The one-time Buckeyes basketball player recalls the struggles associated with becoming a teenage father, transferring three times and having his girlfriend and child move away from him. Now he’s trying to launch a career in music, which he says was his salvation during trying times.
For as long as Austin Grandstaff can remember, basketball has dictated his path.
It has led him around the country, from his upbringing in Texas to time spent as a player at Ohio State, Oklahoma and DePaul. At one time, those travels were viewed as necessary steps along the journey to a professional career, perhaps one in the NBA.
Instead, it turns out that the playing career has been the opening act for what Grandstaff hopes will be the main attraction. His debut album, “Life Love Death” under the stage name Ag303, became available on Apple Music, Spotify and other streaming services Friday.
“It’s almost like going for 40 or 50 points in a game. I get the same feeling from making a song or an album that I’m proud of,” Grandstaff said in a phone interview from Texas, where he is about to begin his second season playing for Texas A&M Commerce.
It’s a collection of 10 songs that Grandstaff said made him the most proud he’s ever been.
“The reason I titled it that is everybody lives, everybody loves and everybody dies, and I think people can relate to that,” he said. “I tried to put the music in order of life, love and death, which is more of a story concept-based album.”
Grandstaff wrote, recorded and produced the music independently. It was born out of loneliness, love, family and rebirth. A prized basketball recruit out of high school, Grandstaff signed with Ohio State, transferred to Oklahoma during his freshman year and then spent two years at DePaul before returning home to Texas.
Along the way, he drew strength from his son, Knox, now 4 years old, and the healing power of music.
“I feel like I’ve finally become a man,” he said. “At Ohio State, even at Oklahoma and DePaul, I was still a little kid, almost. I think I’ve figured it out, and music has just gotten me through all that.”
Struggles on and off the court
As a high school senior in Rockwall, Texas, Grandstaff was a four-star recruit and the No. 55 prospect in the nation, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. But roughly three months before he arrived at Ohio State as part of a five-man recruiting class ranked fifth nationally, his life changed drastically when he learned that he was about to become a father.
Knox was born June 11, 2015.
“I had to report to Columbus on June 13,” he said. “I was 18. I never had to deal with something that real. Life really just hits you. I didn’t have much time to prepare for that. I found out I was going to have a kid like three months prior to actually having the kid.”
Grandstaff said he struggled to cope with not only the pressures of having a newborn son back home but also the expectations that came with being a high-level recruit.
“I went to Ohio State with the expectations of, ‘Oh, I’m going to go to the NBA right away. It’s going to be easy,’ ” he said. “I was one of the top players in the country and everybody around me, nobody really told me that wasn’t a possibility and so I went into there thinking it was just going to be handed to me. I was a naive kid and it didn’t go the way I thought it would’ve went.”
Grandstaff said his lack of discipline didn't help.
“It all happened so fast, and when I got to Ohio State I went out all the time,” he said. “I was not focused on basketball. I was trying to find ways to get my mind off of what was going on back home, constantly. In Columbus, as an Ohio State basketball player, it’s pretty easy to find things that can distract you. Parties, bars, all that stuff. It was also new to me. I almost fell in love with that scene.
“It was bad, to a point where basketball became second. That’s one of the reasons I felt like I needed to get out of there is I was so not focused on what I needed to be focused on.”
He would play 10 games for the Buckeyes, averaging 4.4 points and shooting 33.3 percent (12 for 36) from three-point range. On a youthful team, he averaged 11.5 minutes per game.
“I look back on it and as a freshman I was actually doing OK,” he said. “I was playing, I was getting minutes, and I was just so in a rush for everything to happen. That was the one thing that I regret was leaving there so fast because I think I could’ve figured it out, but it’s been a process of trying to find what makes me happy and makes me just OK.”
That process led him to Oklahoma, where he sat out the remainder of the 2015-16 season. He was there for Buddy Hield’s national player of the year season that ended in the Final Four.
Oklahoma presented a different location but similar problems, he said.
“I was practicing every day, I was doing great, but my classes and all that stuff I was way, way behind,” he said. “That was another situation that I look back on and say, ‘Damn, I really messed that up.’ ”
He ended up transferring to DePaul, but there was a silver lining to his time in Norman: He made friends who were into music and he started to learn his way around a recording studio. That carried over to his time at DePaul, where his passion for creating music came to the forefront at what Grandstaff described as his lowest point. For a time, his girlfriend and son had moved to Chicago with him, only to return home for more much-needed support.
“It was too hard for us to try to take care of (Knox) on our own with no family up there,” Grandstaff said. “So she decided to go home and I was up there by myself and I was in a pretty dark place and, really, music was what kind of got me through. I started writing and making beats, and over the last year or so I’ve figured out the way I want to do it.”
In the 2017-18 season, he played in 21 games for DePaul, averaging 1.3 points in 7.1 minutes. He decided to transfer again.
A new beginning
It has all led Grandstaff to where he is this week: back home in Texas, finishing up his basketball career and education at Texas A&M Commerce, a Division II school that went 24-9 a season ago and lost in the regional semifinals of the national tournament. In 14 games last season, Grandstaff averaged 7.9 points and shot 40.7 percent from three-point range.
He will earn his degree in December. First, he will realize the goal of releasing his music to the world, a process that began when he wrote poetry as a child as his dad listened to Eminem and his mother to Elvis Presley.
“I started writing poetry and my mom was the person who pushed me to write and write, whether it was poetry or writing papers and stuff. She loves it,” he said. “Seeing her proud of stuff like that, that’s who kind of pushed me in that direction. Then I just took it and ran with it.”
Once he got to DePaul, Grandstaff said he was able to start buying the equipment needed to make his own music. The university offered classes on recording studios and audio recording, as well as the opportunity to rent equipment and studio time at reduced rates.
That, plus YouTube tutorials, helped Grandstaff translate the beats and rhymes in his head to recorded tracks.
“I think Chicago was somehow, some way — even though it didn’t go how I thought it would go basketball-wise, I think musically is where I really found myself,” he said. “In Chicago I was alone. I was really alone and away from everybody and it was a time I leaned on music almost too much sometimes. That was my crutch to get me through, I think.”
He said the primary source of inspiration for the songs on the new album came from Knox.
“I give almost all the credit to my son,” Grandstaff said. “He doesn’t know that his dad is going through all this and has been through all this. He’s looking at me and when he sees me he doesn’t see all the mistakes that I’ve made. He sees his dad and he sees his hero. That keeps me pushing, all the time. It’s almost like I’ve taken the same work ethic I had in basketball and I’m putting it into music, and that’s how I know the sky’s the limit.”
Grandstaff said he wants to go to Los Angeles and start networking while continuing to work on his craft at home.
Are there regrets? Grandstaff said there are, but he is moving on from them.
“I need people to understand the whole Ohio State thing,” he said. “I left a lot of questions unanswered. I feel like I left a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouths in Columbus because of how it went down, but I was an 18-, 19-year-old kid. I had nothing figured out. If I could go back and do it again I would do it 100 percent differently, but you can’t do that so you just have to live and learn.”