College of Charleston basketball coach Earl Grant took over a program in turmoil just two months before the season opener. Grant was hired in September after former coach Doug Wojcik was fired amid allegations that he verbally abused players. Grant, who became the team’s fourth head coach in four years, and the Cougars struggled through a 9-24 season, losing more games than any other men’s basketball team in school history. Grant talked about his first season as a head coach, challenges his team faced and what the future holds for the College of Charleston.
Q: How would you describe your first season?
A: “I think first off, and it’s kind of an obvious statement, that we would have liked to have won more games. Overall, there were some good times and bad times and a lot of growing pains because of the youth we had on the team this year. I thought the guys played hard and tried to compete every night, but we just came up short. I think some of that was because of the youth and the fact that I didn’t get a chance to work with the guys for very long before the season started. Despite our record, I think we’re closer than most people think to figuring it out.”
Q: How much of your system were you able to implement this season and how much more is there to install between now and next season?
A: “It’s one thing to have a system and it’s another to figure out if the system you have will fit the players you’ve got. I think the first two months I implemented a system that I knew and then as I figured out the kind of players we had I started to change what we were doing. I’d say in December I began to tweak some things to match the personnel that we had. When you recruit the guys that fit your system that’s when the system works.”
Q: Will this offseason be more focused on installing your system or individual skill development?
A: “A little bit of both, but right now we’re focused on improving the individual player based on what they need to do to expand their game and grow and take a step. “
Q: When you arrived in September, were the players stronger or weaker mentally than you had expected coming in?
A: “I don’t know because I wasn’t here before. I still don’t know. I won’t know until we continue to grow as a team. I haven’t been here long enough to really get to know them as well as I’d like. I think the guys were pretty sound mentally. I think the thing that hurt us the most was the challenging games we had early with LSU, Miami, West Virginia and Davidson. It was a lot of really competitive games, but for a new coach and a young team it might not have been the best way to start the season.”
Q: Was there a time when you wanted to challenge the players more, but decided not to because of what happened over the summer?
A: “I don’t know that I felt that during the season. I think it’s important to be who you are as a coach. I think you have to challenge your players mentally and physically. I never felt that during the season. As I reflect on the season, maybe I did, but during the year I was focused on the next game and what we needed to do to improve.”
Q: What did you learn about yourself during your first season as a head coach?
A: “I learned that it’s very important to plan ahead. You need to be looking three, four months out. It’s probably more important to simplify things and be really good at a few things rather than doing too much. If you try to do too much you’ll be good at a lot of things, but not great at anything.”
Q: Looking back on the season, were there tactical things you wished you had done differently?
A: “I think there are always things you wished you’d done differently. When you lose a lot of close games like we did you tend to second-guess what you did. There were times when I should have called a timeout and I didn’t, and then there were times when I called a timeout and I shouldn’t have and just let the players work through it.”
Q: How long did it take the seniors — Adjehi Baru, Pat Branin and Anthony Stitt — to buy into what you were doing?
A: “I really enjoyed coaching those guys. They love the program. They were great leaders. It’s just too bad that Anthony got hurt and Adjehi was coming off knee surgery and you could tell he wasn’t able to move like he could have. Those guys were put into a tough situation, but they responded very well. I would love to have all of them back next year.”
Q: You signed guards Grant Riller and Marquis Pointer. What do you expect from them next year?
A: “The biggest thing they’ll bring is depth and fresh legs. Grant can really score with the basketball and Marquis is a very good playmaker. He’s fast and can get into the paint. Hopefully, we’ll be able to extend the defense with those guys. We don’t want our guards playing 34 and 35 minutes a game. We want them around 26 or 27 minutes. I think that’s when they’ll be at their best.”
Q: With David Wishon leaving the program, you still have two more scholarships to give. What are your plans?
A: “Simple. Get two really good players. Guys that know who they are and are tough. Guys that can really help this team. We need to add some toughness.”
Q: So where are you looking for those players?
A: “There are a lot of guys we’re looking at — high school kids, junior college kids and even some kids that are looking to transfer. We’ve been recruiting a little bit of everything. Probably a post player, but what I’m looking for are guys that are going to make us better and fit in with our nucleus. It could be a wing player, too, if he fits what we’re looking for.”
Q: You talked about toughness a lot during the season. How do you become a tougher team?
A: “I think it’s something that you preach every day. You’ve got to learn to be comfortable when you’re uncomfortable. You recruit tougher guys. I think it’s contagious. You do it during workouts and making things more competitive. Some of the toughness has to be already inside the player.”
Q: Were the expectations from the fan base more or less than what you expected?
A: “I know what the expectations are because I was born and raised here in Charleston. I was here when the College of Charleston was going to NCAA Tournaments. I’m very aware of the rich history of this program. If we do it the right way, we’ll get back there. I have no doubt about that. It’s going to take a little time, but I know we can do it.”