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The Daily Tar Heel

Grant Earns Fresh Look In Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Freshman Damion Grant grinned as he got dressed in the locker room after the North Carolina basketball team's 79-72 loss to Virginia. He shifted his weight and tried to get out of the way of the group of reporters surrounding his fellow freshman teammate, Rashad McCants.

"Nobody wants to be next to him in the locker room," Grant said, gesturing toward the crowd encircling McCants to explain why UNC's leading scorer is not a fun person to have your locker beside.

But Grant, who had played just nine minutes in UNC's four games before Saturday's matchup against the Cavaliers, would be the next Tar Heel to have several tape recorders in front of his face.

The 6-foot-11, 262-pound center saw his first considerable amount of minutes and made his first viable contribution on the court against Virginia. He was on the court for 10 minutes, scoring on a dunk, grabbing a rebound and racking up three blocks.

With freshman center Sean May out for six to eight more weeks with a broken foot, the Tar Heels are hoping that Grant can add something to their severely diminished frontcourt.

"He gave a glimpse of the player he can be," forward Jawad Williams said. "He's one of the biggest people out there in the ACC."

Grant hasn't participated in full practice for most of the season due to acute tendonitis in both knees. He said recently he modified his practice to include limited running and mostly halfcourt drills -- at least enough to keep him in shape. UNC coach Matt Doherty told Grant on Friday that he would be playing increased minutes against Virginia.

"At first when I went out (into the game), I was just trying to find my rhythm," Grant said. "I wasn't really sure of myself. But after I went back out, and got comfortable, I was able to block some shots."

The Kingston, Jamaica, native, who only played two seasons of high school basketball, had to face the ACC's leading rebounder, senior Travis Watson. Watson achieved his 45th career double-double Saturday, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 boards against UNC.

But Grant said he wasn't intimidated by one of the conference's only seasoned veterans.

"He's not that big," Grant said, smiling. "I'm bigger than him."

UNC will only be able to use that size as a weapon if Grant's knees hold up. He said it's a "day-to-day" process, and he sees how he feels when he wakes up every morning. For now, he will continue to do abbreviated work in practice and hope his knees continue to improve.

"I joked in the huddle, and said, 'I'm mad at you. I mean, you don't practice and you come out and you're blocking shots, dunking the ball, and doing those kinds of things,'" Doherty said.

With May's absence and a tough stretch ahead, Doherty can only hope that Grant's on-court production increases.

"We've seen him blocking shots in practice, and knew it was only a matter of time before he did it in a game," Williams said. "As he gets better, the team will be better."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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