Bulls' Grant balances basketball, motherhood
TAMPA - The tiny tattoo is barely visible, tucked behind Porche Grant's left ear and measures just a few inches long. The significance, though, of the "?" is much bigger. The symbol represents a summation of the past 18 months for Grant, a senior on the University of South Florida women's basketball team who made her return to the court after sitting out last season while pregnant with her first child. The mark, chosen from the popular board game Monopoly, also represents the name of her 7-month-old son, Chance."I took a chance doing all of this," said Grant, 22. "I took a chance by saying, 'Yes, I'm going to go through with this.' I took a chance trying to come back. ... It's just crazy how it all happened." Not a day goes by that Grant isn't thankful it did. It has been challenging to balance the rigors of being an NCAA student-athlete with the responsibilities tied to being a new mother, but the opportunity to gaze into the curious eyes of Chance William McDonald, born June 17, is a reward like no other. "I'm an OK basketball player, a pretty decent student," said Grant, who proudly keeps photos and video of Chance on her cell phone ready to show anyone willing to look, "but I feel like I've done something right bringing a healthy child into the world." Having children and starting a family were things Grant certainly envisioned someday with her fiancé, former USF men's basketball player Will McDonald, whom she met on the basketball courts at the campus recreation center in 2007. The plan, though, was for that to start after she finished college, especially since McDonald, 31, spends considerable time half a world away playing professional basketball in Europe. That plan changed when the couple learned just before the start of the Bulls' 2009-10 season that, despite using birth control, Grant was pregnant and their lives were about to change forever. Grant viewed the situation as a gift, realizing many women are unable to have children. Still, there were plenty of unsettled nerves, particularly when wondering how her coaches and teammates would react. "I didn't want to let anyone down," she said. Grant stayed away from the team at first, telling Bulls coach Jose Fernandez she was sick. But after a few days, Fernandez told her she needed to come in and Grant knew it was only then a matter of time before she'd have to deliver the news. The way she was embraced by Fernandez when doing so, however, alleviated plenty of stress. "When we met, I just told her that we'd be here to support her, that we're going to take care of her until she graduates," said Fernandez, who went through a similar experience in 2003 when USF guard Rae Rae Sayles learned she was pregnant during the season. "I told her that she had a home here." Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. In 2008, the NCAA's gender-equity division issued a model policy that reaffirmed that prohibition and confirmed that a student-athlete's scholarship could not be revoked because of pregnancy. Grant was unaware of the policy but never viewed it as an issue. She always believed Fernandez's encouragement was genuine, which made it an easy decision to rejoin the team when the time came. Thereafter, Grant discovered that her family and support group made things far easier than she initially worried they might be. She supplemented her workout regimen for basketball with trips to the swimming pool three times per week, as well as long walks with her dog to stay in shape during the pregnancy. When Chance was born, McDonald was there for the birth and was able to stay the first two months before leaving their Seffner-area home on Aug. 17 to return to Spain and resume his playing career with DKV Joventut Badalona. McDonald's mother, Floretta Reed, continues to be a constant presence, offering to watch Chance during the day while Grant fulfills her obligations in the classroom and with the team. It requires Grant, who calls Reed her "guardian angel," to commute between her home and Fort Meade during the week, but they've found a way to make it work. "It's hard to be apart from each other and especially because we have a child. But she stayed focused and she is determined to finish school and finish her last season with the university," McDonald wrote in an e-mail. "I think we're doing everything the right way. Some sacrifices must be made, but at the end, you finish knowing you did things right and everyone is happy." Grant also found her way back onto the basketball court, although the several months off certainly had an impact. "You know like in 'Space Jam,' where they lose their talents? Oh, my goodness," Grant said with a laugh, remembering when she rejoined the team in late August. "I couldn't run from the free throw line to half court. I was asking for the ball, I couldn't catch the ball. I was shooting air balls, bricks." While her on-court struggles caused some frustration early on, Grant said the positive reinforcement she received from teammates got her through it. "Girls can be nasty, you know. But I didn't hear any 'You suck, blah, blah, blah,' " she said. "I don't think I would have given up even if I would have heard that, but it was just nice hearing people say, 'You're OK. We're here with you.'" Teammates say it wasn't difficult to express those sentiments. "It was easy," teammate Daleisha Carn said. "P.G., she's such a good person. It just comes with the territory." Entering tonight's home game against Seton Hall, Grant is averaging 7.4 points and leads the Big East Conference in rebounding with 10.1 boards a game. "And that's without blocking out," Fernandez joked. While Grant's time at USF is winding down, she has her sights set on future goals. She loves basketball and hopes to pursue a professional career. She wouldn't mind latching on with a team near her fiancé overseas, if possible. She also wants to further her education. Grant completed her undergraduate degree in communications in May 2010 and is taking graduate-level courses with intentions on earning a master's degree in education. And, at some point, she'd like to expand her family. But when she takes time to look back on the chances she took and what has transpired since, Grant couldn't be more pleased. "I'm happy things turned out so well with my situation because a lot of girls who this happens to, they take different alternatives or they don't come back because they don't think they can do it. And you can. So what if you have to alter the route you take? "If you have it here," she said, pointing to her heart, "you can do it."