As his shot from well beyond the 3-point line swished through the basket as the halftime buzzer sounded, Davidson guard Kellan Grady allowed himself a few seconds to savor the moment.
Grady’s 3-pointer against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday caused the Belk Arena crowd to erupt in cheers. Grady took a few steps toward the sideline and faced the stands, smiling a big smile. He exuberantly pounded his chest three times before jogging off the court with teammate Jon Axel Gudmundsson, whose arm was draped around Grady’s neck.
If any proof was needed that Grady is again finding happiness in playing basketball, there it was.
Grady’s 23 points against the Bonnies came in vintage Grady fashion: a variety of jumpers, shots in the paint, acrobatic layups and a fast-break dunk. Defensively, he helped lock down a St. Bonaventure team that has been among the hottest in the Atlantic 10.
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The performance was free-flowing, the product of a player enjoying what he was doing and how he was doing it.
A few weeks ago, Grady wasn’t feeling that way. Coping with the pressure of expectations after a breakout freshman season and having to deal with an unexpected injury in December, Grady began to feel like he was going through the motions during what was becoming an uneven and frustrating sophomore year.
“I was in a mental funk,” he said.
His play was a reflection of that, and it began to come to a head in February. After scoring 29 points in a victory at St. Bonaventure on Feb. 1, Grady failed to get out of single digits at home against Rhode Island (five) and at Massachusetts (four). He then went for 28 points in a victory at Fordham, but followed that with six points in a loss at Saint Joseph’s.
After scoring 18 in a home victory against Dayton, Grady again dipped, this time scoring eight in a victory at Rhode Island on Feb. 22.
Although there were peaks to counter the valleys, Grady knew he had gotten in a rut. After the game at Rhode Island, he went to see a sports psychologist in Charlotte.
“The big thing in February, it seemed to be like 28 points in one game and six points the next,” Grady said. “It seemed to be a pattern. I couldn’t pin down what was wrong.
“I had to swallow some pride and looked for some help. I think it’s helped.”
In the three games since the Rhode Island game, Grady has broken out with 21 against La Salle, 25 against Fordham and 23 against St. Bonaventure.
Those were kinds of games that helped Grady earn last season’s freshman of the year award in the Atlantic 10. He spent last summer hearing that he might be good enough to turn pro after his sophomore season. With all that ringing in his ears, he started his sophomore season impressively, averaging 19.4 points through Davidson’s first nine games.
Then came a setback. Grady missed the next four games with a minor knee injury. Although he said the knee felt better than ever, the psychological effects of the injury remained in his mind.
Still, Grady returned to his old form when the Wildcats’ A-10 season started. But he felt like there was something missing.
“My February struggles can be attributed to the mental facet of the game,” he said. “I was struggling with some things.”
The visit to the sports psychologist made a difference.
“I’m trying to make basketball mean a little less for me, if that makes sense,” said Grady. “I was putting my entire life into it, putting too much pressure on myself. That wasn’t resulting in positive results on the court, consistently.”
Another source of help for Grady has been his coach, Bob McKillop, who had his own moment of self-awareness last season when he discovered what he called “coaching with joy.”
“The last 10 days, Kellan has done a tremendous job of playing with joy,” said McKillop. “It’s very refreshing for a coach to see that metamorphosis.”
Davidson (22-8, 13-4 A-10) wraps up its regular season at Richmond (12-18, 6-11) Saturday. Next up will be next week’s A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, an event the Wildcats will need to win to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I just want to be consistent in finishing up the season,” said Grady, whose 17.1 points-per-game average ranks second in the A-10. “Thankfully I’m more confident and it’s showed in the last few games.”