By Jay Phillips
Former Pensacola State College-star Hassani Gravett and his fellow South Carolina Gamecock teammates are cocky for a reason after coming off their school’s most memorable season ever.
This past March, the University of South Carolina’s Men’s Basketball team put together one of the most miraculous Cinderella Stories of all time reaching college basketball’s most coveted tournament- the Final Four. A key part of that run was one of Pensacola State College’s own alumni, Hassani Gravett.
South Carolina had never been to the Final Four before Gravett’s team made their run. With an average of 4,900 college basketball players vying for the Final Four yearly, there is no doubt how unique this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was for Gravett.
Gravett was well-prepared for the life of playing on the national stage, and the qualities he displayed at PSC made it apparent that he was the perfect piece to pull the Gamecocks together for a run.
”Every team that puts on a run like South Carolina did has great chemistry and that always starts with someone who can connect the team, and I think that is exactly who Hassani is,” said PSC Athletic Director Bill Hamilton, who formed a great relationship with Hassani while he was at PSC.
“Hassani knows how to read people. He knows when to say ‘yes sir’ and when to tell someone to ‘shut up’.”
Gravett had already created a long and storied basketball career before attending South Carolina.
In high school, he was named the Georgia 4A Player of the Year before attending PSC.
At PSC, Gravett was honored as the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year for averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Gravett had a superb career while attending PSC, and PSC was able to return the favor.
“I firmly believe that Pensacola State College, our city and our basketball program helps mold our guys into the guys they are when they leave here,” said PSC basketball Head Coach Pete Pena.
South Carolina’s magical run could have been lessened without some of the efforts Gravett gave during the regular season. He scored 12 points in a game that helped South Carolina beat their divisional rival Tennessee by 10 points.
They began the NCAA Tournament in the field of 68, playing against Marquette and defeating the Golden Eagles before anyone expected them to become a real Cinderella contender.
“Fan expectations last year, as far as making a deep run, were really low. The excitement was high, getting to play in a region within the state, but even with a win, two-seeded Duke was looming. South Carolina hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 40 years, so just winning one game would have made most fans content with the season. Anything else would have been a bonus,” said John Whittle, who covers South Carolina basketball for TheBigSpur.
Next they took on NCAA sweetheart and tournament favorite Duke. This is where Gravett and his Gamecock teammates started their unthinkable, bracket-busting work.
They unloaded 65 second half points onto the Blue Devils’ defense and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history.
“Watching him play in the Final Four was an absolute thrill for everybody in our program,” said Coach Pena. “For me, it was the thrill of a lifetime to see the pride from his parents and how thankful they were for the time Hassani spent in Pensacola.”
South Carolina didn’t stop the upsets there as they played against another top-three seeded team, the Baylor Bears.
Gravett and the Gamecocks treated Baylor more like a speed bump than a top-ten team, burying Baylor by 20 points.
It seemed South Carolina’s lucky number was seven throughout the tournament. Seven was their seed number and the number of points they beat Duke and conference opponent Florida by in the Elite Eight.
But when Gonzaga scored 77 points against the Gamecocks in the Final Four, South Carolina didn’t have enough firepower or luck left to pull out the victory.
A heartbreaking loss to say the least, as South Carolina had added just about every college basketball fan there is to their bandwagon.
However, Gravett is still in the process of turning that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity into a twice-in-a- lifetime opportunity for himself.
Coach Pena put it best. “Even if it’s not another Final Four, the best is still yet to come for Hassani.”