Clemson assistant basketball coach Earl Grant spent the last few days preparing for today's game at South Carolina. Big-picture, the Stall High School graduate wants to be a college head coach, and the career path is impressive. Grant turns 34 on Christmas Day and already has worked under Pat Dennis at The Citadel and Gregg Marshall at Winthrop and Wichita State. Grant, a former Georgia College player, spoke this week with The Post and Courier's Gene Sapakoff:
What is it like for a Lowcountry kid to prepare for coaching in a Clemson-South Carolina basketball game?
"It's like a dream come true. I grew up hearing about the football games and basketball games, Clemson vs. Carolina. I played against Harold Jamison and Dustin Braddick, and they went to Clemson. I played against Damien Kinloch, and he went to Carolina. I've experienced the rivalry from the outside looking in but now this is a very interesting feeling. It should be a lot of fun."
Wichita State is supposed to be very good this year and maybe go deep into the NCAA tournament. It must have been hard to leave Gregg Marshall's staff.
"I have so much respect for Gregg; I really thought I would be with him for 10 or 12 more years until I got a head coaching job. But this is just the right fit for me. I've been watching Clemson for the last four or five years. I really wanted to be in the ACC, and I really have a lot of respect for Coach (Brad) Brownell. I am so happy and this is just a great opportunity."
Some ups and downs so far this year. How would you assess Clemson's progress?
"I think things are going really well. When we took the job, there were rumblings about guys leaving the program. We've had a couple kids leave lately (Donte Hill and Noel Johnson) but we feel good about our recruiting and we're really excited about the guys we have in the program. We think we have a chance to do something special at Clemson."
Gregg Marshall worked at the College of Charleston under the legendary John Kresse and you worked for Marshall for seven years. Is there some John Kresse in your coaching style?
"I know Gregg Marshall has a lot in him. It's hard not to have that system in you. Everything Gregg did was the John Kresse or Lou Carnesecca systems. Every offensive set and all the switching of the defenses, from zone to match-up to man-to-man. And not only did I see all that with Gregg Marshall, I also played high school ball for Kim Deese and he learned from John Kresse."
What sticks with you about your experience at The Citadel (2002-2004)?
"It was a great experience, definitely one of the best I've had in coaching. You really had an opportunity to work with unbelievable young men of great character. Obviously, the wins were tough to get but to see those guys go through all they had to go through, from being a freshman knob to becoming an upperclassman, I learned a lot. It was neat to see those young men develop."
Anthony Johnson was ahead of you at Stall. What do you remember about him in high school?
I remember when Anthony was the quarterback of the Stall football team when I was in eighth grade. They moved me up to the varsity for the playoffs, and that was really something at the time."
Anthony says that whenever he's finally done playing in the NBA, he probably wants to get into coaching. How about two Stall guys as head coaches?
"Oh, that would be so unbelievable. Anthony always was a vocal leader and very competitive. I think he would be a great pro coach or college coach."
Do you think Clemson can recruit well enough to consistently do well in the ACC?
"I do. It's more about us not so much getting the highest-rated kids but the right fit for Clemson, and the right fit for Coach Brownell. We have to do a great job of identifying guys who are tough, with good basketball IQ and then the athleticism. If we can get a good mixture of that, we'll be fine. And if you look back through the years, a lot of the best Clemson basketball players were overlooked kids who had chips on their shoulders. Guys like Terrell McIntyre, Greg Buckner, James Mays. Those guys were passed over by most of the other ACC schools but were great Clemson players."
All-time favorite movie?
"I have to say 'Miracle.' The 1980 Olympics hockey movie. I remember we watched that as a team once at The Citadel and then had a nice win over Wofford."