Notre Dame men's basketball: McAlarney understands Grant’s path back to ND

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

One was preparing for his collegiate career to take off as a main guy for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team. The other was contemplating his next career move, pondering whether to go into coaching just before receiving a lucrative offer to play professionally overseas.

The two had never met prior to spending a few nights together playing pickup games and talking ball a couple of summers ago during an Irish basketball camp where the former player worked as a counselor and the current player spent his days attending classes and conditioning sessions.

But the college career paths of Jerian Grant and Kyle McAlarney now are forever linked.

On Sunday, Grant announced in a six-paragraph statement on the Notre Dame website that he was no longer enrolled “due to an academic matter that I did not handle properly.”

Not allowed to attend Notre Dame for the 2014 spring semester, Grant is the first Irish player forced from the program at midseason for something other than an injury since 2007.

On Dec. 29, 2006, McAlarney, a former standout guard for the Irish, was arrested and charged with marijuana possession only hours after the sophomore went for a then-career-high 21 points (on seven 3-pointers) and six assists in a 50-point victory over Rider.

After nearly a month in limbo — he stayed with the team after being indefinitely suspended — McAlarney was kicked out of Notre Dame on Jan. 22, 2007.

McAlarney spent the 2007 spring semester attending community college and working out back home in Staten Island, N.Y. He completed a pre-trial diversion program that included probation and community service.

He reapplied to and reenrolled at Notre Dame for the 2007-08 school year and became a first-team All-Big East pick that season. McAlarney graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with a degree in American studies.

He currently is playing professionally for Limoges, a ProA (highest level) team in France. On Tuesday, he scored 12 points with four assists, three steals and two rebounds in 37 minutes in an 82-77 overtime loss to Strasbourg, a team that features former Irish swingman Tim Abromaitis, who had 11 points and three assists in 21 minutes.

Irish coach Mike Brey believes that getting to better know McAlarney and understand his story can help Grant handle his next few months in exile.

“We will make that connection,” Brey said. “I think this is going to end in a great Notre Dame story. I think it’s going to end like the Kyle McAlarney story.

“We’ll connect those two at the right time.”

Shortly after Grant’s announcement, the Tribune contacted McAlarney in France. Following is a question-and-answer e-mail exchange between the Tribune and McAlarney about his situation as it relates to how Grant will have to sort through everything about his past, his present and his future at Notre Dame.

SBT: What is the guilt like when you think, man, I know how much I let myself and my family down, but I really let my teammates down? You had the chance to play again with classmate and close friend Ryan Ayers, but Saturday’s game against Ohio State was the last game for Grant at Notre Dame with his best friend, Eric Atkins.

McAlarney: There was major guilt on my part. I remember facing the team thinking I was losing 12 best friends/brothers. Yet, when I apologized to them in a private meeting, they made jokes and laughed it off. They were genuinely concerned about me, trying to help when there was nothing they could do for me. I felt like an awful human being — letting them down, getting suspended — but for them, playing basketball was second to our friendship. It’s definitely hard for (Grant and Atkins) to think they won’t play together again, but I don’t think their relationship will change.

SBT: How are you better/stronger today for going through what you did?

McAlarney: I’m better/stronger in every single way you can think of. At 18, I had my first real-life experience where I had to come face-to-face with something I did wrong. And I had to do it daily — in front of my teammates and my friends who counted on me, coaches who believed in me and my parents who trusted me. Having to do all that with the media attention really made me mature. I learned a whole lot about myself, about others, about life, about basketball. I learned accountability/responsibility that you can’t learn from merely havinga newspaper route. You can only get that type of lesson from crashing and burning from your own decisions.

SBT: When you learn that you’re not allowed to attend Notre Dame for a semester, how quickly do you think, “Forget this, I’m going somewhere else to finish?”

McAlarney: When the decision was made that I was suspended from the university, I immediately said to myself that I was done and am outta here. I was very angry. I left campus within an hour thinking I wouldn’t be back. I threw one of those famous Irish temper-tantrums. Didn’t exactly leave my room intact for Ryan (Ayers, his roommate).

SBT: At what point did you decide that you had to go back to Notre Dame, not only for yourself but to change the way people viewed you?

McAlarney: I don’t remember a specific moment where I said I was going back. But I do remember asking myself what kind of story do I want mine to be? I wanted redemption, man. I wanted the hard road because I wanted the “Rudy” ending (not being carried off the field, but the lore of it). I really saw a light at the end of it being that my story would be told at basketball camps to kids. Either it could be, “Don’t smoke weed because you get kicked out of your dream school” or something completely different. I took a lot of pride in wearing the ND jersey, the way kids looked up to me, but I didn’t realize thatuntil I was kicked out. That’s when I knew I had to go back.

SBT: Even though yours was not an academic issue, do student-athletes realize how fine a line it is when it comes to academic misconduct, or does part of them just think, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen to me?”

McAlarney: I think every 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kid thinks he can get away with things. I did. And I got caught. I don’t think it’s just athletes. In fact, most athletes are probably more careful than regular students when it comes to all rule-breaking. But when one thing like my situation makes big news and a non-athlete does the same thing but no one knows, it paints an image.

SBT: Every time you tune into a Notre Dame game the rest of the season, it will be mentioned that Jerian Grant, the team’s leading scorer, assist and steal guy no longer is enrolled in school because of academics. Even when Grant returns, much focus will be on how he missed half the season because of a poor choice. What will the public perception/constant attention be like for him?

McAlarney: There really isn’t any getting used to that asterisk next to your name every time it’s mentioned. Any time I am mentioned, or I’d say 90 percent of the time, “arrested for marijuana possession” is

there. It’s usually only when something like this happens. It used to anger me a bit. I accepted it and use it for good now, to mentor other athletes when they go through something similar; to be a role model. I don’t think there is any getting used to it, because it is just a reminder of a really hard time in my life. To find a different way of looking at it is key.

SBT: Coach Brey has kept in regular touch with Jerian and plans tocontinue. He wants Jerian back and looks forward to the day when he can coach him again. He did and said the same for you. How important is that to hear?

McAlarney: Coach Brey in my corner was everything. I can’t emphasizeit enough. It’s not just him saying it either, it’s him flying to my house to spend a night with my parents and I when it all happened.

It’s him speaking out against the administration and fighting for his players. He was a father-figure/educator through it all. He was there as a father figure/educator first, coach second. That’s Notre Dame, man. That’s why it’s different than other universities. His example of loyalty is what I spoke to about basketball coming second to him fulfilling his real duty — to graduate us all and send us away better than we came in.


Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney (23) drives down court past New Mexico's Roman Martinez (30) during first half action at Notre Dame's JACC on Thursday March 19, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana during the second round NIT game. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES