Up Close and Personal with... Michael Gruner, Lafayette Basketball  

“When it comes to a good combination of academics and athletics, there are very few leagues that have this to the extent that the Patriot League does. So when I was offered a scholarship to Lafayette College (Easton, PA) it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Michael Gruner, senior point guard on the Lafayette men’s basketball team, recalled:  “I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and it took a very strong senior year to get some looks. We took the (Maryland) 4A state high school championship and that helped get me some exposure.”

That, and being named Co-Player of the Year – along with a guy named Kevin Durant (NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008) – by the local newspaper… got him a spot on the men’s basketball team at Lafayette – a Patriot League school with a strong academic profile.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” Gruner continued. “Lafayette offered a strong academic program along with a good athletic tradition and that was what I was looking for.  It was a good fit for me.”

At Lafayette, Gruner is known for his strong work ethic. On the school’s website, when asked his thoughts on early morning practices, he answered “satisfying.” “I like the idea of knowing that it’s early in the morning and other guys you are competing against are still sleeping and you have already gotten your workout in for the day.”

“Considering that I wasn’t blessed with that much natural talent, I saw coming from high school that it would take a lot for me to make a name for myself at this level. It has taken a lot of work to become a starter here at Lafayette.”

One of the highlights of Gruner’s senior year was the game at Georgetown at the end of November.  Despite a tough loss (97-64), it was a chance to play in front of family and friends from the nearby Maryland suburbs. “Coach (Fran) O’Hanlon makes it a point to schedule an away game near the home of every senior on the team. It was great to have all my friends and family around.”

Gruner, who is an economics and business major, is a Marquis scholar at Lafayette, the top academic honor given to Lafayette students, as well as a Patriot League Academic Honor Roll honoree.

Apart from his commitment to the team and to his studies, Gruner is actively involved in a variety of leadership activities on campus. In May of 2009, he took part in the NCAA Division 1 Student Leadership Conference, which brings two student athletes from each member school to Orlando for leadership training. “There were a series of workshops designed to teach you to be a successful leader. It’s up to each one whether they use what they learned or not once they are back at their own school, but I definitely shared what I learned with my team.”

 

Gruner acknowledges that it is hard to find time to devote to such matters (“Between games, practices and school work, it’s hard to find the time for other things.”), but he is one student athlete who has chosen to make the time. He is a member of the Lafayette Leader Educators Committee. “It consists of six or seven students along with faculty members who meet once a week to organize a leadership conference that takes place on campus once a year, focusing on leadership in the workplace after college.”

Gruner is one athlete who has found the tie-in between sports and leadership. “Growing up, I was always told that athletics would help you out in your future life, but I always wondered exactly what that meant. Two summers ago, I had an internship with the business development team at a software company, and I started to see what they meant.  It was mostly a lot of little things – like making sure I was always on time, or focusing on working well with others. In basketball there can only be five guys out on the floor at any moment, but you have to make sure that all five are working as a unit. Things that other people might overlook or take for granted – like looking at how to get the most out of other people around you – I have learned to pay greater attention to.”

Gruner enjoys having another Jewish teammate at Lafayette, junior forward Jared Mintz from Toronto.  Both players are guests at the home of Easton resident Marty Zippel for the Jewish holidays – Zippel himself was a standout on the Lafayette squad in the 1950, and is one of the athletes prominently featured on a wall mural inside the Lafayette field house.

Gruner, who spent time in Israel as a member of the U.S. Under-18 team at the 2005 Maccabiah Games, has that, as well, in common with his coach.  Fran O’Hanlon coached one year each at Maccabi Haifa and HaPo’el Haifa in the 1980, before returning to the States where he took a position as assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, a post he held until being named the head coach at Lafayette. “Coach O often talks about how much he enjoyed his time in Israel, and sometimes he will toss out a Hebrew word or phrase or a quote he remembers from his time there. He speaks very highly about his experience there.”

Coach O'Hanlon speaks highly of his senior leader as well, telling JewishSport.org: As a player, Mike has developed as much as anyone we've had here at Lafayette. His strong work ethic is a great example to the younger players. He is a very under-rated defensive player, often guarding and defending well against opposing teams' top scorers/players. As far as league play, with teams more familiar with each other – and the intensity amped up a notch – “we need Mike to continue to lead us – to be more vocal and get the ball to our top offensive players, get a few more rebounds, take some charges, and help us play with greater consistency."

As far as being named Co-Player of the Year with Kevin Durant back in 2006, Gruner says, “That was a very nice accolade.”  But Michael Gruner is clearly not content to rest on his laurels.  The hard-working athlete would love nothing more that to help his team back to its former glory days on top of the Patriot League.