Notre Dame men's basketball: Grant off to terrific start

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Confidence rarely was a concern when it came time for Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant to compete. Consistency was another matter and few knew when, or if, it would surface. Once the 6-foot-5 Grant, who was born and raised in a basketball family, could sustain an extended run of acceptable effort and execution, watch out. Watch out. Eight games into what may or may not be his final college season, Grant has coupled his confidence with consistency. The result has been a sure and steady showing that sometimes gets overlooked for the 6-2 Irish. Seldom someone who calls attention to his game or his name, Grant quietly has put together notable numbers that have the preseason first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in the top five of six statistical categories. He’s fourth in the league in scoring (19.4 ppg.), fourth, and the lone guard in the top five, in field goal percentage (58.9 percent), fifth in free throw percentage (88.2), second in assists (5.9), fourth in steals (2.1) and fourth in assist/turnover ratio (4.3). A career 34.9 percent from 3, he’s connecting on 44.1 percent from 3. That would slot him fifth best in the league, though his 34 attempts somehow fall shy to qualify. He also ranks seventh in minutes played (34.2). Once so anxious to get his game going that he would be too wound up trying to make something happen, other times when he simply would think too much, Grant has played with the pace and the poise of a veteran who knows that somewhere along the way, he’s going to deliver. There’s no need to force it. “He really believes it’s his time,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. If Grant can’t do it one area (he was 5-of-12 from the field in Tuesday’s loss at No. 23 Iowa) he’ll look to do it another (he tied his career high with 10 assists). He’s had only one do-over game. Grant shot 4-of-14 for 17 points but still had five assists, four rebounds and two steals in the Nov. 17 loss to Indiana State. In every other game, he’s scored, assisted, shot it at a high percentage and played at a level he only occasionally visited in previous seasons. “I haven’t been consistent here in a really long time,” Grant said following Saturday’s game against Delaware, where he scored 25 points, including two clutch jumpers to seal an 80-75 victory in the closing minutes. “Just to be able to constantly have that impact on the game and helping my team is really exciting for me.” So is extending that consistency, which he seldom did in seasons past. He would yo-yo between being really good one night, really average the next, from shooting lights-out one game to struggling to make as much as a layup the next, from finding guys for easy shots to looking lethargic for long periods. Lost in his 12-point explosion in 29 seconds of regulation during the five-overtime victory over Louisville last February was that Grant went scoreless the first 39 minutes. He’s still gone stretches without points early in games, but no longer worries about having to get going. “I’m just able to play my game and focus because I know it’s coming,” said Grant, who also leads the Irish in assists (47), steals (17) and is shooting career-best percentages across the board. Now basically working at small forward in the four-guard Irish starting lineup, Grant has maintained his floor skills to register at least four assists in every game. And when Saturday’s contest needed to be won, Brey basically put the ball in Grant’s hands and told him to go win it. Then he did. “I have to be better every game and not take a day off,” Grant said. “If you do, the team’s energy level is going to go down because you’re one of the leaders here.” The only recruit from famed DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School to sign with Notre Dame under Brey, himself a former Stag standout, Grant figured he wouldn’t have to wait or work for long to find his niche in college. “When I first got here, I wanted to be the man right away,” Grant said. Instead, Grant had to guard the man every afternoon during a freshman season that saw him sit out to preserve a year of eligibility, get older, get healthy (he had suffered a stress reaction in his left leg) and learn about big-boy basketball from 2011 Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough. There were days when Grant was fully engaged and the best player in practice on a talented team that finished 27-7. But there were others – chalk it up to being young and unwise to the ways of the college basketball world – where Hansbrough did as he pleased while the half-hearted Grant had no answer. “Ben Hansbrough takes your lunch money every day,” Brey said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re ready or not. To see Ben Hansbrough’s psyche as a young guy was really good. “It was definitely a learning experience.” Grant has maintained his focus while dealing with some unique circumstances that will follow him the rest of the season. His father, Harvey, was a first-round pick and played in the NBA for 11 years. His best friend, former Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, was the second pick in last summer’s draft and is a rookie with the Orlando Magic. His brother, Jerami, a sophomore at Syracuse, has the makings of a potential lottery pick next summer. His best friend on the Irish — fellow guard Eric Atkins — graduates in the spring. Grant’s dream is to also play in the NBA. He can return for a fifth year in 2014-15 or begin the next chapter in his basketball life. Should he continue on his consistent course, there may no decision. But for now, the future is so far down the road that one good game doesn’t mean he's gone, one bad game or two doesn’t mean he’s here another year.“It’s more of a team thing – as long as our team is doing well, most likely I’ll be doing well,” Grant said. “At the end of the year, it will be something Coach Brey and I will talk about and make a decision.“I’m just focused on winning.” TNoie@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant smiles on the bench during a blow-out win against Cornell during a men's NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER