Grose's Net Gain : The Mr. Basketball That Hoosiers Didn't Want Is Something Special to Wildcats

Times Staff Writer

It takes something special to get Northwestern fans to trudge through snow and cold to watch a basketball game at McGaw Hall's Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.

Monday night, the crowds came largely because Dick Vitale, the ESPN commentator, was going to be there. Vitale had praised Northwestern fans last year on an ESPN telecast of their team's upset of Michigan State, one of only seven Wildcat victories all season.

But after the Wildcats' 66-64 upset of Indiana Monday night--only their 39th victory in the 115-game series--Northwestern fans have become aware of at least one more good reason to show up.

That would be Jeff Grose, an Indiana lad--a winner of that state's Mr. Basketball award, no less--who somehow wound up at Northwestern, somehow survived when a blood clot passed through his heart a year and a half ago, and somehow led the Wildcats to an upset of the defending national champion.

He scored 18 points, and made 4 straight free throws down the stretch.

Northwestern fans, known to tear down a goal post or two in celebration of rare football victories, settled for cutting down the nets Monday night.

Grose, a junior, grew up in Warsaw, Ind., a small town he says is "more like a bunch of farming communities." After a couple of not-so-great seasons when Grose was a freshman and sophomore, Warsaw High School had a dream season his junior year, winning the Indiana state championship--the one-division, every-team-plays tournament made famous by the movie, "Hoosiers."

In his senior year, Grose earned the state's highest high school basketball individual honor--Mr. Basketball. That award often leads to a scholarship at Indiana or Purdue.

It didn't work out that way for Grose.

Indiana had a surplus of guards, at the time. So did Purdue. The schools had each gotten a co-Mr. Basketball guard the previous year, and there apparently was no room for another.

Grose, intent on playing in the Big Ten, visited Northwestern, decided he liked the school, the academics, the city life of Chicago, and became a Wildcat. He says now he'd make the choice again, but at the time, he was disappointed that he wasn't going to play in his home state.

"If I had been a year younger or a year older, I might have had a chance," Grose said.

But he really enjoyed Monday night.

"If you can't play for Coach Knight, it's always fun to beat him," Grose said.

Beating Bob Knight, the Hoosiers, or even his own brother in a pickup game seemed implausible for Grose just a year and a half ago.

Grose and Steve Hollar, a high school teammate who, incidentally, had a role in "Hoosiers," drove to New York in the summer of 1986 to spend a week hiking, riding horses and camping.

On the way back, eager to get home, they drove almost straight through to Indiana, stopping only once. On the way, Grose noticed some pain in his calf but ignored it.

Doctors later told him that the prolonged period of immobility might have contributed to a blood clot that developed in his leg. Back home, though, knowing nothing about it, he went about his business. A few days later, playing golf, he had chest pains.

"I could feel it in my chest out on the golf course," Grose said. "They told me later they think because I was in shape and the clot was small, it went through my heart. Usually what happens is, that's as far as it goes."

Usually what happens is, you don't live to tell about it.

"Like an idiot, I wouldn't go to the hospital," Grose said. "I stayed up until 8 in the morning. Finally, my girlfriend took me to the hospital."

The clot apparently had traveled from his leg, passed through his heart and lodged in one of his lungs. Grose spent 11 days in intensive care, and doctors were able to dissolve the clot.

He would be OK, they said, but whether he would play basketball anymore, no one knew.

"In the hospital, I sort of changed my ideas about everything," Grose said. "Before, I took things for granted. At the time, I wanted to make a lot of money, and do this and have that."

So when Grose went back to school that fall, he changed his major from business to secondary education. Now he plans to teach high school history, and perhaps to coach middle school basketball. Grose, who works in youth basketball camps every summer, prefers to coach at a level where there is more emphasis on education than competition.

"I look at all the people saying they've got the house and the things. I don't need a fancy car anymore. . . . When I tell people I'm going to Northwestern to be a schoolteacher, they sort of look at me funny."

Grose, who by all rights could have expected to be a star at Indiana or Purdue, plays for a team that won just 15 games in his first two seasons. So far this season, the Wildcats are 6-6 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten. They play eighth-ranked Purdue tonight at West Lafayette, Ind.

Grose insists he'd do it this way again.

"We didn't win many last year or my freshman year. I'd gotten used to the winning in high school and gotten out of the losing bit," said Grose, who has a 15-point average and has made 58 of 65 free throws this season.

"When I was growing up, I watched those guys on TV--Indiana and Purdue and DePaul and Notre Dame. I remember sitting around with my dad, thinking, 'These guys are great,' and I wanted to be like them. It may not be at Indiana, but now I'm getting a chance to play, and others aren't. I think I'm lucky to still be playing at this age and level."

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