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Pulling down a degree

Next month when the Bulls start their Big East Conference play, it’s going to seem like a vacation for Kentrell Gransberry.

On Dec. 15 the center will graduate from USF with a degree in communications and can spend the upcoming semester focusing on continuing his basketball career.

“It’s a big relief to look at my calendar and see one or two tests and then just basketball,” Gransberry said. “I think it’s going to be a little weird just playing basketball and not hitting the books as much.”

Next semester, the 22-year-old plans to attend classes centered on business and finance to help him prepare for a possible career in the NBA.

If he couldn’t play basketball, Gransberry said he would like to be a color commentator for NBA games, something he hasn’t tried yet.

“I think he’d be good because he’s always had a good sense of humor and speaks well,” Gransberry’s mother Delores said. “He’s always been playing ball, so if he wasn’t playing, he should try and do something like that.”

One of Gransberry’s favorite analysts is former star Charles Barkley. He said Barkley’s passion for and understanding of the game, along with his outspokenness.

“I haven’t done anything like that yet, but I think I’d be pretty good,” Gransberry said. “I’d be dressed up and good-looking, and I won’t be hard on guys like (ESPN analyst) Stephen A. Smith. I’d be like Barkley and just speak my mind.”

On the court, Gransberry has a striking similarity to Barkley: his knack for rebounding.

The 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound Gransberry is the nation’s top returning rebounder and is ranked third in the NCAA with 11.4 per game last season.

“It seems like he comes down with everything,” point guard Chris Howard said. “He really is one of the best rebounders I’ve played with, and I know he can do it at the next level.”

Louisville’s Earl Clark is the only player other than Gransberry in the conference averaging a double-double this season.

With USF’s 4-28 record in conference play since joining the Big East, first-year coach Stan Heath was glad that Gransberry decided to continue his collegiate career instead of leaving early to play professionally.

“It’s fortunate for us that he was maybe a little under that level to go pro, so we have him for an extra year,” Heath said. “But a ton of scouts are very interested in him and have come here to watch him, and anytime when you’re one of the top rebounders in the nation, people take notice.”

The road to graduation has been a long one for Gransberry. After his graduation from Woodlawn High School in Baton Rouge, La., where he won back-to-back state championships, he enrolled at Jacinto (Texas) College.

His team was ranked as the No. 1 junior college team for a majority of the 2004-2005 season, and his performance earned all-region honors.

After one year, Gransberry transferred to Louisiana State, where he redshirted the year.

Seeking more playing time, he again transferred, this time to USF.

“For him to be able to complete his education despite moving around like that is amazing,” said guard Jesus Verdejo, who transferred from Arizona. “It shows how dedicated he is to his education and basketball. I had a class with him, and he goes hard at the books.”

Needing one semester to complete his college education, Gransberry hopes to lead a trend of college players graduating before turning pro.

Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert withdrew his name from the NBA draft, even though he was projected to be a top-10 selection, to return to school and graduate with a degree in government.

“It says a lot about you, to have your degree – no one can take that away from you,” Gransberry said. “I wanted to stay in school and get my degree, and I hope other guys go back to school for theirs. But if they don’t, then it’s on them.”

Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin was the last No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft to have completed four years of college.

Since Martin was drafted, five of the last seven No. 1 picks haven’t attended college.

With a reduced class schedule, Gransberry said Heath is counting down the days to work him even harder in practice, and joked that his coach is looking forward to his graduation more than he is.

“Actually, I think we have practice on Dec. 15, but I think Coach can give me an excuse for that one,” Gransberry said. “Maybe we’ll practice later in the day so I can walk across my stage and get my degree.”

“I think I might let him out for that day,” Heath said.