- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- Second-year Alabama coach Anthony Grant was surrounded by reporters when he entered the Broadway Lounge of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square on Monday afternoon, to meet with the media a day prior to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Except, no one really wanted to talk about the Crimson Tide (except Grant, that is). Instead, Grant fielded question after question about Virginia Commonwealth, his former school, which extended its Cinderella run all the way to the Final Four by beating Kansas on Sunday.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment," Grant said. "It's very rare to see teams from non-BCS conferences that have a chance to do what they've done. So I think it speaks volumes of the job that Shaka [Smart] and his staff have done, the team, the administration at VCU."
No one can argue with the fact that current VCU coach Shaka Smart has indeed done a great job this season. But the key pieces were assembled by Grant, who piloted the Rams from 2006 to 2009. The five top scorers on this year's VCU team were recruited by and played for Grant -- leading scorer Jamie Skeen was on Grant's final VCU team in 2008-09, but had to sit out, after transferring from Wake Forest.
"They're great kids," Grant said. "They have great character, highly talented, and obviously they've done a great job playing for each other and coming together."
Grant had what would normally be considered tremendous success at VCU -- he went 76-25 in three seasons there (his first three as a head coach), taking the Rams to two NCAA tournaments and an NIT. In his first year, as a No. 11 seed (just like this year), VCU upset No. 6 seed Duke before losing to No. 3 seed Pittsburgh by five in the second round. In his final year, again as a No. 11 seed, VCU lost a heartbreaker in the first round to UCLA, 65-64.
That was enough to land Grant a job at an SEC school, and he led a rebuilding Alabama program to a 17-15 record in his first season. This year the Crimson Tide are 24-11, and had their bubble burst on Selection Sunday, while his former school received one of the very last invites.
Grant said he wasn't upset about his former team getting one of the last NCAA bids over his current squad.
"I was extremely happy for VCU," Grant said. "I don't think anybody that achieves any level of success gets there by wishing something bad for someone else. I'm extremely happy for those guys. Our situation is our situation.
"I think our guys did a great job of turning the page and moving on. This is a great tournament, we're excited to be here."
The Crimson Tide will take on Colorado -- another team left at the altar on Selection Sunday -- on Tuesday night in the second NIT semifinal. The NIT championship game is Thursday, and Grant already knows what he'll be doing on Saturday.
"I'm just extremely happy and proud for [VCU], and what they've accomplished," Grant said. "I look forward to watching them play in the Final Four, it'll be a lot of fun."