When Earl Grant was an assistant coach at Clemson he traveled to Laney High School in Augusta, Ga., to check out a talented point guard named Rod Hall.
While Grant was in Georgia to recruit Hall, who would go on to sign with Clemson and start 109 games for the Tigers from 2011-15, a skinny, tenacious freshman named Zephaniah “Zep” Jasper also caught his eye.
“I don’t think Zep was more than 14 or 15-years-old when I first watched him play, but his work ethic and his defense just jumped out at me,” Grant said. “He was different. He was a blue-collar kind of player that just came to work every day.”
After Grant was named the head coach at College of Charleston in the fall of 2014, he went back to Augusta to check in on Jasper.
“Zep was still the same guy, same work ethic, same tenacious defender, so we knew we wanted to sign him,” Grant said.
The only problem was that Grant didn’t have a scholarship to offer.
And then fate intervened.
Jasper decided during his senior season at Laney High School to attend prep school in hopes of getting bigger, stronger and develop more as a player. That allowed Grant to bring him to Charleston a year later.
Jasper played a season at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Mass., where he averaged 22.3 points a game.
“I thought going to prep school was in my best interest athletically and academically,” Jasper said. “I knew another year would help me prepare for the college game."
When Jasper arrived at College of Charleston in 2017, the Cougars' backcourt was overflowing with talent. Charleston had Joe Chealey, who would finish his career with more than 1,800 career points, Grant Riller and Cameron Johnson already as entrenched starters. Throw in backup point guard Marquise Pointer and Jaylen McManus coming off the bench and there would be very little playing time for Jasper.
So Jasper spent last year as a redshirt, soaking up as much knowledge as he could from Chealey, Riller and Pointer.
“I learned so much from Joe and Grant and Marquise about how to play the game the right way,” Jasper said. “They were great teammates to have and to learn from. I just tried to soak up as much as I could from those guys.”
Jasper learned plenty trying to guard Chealey, Riller and Pointer every day in practice.
“Joe Chealey and Grant Riller were two of the best players in the conference last year,” Jasper said. “I had to work my butt off every day just to compete with them. I learned the right way to practice and prepare because if you didn’t bring your best every day they’d embarrass you.”
Chealey is convinced that Jasper will be among the top on-the-ball defenders in the Colonial Athletic Association before his career is done.
“Zep is a junkyard dog,” Chealey said. “He never backs down. He’s tenacious, he’s not going to stop coming after you and challenging you and he earned my respect. I know he helped me become a better player.”
Jasper had the best seat in the house last season as he watched the Cougars win the CAA tournament and advance to their first NCAA tournament since 1999. As fun as it was for Jasper to see the Cougars return to the Big Dance, there was a part of him that yearned to be on the court.
“It was great to watch them win the CAA tournament here in North Charleston and go to the NCAA tournament,” Jasper said. “Growing up, my dream was always to play in the NCAA tournament and now it was real life. My own team was going to the NCAA tournament so, of course, I wanted to be out there, but I knew I had to be patient and my time would come.”
That time is now.
With a redshirt season behind him and 10 more pounds of muscle, Jasper is ready to step onto the floor at TD Arena and play in his first meaningful game in almost two years.
“It’s been a journey and sometimes you don’t always take the path that you expected to take, but it’s here now and I can’t wait for the season to start,” Jasper said. “I’ve dreamed about this day for a long time, I think I’m going to be like a new man.”
With Pointer nursing an elbow injury, there’s a strong possibility that Jasper could start the Cougars’ first game against Presbyterian on Nov. 6.
“If Marquise can’t go the first couple of games, then Zep will have to step up and play more minutes,” Grant said. “He’s been in the program for a year, so we’re comfortable with him being out there. He’s got a good shot, he makes good decisions with the ball. He’s ready.”
College of Charleston
Last season: 26-8, 14-4 (th in CAA).
Coach: Earl Grant, 77-59, in four seasons at College of Charleston.
Notes: A year ago, the Cougars won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title and advanced to their first NCAA tournament apearance since 1999. Gone from last year’s team are Joe Chealey, who finished his career with more than 1,800 career points, and Cameron Johnson, who was a three-time member of the CAA’s All-Defenisve team ... The Cougars return leading scorer Grant Riller (18.6 ppg., 39 percent 3-point shooting) and Jarrell Brantley (17.3 ppg., 7.1 rpg), who were both All-CAA first team preseason picks.
College of Charleston Men’s Schedule
Nov. 6 Presbyterian 7 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Western Carolina 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 Rhode Island 7 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Oklahoma State 4 p.m.
Nov. 22 *vs. LSU 7 p.m.
Nov. 23 * vs. Florida State or UAB
Nov. 25 *Advocare Invitational
Nov. 28 S.C. State 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 Charlotte 4 p.m.
Dec. 9 Georgia College 2 p.m.
Dec. 15 at VCU 4 p.m.
Dec. 18 at Siena 7 p.m.
Dec. 21 Coastal Carolina 7 p.m.
Dec. 29 at UNC Wilmington 7 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Towson 7 p.m.
Jan. 5 at James Madison 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 Drexel 7 p.m.
Jan. 12 Delaware 4 p.m.
Jan. 17 at Northeastern 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 at Hofstra 4 p.m.
Jan. 24 Elon 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 William & Mary 4 p.m.
Jan. 31 James Madison 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 Towson 4 p.m.
Feb. 7 at Delaware 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Drexel 4 p.m.
Feb. 14 Hofstra 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 Northeastern 4 p.m.
Feb. 21 at William & Mary 7 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Elon 7 p.m.
March 2 UNC Wilmington 4 p.m.
March 9-12 CAA Tournament
*Advocare Invitational Tournament in Orlando, Fla.