Jerian Grant became the first Irish player in 14 seasons to earn USBWA first-team All-America honors.

Jerian Grant: Things I Know

March 16, 2015

Note: On Monday, Jerian Grant became the first player since Troy Murphy in 2000-01 to earn first-team All-America honors by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Jerian Grant: Things I Know

This is an exclusive interview with the University of Notre Dame’s senior men’s basketball standout. A 6-5 senior from Bowie, Maryland, Grant currently averages 16.8 points, 6.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and leads the team in steals.

Growing up, I was all basketball. I tried football up until my freshman year in high school. I tried out for the football team and made the team, but I realized it wasn’t for me and it’s been all basketball since then.

Basketball was on the television all the time, I was at the games. It was in my blood. With my dad (Harvey Grant starred at Oklahoma, was the 12th pick in the 1988 NBA Draft and played professionally for 11 years) and my uncle (Horace Grant starred at Clemson, was the 11th pick in the 1987 NBA Draft and won four world championships with the Chicago Bulls), when they had time they would talk to me about the game or when they were in the gym with me. Being around it, basketball was something I just picked up.

I would go to a handful of NBA games when I was little, and I definitely realized I was watching the best of the best.

They (my dad and uncle) stayed away from coaching me to a great extent. My father would give me tips here and there and he was my coach maybe for one season. Other than that he stayed away (from coaching)–he liked just being a father.

It was big-time being able to play against the guys I practiced against every day at DeMatha (High School). The league was good, and the battles we had in practice were really competitive for all of us.

We kind of had a four-out, one-in system in high school. I was the guy taking the ball out and guarding the other team’s forward. I had to handle the ball so I had some guard skills.

I had some choices as far as colleges. I didn’t know a lot about Notre Dame when I came out here to visit. But I liked the school, it seemed like a real family environment. (Irish head) Coach (Mike) Brey and I had some good conversations and that meant a lot coming from a guy from my area. I definitely trusted and believed in him and it turned out pretty good.

When I didn’t play at all my freshman year at Notre Dame it was tough. When the coaches ask you to redshirt and you know you’re not going to play all year, you wonder, `Am I not good enough? What’s the problem here?’ But it was the best decision for me. I would have been sitting behind Ben Hansbrough, the BIG EAST player of the year that season, so at the end of the day it was the best decision.

I learned a lot of from Ben Hansbrough. We talked a lot. He was a guy I looked up to. He worked hard, he played the game hard, he was in the gym every day. If I could take notes from a guy like that, I felt like the sky was the limit for me. I definitely learned a lot of things from him.

I always watched a lot of basketball. I followed Greivis Vasquez at Maryland (played as a senior for Terps in 2009-10 and is now with the NBA Toronto Raptors), he was from my hometown team. He was a bigger guard who kind of did a lot of everything. And then there were guys from my own high school, my older brother (Jerai who played at Clemson), Austin Freeman (former DeMatha teammate and Georgetown player), guys who really put a lot of work into their games. To have guys like that close to home, at your high school, it made you feel like, `I want to be a player like that some day.’

At Notre Dame I put in a lot of time by myself in the gym. That’s when you can get better, when you’re working on your game. You have to be consistent. You can’t score 20 points here and then score five points. You’ve got to find that consistency. That’s something I learned. If you want to be considered one of the best players in the game, you’ve got to bring it every night. Eric Atkins was my backcourt mate for three years (at Notre Dame) and I would get an earful from him about what I needed to do night after night if I wanted to be considered a really good player. You can’t just do it here or there. He was my best friend off the court, so he was someone I listened to when he said things like that.

I talk to my brothers a lot. (One younger brother Jerami played at Syracuse and is now with the NBA Philadelphia 76ers; another younger brother Jaelin is a senior at DeMatha.) We all keep in touch and we all watch each other’s games. To hear them encouraging me, especially after last year, they’re excited for me. When you have family behind you like that it gives you a lot of confidence to go out there, and you want to play well for them.

Before the season, in the meetings we had, at the practices we had, the young guys are coming up to me and to Pat (Connaughton) as the veterans and telling us they want us to lead them. They’re watching to see what you do so they can follow your lead. That helped me out. That made our team a lot closer because guys aren’t scared to tell you they look up to you.

Pat and I have been the only two seniors this year, so we came together and talked about how we weren’t going to be able to do it by ourselves. We needed to do this together. I couldn’t lead without him and he felt the same way about me. So we built our relationship on and off the court, and it’s helped both of us become better leaders. And it’s helped the team become a better team.

I think about it (national recognition) a little bit, when you’re on Twitter or you’re watching ESPN and you hear your name. It’s definitely cool to see, but the only reason it’s like that is because our team is winning. If we keep winning everything else will fall into place. You hear the things, but you don’t think too much about it right now, you focus on winning.

If I’m in the gym now, I do a lot of ball-handling, a lot of reps, get a lot of shots up so I can stay in a routine. This deep into a season you don’t run up and down the court for an hour. You try to keep your rhythm.

My decision in coming back was about making this a special season. I wanted to do anything I had to do to make this special. If I were going to come back and be a leader, I would do whatever it takes.

I hang out with the guys. If we’re not in class or in the gym we all hang out together. We go out and have a little fun. This is a team that does a lot of things together, even outside of basketball.

I don’t always show a lot of emotion or facial expressions on the court. But I like to joke around and kid around and have a lot of fun. On the court I keep my emotions in check, but off the court I joke around a lot.

That’s my personal goal, to play at the next level. This year, with our team playing well and me playing well, that opportunity is right there. We still have a long way to go to the end of the season, but that goal is in sight and I keep pushing toward it.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director