Following a Brother, Becoming a Leader
Jan. 17, 2003
Point guard Safiya Grant-Fairley has been one step behind her twin brother Omar all of her life. The youngest of four children, Safiya has tried to keep up with her big brother. First it was playing the violin.
“My brother started playing the violin in first grade at our school, and he used to come home every day and practice,” Grant-Fairley said. “He would teach me songs on his violin. In second grade, I got involved. They had a lottery. That’s how you got picked to be in the program. I got picked, and I started playing.”
The Bronx, N.Y., native learned her instrument so well that she earned a scholarship to the prestigious Julliard School of Music as a youngster.
“I was in elementary school, and I auditioned,” Grant-Fairley recalled. “They came to our school, and they were looking for some people for their program. I auditioned. They picked me out of 15 people, and they only picked two. I was pretty lucky.”
Luck was only a part of it. Talent and determination were also added into the equation. Grant-Fairley has put all three to good use on the basketball court. Of course, she followed her brother onto the hardwood, too.
“I used to play with my brother. I started because of him,” Grant-Fairley said. “I followed whatever he did. He taught me a lot. I started when I was in sixth grade. But I didn’t get on a team until I was in eighth grade.”
Grant-Fairley only played basketball competitively for four years prior to enrolling at Virginia. As the Hoos’ starting point guard, she’s averaged 3.7 points while shooting 53 percent from the field in the first 14 contests. The junior scored a career-high 12 points against No. 1 ranked Duke last week.
“Safiya’s a great penetrator for our team,” captain Anna Crosswhite said. “When she’s up tempo, she really helps the team be up tempo. Her play against Duke really showed how she can shine.”
Incidentally, brother Omar is a point guard, too.
“He plays for Nyack College in upstate New York,” Grant-Fairley added.
But life for the twins hasn’t always been upbeat. While in high school, they lost their mother Stephanie Grant. Last summer their father Charles Fairley also died. Older sister Nneka has kept the family together.
“My sister Nneka is a singer/songwriter,” Grant-Fairley said. “She’s working on her stuff now. My other brother Akil is in the army. And I have a little nephew Kwame who’s 12 years old.”
The death of her father prompted Safiya for the name change on her jersey this season.
“I did it in memory of my father. It is my name anyway,” she said. “I just never had it on my jersey. But that’s my legal name. I put it on my jersey after my father passed away in honor of him.”
Luck, talent, and determination will continue to guide Grant-Fairley on and off the court. Her brother Omar may have some influence, too.
Off the Courtwith Safiya
Food: shrimp & pasta
Color: blue & grey
Movie: Love & Basketball
Actor: Morris Chestnut
Actress: Jada Pinkett
TV Show: The Golden Girls
Musical Artist: Usher, Alicia Keys, Brandy
Book: The Bible
Children’s Book: The Loose Tooth
WNBA Team: Orlando Miracle
Athlete: Damon Stoudamire
Spot on Grounds: The White Spot
UVa Tradition: Good Old Song
If I had to play another sport at Virginia,I would run track or play volleyball.
Nobody knows how muchI hate losing to my brother Omarwhen we play one-on-one.
Three words that best describe me arecaring, funny, talented.
If I could do anything,I’d find a cure for cancer.
The person I admire most ismy sister Nneka.
I chose my jersey number, becausewhen I was younger, I was a huge fanof Damon Stoudamire.
My goals for the season areto get to the Final Four andwin a national championship.
I admire Debbie Ryan, becauseshe cares about us as individuals,and she’s been running this programfor 25 years.