Danaejah Grant will be traveling to Australia in September to play her first season of professional basketball. She recently graduated from St. John’s University in New York, where she played college basketball from 2012-2016. During her senior season, Grant averaged 20 points per game, was named to the All-BIG EAST First Team, and led her team to a BIG EAST conference championship title and an NCAA tournament appearance.
Danaejah discusses her journey with basketball including successes, challenges, and sources of motivations.
Q. What is your big “WHY” for playing
A. It’s all I know, to be honest. Prior to starting, it was just because I always watched my uncles and my dad play at the park. Then, I just fell in love with playing. I was good at it so I was like “OK, let me keep this going.” It motivates me to just do something that I love. I plan on playing for as long as I can.
Q. What was your process to achievement?
A. Honestly, what really motivated me to go so hard from the beginning was my 7th grade year when I decided to try out for the middle school team. I missed the first day and the coach wouldn’t let me tryout after that. I was pretty hurt about that, so that summer I went hard and made sure I made the team next year.
Freshmen year [of high school], I felt like I broke through some barriers. I had a phenomenal year. Then I tore my ACL, which was extra motivation for me because I had never been hurt before. I was telling myself, “I have to come back the same or better than before.”
My junior year, when I started getting letters from colleges, that’s when I realized, “This is actually happening.” So then I started to take it more seriously. I started getting together with personal trainers and going to workouts more often.
My freshman year in college was rough. I didn’t like my team and I really wasn’t focused on basketball anymore because it was a toxic environment. So it was hard for me to really think about anything else. I didn’t see myself furthering my career there.
So December of that year I decided to transfer to St. John’s and be closer to home. Once I got there I ended up loving it, so it worked out for the better. The summer after my junior year, I worked really hard in the gym. Then when my senior year started, I put everything aside and just locked in. I tried to work hard from the beginning of the season to the end, and I had a really good year.
Along the way, there were a lot of different people who helped me out.
Q. How did it feel when you got drafted [to the WNBA’s Washington Mystics]?
A. Indescribable. One of the top five feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. When I saw my name up there, I was speechless. It was the reward that I had been waiting for my whole career. Just to have the opportunity, that’s exactly what you work so hard for.
Q. What were the toughest obstacles or challenges that you faced on your path?
A. I’d have to say the biggest obstacles were my numerous injuries. I had the ACL surgery my freshman year of high school. I had two other knee surgeries [meniscus tears] during my sophomore and junior years of college. Then, I had shoulder surgery after my junior year. So I’ve been battling all types of surgeries my entire career. There were times when doctors told me, “You don’t have any cartilage in your knee. It’s unlikely that you’ll be playing for a very long time.” Stuff like that is what motivated me.
Q. Who are your inspirations?
A. My family put a lot of time, energy, and money into everything. It inspires me to be rewarded for everything they’ve put into this. My grandmother getting sick also motivated me. During the process of getting sick, she always told me, “If you want to make me proud, then keep going.”
Q. What advice would you give your 8-year-old self?
A. That’s a good one. I would say to listen more and to use all of my resources. I think sometimes I was stubborn with people in the past that tried to tell me certain things. If I had known how much it would’ve made an impact, I definitely would’ve taken in more information.
Q. How do you balance basketball and life?
A. Basketball IS life. [Laughs] I don’t really have a life outside of basketball. Especially in college, it’s just basketball and books basically. Then you have to do community service, travel, and do all these other events. You’re always on someone else’s schedule and always have to be available for them. It wasn’t really that hard for me because I love playing basketball. The only thing it ever kind of conflicted with was my social life, but nothing that was too serious.
Q. How do you bring who you are to what you do?
A. I think it just goes hand in hand because when you love doing something, you’re going to be in a good mood. It’s nothing for me to just be myself on the court because I love doing it. So I’m going to be the goofy person I am, smiling and being happy, because it’s my passion. It’s fun at the end of the day.
Q. What legacy do you want to leave through basketball as a person (not statistical or accolades)?
A. I always tried to be a good teammate. I want everybody to always remember that I tried to lead by example. I want them to remember me as working hard and being a good person on and off the court.
Questions constructed by Rob Polishook, M.A., C.P.C.