Leep-ing at the Chance

Nov. 27, 2001

By Theresa Ripp

Dave and Linda Leep introduced their son Grant to the game of basketball on Christmas Day, 1984, when they gave the younger Leep his first hoop.

'My dad immediately hung it over the garage,' says Leep. 'All I could shoot then were granny shots, but I loved it.'

Leep has taken thousands of basketball shots since that rainy Christmas morning in Mt. Vernon, Wash. Now a senior and team captain for the 2001-2002 Husky men's basketball team, Leep has been playing organized basketball since he was eight.

'I joined a YMCA team and everything just followed from there,' he says.

As a youngster, Leep traced the career of Michael Jordan.

'I watched basketball on television as much as I could,' he says. 'I would follow his stats and read all of the record books I could get my hands on. I just loved seeing the things Jordan could do with a basketball and could never get enough of it.'

Born in Bozeman, Mont., Leep moved to the established and prideful basketball community of Mt. Vernon at the age of two. Leep's father works in the dairy industry and Leep's mother works for a kitchen supply company.

'The basketball players are very recognizable in the town,' he says. 'The whole town goes to the games and the teams just win consistently. It is a special experience. There is really nothing else to do up there but play basketball.'

At Mt. Vernon high school, Leep was a three-time all-state selection. During his junior year in 1997, he led his team to a 28-1 season, their only loss coming by six points in the AAA state championship against Mercer Island, a team led by future Husky teammate Bryan Brown.

'I had been playing with the seniors on that team since the seventh grade,' says Leep. 'Most of the guys I played with in high school had been on my basketball teams since the fifth grade. Playing with a group of great guys is one of the perks that came along with winning so many games.'

Joining the basketball team at Washington was not a hard decision for Leep to make.

'Every program does its share of winning here at Washington,' says Leep. 'Winning and being successful seems to be a part of the Washington experience.'

Leep remembers thinking on his recruiting trip to Washington thinking that the school was close enough to home, but just far enough away where he could be on his own.

'The team made the Sweet Sixteen in the tournament the year before I got here,' says Leep. 'I wanted to be a part of a program where the players played hard and where I could be on my own two feet as a student.'

The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Leep wears size 17 shoes, but is nowhere near the biggest size in basketball history. Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, a 6-foot-11, 265 pound former All-American from St. Bonaventure holds that honor, with a size 23.

'I have a hard time finding regular shoes, especially running shoes,' says Leep. 'I can usually order shoes. I will never forget one time when I went to Nordstrom looking for a pair of dress shoes and the salesman just came out with the box, no special ordering or anything. That is very rare for a guy who wears such a big size like myself.'

Leep and his teammates will have to rely on more than quick feet to attain a successful season. Coming off disenchanting seasons of 10-20 the past two years, Leep feels comfortable as the leader of this young and wide-eyed Husky basketball team.

'The number-one thing that I want to do this season is win, and go to the NCAA Tournament,' says Leep. 'I have only been one time, during my freshman year. Yes, we had two bad seasons, but I think we have all our pieces in place to do what we need to do to win this year.'

Leep played in 29 of 30 games last season. He made his only collegiate start on February 24 against top-ranked Stanford, scoring a career high 10 points.

'I know our coaching staff is coming into this season with a sense of urgency to win,' says Leep. 'I want to go out winning and become more wise in basketball. We want to finish in the top-eight and use that as a springboard to get us to the NCAA tournament.'

Leep's reference to the 'top-eight' describes the total number of teams that will qualify for the inaugural Pac-10 tournament, with an automatic berth to the NCAAs on the line for the winner.

Before each game, Leep is the first one out for warm-ups. With an eager and intent look on his face, he practices his shots with assistant coach Eric Hughes.

'I wear my practice shorts from high school under my uniform under each game,' says Leep. 'I like getting a lot of shots off before games. It is my routine and it helps me focus.'

Leep knows there is more to winning when it comes to playing basketball. He understands and respects all aspects of the game.

'Nothing compares to giving it your all,' he says. 'The camaraderie, hanging out with my teammates, getting to know all different types of people, that is one of most challenging and fun aspects of playing basketball.'

A political science major with a minor in history, Leep hopes to work in coaching at the college level after he graduates in June.

'My mom always told me that my talent, in basketball and in school, is God's gift to me from Him,' says Leep. 'What I do with that talent is my gift to Him. My advice to young basketball players is to work hard at everything. Academics are just as important as anything else you accomplish in life.'

For his 22nd birthday on September 30, Leep received another special gift from his parents - tickets to the Washington Wizards vs. Seattle Sonics game on Mar. 15 to see his childhood basketball idol, Michael Jordan. Surprisingly, Leep hopes that he won't be able to make the game.

'That is the first day of the NCAA Tournament,' he says. 'There is no place I would rather be than still playing with my teammates.'

Leep and his teammates know that all they can control is their effort level and dedication, no matter the opponent or the place.

'When I am out there playing, I try not to think about anything,' he says. 'When I am at the free-throw line, I go up with a clear head. I have a simple ritual - three dribbles, follow through, and stay up on my toes.'

A size 17 shoe is a big one to fill. With his character and work ethic, though, Grant Leep is sure to keep the young Huskies on their toes.

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