Coach Grasso and I discussed many things including his playing and coaching career. This was a really fun interview and I thank Coach Grasso for allowing me to speak with him.
Q: You are one of the best Quinnipiac Basketball players ever and in the Quinnipiac Hall Of Fame. What do you look back on and cherish the most, being 18 years removed from graduating?
A: “When I chose Quinnipiac it was our first year going Division-1, and they won 4 games the year prior at the D-2 level. My second year there we won 18 games, and my senior year we played for a conference championship on ESPN, so just the way we turned the program around. My first college game we were last in all of D-1 and we played UConn who was the number one team in the country, so we went from, the first game of my career being the last ranked team in D-1, to my last game being on ESPN for a chance to play for a Conference Championship. Just to be able to start a winning culture there and that’s brought great things there, a new arena put a ton of money into the Basketball program, we were kind of the first group, myself and the guys I came in with were the first guys to put them on the map.”
Q: Is being in the Quinnipiac Basketball Hall Of Fame one of your biggest achievements in life?
A: “It’s not something I’m overly caught up with anymore, It was nice for me. I’m a son of a Coach, so having my father being there later in his life seeing how proud he was after all the years of training and working on my game, and lifting. So that day was special for me, I went in with my College Roommate on the same day my Son’s godfather so that was something I was able to enjoy. My Father being able to see me be Inducted and see how happy he was made it really special for me.”
Q: Tim Cluess brought you on his staff at Iona when he went there in 2010 and you guys accomplished a lot of things like making Five NCAA Tournament Appearances, what did you learn most from Tim Cluess?
A: “Tim is a special, special person and an elite Basketball Coach, he’s an outside-the-box thinker and very positive. We were recruiting transfers and doing that kind of stuff and getting guys waivers. We were really the first team to really go after transfers, about 5 years ahead of most, with guys like Momo Jones, David Laury, Mike Glover, Eric Roundtree, we were getting players from the transfer market which has become a big thing in College Basketball, we were doing that on the front-end of everyone starting to do that. Also, I learned a lot about life, Tim Cluess is one of the best Human Beings I’ve ever been around, he’s a mentor, he’s like a big brother to me. I learned what it takes to win and win at a high-level, how hard guys have work, and the standards we hold them to and that’s something I’ve held onto and will continue to use in my Coaching Career.
Q: You have 6-Transfers in this class 4 D-1 Transfers, 2 JUCO Guys, what do you expect out of those guys?
A: “Peter Kiss and Luis Hurtado are immediately eligible, and Sutherland and Melo Eggleston are scheduled to sit-out, although they will apply for waivers. All of these guys I either knew in High School or had a connection to from their High School or AAU Coach so I was familiar with them. These are guys have a chip on their shoulders who have something to prove none of those guys have played In an NCAA Tournament and they’re coming here thinking they’re going to play in an NCAA-Tournament, get a great education. Hopefully, bringing Bryant to their first NCAA Tournament, and have the chance to expand their career professionally, we’ve talked to them about how hard you have to work for those things to happen, they’ve been committed to it so far even though I don’t have them on Campus yet we add them to what we have coming and adding Maturity will be good. Peter Kiss had 14 points per game as a Freshman at Quinnipiac, was half of the time a starter at Rutgers two-seasons ago, redshirted this season. He’s a guy I’ve known for a long-time, I like his toughness his size at the guard position, and in terms of our style of play he fits in well. e has athleticism, can make shots can score in transition and those are all things I look for, and I’m really excited about him, and I know he’s excited to be here.”
Q: You replaced Tim O’Shea at Bryant, how much of a dream was it for you to become a D-1 Basketball Head Coach?
A: “As I said earlier, I’m the son of a coach so I was going to play as long as I could then when that was done my dream was to coach at the college level. When I was 29 years old, I was the interim Head Coach for Fordham for about 3-quarters of a season so I got a taste of being a head coach, and of course, the best thing that happened to me was coaching under Tim Cluess for 8 years and learn from one of the best in College Basketball. The right opportunity came along for me, I interviewed for a handful of jobs and Bryant was the right place at the right time, with a great administration and a great president, great AD, huge commitment to Athletics and I inherited a team that struggled, but I knew if we worked hard enough on-the-floor and on the recruiting trails we know we’d be in the right way and we’re trending that way right now.”
Q: You return guys like Benson Lin, Michael Green, Charles Pride, Hall Elaises, with what you return what do you expect from those guys?
A: “The 3-Freshman kind of learned by fire last year, Michael Green was Freshman of the year in the NEC/ Benson Lin was on the All-Rookie team, Charles Pride won 5 rookie of the week awards, how he got left off the All-Rookie team is something I’m a little confused about, but I love those kids they got to play Major Minutes as Freshman. Mike Green was a guy who has the ball in his hands a lot and had some ups-and-downs but was probably our best player in the last month of the season. He’s a New York City Point Guard, he just has a toughness and a swagger and their all great kids with great work ethic, so I think those guys will take the next step for us. Hall Elaises was one of the top-shot blockers in the Country for the season playing with multiple injuries, having him healthy with his athleticism, he’s the highest level of athlete, he’s a physical specimen, a Phenomenal kid with a great basketball IQ. We return 4 guys who played a ton and started, Nate Stokes the fifth guy we have returning, we were without most of the year with an injury, but he’s 6’9″ and can make three’s and will make an impact for us and has a really high ceiling.”
Q: How do you replace Adam Grant who had 16 points per game a year ago, who would you expect the leading scorer to be this season?
A: “We have a lot of guys that can score so I couldn’t tell you who our leading scorer will be but with Benson Lin and Charles Pride two guys who can score the ball. Chris Childs who we added was a JUCO All-American was player of their in their region, over Tyon Grant-Foster who’s going to Kansas. Childs is a great 3-point shooter, Peter Kiss averaged 14 points per game at Quinnipiac as a freshman, and started at Rutgers. Darius Wynn JuCo Transfer can really shoot and scored at a high clip last year. Once practice starts those things will shake themselves out and guys will have a chance to separate themselves, but I’m excited with the depth we have. A lot of new guys so I’m going to have to see them so I can see exactly what we have because it’s been a strange off-season with not being on campus, but I’m excited about the depth and the group of players.”
Q: How tough has this off-season been with not being able to see your players yet?
A: “When you’ve been doing this for a long-time it just takes you out of your comfort zone, of course with us having 8 new guys you want to have your hands on your guys and get an idea of what they are on a daily basis, how they deal with adversity, how they get pushed out of their comfort zone, how hard their willing to work, how committed they are, how disciplined they are, so, unfortunately, we’ll be learning that later. When we do get on the floor and get started and the expectations are when we get here is that you’ll be ready to work and if things peak later then so be it, we’re going through a tough time right now with a lot of things going on in our country, so we’re going to control what we can control and when we get to work we’re going to work hard.
Q: How often are you talking to your players?
A: “We’re in constant contact, I’m either calling or texting every-day, we do 2-3 team zoom calls a week so we’re in constant contact with our guys. Our new guys are doing a good job trying to build relationships with each other and interacting with some of the returning guys, some are working out together and starting to make connections with each other. That’s important to me because for us to reach our potential those guys need to have good relationships with each other and turn into a family.”
Q: How’s scheduling going during this time?
A: “We’re getting closer to being done, with Robert Morris leaving the league it added 2 more games, so we’re still searching for some, but everybody is in the same boat. With Robert Morris moving and NJIT Moving some teams lost games, some have to drop games so there’s a lot of fluidity right now and some are finishing their schedules later. I think we have a very competitive schedule and we’re going to be challenged early on. We play UMass, Boston College, and George Mason, we’re in a tournament in the Bahamas and then outside of that some regional home-home series and still looking for a few more games.”
Q: What do you expect from this team?
A: “The one thing I know is that we’ll play and compete really hard, every year we expect to win a championship and there’s no reason we can’t do that as long as guys are willing to play for each other and work for each other, and play as hard as they say they’re going to there’s no reason we can’t compete for a Championship. I go into every season looking at it that way, but things can change with injuries so you never know how things will play out, but I like our group, character, work-ethic so far, hopefully we play our best Basketball into late-February and March and are able to make a run.”