Lagio Grantsaan did the American history thing sort of backward. The big, Dutch, young man came to the States, landed in Wyoming and then went east.
Now, he’s at Morgan State, rounding up pretty good numbers for a pretty good basketball team hoping to get hot at the right time and leave its mark on the MEAC and beyond. The Bears (11-6 overall, 6-4 in the MEAC) will finish up the regular season March 5-6 with a pair of games against Delaware State and then prepare for the league tournament, which will begin March 7 on campus sites and move to Norfolk’s Scope Arena March 11-13 for the final three rounds.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing and stay focused, I think we’ve got a good chance,” said the 6-foot-8 senior of the conference’s big postseason roundup. “We’re still getting better.”
Grantsaan came to the Bears last season from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., where one of his biggest impressions about the United States — that American cowboys weren’t real — was dispelled when he met the real thing out west.
“I thought it was just a myth until I met some,” he laughed.
Grantsaan, who speaks fluent English among a couple of other languages, said the cosmopolitan nature of his Utrecht home in The Netherlands prepared him more for life in Baltimore than in Powell. Either way, he’s cowboying up himself these days, averaging 9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field for the Bears, who lost their last two games way back on Feb. 13-14, and haven’t played since. Time to circle the wagons.
“We just have to regroup and get things back in order,” second-year Morgan State coach Kevin Broadus said. “We’ll be fine. We have to defend better and box out and rebound better. We have to run our offense better, too, but with a couple of days off we’ll get our minds and bodies ready. We just got outside of ourselves a little last weekend.”
Grantsaan, one of the most improved Bears this season, should be a big part of getting the team back inside itself on the tournament trail.
“He’s done a 180-degree turnaround,” Broadus said. “He has worked hard and played well for us. He’s one of our best big-man defenders in ball screens. He has really bought into what we’re trying to do.”
Grantsaan averaged 5.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 2019-20, starting three of 30 games after riding in from Northwest. He has been a fixture in the starting lineup this season and is fourth on the team in scoring and rebounding and leads in field goal percentage (.551) and 3-point percentage (.440).
That shooting touch was one of the things Broadus and his staff liked most about Grantsaan’s game.
“We were recruiting another kid on his team, a 7-footer [Axel Okongo] that ended up going to Missouri,” Broadus said. “[The Northwest coaching staff] was pushing [Grantsaan] as well and we ended up taking him over the 7-foot kid. Recruiting is no direct science. He can really shoot the ball for a big man and he works hard.”
Grantsaan learned to play from his father, who also played hoops coming up in The Netherlands. Lagio loved soccer growing up, but basketball started making more sense for him as he kept growing. A local coach saw him outside shooting when he was 16, and that coach invited him into the gym where Lagio found a home with his range.
“My coaches then really helped me out,” he said. “They knew I had dreams to come to America and they said this was a way for me to do that.”
Those club team coaches drilled fundamentals into his game that still separate him as a player to this day. The one thing they couldn’t do was get him to stay under the basket despite his height.
“I was always the tallest and I was always shooting from the outside,” he said. “I was always a good shooter and that was more fun.”
Grantsaan brought that outside-in game with him to Baltimore.
“He can really shoot it from deep, but we have to start getting him underneath the basket more,” Broadus said. “Our guys have to get it to him more on the block. He’s a willing and able scorer on the block.”
High-scoring forward Troy Baxter and guards De’Torrion Ware and Malik Miller provide a lot of perimeter firepower for Morgan State. Grantsaan can score inside and out, witness his 22 points at Iona earlier this season and a 21-point effort against Delaware State in January.
Grantsaan has fit right in at Morgan State, like slipping on a comfortable cowboy boot.
“As soon as I came here I was accepted into the family,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood for us and that’s what I liked the most. I love seeing my teammates and coaches every day.”
The only thing he may love as much stateside is Panda Express, one of his favorite meals since coming to America.
Grantsaan likes the more multicultural Morgan State and Baltimore, not to mention Panda Express, so much that even though he’s on schedule to finish his degree in physical therapy, he’s sticking around next year for graduate school. He will play another year under the NCAA’s extended eligibility rules during the pandemic. The tough part is already behind him, adjusting to Division I play last year.
“It was a big difference, like going from club [play in The Netherlands] to Northwest,” he said. “Then here I had to get used to even more speed and athletic play. The players are smarter, and I had to stay confident in my game and keep working hard.”
The work paid off.
“His conditioning is better, his mindset is better and, you know, the team is better and that helps him,” Broadus said. “We’re glad to have him playing at a high level.”
Grantsaan wants to keep it up. He hopes to get a shot to continue playing the game in the NBA or overseas before he rides off into the sunset and helps others – particularly athletes – work through injuries as a physical therapist.
Turns out, though, that this won’t be his last rodeo in college basketball.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson