SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Jerian Grant has been through a lot in five years at Notre Dame. A freshman year sitting on the bench, a semester kicked out of school for an academic violation.
And now comes a senior year of redemption.
He’s hoping the journey culminates with an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title this week followed by a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
“I definitely have some unsettled business. I want to leave a legacy here. Obviously we’ve had a great season here. We’ve broken some records. But our team number is not up there,” he said, motioning toward the rafters. “If we can get up there, that would be special to me.”
Asked specifically what he believes he needs to accomplish to leave a legacy, Grant said: “Do something we haven’t done yet — I haven’t done here. A Sweet 16. An ACC championship.”
The Irish have never even made it to a conference tournament final, much less won one, and have just one NCAA regional semifinal appearance in 2003 since Mike Brey arrived as coach in 2000.
Few outside the Notre Dame locker room would have thought such goals might be attainable when the season began.
A year ago, the Irish finished in third-to-last place in their inaugural season in the ACC with a 6-12 record. They finished 15-17 overall — their only losing season under Brey –after the 6-foot-5 Grant was suspended after the Irish squandered an eight-point lead in the final 50 seconds in a loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State. Without their leading scorer, Notre Dame suffered badly.
Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant, has said he was suspended because of an academic matter that he hadn’t handled properly and he put it behind him.
The 11th-ranked Fighting Irish (26-5, 14-4), picked to finish seventh in the league in the preseason, finished third largely because of the play of Grant. He finished fifth in the league in scoring (16.8 points per game), first in assists (6.7), fifth in steals (1.8), seventh in field goal percentage (.494) and third in minutes played as the Irish won the most regular-season games since finishing 33-7 in 1908-09.
Grant has scored 521 points and his 207 assists have led to 528 points, meaning he’s had a hand in 42.9 percent of Notre Dame’s 2,446 points.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim recently described Grant as the best Notre Dame player the Orange has faced, saying he was the main reason for Notre Dame’s turnaround.
“He can hurt you in multiple ways on offense, shooting, passing, penetration. He’s a tremendous player,” Boeheim said. “The only thing different with Notre Dame this year is him.”
Grant doesn’t try to hide his disappointment in being beaten out by Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor as the ACC player of the year.
“I think I deserved it,” he said. “Obviously it was a goal of mine individually. But at the end of the day, we had a great season. It’s something I wanted. I didn’t get it. The best way to show that I deserved it or I wanted it is to go out there and play.”
Grant is a rarity in these days of one-and-done players, a fifth-year student who developed into an elite player. Brey said Grant needed every one of those years, saying he wasn’t a consistent practice player until this season and that led to roller-coaster performances.
“He’s come a long way,” Brey said.
Grant concedes it was difficult sitting as a freshman behind Ben Hansbrough, the Big East player of the year.
“It was definitely tough. I wanted to be out there. I felt like I was practicing well. I felt like I could contribute to the team,” he said.
He realizes now, though, sitting out as a freshman was probably the best thing for him.
A year ago the Irish were 6-7 in games decided by five points or less. This season they are 7-3. Brey gives Grant much of the credit for the turnaround.
“I think the difference-maker for him is the stuff he does in crunch time with the ball in his hands,” Brey said. “If you look back it’s a Jerian Grant key bucket or a pass for the key bucket that let us escape and get a win.”
The Irish hope he has a few more key plays to make.
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