BOSTON – A plan doesn’t always come together exactly as the person behind the plan envisions it. Sometimes the outcome is very different, while other times it’s a detail or two that doesn’t quite go as planned. When a plan does come together, though, it is wonderful to see, and College of Charleston is right in the middle of that right now.
It was a plan that came about a little unexpectedly, too. The plan wasn’t supposed to be necessary, at least not at that time.
In the summer of 2014, Earl Grant was an assistant coach at Clemson. College of Charleston, located near where he grew up, was in the midst of some upheaval, as then-head coach Doug Wojcik was under investigation regarding how he treated players and staff at the school. Wojcik had just completed his second season at the school, and the on-court performance, while not stellar, merited a return the following season. From the investigation, though, Wojcik was fired in August, with a dispute between him and the school over his firing being settled after a bit of a stand-off.
The program suddenly needed a leader, and not just a good basketball person given what had transpired. They turned to Grant, a North Charleston native who went to the same high school as former Cougar star and school Hall of Famer Anthony Johnson, a man whose wife went to the college, and someone who knew very well just how good the program was, is and can be. Grant is a gentleman and has learned from tremendous coaches like Gregg Marshall and Brad Brownell, so he checked pretty much every box you might have.
After a difficult first season, Grant brought in a recruiting class he felt very good about, and figured would play right away. They would at least shake up the lineup, and perhaps take some lumps along the way being young players. They did more than that, as it turned out, as the Cougars went 17-14 and had arguably the top two freshmen in the conference in Jarrell Brantley (the CAA Rookie of the Year) and Marquise Pointer. The future looked bright, especially since they did not have top holdover Joe Chealey due to an Achilles injury that forced him to redshirt, as well as Grant Riller, one of the freshmen they were excited about.
Fast forward to this season, and the Cougars are a game back of UNCW with a week to go in the regular season. They went 7-2 on the road in CAA play and 10-4 on the road overall. This group that has played and grown together, while not a group full of juniors and seniors, is bringing the program back to a good level.
“I think the combination of experience, depth and talent, guys have been together for a couple of years now, all of the staff knows what we’re trying to do,” said Grant. “I just think it’s the continuity of the staff, players getting older and more talent is the reason why we’ve been successful.”
There has also been adversity, between what happened before he got the job and the challenging first season. Grant feels this team grew from it, especially the younger players who are basically grizzled veterans now, and the current success has a lot to do with that. Having Chealey and Riller healthy, and playing well, certainly doesn’t hurt.
In CAA play, Chealey has been at another level, and Saturday was one of his finest efforts. He got them going against Northeastern’s zone defense, then didn’t stop, scoring a game-high 29 points, two off a career high, on 11-14 shooting, including 6-8 from long range. He added seven boards as well, coming fresh off a big game at Hofstra where Grant said he “had a different look in his eye.” All of Chealey’s key numbers are up in conference play from non-conference, which includes have a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. Not many would have figured this before the season, but he has to be in the discussion for the conference Player of the Year honors.
The remainder of the schedule shapes up well for the Cougars. They host Delaware and Drexel, who are at the bottom of the conference, then the CAA Tournament is in their backyard in North Charleston, the first of a three-year run for it there after three years in Baltimore. They are playing well and growing up. Grant’s plan is coming to fruition, just about as he envisioned it.
“That was my hope, that it would look the way it does now,” Grant said.