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What I Learned – Grant Ament: Future face of lacrosse readies for his first PLL season

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As Grant Ament took a seat in his family’s home office in Doylestown, Pa., he thought he was doing so to conduct an interview that would preview the 2020 Premier Lacrosse League college draft. He awoke on the morning of May 13 knowing at some point that day he would learn what professional club he would be joining, and he was aware that many analysts viewed him as the best prospect in the class. Still, an unsuspecting Ament began his conversation with NBC Sports’ Paul Burmeister unaware of what was about to transpire.From his home in Westport, Conn., Burmeister initially asked Ament if he thought they were conducting a pre-draft interview. “Yeah,” Ament responded, nodding his head in agreement. “Okay, we just held the draft and you were the first overall pick,” the NBC Sports broadcaster replied, pivoting the conversation. “So congratulations.” Ament, wearing a light blue-button down shirt and navy blue sweater, smiled graciously and thanked Burmeister. “I was really caught off guard,” he says weeks later.A number of Ament’s friends and family members waited eagerly in the next room. His mother, Lisa, listened to the interview from just off-camera. She had purchased Archers Lacrosse Club gear in preparation for her son’s selection. Ament, 23, never imaged that the most important moment of his professional career would occur in his childhood home amid a pandemic. Who could blame him? Months earlier, he was beginning his final collegiate season at Penn State before it was cut short as a result of the novel coronavirus. In 2019, his final full season with the Nittany Lions, Ament became the school’s first-ever Tewaaraton Award finalist, given to the nation’s top overall player, and received the Lt. Col. J.I. Turnbull Award for Outstanding Attackman. ESPN lacrosse analyst Paul Carcaterra said heading into the 2020 PLL college draft he thought Ament might already be the second-best through-passer in the world. “He could be PLL’s version of Chris Paul,” PLL co-founder and Atlas Lacrosse Club star Paul Rabil writes in an email. As word spread that Ament was the league’s first overall selection, the 23-year-old attackman allowed himself to reflect on the surreal moment. Calls and texts flooded his phone as the Doylestown native heard from childhood, high school and college friends and coaches. Just one week prior to the draft, the PLL announced its plans for its second season—a two-week quarantined fan-less tournament that would be the “strongest pound-for-pound punch professional lacrosse had ever seen,” as Rabil described it to Sports Illustrated. Now, after weeks of not knowing if there would even be a season, Ament was finally a part of a team that had games on its schedule.His draft night celebrations were brief. On the day after the draft, Ament lugged his portable goal to a nearby field. Like he had done so often during the pandemic, he propped it up adjacent to the field’s batting cage. The grass around the imaginary goal line had been worn down. With professional debut still weeks away, he fired shots at the netting. The target on my back just got a little bit bigger, he thought to himself. Hours after joining the professional ranks, the potential next face of lacrosse was already fixated on improving.“I haven’t really done anything in an Archers uniform,” he says. Long before he entered into the PLL, Ament was a water boy. Being four years younger than his twin older brothers, Blake and Brandon, the future Penn State star has childhood memories of retrieving errant balls and providing hydration to them at tournaments he wasn’t yet allowed to participate in. He was also a target. Throughout his childhood, his older brothers often told Grant to play goalie—without pads. As a first grader, Grant tried organized lacrosse for the first time. Coaches were taken by his energy, noting that he always had a smile on his face. By the fifth or sixth grade, he asked his mother for a footwork ladder so that he could improve his quickness.Ament’s desire, coupled with his enthusiasm, has never wavered. Jeff Tambroni, the head men’s lacrosse coach at Penn State, says Ament’s energy “became contagious.” Ament says it comes from a motivation not only to bring the best out of himself and his teammates, but also to be an ambassador for the game. For as much as he’s achieved personal success, he relishes the connections he’s made with younger kids he’s worked with and takes pride in being the first professional lacrosse player from his town.“Lacrosse brings clarity to my mind and to my life,” he says. “Further than that it just brings you back down to your roots.”Ament’s roots have stuck with him in others ways as well. In his sixth grade yearbook, he wrote under “future plans” that he wanted to “play lacrosse at Penn State and then hopefully go pro.” He laughs when the anecdote is raised, noting that it never gets old seeing the Abercrombie and Fitch outfit he wore in the photograph. “I didn’t know what it would entail,” he says of the prediction. “I just knew that I loved the sport. And if I could play professionally and make a living out of it that’d be awesome.”Ament’s parents went to Penn State. So too did his brothers, who played club lacrosse in Happy Valley. Ament scored a team-high five goals in his first collegiate game and as a sophomore he led the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013. After a foot injury cost him his entire 2018 season, he returned in 2019 eager to build on the program’s recent run of success. Penn State made its first Final Four in program history that season as the attackman set an NCAA, Big Ten and program record for assists and broke an NCAA tournament record with 25 points. Accolades aside, Tambroni notes that the future PLL No. 1 pick always sat in the front row of meetings. Ament took diligent notes and asked frequent questions in an effort to refine his game. “He challenged us every day,” Tambroni says. “He made sure that we were prepared because if we weren’t prepared or I wasn’t prepared, he would expose that.”As a result of his world-class vision and elite stickwork, Ament tallied 13 goals and 31 assists in the seven games before COVID-19 shut down spring collegiate athletics. Less than two weeks later, he announced his decision to turn pro.“We truly left it in better condition than how we found it,” he says of the Penn State program. He hopes to do the same with Archers.Courtesy of Penn State AthleticsIn mid-June, Ament joined a number of his teammates in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a weeklong retreat. The players in attendance practiced together and golfed together. The trip allowed Ament not only to meet some of his new teammates, but also to get an early sense of what it might be like playing in Salt Lake City, the site of the PLL Championship Series. Players across the PLL arrived to the site of their upcoming tournament in recent days. Ament says he spent the intermittent weeks learning more about his teammates. He soaked up information about their respective backgrounds and watched film to better understand their on-field tendencies. “That way I can fit right in and I can hit the ground running,” he says.As he transitioned to the professional level, he’s also received advice from both Rabil and fellow Atlas Lacrosse Club star Rob Pannell, another of Ament’s mentors and friends. “What always struck me about Grant is how his passion for the game comes second to his curiosity,” Rabil says. “He wants to learn at all times.”Discipline has also been integral to the rookie’s past success. As the coronavirus halted his spring collegiate season, Ament asked Penn State men’s lacrosse strength and conditioning coach Matt Dorn for a regimen to follow. Ament borrowed dumbbells from his aunt and uncle and resorted to running up and down the hill in his neighborhood. “Back-to-your-roots types workouts,” he says, adding as a caveat that he no longer puts a goal in front of his front yard out of fear of breaking a neighbors window. Rabil adds that Ament “loves the wall” as much as he does. “And that’s a unique thing,” the PLL co-founder says. “Most players have great stickwork—few have the dedication to continue to push through the same routine, against the wall, every single day—as someone like Grant does.”While the PLL season gets underway on Saturday, Ament and the Archers don’t begin their campaign until Monday night when they meet Atlas. To no surprise of his college coach, the potential future face of the sport brought a notebook with him to the league’s Utah bubble. In doing so, the No. 1 pick is looking to soak up as much information as he can. “I think he’s going to be both extremely successful and immediately successful,” Tambroni says. Given Ament’s past, Tambroni’s assessment isn’t surprising. However, Ament gives a more grounded characterization.“Truthfully, I think I’m a half-decent player,” he says. “But I think the sky is still the limit.


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