Gregg Marshall remembers the first time he saw Earl Grant play basketball.
It was a typical, hot and humid July night in the Lowcountry when he spotted Grant during a "Midnight Basketball" league game on a concrete court in downtown Charleston.
Marshall, a College of Charleston assistant coach at the time in the mid-1990s, immediately noticed Grant's tenacious work ethic on the defensive side of the floor and thought he could turn into a solid prospect if his offensive game could develop.
"A lot of guys only cared about scoring and playing on the offensive end of the floor in that league," Marshall said this week after hearing of Grant's hiring as the head basketball coach at the College of Charleston. "Earl was one of the few guys who played defense in those games and he was probably the smartest guy on the court."
When Marshall left Charleston to become the head basketball coach at Winthrop in 1998, he continued to recruit Grant.
In the end, Marshall didn't offer the former Stall High School star a scholarship, but in 2004 when an opening on his coaching staff became available, he didn't hesitate to offer Grant a job.
"To be honest, I probably should have offered Earl a scholarship when I was at Winthrop because he could have helped us," said Marshall, who is now the head coach at Wichita State. "Even though he never played for me, I still kept tabs on him. He was coaching at The Citadel when we had an assistant leave and I jumped at the chance to get him to come to Winthrop. It was a great hire because Earl coached just like he played."
Three of Grant's former bosses - former Citadel coach Pat Dennis, Clemson coach Brad Brownell and Marshall - describe the former Georgia College standout as a blue-collar coach, a tireless worker that has paid his dues as an assistant coach for more than decade.
All three agree that Grant is the right person to lead the College of Charleston's basketball program and begin the healing process for a team and a school that has been tainted by national headlines and controversy this past summer after the firing of Doug Wojcik.
"There's no question that Earl is going to help unite the College of Charleston basketball program and the community," said Marshall, who served as an assistant coach with the Cougars from 1988-96. "If you don't like Earl Grant, there's just something wrong with you. You can't help but like the guy. His energy, his passion, and his love for his players and the game is contagious. The College couldn't have picked a better person to start the healing process."
Dennis agreed, adding that Grant is a well-rounded coach. Grant was an assistant coach with the Bulldogs under Dennis from 2002-04.
"Earl is an extremely hard worker, a great recruiter and he knows the game," said Dennis. "Earl has paid his dues, he's worked his way up the coaching ladder and I think he's ready to be a head coach. Earl's a local guy who knows the area and knows how important basketball is at the College of Charleston. I think this is a great fit for Earl and the College."
With apprenticeships under Marshall and Brownell, Grant has worked with some of the top coaches in college basketball, Dennis said.
"Gregg and Brad are two of the best bench coaches in the business," Dennis said. "I'm sure Earl has picked up a lot from both of those guys. Earl will be able to bounce ideas off of both of them as he gets his feet wet. One of the keys will be getting a good staff in place."
With the start of the college basketball season just months away, Dennis said Grant will have to hit the ground running, but is certain that his former assistant coach is ready for the challenge. Under new NCAA rules, teams can begin preseason practice as early as the first week of October.
"He has got to get to know the players, install his system and start recruiting. It's not going to be easy, but I've got faith in his work ethic," Dennis said.
Grant has earned a national reputation as a top-notch recruiter, but those that overlook his knowledge of the game do it at their own peril, Brownell said.
"Earl can coach, he knows the game," Brownell said. "He's not just a great recruiter. There's no question he has made our players better."
Brownell said Grant's biggest challenge will be connecting with the players before the season begins.
"Even coaches that were hired in the spring have had the summer to build those relationships with their players," Brownell said. "It's a much shorter process for Earl, but I'm confident that the players will respond to Earl. He's such a positive person, he's always a glass half-full kind of guy and the players will pick up on that."