Less than 24 hours before Coppin State introduced its new men's basketball coach, the players were searching for more information about who would lead them out of the Fang Mitchell era.
The players met Michael Grant, their new coach, Tuesday morning, but minutes before the news conference, they grabbed at a pile of news releases near the podium to learn even more.
To junior guard Sterling Smith, Grant was a man of mystery.
"It's all new to us, new information," said Smith, who averaged 10.9 points last season. "Some of us did do our research on the candidates, but we got to know him today pretty well off that paper."
Coppin State athletic director Derrick Ramsey informed Grant on Friday that he was selected as the program's sixth head coach since 1964. Last season, Grant led Division II Stillman College to an 18-10 record and helped the Tigers lead the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in assists, blocked shots and 3-point shooting.
Grant's first order of business was to pay his respects to Mitchell, who did not have his contract renewed this offseason after a 28-year run as coach at Coppin State. But Grant made clear his intentions to leave his own stamp on the program.
"I'm not Coach Fang," Grant said. "I'm Michael Grant. Michael Grant needs to make his mark. Hopefully, 28 years from now you'll be able to ask the next coach sitting here the same thing: 'How are you going to be able to duplicate what Michael Grant did?'"
During his only stint as a Division I coach, Grant resigned from his post at Southern University (2003-2005) after amassing a 26-31 record in two seasons.
Grant landed on his feet, taking over at Stillman in 2008. In his third year at the helm, Grant led the Tigers to an appearance in the South regional semifinals of the Division II NCAA tournament. Despite his struggles at the Division I level, Grant said he feels prepared to make the jump to Coppin State.
"I've been here before," Grant said. "I know what goes on at this level. Even though I'm coming from a [Division II] program, I still tried to run my program like we were in Division I. Everything that I did at Stillman, I'll do here. It's not going to change."
Doug Robertson, a former Coppin State women's basketball coach who was on the search committee to replace Mitchell, said he is concerned that the program decided to hire a coach who has no previous ties to the Baltimore community. Robertson is a former basketball player at Coppin State and served as an assistant athletic director for the university.
Along with Grant, Robertson said the search committee also recommended Georgia Southern assistant coach Clifford Reed and former Coppin State star Larry Stewart, whose play led the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1990 and went on to play in the NBA for the Washington Bullets and the Seattle SuperSonics. Stewart is an associate head coach at Bowie State.
"Everybody didn't know Michael Grant," Robertson said. "Everybody was kind of surprised. But Michael comes with some good credentials … I think he'll fit in OK."
Fitting into the community could determine how well Grant fares at Coppin State. The last Baltimore native to play for the Eagles was Larry Tucker during the 2002-03 season, according to Robertson. Of the 15 players on Coppin State's roster last season, only two were from Maryland.
Grant said his top priority is to reestablish Coppin's ties to Baltimore and rebrand the program as one that cherishes homegrown talent.
"There's no school in this city that has taken Baltimore by storm and just gone with it," Grant said. "It's wide open for somebody to come in here that people can really rally behind. Because they're really not rallying behind anybody right now."
[Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled Doug Robertson's last name. The Sun regrets the error.]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun