Basketball

Jerron Granberry, Charles Hankerson enjoying a happy reunion in Wyoming

 

After the death of his father, Jerron Granberry left North Florida and enrolled at Wyoming, rejoining close friend and former Coral Reef High teammate Charles Hankerson.

Special to the Miami Herald

Jerron Granberry, who helped Coral Reef win its only basketball state title in 2009, had just finished a scrimmage at the University of North Florida when he was notified that his father, Leslie, had become gravely ill.

Granberry was able to get back to Miami in time to see Leslie, who had been a basketball coach for nearly four decades at high schools such as Braddock, Miami Beach and Homestead.

“I saw him, and he knew who I was,” Granberry said of his father, who by then had been battling dementia for about four years and had endured three brain surgeries. “He couldn’t really talk, but you could tell he was happy to see me. He held my hand, and he kissed me.”

Leslie Granberry died that night, Nov. 4, 2012. He was 65.

A few hours after attending his father’s funeral, Granberry played against Edward Waters College.

But his heart was no longer in basketball, and it was the last game he would ever play for North Florida.

Granberry returned to his parents’ house in Miami and essentially stayed in his darkened room for a week. Finally, when he realized how his sadness was adversely affecting his mother, LaFreida, he decided to return to UNF for the few remaining credits he needed to complete his degree in Communications.

Nearly 2,000 miles away in Laramie, Wyoming, Granberry’s best friend from high school, Charles Hankerson Jr., was also shaken by Leslie’s demise. Hankerson was the star of Coral Reef’s ’09 championship team, scoring 27 points in the title game against No. 1 Olympia, and he and his family had become close with the Granberrys.

Out of high school, Hankerson signed with the University of Alabama and its coach, former Miami High star Anthony Grant. But Hankerson averaged less than four points in his two years with the Crimson Tide — this from a player who averaged 31 points as a senior at Coral Reef.

The more he struggled, the more he distanced himself from Granberry and everyone else.

“I was embarrassed,” Hankerson said. “[Granberry] would hit me up on the phone, but I wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t communicating with many people at the time. I was ashamed.”

Hankerson finally decided to transfer to Wyoming, where he already knew coach Larry Shyatt, his son and assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt, and his other assistant, Allen Edwards, another former Miami High star.

Hankerson, who had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, is still not putting up monster numbers — he is averaging 5.9 points in 19.2 minutes off the bench. But he said he is the happiest he has ever been.

Granberry, meanwhile, got the itch to play again about four months after his father’s death. Since he had earned his bachelor’s degree by then, the 6-4 senior guard could transfer to any school and play without having to sit out a year.

He had offers from Wake Forest and several other major programs, but he was drawn to Wyoming largely because of Hankerson.

Of course, when he got to Wyoming on his recruiting visit this past April, it was snowing, and Jeremy Shyatt, who picked him and his mother up at the airport, ran out of gas on the way back to campus.

Those were minor obstacles as it turns out because once Hankerson told Granberry that he wanted him to come to Wyoming, it was a done deal.

The two are closer than ever — they live next door to each other on campus. Granberry, studying for his master’s degree, is averaging 5.9 points in 24.2 minutes per game.

The Cowboys (7-3) are picked to finish sixth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference, which last season had the top-rated regular-season RPI in the nation.

A Wyoming broadcaster calls Hankerson and Granberry “The Sunshine Boys” because of their Florida ties, and — who knows? — perhaps they will help make the Cowboys this season’s NCAA Tournament darlings.

If so, it would make a fine final collegiate chapter for Granberry, who has fond memories of his grade-school days when he and his dad would watch NBA doubleheaders late into the night.

“Those were my happiest times, and I think about them every day,” Granberry said. “I would fall asleep on the couch and then wake up in my bed and wonder how I got there.”

Some would say the same thing about how he ended up in Wyoming. But to Granberry — with the support of Hankerson — this move makes total sense.

Granberry believes his choice was confirmed when he returned from his recruiting trip and stumbled upon a single solitary Wyoming Cowboys T-shirt at a Miami T.J. Maxx store.

Wyoming, he felt, was his destiny, and he had his father to thank.

“My dad’s passing gave me an opportunity to play in a bigger conference,” Granberry said. “I consider this to be one more gift from my dad.”

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