If Jordan Grant’s hair is the first thing many notice about the senior guard for the Olympia Titans, then his game is the next thing.
The first thing many people — if not most people — notice about Jordan Grant is his hair.
It’s hard to miss.
The senior guard for the Olympia High basketball team has hair that flows down nearly to his waist — even when braided for games, it falls below his shoulders.
Grant’s hair may be the first thing people notice about him, but it would be a disservice to assume it is the only thing. A four-year varsity player for the Titans, Grant has never been the biggest, strongest or fastest guard on the court, but his game and his performance always speak volumes about his dedication to the sport.
Now, with his senior regular season as a Titan winding to a close, the even-tempered guard is hoping to leave a lasting impression on the program that has meant so much to him.
Long hair because he cares
Many within the Central Florida high-school hoops scene are familiar with Grant and his long locks, but few know the reason behind it.
As a fourth-grader, Grant learned that his grandmother — who had died before he was born — lost her hair as part of her chemotherapy treatment while battling cancer. Although he did not fully understand the gravity of cancer and death at that young age, he felt motivated to do something, and so he began to grow his hair out to donate it to Locks of Love.
After that first growing out period, Grant decided he would keep his hair long — and it’s been flowing past his shoulders ever since.
“It just stuck with me, and I just kept it,” Grant said. “It did take some getting used to (while playing) — at first, it would get in my way. I got used to it and it just got normal.”
Grant knows his Olympia basketball history.
Although he has only been on campus since 2014, he knows the Titans were state runners-up in 2009 and that the program made the playoffs four times in seven seasons while Mark Griseck was the head coach.
He also knows that the program has not been to the playoffs since the 2013-14 season — a drought he wants to end.
“Back in 2008-09, Olympia was a powerhouse team,” Grant said. “With coach (Rob) Gordon coming in, he wanted to change the culture and get us back on to the right path.”
Gordon came to Olympia — where he got his start as an assistant under Griseck — after successful stints as head coach at Ocoee and Evans.
Gordon hopes to reinvigorate the Titans with a culture change. And although that, in part, means taking a macro view of the program’s direction, it also doesn’t mean writing off this season, either.
“Changing the culture has nothing to do with sacrificing wins; it has everything to do with raising the standard to meet the expectation,” Gordon said. “Those three seniors (Grant, Mykarri Hodges and Markel Hudson) have really done a good job of meeting that standard.”
Grant, Hodges and Hudson are the three remaining seniors from what was once a loaded sophomore class that had shown some real potential during the 2015-16 season. A few players transferred to Orlando Christian Prep after that season, and others dropped at varying points leading up to the beginning of this current season.
For the remaining trio, there is an acknowledgement that — while wanting to win now — they are eager to lay a foundation for what is to follow, too.
“We have to come in with a mindset knowing that it’s not just about us — we have to help the younger kids grow so Olympia can be better,” Grant said.
Grant’s strong play this season, along with his strong academics (he has a 3.75 GPA), have Gordon confident that the guard will play in college, perhaps at the Division II or III level.
Although the senior’s scoring ability may catch the eye of many observers, Gordon has been most impressed with Grant’s even-keeled demeanor.
“I think the biggest thing I like about his game is he is always on-balance and always composed,” Gordon said. “Nothing seems to rattle him — he plays with great poise. You don’t see that in many high-school kids.”
Because of that temperament, and because of the work ethic he has seen from the senior guard, Gordon not only thinks Grant can play in college, but also that he will make some college coach very happy to have him.
“He’s going to be a really good fit for somebody’s program,” Gordon said.
For Grant, knowing his head coach believes in his ability to continue his career after high school has been a boost.
“When (Coach Gordon) tells me that I can play in college, it gives me confidence that I am good and that I can actually do this,” Grant said. “It just motivates me.”
Olympia had been 5-5 to start the holiday break, but the Titans won five of their next six games. That 10-6 mark did not last long. A trio of tough games last week dropped Olympia to 10-9, but the young Titans have nonetheless shown that the embrace of Gordon’s culture change is real.
Now, they will prepare for an opportunity to return to the playoffs. That opportunity will come down to — as it so often does — a game against their chief rival, Dr. Phillips. DP is the No. 2 seed in District 9A-5, and Olympia is the No. 3 seed, meaning the two teams will meet in the district semifinal at Freedom High with a playoff berth on the line.
Although it is always daunting to have a season come down to one game, Grant said the games he has played against the Panthers — win or lose — have always been some of his favorites as a high-school player.
“The atmosphere for DP-Olympia is always great,” Grant said. “It’s fun playing them — I know a lot of those kids and grew up with a lot of them.”
Of course, this particular Titan would prefer to win that game so that he and his senior teammates — Hodges and Hudson — can get a taste of what the regional playoffs are like before their high-school careers come to a close.
“We just want to come out and play every game like it’s our last,” Grant said. “We deserve to win — to go to districts and go to regionals.”