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Like his hair, Hassani Gravett has bloomed for the Gamecocks this season

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Like his hair, Hassani Gravett has bloomed for the Gamecocks this season

February 01, 2019

THE STATE

Beyond Hassani Gravett’s improved jump shot and perimeter defense, Pete Pena has enjoyed zeroing in on the little things about the South Carolina guard this season.

“I watch his body language at timeouts,” said Pena, Gravett’s junior college coach at Pensacola State. “It’s as different as it’s ever been. There’s a lot more confidence in the kid.”

Jason Slate was driving back to Georgia from Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday night when he led a discussion with fellow Alexander High School basketball coaches about the change in Gravett’s demeanor.

“What I see is a matured young man,” said Slate, Gravett’s high school coach. “Of course physically, but also mentally.”

Talk of Gravett in 2018-19 — whether coming from those who know him best or from casual onlookers — usually starts with the same observation, however.

What’s up with the hair?

“Oh God,” Pena said while laughing. “My wife and daughter ask me that all the time.”

“Crazy,” Slate said. “It’s crazy!”

Gravett on Saturday will return to play in his home state for the the final time as a Gamecock. USC (10-10 5-2 SEC) tips with UGA (10-10, 1-6) at 1 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum.

At Alexander, located just over 100 miles away from Athens in Douglasville, Gravett had a steady rise from what Slate called a “very, very skinny, not super-athletic” sophomore to a senior who dropped 46 points in his final high school game. A dedication to the weight room led to a jump in production.

“His dad helped him — enthusiastically — buy in,” Slate said.

At South Carolina, where Gravett came after one year at Pensacola State, Gravett has gone from a sophomore getting fewer than 17 minutes a game to a senior who’s second on the team with 13.4 points an SEC contest. A specific dedication to the gym has led to a jump in production.

“I think part of it is not so much getting up shots, but maybe taking higher quality shots, more game-like shots,” Gravett said. “And I think that’s helping me when game-time comes to nail the shots that need to be hit, whether it’s in the clutch or throughout the game.”

Slate said Gravett would report to him last offseason about his travels for high-quality pickup games.

“He did some stuff where he was playing with college players from North Carolina, from Georgia,” Slate said. “A lot of guys that are currently playing the SEC, ACC, some other conferences in the south. And he was holding up, playing well against them.

“I think he was like, ‘Hey, I’m ready to roll.’”

And let grow.

Gravett’s hair was perhaps best described by the Florida student section on Jan. 5. The Rowdy Reptiles mocked Gravett with chants of a popular dish from Outback Steakhouse.

“Blooming onion,” Gravett said, acknowledging what he and many others heard — television watchers, included — that night in Gainesville. “Hey, it’s all good to me. That’s what fans are for, right?”

The playful heckling never irked Gravett as he scored 22 points in a 71-69 win at Exactech Arena. The locks — light-red and floppy — are symbolic to Slate.

“I can show some pictures where his hair was shaved in high school,” Slate said. “But it seemed like as his game got better and better, the hair did get bigger. He was kind of like Samson.

“His hair would grow more and more. Not to the level that it is now, but it was long.”

Slate was at CLA on Tuesday for USC’s 22-point loss to No. 1 Tennessee. In an odd way, the result showed Gravett’s value. When the Gamecocks have won SEC games this year, he’s averaged 16.2 points. In losses, he’s averaged 6.5.

Gravett had four points and a season-high five turnovers against the Volunteers.

“He was (ticked),” Slate said of a post-game conversation.

While at Alexander, Gravett got interest from Georgia, but the Bulldogs, according to Slate, never pulled the triggered on an offer. He signed with Gardner-Webb before deciding on a prep school route with Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.

“A lot of times kids have offers and they feel like they could get something bigger,” Slate said. “When you sit there and you break the state scoring record for points in a state semifinal game, you think, ‘Hey, I can play somewhere higher. I can play in the SEC.’”

Five years later, he’s fashionably wrapping a career with the Gamecocks.

“If you look at his numbers at high school and in college,” Slate said, “everything you see is a late bloomer.”

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