RALEIGH — It was almost a given: After a standout college basketball career, N.C. State University small forward Gavin Grant would likely spend a long time playing in the National Basketball Association.
Even the worst-case scenario held glittering appeal: earning six figures a year playing professional basketball overseas.
Instead, Grant's dreams of success on the court may be over, and those who know him are puzzled. Raleigh police and other law enforcement agencies have been searching for the lanky 6-foot, 8-inch athlete since late September.
Police have accused Grant and another man of breaking into a West Raleigh apartment, kicking a woman in the chin and splitting open a man's forehead in an unsuccessful armed robbery attempt.
"He's crafty on the basketball floor. It doesn't surprise me very much to hear that he's been able to stay under the radar," said Drew Sellers, president of the NBA Development League's Utah Flash, where Grant played for one season, but got hurt at the beginning of the second. "I'd tell him that he's so gifted and so talented, but that his opportunities are running out. They may have run out."
Eliza Jacobellis, the woman in the Raleigh apartment,dialed 911 on Sept. 24 to report that two men were trying to take her boyfriend's money. Police said one of the men was armed with a handgun, but spokesman Jim Sughrue declined to say whether investigators think Grant was armed.
While Jacobellis was on the phone with emergency dispatchers, her boyfriend, Domonique Andrews Rodgers, mumbled that he knew his attackers.
Though police have homed in on Grant as a suspect, Sughrue said investigators have not identified the second man, who was wearing a mask. Jacobellis and Rodgers described the smaller attacker as about 6-foot-2, 175 pounds.
The next day, police charged Rodgers, 23, with manufacturing marijuana, maintaining a dwelling and selling a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia, court records show.
This is not Grant's first run-in with the law. In 2005, when Grant was a sophomore stand-out reserve at N.C. State, federal authorities began deportation proceedings against him. At age 9, he entered the United States illegally from Jamaica to join his mother.
Grant's attorney in the deportation case, Anna Baird Choi of Raleigh, said a judge closed the removal proceeding against Grant in 2007, clearing the way for him to apply for permanent resident status.
Choi said she had not heard whether Grant received resident status and had not talked with him in a while.
In late 2008, Raleigh police charged Grant, then 23 and graduated from NCSU, with obtaining property by false pretenses. Police said the charges stemmed from a credit card fraud at a Saks Fifth Avenue store.
Grant had been drafted by The Flash basketball team and was averaging 12 points and 3.6 rebounds a game at the time of his arrest. Sellers, the team president, said the team's organization supported him.
"We fought for him," Sellers said. "We went to bat for him and told the league, 'Hey, this kid has got a future. He's promised not to do it again.' For us to go out on a limb for him and then he does it again - it's sad."
It's not clear what happened to the credit card charge; there is no record of it in Wake County or state records. Authorities dropped charges filed against a woman who police thought was involved with the case.
Grant barely played basketball during his early years in Jamaica before moving to the Bronx, where he started hanging out at a park watching others play the game. In a 2004 interview with InsideHoop.com, he said he began playing in earnest, even on rainy days, at age 13.
By the time he enrolled in St. Raymond High School for Boys he had grown to a 6-foot 7-inch hoopster with dribbling skills impressive enough to play starting guard. He caught the attention of college scouts and had become one of the best players in the state of New York when he graduated in 2004, according to InsideHoops.com.
Grant chose NCSU because Julius Hodge, another former St. Raymond player whom he knew, was starring at the school.
Hodge continued to see his former teammate in Raleigh after both had graduated. The two worked out in the N.C. State weight rooms and played shoot-around with gifted basketball players on campus.
Hodge said he had not seen Grant since August, but he was surprised that police were on the hunt for him.
"For him to be caught up in something like that," Hodge said, "that's not the Gavin I knew."
The Grant that Hodge knew was in the weight room early and on the basketball courts for long hours, honing his skills.
But Hodge said Grant might not have learned to steer clear of "takers" and "yes-men" - Hodge's labels for people who were either always looking to take something from someone or always saying yes to unfavorable ideas.
"You need people who will keep you grounded," Hodge said.
Hodge said he did not know enough about the police investigation, but wondered whether his friend was truly involved.
"For him, coming from N.C. State, a lot of people know him and see him. You get a lot of people throwing out accusations," Hodge said. "In our society, a lot of times, those things don't always turn out to be true."
Grant married his high school sweetheart, according to Choi, his immigration attorney. They have one child who is now elementary school age. Oliver Antigua, his high school coach, said in a 2006 interview with The News & Observer that Grant was mature for his age.
Antigua said Grant had been on his own since high school when his mother moved from the Bronx to Bridgeport, Conn., with his two younger sisters. Grant decided to remain in New York and lived with a family friend.
He stayed out of trouble
Although Grant lived in a tough neighborhood, Antigua said he managed to keep his grades up and avoided getting into trouble. The charges against Grant have others wondering what might have lured him away from the basketball courts and a pro career.
"I didn't see it in him," said Paul Taylor, a mental health worker and coach of the "Zoo Crew" basketball team in the Chavis League, where top college, high school and professional players in the area sharpen their skills in the summer at St. Augustine College's Emory Gymnasium.
Grant played on a Zoo Crew squad that included NCSU teammates Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells, as well as former Wolfpack star Anthony Grundy.
"He was laid-back. He never said much during the course of the game," Taylor said. "The only time he would say anything was when we were down, then he would say 'We should do this or do that.'"
Taylor said Grant played with his team for two seasons, but this past summer Taylor could not get in touch with him.
"I'm confused," Taylor said. "I don't know what happened to him over the course of the year since he left."
Sellers, the Utah Flash president, said Grant's Utah teammates "were pretty blown away" and surprised when they heard that he had been charged with attempted armed robbery.
Sellers said the team members were pretty close. Although they are professionals, they live in a college-like setting. Sellers said when Grant hurt his knee after playing in only two games during the 2009 preseason, the team sent him back to Raleigh to heal. The team stayed in contact with him and was looking forward to his return this month.
As the Utah Flash prepared for their season, Sellers asked coach Kevin Young if he had been in touch with Grant. Young told him he last heard from Grant in late October, about a month after he was fingered in the attempted robbery.
"I asked the coach what was the deal with Gavin," Sellers said. "He told me Gavin was having some visa issues and some other issues. Come to find out, there was this situation on top of all that."
Sellers wondered whether the traits that made him a very good basketball player may have worked against him.
"He's a very competitive person," Sellers said. "He's scrappy on the basketball floor. Off the floor he's laid-back. But he can be competitive off the floor. ... I don't know if his competitive nature pushed him to ... I don't know."
Sellers also wondered whether Grant thought his status as a big-time athlete meant he was above the law.
"A lot of athletes think like that. But at the end of the day they find that they are not above the law. They are just like you and I," he said. "I really think he could have done something special."
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