The common belief around the college basketball world late last summer was that whoever walked through the doors at the TD Arena to take over the College of Charleston men’s basketball program was going to be walking into a buzz saw on day one.
The Cougars were coming off of a stretch that had seen three head coaches (including interim Mark Byington in 2011-2012) come and go in the previous four seasons, with Bobby Cremins departing the program due to health issues, and his replacement Doug Wojcik having been fired in early August due amid allegations of verbal abuse towards players and staff.
So when Earl Grant was announced as the program’s 23 head coach of all-time, many around the CAA and college basketball at large assumed he was going to be in for a long season. Fast forward to the three-quarter mark of his first season, and Grant doesn’t have many wins to his name – CofC stands at just 6-17 on the year and 1-9 in league play, good for dead last in the league standings.
But Grant has also found a way to keep an incredibly young team (CofC has 10 underclassmen on its roster, with sophomore Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey leading the team in scoring) together, all pulling in the same direction.
“I have a lot to be happy with, said Grant, 37, during Tuesday morning’s CAA coaches teleconference.
According to Grant, the goals for year one weren’t to win a league championship – not that they don’t think they have a shot to make some noise in the winner-take-all CAA Tournament in March – but rather to win each day in practice by working together to get better.
“I want to look like a team that’s moving in the right direction as we build with this young group,” said Grant. “[And to] learn to master our system.
CofC is currently riding a five-game losing streak, but despite the end results, they clearly look like a team that is “moving in the right direction,” having lost all five games by four or fewer points, including two-point losses to CAA contenders Northeastern and UNC Wilmington.
And according to Grant’s peers around the league, the Cougars are making noticeable strides in the right direction.
“All you’ve got to do is look at their (Charleston’s) scores,” said William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver. “They’re playing everybody right down to the wire.”
Grant’s focus over the team’s final eight regular season games is to make strides on the defensive end of the court.
“The most important thing is the spirit, defensive tenacity and rebounding,” said Grant. “The biggest thing for my team, that I really would like to see is, I just want us to play with great defensive tenacity, in the half court defense. Just be really solid, don’t give up easy baskets, challenge shots, rebound the first miss.”
And according to Grant, if the Cougars can do that, big things will come in the future.
“[We’ll] Look like a team that can win a championship.”