Photo by Ambre Rogue / Sidelines Archives
Some of the unsung heroes of every successful college basketball team are the assistant coaches. As many successful head coaches would tell you, having reliable assistants to help recruit and develop players has a bigger impact than the casual basketball fan or observer might realize.
The assistant coaches don’t carry the celebrity status or prestige as many head coaches in college basketball, but their roles cannot be overstated. One example of an impactful assistant coach can be found in the Murphy Center watching film with players or showing potential recruits around campus: Middle Tennessee State University assistant coach Greg Grensing.
Head coach Kermit Davis brought Grensing along to join the MT coaching staff back in 2011, after Grensing spent six years as an assistant at University of Nevada Las Vegas. Davis was familiar with Grensing after the two got into coaching at the collegiate level around the same time. He also knew Grensing from his previous assistant coaching gigs at Creighton and Kansas State.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for (Grensing),” Davis said. “He’s been at great programs and has won a lot of games.”
After his stint at UNLV, Grensing asked Davis about other assistant jobs that he could land, but Davis had a place for him at MTSU.
“He called me about helping him with another assistant job, and I said ‘Greg, I got a job opening here,'” Davis said. “He said, ‘yeah I’d love to talk to you about it.'”
Grensing eventually came to visit Murfreesboro with his wife Michelle, and they fell in love with the city. After that initial visit and meeting with Davis, he was officially on board and joined the Blue Raider coaching staff.
When it comes to Grensing’s career before MTSU, he has an impressive background, coaching under two of the nations best college head coaches: Dana Altman and Lon Kruger.
Grensing landed his first assistant job at Kansas State under coach Lon Kruger. Growing up, Grensing idolized Kruger as a player and getting to assist him was a dream come true.
“I grew up watching (Kruger) play at Kansas State,” Grensing said. “My mom was a K-State graduate and they played only a half hour away from home so we went to a lot of games. It was more than just him being a coach, but he was someone I looked up to as a player … the basis for a lot of what I learned basketball-wise started with him.”
The relationship that Grensing had with another Final Four-reaching head coach influenced him in a different way. While coaching at Kansas State under Kruger, Grensing also worked with current Oregon head coach Dana Altman.
Once Altman landed a head coaching job at Creighton, Grensing soon followed to join his staff.
“Since coach Altman and I both coached together at K-State, a lot of his background was also Coach Kruger’s,” Grensing said. “In a lot of ways, it was a continuation, but they had two different personalities and coached in two different ways and they just are who they are.”
Coach Grensing found a good deal of success and went to six NCAA Tournaments during his time at Creighton while under Altman. He left Creighton after 11 seasons and reunited with his former mentor Kruger at UNLV. While coaching under Kruger for a second stint, Grensing coached for six years at UNLV and made NCAA Tournament appearances in three of those seasons.
Grensing considers himself very fortunate to have coached under three of the most influential college basketball coaches in the business.
“I’ve worked in college basketball since 1984, and I have worked for three coaches (Kruger, Altman and Davis),” Grensing said. “So, I have been really blessed to have really good basketball coaches and really good people to learn from.”
A lot of what makes coach Grensing a good coach is his role in player development. He recruited Kyle Korver and Rodney Buford, both of whom would later join the NBA.
When talking about the development of those players and players of the past, Grensing believes that the key to developing players is more about putting those players in the position where they can succeed and cater to their particular skill sets. When discussing the development of Buford, Grensing cited exquisite basketball instincts as a major key to success.
“Rodney came to Creighton as a 17-year-old, 6’4, long, skilled kid and he was just better than anyone we had … I couldn’t project that he was going to be the school’s all-time leading scorer or even an NBA player,” Grensing said. “What I could see was that he had great basketball instinct and there were sometimes we would have to go ‘Ok Rodney, sometimes making the right play in certain situations is just not what we need you to do, we just need you to go make a basket.'”
Grensing also remembers Korver very well, though his time as a player didn’t get off to the best start.
“For Kyle, we established an offense where we just needed guys that could shoot and space the floor,” Grensing said. “So here we had (Korver) who was 6’5 and could really shoot and seemed to have some toughness and a high basketball IQ, so we knew he could do what we needed him to do. The first half of his freshman season however, he really struggled because the game was just a little too fast for him. He had trouble guarding, and his confidence took a hit.”
When the team needed him most however, Korver stepped in and provided them with a spark late in the season.
“In mid-January, we had an injury and we had to play him. Two games later, he’s making shots and he never stopped making them after that,” Grensing said.
The man they call ‘Coach G’ has done well with player development and filling key roles with guys who can fit those roles best. One example that he gave during his time at MTSU was Jaqawan Raymond stepping up in the 2015-2016 season.
In January of that year, the Blue Raiders lost starting guard Jacob Ivory and needed someone to fill the void. According to Grensing, Raymond walked right into the coaches office and told Grensing and Coach Davis that he was ready to step up and fill that role.
“(Raymond) knew that this was his last 10 or 12 games here and it’s time to do it or it’s never going to happen,” Grensing said. “He then started to excel. He wasn’t your prototypical point guard that was making a lot of heady basketball plays, but he was a good athlete with good size and he could make a shot or make a play and he just suddenly blossomed.”
Raymond struggled for most of that season, only shooting in the low 30s percentage-wise. All he needed was an opportunity and when one came, he ran with it.
“With eight or so games left in his career the light just came on and he had an amazing finish. That’s all anyone will remember,” Grensing said. “He was the point guard on that team that won a conference championship and beat Michigan State.”
Even though Raymond was never the typical point guard who leads the team in assists and is an overwhelming facilitator, he was in lineups where he could play to his strengths like on-ball defense, hitting timely shots and making the most of the opportunity given to him.
One player that is on the team now who is currently learning under Grensing is junior forward Karl Gamble. Gamble looks to have a big season this year and will need to fill the shoes of Reggie Upshaw and Jacorey Williams. Grensing is going to be crucial in Gamble’s development and Gamble seems to be confident that he is heading in the right direction.
“He’ll help me with anything,” Gamble said. “He’s really genuine with us and he is really honest with all of us post players and that’s what makes him a good coach … his best quality is that he is just so straightforward.”
Great head coaches are essential to winning championships in college basketball but without great assistant coaches, the burden to be the only constructive voice can be overbearing. Greg Grensing has made a 33-year coaching career by being a second constructive voice on the sideline, and by being another coach to help develop players into critical roles.
Just like many of his players, Coach Grensing knows his role, and he plays it very well.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.