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Virginia Commonwealth University Rams basketball coach Anthony Grant doesn't want you to read this story.

He should, mind you. Few would blame him if he summoned the cameras to record a seemingly made-for-PR decision: to take his team to the Freedom House to serve dinner to the homeless a few days after losing to the College of William and Mary, a perennial basketball lightweight, in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

It would have been the perfect antidote to dull the pain of a derailed season. A year after beating Duke University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a year after Grant graciously decided to stay in Richmond after coming oh-so-close to becoming head coach at the University of Florida, the current two-time national champion.

To see Grant teaching his talented recruits a lesson about life -- putting a game like basketball in its proper perspective — would just be too easy.

But that wouldn't explain why Melba Gibbs, executive director of the Freedom House, is so nervous when a reporter calls. Grant specifically requested no media coverage, no cameras, no reporters, and Gibbs is worried that the coach will get the wrong idea. She wants no part of a story about the Rams' special dinner March 13. The one where the coaches' wives cooked the meal — chicken, green beans, rice, lasagna, cookies, rolls and macaroni — and the players, towering over their customers, served it to about 70 of the homeless shelter's residents.

Then the Rams spent one-on-one time with the residents, Gibbs says, but she really shouldn't be talking about it.

"We didn't notify the media at all," Gibbs says. "If he wanted to let the media know, he would have."

Grant wanted to show the team just how fortunate they are, says Michael Anderson, a 6-foot-7 power forward.

"I think we take for granted the things that other people go through from day-to-day lives and what circumstances they got to deal with on a daily basis," he says. "We grew up doing something we love, which is playing basketball. So they don't got a chance to do things they love because they've got to get back on their feet."

Anderson says it was important to meet people whose lives have been changed because of money problems or drug abuse.

And no, this wasn't an isolated event, he says. The team also visited a cancer center for children during the holidays, where the players donated books and read to the children.

It's a great experience "just to give back and understand that other people have struggles in life, too," Anderson says.

In a recent story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, some VCU basketball players referred to homeless individuals as "bums." That's when Grant decided to teach the Rams about something more important than basketball and give them a better perspective on life.

"I think Coach Grant took offense to that and wanted to show that perception is not always reality," Freedom House's Gibbs says. Media attention would have taken away from the purpose of the visit, she says.

"It wasn't used as a media ploy," Gibbs says. "It was done with true sincerity. If the media had been there, it would have been a totally different result."

She says the team talked with the residents of Freedom House about basketball and their hometowns. In return, the shelter's residents shared their stories with the team and how they became homeless.

"They're still talking about it," Gibbs says of the people at Freedom House. "When the residents see someone that's extremely high-profile and come down to spend time with them, it elevates their self-esteem and self-respect."

Brandon Rozzell, a shooting guard, says the visit helped put things in perspective.

"There were a lot of people who are less fortunate than us there," Rozzell says. "It also taught us not to look down on people." S



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