Jerian Grant shows early his age advantage in NBA

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Transitioning from a storybook final season in college basketball to a certain NBA first-round draft pick, former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant took to social media in early April with a thought.

It was the day after Grant attended the first-ever college basketball postseason awards show in Los Angeles where the first-team consensus All-American was up for the Jerry West Award, given to the game’s top playmaker. Grant, who spent five seasons at Notre Dame – really 4 1/2 after sitting out the spring semester of 2014 because of an academic issue – lost out to D’Angelo Russell, who spent all of one season at Ohio State.

On Twitter the next day, Grant wrote, “Started this college journey at 17. Woulda loved to be a one-and-done but everyone’s journey is different….Got better every year and now I’m finally ready for the next step. Ready to grind my way up once again. Won’t take so long this time.”

It didn’t.

Less than three months later, Grant became the first first-round draft pick from Notre Dame since 2002 when the Bowie, Md., native was selected No. 19 by his hometown Washington Wizards. Two quick trades later – from Washington to Atlanta and Atlanta to New York – Grant’s next basketball chapter commenced.

Earlier this month during the NBA’s Samsung Summer League, Grant proved that the additional years he needed in college to grow his game just might pay off. Working as the lead guard on the Knicks’ summer league team, Grant started all five games in Las Vegas. When his run was done, Grant finished with team highs for points (11.8) and assists (4.8) with 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 27.4 minutes per game.

He had a hiccup here with a turnover and there with a questionable shot, but for the most part, he played like an older guard should play. He was seldom fazed and often focused.

He has to be.

Under second-year coach Derek Fisher, the Knicks run an offensive system known as the “Triangle,” which calls for precise read-and-react movements. It’s a far-more cerebral system than the usual run-and-gun and have some fun. It takes a certain type of player to excel in it.

Grant believes the Triangle’s come along at just the right time, and he’s come along at just the right time for the Triangle. He may have done enough in summer to challenge for a starting spot come training camp, which commences Oct. 1.

That likely doesn’t happen without the five years in South Bend.

“Now that I’m older, I can learn this more quickly than some of the younger guys,” Grant told The Tribune last week in Chicago, where he was in town to watch good friend and fellow teammate Eric Atkins play in The Basketball Tournament. “I’m more mature. At 22, it’s not going to take me a long time to get acclimated.

“I’ll be ready to play right away and help this team win some games.”

 Bright-lights guy

Grant enjoyed a memorable night in Vegas against a familiar face – Russell. The second pick of the draft by the Los Angeles Lakers received much of the pregame fanfare, but after four quarters, many departed Thomas & Mack Center buzzing about Grant.

In the head-to-head matchup between the two rookie guards, Grant finished with 10 points, eight assists and four steals in 29 minutes. Russell had eight points, one assist and eight turnovers in a 76-66 loss.

Watching Grant from back in Michiana that night, Irish coach Mike Brey had one thought – best point guard in the draft.

“He feels really comfortable with his role in New York,” Brey told the Tribune in an interview last week on Weekday Sportsbeat. “They need him.”

Grant wouldn’t admit that the night was personal, but in many ways, it was.

“(Russell) had some turnovers and I had a pretty god game with some assists (but) I didn’t want to look at it too much because it’s just summer league,” he said. “Anytime you can play well against somebody like that. It’s good.”

The end of summer league marked the end of a whirlwind 2 1/2 months for Grant. He went from the NBA draft combine in Chicago, to graduating Notre Dame, to working out for over a dozen NBA teams, to being traded twice on draft night. Media obligations that night kept Grant on the go at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., until close to 1 a.m.

Some 12 hours after becoming a Knick, he made the media interview rounds across midtown Manhattan on the same streets he got to know so well during his Big East/Notre Dame days. Back then, nobody knew his name. In late June, everybody seemingly did.

“Being in New York in just crazy,” said Grant, who also threw out the first pitch at Citi Field while sporting a Mets jersey the night after the draft. “Everybody knows who you are when you walk around.

“It’s like, ‘Boom!’ You become an automatic star.”

 The next step

Now that he’s had time to take a deep breath and actually think about what it means to be a Knick, Grant understands the significance of playing his home games in Madison Square Garden.

The last time he was in the Garden for a game was perhaps Grant’s lowest at Notre Dame. On Dec. 21, 2013, Grant was the floor when Notre Dame let an eight-point lead with 58 seconds remaining slip away to No. 3 Ohio State. Afterward, only Grant represented the Irish in the post-game interview session. All the while, he wondered if he would ever again play for Notre Dame. The next night, he would submit an essay on the school’s athletics web site explaining that because of an “academic misstep” he had committed earlier in the fall semester, he would be separated from the university.

Grant will call that same arena home for 41 nights a year. And he cannot wait to make a few new memories.

“I get a chance to redeem myself in the Garden,” he said. “I’m excited about doing that. That’s my home now.”

His office home. Grant plans to move into a place in White Plains, which is nine miles from the Knicks’ practice facility in suburban Greenburgh, N.Y. He plans to sign with UnderArmour, which is the athletic apparel provider for Notre Dame. His first two choices for jersey numbers of 22 (his college number) and 19 (his draft position) are retired for Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed. So he went with No. 13, which holds no personal significance.

“Maybe that will be my lucky number,” he said. “Say, luck of the Irish.”

Little luck was involved in Grant and his former teammate, Pat Connaughton, making it to the NBA. Both believed they could get there, and did. Connaughton did it with Portland after being a second-round pick of Brooklyn. The former college teammates saw plenty of each other in Las Vegas, and sometimes one could offer nothing more than a smile, a nod of the head or a slap of a hand.

The other knew what that meant: Look at us, we’re pros; we’re in the league. We’re on our way.

“From where we were as a freshmen to the year that the team didn’t so well when I was away to where we are now,” Grant said, “it really is a dream come true.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Former Irish guard Jerian Grant showed his age - in a good way - during NBA summer league play this month with the New York Knicks.SBT photo/BECKY MALEWITZ