In a culture that demands immediate gratification, where entitled college basketball players move from one program to another in search of personal glory, College of Charleston’s Joe Chealey has an old-school soul.
Over the past five years more than 2,000 college basketball players have transferred from one school to another in search of more playing time or a better opportunity to showcase their individual skills.
Not once during his five years in the Lowcountry has Chealey, the Cougars’ fifth-year senior point guard, ever thought about leaving the College of Charleston.
And there were plenty of reasons and opportunities for the Orlando, Fla., native to pick up and move to another school. Few would have blamed him for transferring after a tumultuous freshman year that included a season-ending injury and a coaching change.
“No, never,” said Chealey, who was named the Colonial Athletic Association preseason player of the year. “This is my family. Charleston is my home. There was no way I was going to transfer. The thought never crossed my mind.”
Chealey came to Charleston in 2013 as part of the foundation for the Cougars’ transition from the Southern Conference to the CAA. Chealey, a multi-talented guard that a program could be built around, was a cornerstone of then-coach Doug Wojcik’s first recruiting class.
The Cougars went 14-18 during the 2013-14 season, their first in the CAA. Chealey missed the last month with a knee injury, and the program had bigger problems. The relationship between Wojcik and his players deteriorated. Wojcik was eventually fired in the summer of 2014 after the school launched an investigation into abusive behavior.
For weeks the program was rudderless as the school searched for Wojcik’s successor. Chealey knew the players had to stick together.
“I didn’t get caught up with all the stuff that was going on outside of the program,” Chealey said. “We had a bunch of guys here, Cam Johnson, Evan Bailey, Nick Harris, Donovan Gilmore, all guys who I kind of helped recruit. So I felt a loyalty to them. I wanted to focus on them.
“They were my brothers. They didn’t know what to expect. They just got to college. I told them I was going to rock with them no matter what happened.”
The school eventually hired Earl Grant, an assistant at Clemson with no head coaching experience. The bond between Grant, a gritty point guard and former Stall High School star, and Chealey was almost immediate.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Chealey said. “This isn’t a shot at anybody, but coach Grant has been the best thing that’s happened to me in my time here. The relationship I have with him means everything to me. I’ve been blessed to have him in my life. He means a lot to everyone on this team. I would run through a wall for him.”
That first season under Grant, the Cougars won just nine games. They finished dead last in the CAA. Players left the program, but Chealey wasn’t about to abandon his school.
“I think you learn a lot about yourself and about your teammates when you go through a season like that,” Chealey said.
Chealey’s junior year, the 2015-16 season, ended before it began. He blew out his Achilles tendon during one of the Cougars’ first organized practices.
“That was a tough time,” Chealey said. “It made me appreciate each moment and not take anything for granted. I thought I was working hard before the injury, but now I work even harder because I know it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat.”
Grant encouraged Chealey to stay involved with the team. Chealey became another coach on the bench.
“I knew that Joe was thinking about getting into coaching and this could serve as kind of an internship for him,” Grant said. “He watched film, he learned about game plans, he was very supportive of his teammates. He was an extension of the coaching staff on the bench.”
Finally healthy again in 2016, Chealey had a breakout season, leading the Cougars in scoring (17.7 points), assists (113) and three-pointers made (65). He was a first-team All-CAA pick and helped lead the Cougars to a 25-win season and a spot in the CAA Tournament title game.
“Joe really took his game to the next level,” Grant said. “He’s a guy that has worked very hard and now is seeing that hard work being rewarded.”
Winning a CAA title and getting the Cougars back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999 is what drives Chealey these days. With five returning starters and eight of the top nine players back, the Cougars are heavy favorites to win their first CAA championship since joining the league five years ago.
“Obviously, the goal is to win a championship, but we can’t get caught up in the hype,” Chealey said. “You get to the end goal by focusing on the day-to-day process. We’re not afraid to talk about winning a championship, but we can’t lose sight of the daily grind and what it takes to get to that end goal.”
If Chealey can match his output from a year ago, he’ll finish his career among the top five players in scoring and top 10 in assists in program history.
“Regardless of what happens this season, it’s the relationships that I’ve made during my time here that I will remember most,” Chealey said. “Win, lose or draw that’s the stuff I’ll look back on and that’s definitely what has made it worth it no matter what happens.”
“It’s too soon to get caught thinking about the past five years, but before I know it, I know it’s going to end. Five years has gone by in a blink of an eye.”
College of Charleston Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 10 Siena 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 at Wichita State 9 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Charlotte 7 p.m.
Nov. 22 vs. Cal. Poly 4 p.m.
Nov. 23/24 vs. Central Michigan/Sam Houston TBA
Nov. 25 vs. Great Alaska Shootout TBA
Nov. 30 Western Carolina 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 High Point 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 North Greenville 2 p.m.
Dec. 16 at Rhode Island 4 p.m.
Dec. 19 S.C. State 7 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Coastal Carolina 7 p.m.
Dec. 30 Towson 4 p.m.
Jan. 2 Delaware 7 p.m.
Jan. 5 at Drexel 7 p.m.
Jan. 7 at Towson TBA
Jan. 11 Northeastern 7 p.m.
Jan. 13 at Elon 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 UNC Wilmington 7 p.m.
Jan. 20 Hofstra 4 p.m.
Jan. 25 at Delaware 7 p.m.
Jan. 27 James Madison 3 p.m.
Feb. 1 at Northeastern 7 p.m.
Feb 3 at Hofstra 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 William & Mary 7 p.m.
Feb. 10 Drexel 4 p.m.
Feb. 15 at James Madison 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 at UNC Wilmington 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 Elon 7 p.m.
Feb. 24 at William & Mary 2 p.m.
March 3-6 CAA Tournament North Charleston