

  • UMass coach Frank Martin, left, and basketball analyst Jeff Goodman laugh while Martin appears on the Field of 68 podcast during Atlantic 10 media day in Brooklyn on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2022 4:13:41 PM

BROOKLYN – Frank Martin and Dayton coach Anthony Grant sat next to each other their first day of high school.

Two future Atlantic 10 men’s basketball coaches picked adjacent desks in English class at Miami Senior High School.

“I know who he is, man. I know his core values. We were just laughing about it earlier. We were both 14 years old, we're both two little kids that knew nothing about nothing,” said Martin, the first-year UMass head coach, at Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Media Day on Thursday at the Barclays Center. “We got in trouble together, we've done the right things together. We both had the courage to get into college basketball, coaches coming from a community that never puts out college coaches.”

That relationship endured through four decades and across the country. Grant became the school’s all-city star and eventually helped Dayton reach the Elite Eight in 1984.

“He was our star player on high school. What made him great was he was a star teammate, not just how good he was as a player,” Martin said. “I go to college (at Florida International), and my first college paper ever was about him. That's how impactful he was.”

Martin started teaching at Miami Senior in 1985, and Grant joined him on Marcos “Shaky” Rodriguez’s staff in 1987. Grant became Miami Central’s head coach in 1992, while Martin took over Miami North in 1993. That same year, Grant took the jump to college coaching as an assistant at Stetson, while Martin coached at Miami high schools until Northeastern hired him in 2000.

By then, Grant was on staff at Florida with Billy Donovan along with eventual former UMass coach Matt McCall. He was named VCU’s head coach in 2006. Martin made his way from Northeastern to Cincinnati and Kansas State, where he earned his first collegiate head coaching job in 2007.

“I've seen him as a JV coach, as a head high school coach, and what he did, at that level, the players he worked with, the players he developed, and to see what he did as a head coach at Kansas State and South Carolina and now here in the A-10, I think it's a great coup for UMass because they're getting a guy that is the guy that can build a championship-caliber program there, but I think it's also a coup for the A-10,” Grant said. “Not just because of the coach he is, but more for who he is as a person. He's an ambassador for our league and for college basketball in general.”

Grant stayed at VCU until 2009 when he left for Alabama. The Crimson Tide fired him in 2015.

“He's incredible, his resiliency, and I'm so happy because he wanted Alabama, and for whatever reason there was a negative cloud, and it hurt his spirit – a lot like situations I was in,” Martin said.

Martin left Kansas State for South Carolina in 2012 and was there a decade until he was fired last March. They kept in touch and leaned on each other through those challenging times and celebrated each others successes.

“Our relationship is bigger than basketball just in terms of knowing each other for 40-plus years,” said Grant, 56. “He's always been someone there if ever I needed anything about basketball or life or anything. I think he feels the same way about me.”

Grant spent two years with Donovan and the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder before returning to the Flyers. Dayton has gone 102-52 under Grant and rose to the No. 3 team in the AP Poll in 2020. The Flyers have reached three NITs under his tutelage.

“Now to see him at his alma mater, Dayton has been a really good program for a long time, but for him to be able to sustain it and now put his his identity into it,” Martin said. “I'm ecstatic for him because there's not a finer human being in our business.”

They project opposite energies publicly. Martin brings his trademark fire and passion to every practice, interaction and game. Grant exudes tranquility.

“When you see him, you see a certain peace and serenity. But his fire on the inside burns as bright as anybody,” Martin said. “His competitive juices are unbelievable. I reach out to him a lot to help me find peace as I deal with the job.”

Now they’ll have to be rivals as well as friends. Dayton visits the Mullins Center on Feb. 22. Neither coach is looking forward to it.

“I can't stand the fact that we play each other,” Martin said. “When the game ends, if I win, and I'm gonna be selfish by saying if our team wins, I struggle enjoying the moment because I know what the other guy's going through. I know him as a person. And if we lose I’m miserable because I don't like losing, so it's a difficult moment, especially with someone like him. He’s more like a brother than he is a peer.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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