Army veteran Troy Salvant finds a new home with Xavier basketball

Advocate staff photo by DANIEL ERATH -- Xavier coach Dannton Jackson, left, gives some pointers to freshman Troy Salvant on Thursday, July 3, 2014.
Advocate staff photo by DANIEL ERATH -- Xavier coach Dannton Jackson, left, gives some pointers to freshman Troy Salvant on Thursday, July 3, 2014.

When Troy Salvant joined the Army after high school in 2007, he figured his basketball days were over.

He had gotten kicked off the team at L.W. Higgins High, had a newborn daughter to take care of and figured it was time to grow up.

“I didn’t have any guidance, from a basketball standpoint, and I really didn’t have the belief in myself to play at the next level,” he said. “So I knew joining the Army would allow me to help my family financially and also help myself grow into a man.”

Salvant spent seven years in the Army, which included a year in Iraq and three in Germany as a human resources specialist. His time in Germany is when he felt compelled to return to basketball.

“It was like an eye-opener being out there,” he said. “Everybody there is focused on chasing their dreams. Seeing that showed me that, if I can get committed, I can make my dream come true, too. I knew I just needed to put in the work.”

Not long after, Salvant made his way back home to New Orleans. One day, he was out shopping for clothes when he ran into an old friend. Wanto Joseph, his high school buddy and a former Xavier University of Louisiana standout, came walking up to him, and they began to exchange stories of what has been going on since the last time they saw each other.

“(Salvant) told me that he just got back home from the Army and that he was trying to get back in school,” said Joseph, who now tours with the Harlem Globetrotters. “I knew that he was capable of playing at any collegiate level, so I figured that I should definitely get him in contact with my alma mater.”

Joseph got Salvant a workout with Dannton Jackson, his coach at Xavier whom he describes as a father figure. Jackson has been the Gold Rush head man since 2002, racking up a 249-107 record and three Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors in the past three seasons.

When Salvant saw Jackson for the first time at the workout, he saw the coach as “a big-time hooper” and “a guy that knows basketball.”

Jackson tried to test the 6-foot-1 Salvant to see whether he could say the same things about the potential recruit.

“I tested his skill set, and I tried to tax him a little bit to see how tough he was,” Jackson said. “He showed me that he had the ability to attack the rim relentlessly, and that’s one thing we needed more of on the team, so I knew it would be a good fit for us.”

Jackson decided that he would give Salvant a shot to join the team, as long as his eligibility wasn’t in question. According to NAIA rules, despite Salvant being 25 years old, he would be allowed to join the team as a freshman because he had never played college basketball and exceptions are granted to players who are a year removed from completing their military duties.

With assurance from the NAIA, Jackson decided to add Salvant to his three-man recruiting class for 2014, joining guard Josh Freeman and forward Jacques Johnson.

Jackson said the story of Merlin Peters, his former teammate and Xavier’s all-time leading scorer, inspired him to give Salvant a chance. Peters came to Xavier after a stint with the Marines.

“I think the most important thing (Salvant) will add to our team is his maturity,” Jackson said. “Sometimes freshmen come into an opportunity like this and don’t realize how much of a blessing it is to have a college basketball scholarship. (Salvant) understands this already because he was in a position where he didn’t have a scholarship despite how badly he wanted to play.

“He comes in early and he works with the guys and there’s no doubting that he has the ability to lead. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but we hope his leadership can have a big impact on us this year.”

While Salvant accepts that role, he also knows the Gold Rush went 23-9 last season without him.

“I understand that I have to follow first, before I can be a good leader,” he said. “I can play whatever role Coach needs me to play on the court without disrupting our team concept. I just hope my work ethic can rub off on my teammates and we can all work hard so we can be great.”