Undrafted but undeterred, former Martinsburg High School standout and Evans Award winner Donte Grantham is currently living out his dream.
Grantham, who guided the Bulldogs to the Class AAA state championship in 2013, signed a two-way contract with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and NBA G League’s Oklahoma City Blue in late December 2018.
Grantham hasn’t seen action for the Thunder, but he is enjoying a strong rookie season for the Blue. In 17 games and 12 starts, Grantham is averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Not bad for someone who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during his senior season at Clemson just 12 months ago.
“Coming off the injury, just being able to play in games and get my feel for the game without having played in ten months has been great,” Grantham said. “The game is a different pace and it’s played with a different style. I’m a rookie and still new to this level so it’s been great for me.
“The experience I’m gaining now is really going to be a stepping stone for me. I’ve learned how to be a professional, how to approach things and get a routine of what I have to bring every day to the table. This is great experience for a great organization.”
A 2013 graduate of Martinsburg, Grantham’s path to professional basketball has been somewhat unique. When his high school days ended, he went on to play one season at Hargrave Military Academy. Grantham then settled on Clemson, where he scored 1,100 points over four seasons and averaged 9.6 points for his collegiate career.
Grantham, 23, was unquestionably playing the best basketball of his Tiger career as a senior, when he averaged 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds on 56 percent shooting in 19 games.
But during a win over Notre Dame in January 2018, Grantham suffered the torn ACL with about 11 minutes remaining.
That kept him out of game action until December 2, when he made his debut with the Blue.
“It was tough because I was hurt and couldn’t really do any pre-draft stuff or showcase my talent,” Grantham said. “A lot of guys’ stocks were rising up off the pre-draft workout stuff and the only thing I had to showcase was my numbers at Clemson. I just had to stay positive, stay the course and believe when I came back I’d be better than ever and put myself in a good position.”
Whether Grantham would have been drafted without tearing his ACL will never be known, but Oklahoma City got in contact with he and his agent to come to the midwest and rehab his knee injury.
“From summer going into the season, I continued to work out with the trainers until I could get back on the court,” Grantham said.
Now that Grantham is back on the hardwood, he’s getting acclimated to basketball at nearly its highest level.
Only four games after returning, Grantham finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists against the Delaware Blue Coats. In another contest later in the season, Grantham made all six of his 3-point attempts.
“Everybody at this level is amazingly athletic, explosive and very skillful and quick,” Grantham said. “We’re all professionals here so it’s finding that little inch where you can separate yourself from the next player. Just finding a routine that you can have every day coming into the gym to where it can help you take a step in your game and show you how you can improve.
“By playing in the ACC, the talent adjustment really isn’t a problem, because we played against two or three pros on almost every team. That really prepared me for this level, but it’s about how can you separate yourself from the pack.”
The two-way contract Grantham signed became permissible for NBA teams during the 2017 offseason. Teams can expand their rosters from 15 to 17 players with the addition of two spots for players on two-way contracts.
Any player on a two-way contract spends the majority of the season in the G League (not more than 45 days with their NBA team) and only players in their fourth NBA season or earlier are allowed to sign one.
While Grantham has yet to log any minutes for the Thunder, he’s been able to learn from players on one of the NBA’s most talented rosters.
“Just seeing how those guys prepare every day and how they prepare to win and prepare their craft every day is like no other,” Grantham said. “How they carry themselves on and off the floor is like no other. Seeing the passion they have and especially veterans — guys like Russell (Westbrook), Raymond (Felton), PG (Paul George) and Patrick Patterson and how mentally strong they are, that’s something I take away especially being a young guy in this league.
“I try to see what they do that I can add to my game or any advice they have and just learning as much as I can from those guys. It was very humbling and a good thing.
“You go from being on the bottom of the totem pole as a freshman to the top as a senior, so now it’s like I’m at the bottom of the totem pole again. I’m learning.”
Grantham plans to return to Martinsburg over the NBA’s All-Star weekend February 15-17 and hopes to attend a Bulldogs game.
“I was thinking about catching a game, because it’s been since I’ve been in high school that I’ve seen Martinsburg play and I know they’re back to number one in the state,” Grantham said. “I’m excited to see those young guys play.”