First, let me acknowledge that it is definitely cliché for an athlete to say that they will use any sort of slight to fan the flames of motivation.
However, Penn State guard and Big Ten second-leading scorer Tyra Grant got a little extra fuel to add to the fire after being left off the list of invitees for the 2010 WNBA Draft.
"You use everything as motivation to help you prepare," said Grant in a phone interview with Swish Appeal. "I use just the smallest things. I'm not any kind of ‘chip on my shoulder' as far as not being invited to the draft but just using it as motivation to help you prepare so when it's time for training camp, you're ready to outwork the players that maybe did or didn't."
To Grant, the reason is simple: out of sight, out of mind. While other prospects have been playing in tournaments and creating a buzz - some substantive and some artificial - Grant has been watching from afar.
"It's hard to show people what you can do, when you're not necessarily able to show people you can do it," said Grant.
Of course, in the spotlight or not, one of the hardest things about the draft process is taking account for intangibles and that's exactly what Grant offers. Although she became only the fourth Penn State player to score 2000-plus career points, Grant expects to prove in the WNBA that she's more than just a scorer. While some players will enter the draft with gaudier accolades, flashier play, or even more points, Grant is focusing on the little things. For her, that starts with her work ethic.
"Obviously the passion that I have and the intangibles," said Grant when asked what people should know about her game. "I'm very hard-working, I know how to play through adversity - going through adversity on the court or off the court. I'm very determined, very determined - a very strong-willed, dynamic person."
So when asked for a moment that best defines what she might contribute to a WNBA team, it should come as no surprise that Grant highlighted something other than a play that added to her pile of 2021 career points.
Up 5 points on then-ranked Pittsburgh with 3:14 left in the second half of a home game this past December, Tyra Grant went down with a knee injury and was carried off the court by coaches. After two minutes on the bench with some attention from the trainer, grant limped back over to the huddle and re-entered the game with under two minutes left and Pitt gaining momentum.
Still hobbling, Grant was unable to make an impact on the game with her scoring, but had not lost the respect of the defense - first, driving to the basket and drawing defenders with a shot leaving Greene open to get free throws off of an offensive rebound. Second, driving, drawing the defense, and dishing to Greene. The two plays were key to sealing an upset victory for Penn State early in their season.
"I got hurt during the end of the game but I came back out because I knew that my team depended on me to be out there," said Grant. "So I got up and I tried to shake it off as much as I could and I went out there. And even though I couldn't score as easy as I might have wanted to, I was able to attack the hoop and get my other teammates open as well. So I feel that all around was very characteristic of me."
However, there was more to her performance in that game than what happened on the court. Grant's heart was still heavy after her grandmother's funeral the day before. Her then-season-high 27 points and her will to lead the team to victory despite injury was partially inspired by the memory of her grandmother. The moment demonstrates the will she has to overcome adversity and thrive in pressure situations that might overwhelm lesser players.
Postgame Quotes - Lady Lions vs. No. 15/15 Pittsburgh (12/12) - PENN STATE OFFICIAL ATHLETIC SITE
The one thing I know about Tyra is that she is the ultimate competitor. She is going to give everything she has on the court on game night. She likes pressure, she loves this, these kind of games and this kind of atmosphere she loves it. I knew without a doubt that Tyra Grant would have a great game today because she loves this stuff. She is going to make the big shots and get to the free-throw line and knock down the free throws. If I need her to run the point guard she will play point. If I would have asked her to guard big Pepper Wilson she would have gone down there and she would have had her eyes this big, but she would have done it. I'm not surprised at what she does, and I'm happy that she is on our side.
For Grant, it also demonstrates the underlying passion that fuels her to not only to compete, but also fight through adversity. The way she aggressively attacks the basket, fearlessly draws contact, and lets out a yell while thumping her chest all come from an undying passion for the game of basketball.
"Stephanie White said I played very inspired and with a lot of passion," said Grant in recalling the game. "I played very aggressive. I attacked the hoop with both my right and left hand. I was able to play great off the ball defense, on ball defense. I feel like it was a very all-around game and I was very, very much passionate about winning and about the team."
In chatting with her about her game for about thirty minutes, there was far more mention of dedication, hard-work, and passion than scoring ability. As a leader, the passion she exudes makes her someone who leads by example, but vocal as well.
"The passion I would say just comes from the desire to win," said ant. "Just wanting to win so bad and that's just another layer, another dimension to Tyra Grant - I'm very passionate and emotional about the game, how I'm playing, and the team. And it becomes infectious to the rest of my teammates - they've told me time and time again, ‘When you get excited and start pumping your fist and banging your chest, we get motivated from that - we even get hyped off that.'
"So even in moments where I feel like maybe I'm tired I just try to go back on that and just try to help my team seal a victory."
People always say that when you pursue something you're passionate about, others will begin to take notice.
People have certainly taken notice of Grant: not only does she have the support of coach Washington - a former WNBA point guard - but she is also benefiting from the assistance of former WNBA MVP and seven-time All-Star Yolanda Griffith. While Washington has helped her focus on her defense and rebounding during the season, Griffith has been all about hard work.
As WNBA fans might expect, Griffith is just as rugged a player development coach as she was a player helping Grant to focus not just on getting drafted but getting her physically ready for the wear and tear of a long-term career in the WNBA. And if you want to learn about hard work, there are probably few better to turn to.
"I've been able to utilize the advice that Yolanda Griffith has given me in terms of being able to work hard now and kinda wanting to push yourself now so that when it comes time to go to training camp, you'll be able to get through that because you've already worked past the point of, ‘I don't think I can go this hard anymore'," said Grant. "And not just getting through training camp but for a WNBA career."
Griffith's support won't end with the WNBA draft either - after the draft, Grant will travel to Sacramento to continue working with the WNBA legend. Most women's basketball fans would love the opportunity just to meet Griffith. Grant's got her support and isn't shy about showing her appreciation.
"I'm very fortunate, grateful and it's a humbling experience to be able to work with someone of that stature and that manner that has done so many great things for the WNBA; that has basically laid the foundation of what the WNBA player is supposed to look like and supposed to be," said Grant when asked about what it's like to work with Griffith. "It's amazing that she would help me, to help me prepare for the WNBA and training camp. So I'm very grateful, I will be forever grateful, to Yolanda Griffith for volunteering her time to help me prepare for the WNBA."
Since Penn State's season has ended, Grant has been talking with her coaches about the transition, contacting agents, and lost ten pounds in her individual workouts. Most of all, the common message from Griffith, Washington, and PSU alums currently playing in the WNBA --Helen Darling, Kelly Mazzante, and Tanisha Wright -- has been that succeeding in the WNBA requires attention to detail.
"It's the intangibles that not a lot of people are able to have," said Grant, who has been in communication with PSU alums when they return to campus. "And basically they feel as though I have that - I have some of those intangibles, but obviously working on my defense, working on your offense, being able to bring your weaknesses up to your strengths and obviously maintaining your strength. So those are some of the little things they've been telling me."
Grant's collegiate resume is not exactly thin either.
In addition to being the Big Ten's second-leading scorer this season, she was the last one cut from the US 20-and-under team for the World University Games, which featured fellow 2010 draft prospects Allison Hightower and Danielle McCray. Although her shooting numbers appear low for her senior season - she shot 36% from the field and 32% from three-point range - part of the reason is that she was expected to shoulder a large portion of the scoring burden for her team.
"If you look at the dynamics of the team this year, they were very young," said Grant. "The majority of our team was freshmen and sophomores and players that hadn't played a lot in the past... So I had to step up in that leadership role and be a little bit more assertive."
In a sense, that narrative could turn the story of her low shooting percentages into a positive - Grant's usage percentage of just under 32% indicates a player that is able to create scoring opportunities for herself. Likewise with her excellent 43.1% free throw rate. She's a player that can get herself to the basket and make things happen while providing senior leadership and those were things that this particular Penn State team required of her.
However, Grant's focus goes well beyond the numbers.
She says she compares herself to Indiana Fever All-Star Tamika Catchings and it's not necessarily for what she does on the court - it's because she's a "dynamic woman".
"One of the players I most model myself after is Tamika Catchings," said Grant. "Not just for her accolades and the things she does on the court, but the things that she does off the court. I'm a very community service minded individual and I know that she has her own foundation. And that's something I want to do - it's all about youth development. I kinda feel like just being able to change the world one kid at a time - you show a kid that they all have an ability, they all have a talent."
Of course, every WNBA prospect has their own story that could be considered inspirational and unique, not to mention unique combinations of ability and talent. Plenty of players are also passionate about what they do. Nevertheless, what appears to stand out for Grant is that she has the dedication, focus and support network to bring it all together.
"You can get drafted but what it takes is when you get to training camp -- that's the real test," said Grant. "You got drafted, now what can you do at this level?"
Grant acknowledges that there's no way to alleviate the uncertainty of the draft process, but a little extra motivation to continue focusing on her own development will help her once the time comes to actually make a roster.