Dreams are Achieved, Respect is Earned
By Jerome Taylor | Jul 20, 2020
There's a saying that dreams aren't goals until someone writes them down. For number one pick Grant Ament his dreams made that transition at 11 years old when he filled out what he wanted to be when he got older.
Most people have done a similar exercise during their academic life, but Ament's passion led him to achieve his dream of being a professional lacrosse player. On his path to achieving his dreams, he has earned many accolades at every level. Now he's looking forward to adding Championship Series winner to his mantle.
That journey begins for him and the Archers on Monday, July 27, at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The Early Years
Before becoming a three-time All-American and a Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2019, Ament was a short kid who had a passion for a sport and a dream he wanted to fulfill.
"From like fifth or sixth grade on I was just super passionate about the game," Ament said. "I wanted to look like a professional lacrosse player where I tried to copy their moves. I tried to copy their celebrations."
In middle school, he knew where he wanted to go to school, what he wanted to do once there, and even what he wanted to do once he graduated.
Ament was around the sport early after his older brother picked up lacrosse. Grant could be seen with his toy lacrosse stick as a preschooler and that early attachment became a love he wanted to follow early.
"So we had a toy lacrosse stick that Grant would carry around." Ament's mother Lisa said, "Then he promptly refused to even play tee-ball, 'I'm just going to stick with soccer until I'm allowed to play lacrosse.'"
Lisa also remembers his passion popping out when he watched the game on TV.
"If there was ever a game on, he would pause that he would run to the front yard and to try to do the same move as Kyle Harrison," Lisa said. "And then run back in and watch it again and go out and do it again."
His imitation was just one of the things that showed his passion for the game. After understanding that his size can pose a problem to achieving his dream, he decided to focus on becoming a faster player.
"He was always one of the smallest kids… So we just said you always have to be the fastest. You know, faster than the biggest kid," Lisa said. "So he worked out his speed all the time, and like he was in 5th or 6th grade, asking for one of those speed ladders that you put on the ground to do your footwork as he asked for that for his birthday."
Grant's skill set also improved at this time, and he figured out his signature style of play. One that his high school and college teammate TJ Malone compared to John Stockton or Steve Nash.
"In seventh grade or something, and he finally realized that what his dad was telling him all along, that an assist is as good as a goal," Lisa said.
When it was time to attend high school, Grant chose to go to Philadelphia-area powerhouse, The Haverford school over his local public school. A decision that didn't appear to bear fruit early on.
"He did not make varsity as a ninth-grader," Lisa said . "whereas if he had stayed in our local public school, he would have been all that."
But he used it as motivation, and his dream came knocking before his first varsity lacrosse game.
"He spent that next winter working in the weight room… Every day of his whole high school career, we leave home at six a.m., get there at 7:00 a.m. he would either work out or shoot or hit the wall before school," Lisa said. "I think things started to just turn a corner going into sophomore year once he'd gotten some more muscle on… you can't control your height, but you can control the strength of your body. Coach [Jeff] Tambroni (Penn State's head coach) gave him the offer going into sophomore year and he hadn't even played varsity yet. Coach took a chance on him and he still had braces on when the coach offered him the spot."
And like that, Ament could check off the first goal listed on his middle school coursework.
Home at Happy Valley
Grant stepped onto the University Park campus in 2015. At that point, he was more than familiar with the place his mother, father, and twin older brothers attended.
"We took them up all the time," Lisa said. "We always said that we're either going to scare them away from Penn State because we've taken them too much and talked about it too much, or this is the only place they want to go. Grant had a lot of opportunities but once Jeff Tambroni went to Penn State, that kind of sealed the deal for him."
Once Ament was on the field, his talent was undeniable. He led the team in points (54) his freshman year and earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention. Ament followed up his successful freshman year by leading his team in points (60) again as a sophomore.
But as his star was rising, he broke his foot in what would be his junior year and was redshirted. His comeback year in 2019 put him and Penn State lacrosse on the map.
Ament took his play to another level and the country not only took notice of him but Penn State lacrosse as a whole.
In a historic season, Ament broke the NCAA single-season assist record (96) and broke and tied a litany of other program, conference, and NCAA records.
"He had the most confidence on the field. And that really helps his game a lot," Malone said. "He tries to bring confidence out and everyone else because, like, he's the best feeder."
Malone believes that confidence is what brought the best out of Ament and later the whole team.
The 2019 Nittany Lions made it to the final four of the NCAA tournament, and Ament set the record for tournament points (25) and tied the tournament assist record (18).
"He reminds me a lot like Michael Jordan in 'The Last Dance,' he kind of demanded greatness from his teammates, but he did it while he was great," Malone said. "Grant would really push us like the way Michael did… And that really helped our team get to the final four that year."
Though the 2019 season did not end with a title, Ament continued to assist Malone, who he calls "Mini-Me," off the field, when they became roommates the following year.
"I looked up to him like a big brother and he helped me… pretty much whenever I needed it. He helped me with my style, my dressing…whenever I’d come downstairs... he'd be like, ‘You've got to change,’" Malone said. "He’d always make me do my hair. I would always be ready to go to school with bedhead. He always made sure I had my hair combed and I didn't look like a fool."
The 2020 season did not go as planned for Ament (or any other collegiate athlete). He spent the early part of the season regaining his form after injuring his foot before the season. Right as he and the team were hitting stride, his season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Obviously, it hurt for us just because of expectations," Ament said. "We had two losses. And, you know, I thought we were starting to turn the wheel a little bit. So, you know, in that aspect, it was definitely pretty disappointing."
"I just remember stopping at a truck stop and everyone getting out, all the seniors getting out and just starting to cry," Malone said.
Ament's Penn State career ended abruptly, and he knows he's going to miss Happy Valley.
"When you're a student-athlete... like everybody says, you miss the locker room," Ament said. "That's the first and foremost thing that you miss and, you know, I already miss it."
Although Ament's collegiate career had an anticlimactic ending and he misses the team, he knows he can accept the conclusion.
"I'm so grateful that I was able to play my five years of college there," Ament said. "But in my eyes, I'm always going to be a part of the Penn State lacrosse family… You know, it's a true family experience."
A Dream Fulfilled
Ament was able to check off his second goal from his middle school coursework after hearing his name called first overall in the PLL collegiate draft. That day he learned he would be joining the Archers and their prolific offense.
"The college draft was such a bright spot finally and it just was ear to ear grinning by everyone, everyone was so happy. And it was such a happy bright spot in the middle of a lot of the world's chaos," Lisa said. "Just to see him achieve the dream that he put out there. I mean, what kid who's 11 years old puts that out there goes and actually achieves what they said they were going to do?
It was time for Ament to connect with his new teammates, who have already made it a point to welcome him any way that they can.
"The guys that are on my team they've already made it feel like a tight-knit group," Ament said "Yes, we aren't physically together. But, you know, we text and every day we're in GroupMe, we Snapchat and we're doing whatever trying to interact as much as possible. And I think that part's really cool about our team."
The welcomes weren't just congratulatory, though. One captain made sure to let Grant know that the level of competition he is about to face is about to go up, so his level of play has to reflect that.
"Marcus Holman the day after I got drafted was like, 'Hey, man, congrats. Like, you're a really good player. You seem like a great guy, but just know you got to still prove it,'" Ament said. "Hearing that the day after the draft… was just the thing I needed, because obviously it just brings you right down to earth and it's like, OK, that that's what the leader of my team is telling me to do. I'm going to do that."
What Holman said was just a reminder for Grant, however, because his passion for improving his game has guided him to this point. He knows what he needs to work on.
"I think the biggest thing for me is to develop my shooting a little bit more, I didn't shoot a lot in college, and some people told me to shoot more… but We had the best shooter in college lacrosse. You give him the ball… I think we kind of have a similar offense with The Archers. Ament said. "But, you know, in professional lacrosse, it's harder to earn slides. So you're more on an island, one on one with the defender… I need to be able to finish the ball. I definitely have been able to focus a bit more on my shooting, specifically in quarantine."
Quarantine has also given Ament more time to improve his mental game by watching film in preparation for the Series.
"I've been asking my teammates questions about things that I see on the field that they do certain tendencies… obviously starting to now scout the four teams that we are guaranteed to play in that first week," Ament said. "It's kind of interesting trying to scout when you have not played a game in the league and you're already kind of trying to learn the tricks in the trades."
Malone hopes The Archers allow Ament to showcase his tricks and hopes his teammates do one thing: "Give him the ball."
"People have always doubted him, what he was going to do in college and what he was going to do in high school, but he's always proved the doubters wrong," Malone said.
When Ament has the ball, Lisa hopes his teammates are ready to receive it.
"People who play with him have to be ready for the ball to land in their stick without him looking at them," Lisa said. "He has a deep bucket of talents, whether it's dodging until he finally makes the defender fall over, or, he's doing a skip pass to the third guy that you would have thought he would be passing to."
— TLN (@LacrosseNetwork) July 10, 2020
Ament thinks his style of play will mesh perfectly with The Archers, and it will be enjoyable for lacrosse fans.
"I would say if you're a fan of offense, I think you'll like watching this play," Ament said. "I think you're going to see a very, very ball movement-oriented offense. I think we've got a lot of guys that are unselfish with the ball and we've got guys that definitely move really well and move hard, off the ball. And that combo normally leads to tic tac toe good goals and some really pretty ball movement."
For Ament other than a championship, the most important thing is earning respect from his Premier League peers and being revered like one of his teammates.
"To earn respect from the guys on my team and the guys in the league that's my biggest goal for the year," Ament said. "You ask the majority of the guys in the league who the best player in the world is, and they all say, Tom Schreiber, I think that is a really cool thing that he's just respected. That's my biggest goal is to earn both the respect on the field and off the field from both my teammates and the other guys in the league and hopefully start to build relationships that will last longer than the three weeks."
Ament is ready to see where he stacks up immediately when he faces Atlas. He wants to see how he matches up with one of the best defenders in the world. His journey for respect and his team's mission to win the Championship Series starts against Atlas on Monday, July 27, at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN