WCIA — Jacob Grandison is heading across the globe with a chip on his shoulder.
“I don’t think words could truly express or lay out how almost impossible this all is, and I hold it pretty dear to my heart the rough road that I’ve traveled,” Grandison said.
The 6-foot-6 forward’s journey has been anything but traditional. From not playing high school basketball, to starting on a Big Ten Championship team, the Illini senior is now taking his talents to the Finnish National team.
“For you guys, it’s a whole new side, but for me, it’s who I am,” Grandison said. “I’m a Finnish African American man, and it’s just an opportunity for me to finally show who I really am.”
Grandison has dual-citizenship through his mom, who was born in Finland, and he’s making his first trip back to the country this summer since middle school. Grandison will train with the Finnish National Team, ending with a trip to Japan to play in a pre-preparation tournament, before the Olympics, in Okinawa from July 7-11. Grandison plans to return to the U of I campus in mid-July, to continue his preparation for the upcoming season.
“I hope to gain experience and knowledge that will benefit me, benefit Finland while I’m there, and when I come back, benefit Illinois in every way I can to win games,” he said.
Leading up to his trip abroad, Grandison was up at 4 a.m. every morning to workout three times before noon. That same work ethic showed itself last season. The California native flew under the radar after transferring from Holy Cross, but earned his way to 16 straight starts, and his first career double-double against No. 7 ranked Iowa.
“He’s a guy who just wants to win,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s just the pure sanctity of playing his tail off, playing hard, and he just kept working and getting better”
Grandison averaged 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds last season for the Illini, shooting 52.6% from the field, 41.5% from 3-point range, and 95.7% from the foul line. He started 16 of the last 17 games, seeing his production increase to 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds as a starter. He also ranked fourth on the team in plus/minus at +243. Grandison scored in double figures four times, led by a season-high 14 points in the home win over Nebraska (Feb. 25).
“There’s a lot more to me and to my game than a lot more people haven’t been able to see,” said Grandison. “It just makes me go harder, and it’s a little bit of motivation.”
And when Grandison returns stateside, he’ll focus his attention on helping Illinois get back to the NCAA tournament. This time doing it in front of fans for the first time. After sitting out the 2019-2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Grandison has never suited up at State Farm Center in front of Illini Nation.