Jerian Grant will have Irish company on draft night

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Months after they played their final college game together and weeks after they graduated together, former Notre Dame men’s basketball standouts Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant will share in another special moment.

Both will forever be remembered as the two senior leaders who helped flip a 15-17 record the previous year to a 32-6 showing in 2014-15. That included the school’s first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and deep dive into the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame’s run into the Elite Eight ended against Kentucky in Cleveland in an NBA arena. The next stop for Connaughton and Grant is the NBA.

On Thursday, Connaughton and Grant likely will make a little more history at the NBA draft. Twenty-three years have passed since Notre Dame had two players selected in the same NBA draft. In 1992, it was LaPhonso Ellis (first round) and Elmer Bennett (second round).

On Thursday, it will be Grant (first round) and Connaughton (probable second round). The two roomed together at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. The two will enter the NBA together.

“I can’t get rid of him,” Connaughton joked. “The dream lasts.”

Even in life after Notre Dame, the connection continues.

“Jerian and I became best friends throughout our four years together at Notre Dame,” Connaughton said. “Whether we’re both in the NBA, whether we’re both on the same team, whether we’re on rival teams, he’s going to be a guy I’ll always be friends with throughout the rest of the time I’m lucky to be here.”

There’s been no luck in Connaughton’s rocket rise through some mock drafts that have him possibly going in the late-first or early-second rounds. Connaughton wowed NBA personnel at the combine las month with his versatility, his ability to make the deeper 3-pointer and his 44-inch vertical jump, which tied for second-best in combine history.

More than a few NBA scouts have opined that the 6-foot-4 Connaughton is “deceptively athletic.”

But it takes something other than deception to lead the ACC in defensive rebounds, which he did as a junior in 2013-14. It takes more to play in a school-record 139 games, which included over 100 consecutive starts. It takes more to willingly and consistently guard guys who were five, six, seven inches taller.

Against Kentucky in his final game, Connaughton checked 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, a likely lottery pick Thursday. He snagged a team-high nine rebounds to Cauley-Stein’s one.

Connaughton may be the most physically and mentally tough prospect in Thursday’s draft. No deception there.

“That’s something everyone knows about him,” Grant said.

While Grant will attend Thursday’s draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Connaughton plans to be home in Arlington, Mass., among his massive extended family and a whole lot of friends. Each worked out for over a dozen NBA teams over the last month. Those workouts ended Tuesday.

And each gets a chance to play at the game’s highest level.

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Notre Dame seniors Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant pose for a picture after graduating in mid-May.SBT Photo/MIKE HARTMAN.