InsideNDSports - Grant finds relief in return to ND
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Grant finds relief in return to ND

Everyone knew.
From the players and coaches to the support staff and everyone within the Notre Dame basketball program, it was no secret when the Irish took on Ohio State in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21 that Jerian Grant was playing his last game for the balance of the 2013-14 season.
Then Notre Dame frittered away an eight-point lead with less than two minutes remaining to add to the crestfallen feeling that had overtaken the basketball program.
“I don’t know if you could have had a tougher night for him and the program,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a tougher locker room to deal with.”
Grant’s academic missteps led to his removal from the team, his departure from the school and, to be realistic, all chances of Notre Dame putting together a successful season in its first campaign in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It was definitely tough watching the team struggle and not being able to be out there with the guys that had one year left,” said Grant, referencing, in particular, departing seniors Eric Atkins and Garrick Sherman.
“I watched every game. As painful as it was, I watched because I love basketball and I love the team.”
Notre Dame won its first two games without Grant, including a momentous 79-77 victory over Duke at Purcell Pavilion in the program’s first-ever ACC game. But it quickly fizzled from there as the Irish fell to 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the conference.
At the time of Grant’s departure, he was playing quality basketball, averaging a team-high 19.0 points and 6.2 assists while shooting .518 from the field, .408 from three-point range and .865 from the free-throw line. Had the Irish not let the lead over Ohio State slip away, Notre Dame would have gone into ACC play with a head of steam after defeating Indiana in Indianapolis a week earlier.
But it wasn’t meant to be, and so began several long months for the program as well as Grant.
“I remember seeing his mom outside (the locker room at the Garden), and she was very emotional to know that he was going to be gone,” Brey said. “He was mentally prepared for it because we knew that was the verdict. But to not go back with his teammates after the game and go back to D.C., that was a real rude awakening for him.
“We’ve come a long way from there and I know when he got back here in June, he was very energized. I missed seeing him. Jerian went and handled his business. He didn’t communicate with anybody; he didn’t tweet. He was always going to come back.”
Grant isn’t as certain that a return to Notre Dame was in the bag, particularly if he had completed the season the way he began it. His younger brother, Jerami, chose to enter the NBA draft, and Grant may have done the same thing.
“It was a possibility, definitely a possibility,” said Grant of leaving for the NBA. “I liked where I was at and as I continued through the ACC, who knows what would have happened, so there was definitely a possibility.”
But under the circumstances, returning to Notre Dame for a fifth year made the most sense for Grant on several fronts, including an opportunity to finish off his undergraduate degree.
“I feel like I have unfinished business here,” Grant said. “I was playing really well and I haven’t finished the goals I’ve set for myself when I came here.”
Asked if he wavered on his decision to return, Grant said: “Of course, but at the end the day, I had to make the best decision for me, and that was to come back.”
Grant, soft-spoken by nature, knows that he returns with a different set of responsibilities. Three-year leader Eric Atkins is gone, now playing basketball in Greece. Along with Pat Connaughton, Grant has moved to the forefront on the team.
“I’m one of the leaders on the team, so you have to speak up a lot more,” Grant said.
Grant worked out on a regular basis during his absence, but he wasn’t a 10-hour-a-day gym rat. He stayed in good physical condition and participated in pick-up basketball games when he could find them. He did, however, watch hours upon hours of college and NBA basketball, fueling his desire to get back on the court.
Grant says he’s more focused in the classroom now, and as for the Notre Dame honor code, he concurs with its guidelines.
“Yeah, it’s Notre Dame, so yeah,” Grant said.
The team’s trip to Italy should prove to be a huge advantage because his return to competition doesn’t have to wait until the start of the 2014-15 season.
“To be able to play basketball two or three months early was great for me,” Grant said. “Just to get back on the court with the guys and getting to know some of the new personnel was great.”
Now, it’s all about preparing for a great season that gets him well-positioned for the NBA draft and getting Notre Dame back in the NCAA tournament.
“When you go off on your own or you’re by yourself, even if you have some guys you hang with, it’s not the guys you’ve been with for three or four years,” Grant said. “Just being able to be around guys that have been like brothers is something that was really important to me.”