Even though they were playing a team from their home state, there were a couple within the Miami Heat traveling party happy to see South Carolina and coach Frank Martin move on the Final Four.
Starting forward Rodney McGruder was most definitely cheering on his former coach from their days at Kansas State.
And even though Udonis Haslem went to Florida, he went on social media in the days leading up to Sunday’s Elite Eight game making it clear he had plenty of love for Martin – his former coach at Miami High.
“I know how much it meant for him to get to the Final Four, but to beat a team from Florida to do it was cool,” McGruder said before Sunday’s game against the Celtics. “What a great day for him.”
McGruder has come a long way since his days in Manhattan, Kansas, with Frank Martin.
Undrafted out of K-State, McGruder fought his way to the NBA and the Miami Heat, bouncing around — he spent a year playing in Hungary — before landing with Miami’s developmental league team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last year and helping the Skyforce win a championship.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “How I got here helped make me who I am today. I don’t know why it had to be like that, but there’s a reason it was.”
One of the final cuts out of training camp, McGruder made his NBA debut with the Heat on Oct. 26 and scored six points in a win over the Magic.
In the months since, the 25-year-old rookie has earned the trust of coach Erik Spoelstra as he has now started 56 games – the most for a Miami rookie since Mario Chalmers started all 82 in his first year out of Kansas in 2008-09.
“This has been such a learning experience,” said McGruder, who came into Sunday’s game averaging just over six points per game.
“We started the season and weren’t winning, but when you have a great coach, anything is possible. This has been a lot of fun, from the relationships I have made to what I have learned. It has been a lot of fun.”
Spoelstra has made no secret of his appreciation for McGruder and the hustle and passion he shows. A defensive specialist, McGruder has been getting his opportunity to do a little more offensively.
“He’s a Miami Heat-type guy,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a game going on [Sunday] with the coach he played for; we tend to like Frank Martin players. They have the type of grit, DNA, toughness we like.
“It’s not a surprise [McGruder] has absolutely fought — scratched and clawed — his way into the starting lineup.”
▪ The Heat had an odd fan in the building for Sunday’s game: Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Although Stevens’ team was 3-0 against Miami this season coming in, he said he has appreciated not only watching Miami’s turnaround from a 11-30 start but the way the Heat played during those first 41 games as well.
Boston’s previous game against the Heat came on Dec. 30; Miami’s record at the time was 10-24. The Heat came into Sunday’s game holding the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s not easy to start 11-30 and run off what they have run off,” Stevens said before the game. “They all have a tremendous resiliency to be able to do that. I couldn’t be more of a fan when watching an NBA team than I am of watching Miami this year.”
▪ Dion Waiters did not travel with the team to Boston and could miss the entire three-game road trip (Celtics, Pistons, Knicks) with the ankle injury suffered March 17 against Minnesota.
Spoelstra said Waiters was back in South Florida going to the arena three times a day for intense rehab work.
“There’s no new timetable,” Spoelstra said with a grin. “We’re kept him back in Miami to do daily triples, so, he’s not too happy with us right now.”