When Charlotte Hornets guard Joe Chealey stepped onto the floor at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas for an NBA Summer League game last month, he was searching for one face on the Utah Jazz bench.
When Chealey’s eyes locked with Utah rookie forward Jarrell Brantley, he couldn’t help but smile.
The former College of Charleston teammates were on the same basketball court again, albeit with different teams. Brantley and Chealey were teammates for four seasons and helped lay the foundation for the resurgence of the College of Charleston basketball program, culminating in Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament championships and a spot in the 2018 NCAA Tournament after nearly a two-decade absence.
Now they were 2,000 miles away from Charleston, facing each other in a professional game.
“It was super weird and a blessing all at the same time,” said Brantley, who was selected in the second round of June’s NBA Draft by the Jazz. “I know how much work Joe has put into his craft. Every time he was in the gym, I was probably in the gym with him, usually on the other court. It was special to see us both out there on that court at this stage of our careers. It was something I won’t ever forget.”
It felt like old times for Chealey, who recalled he and Brantley's one-on-one games at TD Arena during their summers in Charleston.
“We are both competitors and we both want to win,” said Chealey, in Charleston this week for his youth basketball camp at TD Arena. “It’s like when we’d play one-on-one against each other, neither of us would back down, we both wanted to win. It’s just a bigger stage now. At the end of the day that’s my brother, I love him and I’m always going to have his back.”
The two chatted briefly during warmups that night, but Brantley, who recently signed a two-way deal with the Jazz, was unable to play against the Hornets because of a leg injury.
“That was probably going to be the only time I would ever cheer against Jarrell,” Chealey said. “I watched him during the other summer league games and I was rooting for him the whole time. We were talking throughout the whole summer league.”
Brantley did plenty of talking from the bench that night.
“I talked trash to him the whole game,” Brantley said with a smile. “I gave him an earful. He should have known that was coming. At the same time I was rooting for him, even though he’s in a different uniform and on a different bench. I want him to succeed. It was fun.”
Cougars head coach Earl Grant is proud to see his former pupils getting a chance to play at the highest level.
“As a kid you throw a dream out there, a goal, like making it to the NBA, and it never happens,” Grant said. “Joe and Jarrell made it happen through their dedication and work ethic. To see those guys make it this far, to achieve their dream, it’s an amazing thing to watch.”
Brantley impressed the Jazz coaching staff with his aggressive and physical style of play during the summer league. He averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 rebounds a game, while showing off the versatile skill set that made him one of the top players in the CAA.
“I think every time I touched the court there was someone out there saying, ‘wow he’s better than I thought he was,’” Brantley said. “They want me to be who I am. I understand that right now I’m probably at the bottom of the totem pole, but at the same time they want me to be who I am."
Chealey spent most of last season in the NBA’s G League with the Greensboro Swarm, where he averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 assists for the Hornets' developmental team.
“I’m going back to camp with the Hornets, we’re working on a contract and hopefully I get more than one game with the big club this year,” said Chealey, who made his NBA debut against Boston last season. “I was definitely more comfortable with everything this summer. The speed of the game, my teammates, knowing the system and what was expected of me."
Chealey and Brantley hope they'll face each other again in the near future.
“Hopefully, when we do play against each other it’s not in a G-League game, hopefully it’s during an NBA game,” Brantley said. “Hopefully the time comes for both of us.”