An ACC game at last for Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

If days between conference contests were dollars, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant could afford to take a special someone out for a really nice dinner.

And have a whole lot left over.

When Grant makes the drive Saturday from the off-campus apartment where he lives alone to Purcell Pavilion for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Florida State (4-4), it will be the first time in 643 days since he played in a regular-season conference contest for No. 25 Notre Dame (9-1).

Six hundred and 43 days…..

“Wow, that’s a long time,” Grant said prior to Thursday’s practice when he learned how much time has passed – some 22 months – since No. 22 last played in a league game. “It definitely doesn’t seem like it’s been that long at all.”

Grant needed a moment to recall where and against whom he played that conference game. But he did remember — at Louisville. On March 9, 2013, Grant, then a junior, went 2-of-12 from the floor, 1-of-7 from 3 and finished with eight points, two rebounds and seven assists in a 73-57 loss. It was the final Big East regular-season game for Notre Dame.

The Irish now call home the ACC, a place Grant knows well. His uncle, Horace, played collegiately at Clemson. So did his older brother, Jerai. Prior to jumping to the NBA after his sophomore season, younger brother Jerami played last season at Syracuse during its inaugural ACC season.

A native of Bowie, Md., Grant was raised on ACC basketball, often parking himself in front of the television as a youngster and rooting for underdog Maryland during its conference clashes with Duke.

Now after all he’s done and experienced in a five-year collegiate career that has had its share of ups and downs and starts and stops, Grant gets to play in an ACC game.

“It is weird when you think about it,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of tough games in my career, against some great players and great teams. I’ve been around the ACC my whole life, so to be able to play in an ACC game is exciting.”

Saturday is seemingly a big night for Grant, who plans to approach it as if it’s no big deal. He admitted prior to the first Irish exhibition game that he would feel like he’d been shot out of a cannon from the opening tip wanting so badly to do something after missing the second half of last season for academic reasons.

But non-conference contests against Massachusetts, Providence and Michigan State has allowed Grant to settle in and just play. He went for 24 points in the victory over Massachusetts, then scored 20 and made big shots at big moments in the loss to Providence. Knowing he had to deliver last week at home against then-ranked Michigan State, Grant scored a career-high 27 points.

“Those have all been like conference games for me because of the level of play,” Grant said. “I just want to approach (Saturday) like any other big game.”

A decision made four years ago with no thought of ever playing in the ACC has taken Grant to this point. Dealing with a lingering stress reaction in his lower left leg as a freshman, Grant was offered the option of sitting out the season to preserve a year of eligibility. There really was no debate. Had the Irish played opening night 2010, coach Mike Brey counseled his young guard from DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School that he might be lucky to snag maybe three minutes of playing time.

Working behind eventual Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough that 2010-11 season, there simply weren’t enough minutes to go around for Grant. So he sat, but often was the best player on the practice floor for an Irish team that went 27-7.

Having that additional year of eligibility was critical after Grant was separated from the university around this time a year ago for an "academic misstep.” Had he not sat as a freshman, his college career would have ended last December without ever seeing the ACC.

Returning to Notre Dame and playing a final season always was the only option for Grant. He wanted to return and make all his wrongs right. He wanted to finish work toward his undergraduate degree in sociology. But he also wanted something else.

“One of the reasons he really wanted to come back was to play ACC games and to play in this league,” Brey said. “I think he’s really motivated to play a league game.”

And motivated to take his name, and that of Notre Dame’s, to a national stage.

A two-time preseason first team ACC selection, the 6-foot-5 Grant on Monday earned his first league player of the week honor. His 19.0 points and 6.1 assists are tops in the conference. No ACC player currently has more career points (1,301) or assists (498). Two more assists will see Grant become only the sixth player in school history with at least 1,000 points and 500 assists in his career.

He ranks sixth in the ACC for career double-doubles with five. No league player has as many 10-plus assists games in his career as Grant (5). He has the most 20-plus point games this season with four, including two of the top six scoring efforts (26 and 27).

Grant’s work the first month of the regular season should slingshot him into serious consideration for league player of the year honors. Brey has coached a few during his 15 years at Notre Dame – Hansbrough, Luke Harangody and Troy Murphy. All were dominant personalities on and sometimes off the floor whose actions and numbers demanded notice. Grant has gone in the totally opposite direction.

He often plays with little flash, flair or fanfare. He doesn’t hoot or holler or routinely parade up the floor after a pretty play. He just plays. He’ll score, find guys, defend, lead and control a game without having to dominate a game.

By the end of the night, he often has stuffed the stats sheet in a variety of ways. Quietly. Efficiently.

He arrives at the arena for home games alone. He leaves alone. He’s all business all the time.

Outside of St. Joseph County, nobody seems to notice him. Yet.

“In time, he’ll get his due,” Brey said. “He’s kind of an understated guy; he’s a quiet guy.

“When you look at how he’s involved with everything we do offensively and the numbers and all the things he does, he’s really special.”

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant will play his first ACC game Saturday against Florida State.SBT Photo/MIKE HARTMAN