Nov. 8, 2014
Jerian Grant admitted to having a case of nerves when the University of Notre Dame men's basketball team played its first exhibition game against Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 1.
"It was my first game back in front of the fans," said Grant, who was sidelined after the 12th game of the 2013-2014 season. "It was a little bit nerves. It was a little bit trying to get everybody involved."
After Friday night's 30-point showing against a scrappy Lewis club that pushed DePaul to the limit in an earlier exhibition game, future Irish opponents may be the ones who are going to have a case of nerves when Grant steps onto the court.
Grant's 30-point performance led Notre Dame to an 82-59 victory in its exhibition game against Lewis, the final tune-up for the Fighting Irish before next Friday's season opener at home against Binghamton (9 p.m. tip-off).
After a four-of-10 shooting effort (and three of five free throws) that produced 12 points in the first exhibition game, Grant made the second exhibition game a showcase of his talents.
Grant started off his scoring barrage when he launched a three-pointer from the top of the key, a shot so perfect and true that the ball dropped through the orange rim and never moved the white net. The 6-foot-5 senior guard launched four more rainbows from behind the arc in the first half.
Swish, swish, swish, swish.
By the time the horn sounded to end the first half, Grant was five of six from three-point range, had staked the Irish to a 45-28 lead with 20 first-half points and left Lewis to sweep up the ashes of a torched perimeter defense.
"I remember talking to him ... 'What does it feel like right now?'" Fighting Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson said of the hot-handed Grant. "Jerian said, 'I feel like I can hit any shot.'
"A player like Jerian makes us scary. We have a lot of weapons. Any time any of our weapons step up and play the way Jerian played today, it makes it a lot easier and it makes it fun to play. It's very exciting."
When Grant wasn't connecting from long range, he was netting mid-range jumpers or driving to the hoop in transition.
"He's one of the best college basketball players in the country," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "He's a heck of a college basketball player and I think he has come back in a great frame of mind. I think he got himself to 30 (points) in a very methodical way."
Always considered a student of the game, Grant said he dedicated himself even more to studying his game and honing his craft as a shooter.
"I've been a student of the game from Day 1, with people in my family playing the game," Grant said. "I love to watch the game and I've learned a lot. Not being able to play and watching your team play, you can see different spots on offense where you can get open--or different spots on defense where you can be better. Watching the game definitely helped me. After watching myself last year and then watching the team without me, I saw different spots on the floor where I could improve.
"The thing I'm doing different on offense is being more aggressive, taking your open looks. I like to drive, because it helps me be able to be more of a playmaker. But having open looks, I can really shoot the ball, so when I do have looks, I have to take them. That's what the coaches have been after me about."
Grant plays a role critical to Irish success in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He averaged All-America numbers--19.0 points and 6.2 assists--in 12 games in 2013-2014 before his season ended.
"Jerian was playing like this last year," Irish post Zach Auguste said. "It just took him one game to get back in the rhythm. When he's playing confident like that, the sky is the limit for him. It's easy for us to play around him and play with him. If he hits like that, it helps us a lot down low. He just has to keep playing with confidence."
Grant dished the credit to his teammates for the torrid shooting night.
"If you knock down a couple of shots, guys are going to try to get you open, guys are going to try to get you the ball, guys are going to look for you," Grant said. "On this team, you knock down a couple of shots and if you're the hot hand, guys are going to find you."
According to Brey, Grant is displaying a more mature, confident shooter's mentality.
"He's gotten more shots up," Brey said. "What I love, what we've been on him about, the ball reverses to him and he has an open shot ... when he was younger, he would over-analyze, drive one more time and maybe kick it. He'd kick it to a guy who could make a shot, but I'm like, 'Why don't you take that?'
"I thought, (against Lewis), for a whole game, when it swung to him and he had a shot, he took it every time. He needs to do that. The numbers say, when he has an open look, take it. He can even make bad shots. Take what the defense gives you. Don't over-analyze. I think it was a big step for him to just come out and hunt his stuff to get us started."
Brey added that Grant has returned to the Irish program as a more mature individual overall.
"He's so much more mature," Brey said of Grant. "He's come back and his preparation every day is more like a pro. He's a senior now. His academic schedule is a little bit different than the other guys. What he can do is get in here and get shots up. He had a routine today after pre-game meal, he and (assistant) Coach (Anthony) Solomon spend some time together.
"His whole routine of how he approaches each day basketball-wise is that of a man. He's always had a really high basketball IQ. He has a great feel for the game. You can talk basketball with him. He has great instincts and he has a great feel for our system. I love his recommendations on sets and timeouts. He may see something and say, 'Coach, let's try this.' He's a man now, and he handles business like a man."
Last season, Grant hit 41 percent of his attempts from three-point range (20 of 49). Brey loves the fact Grant can wound an enemy defense in so many different ways.
"Jerian does a little bit of everything," Brey said. "He could come back next Friday and get 12 points and get 12 assists and four steals. He's a guy who can really get going. We've seen him get going to finish a game, but tonight we saw it for 40 minutes, or 30 minutes when we played. That's something we talked to him about. He's got to score for us and hunt his stuff. The great thing is, we have some other shot-makers around him, so you can't help off those guys too much because he's really good at finding people, too."
As for Grant, he's planning on using the 30-point performance against Lewis as a springboard into the regular season.
"This gives me a lot of confidence," Grant said. "Now I have the confidence to take the shot. If I have a slight look, I know I can knock it down. This is something I can use the rest of the year."
-- By Curt Rallo, special correspondent