'Self-made coach' Grant a good fit with Tigers

New Clemson basketball assistant coach Earl Grant is a graduate of Stall High School.

CLEMSON -- Clemson assistant Earl Grant got his coaching start at Spartanburg Methodist where the Charleston native traveled to play college basketball after starring at Stall High.

"(At Spartanburg) I had a couple guys who would have loved to have been on the basketball team that didn't make it; a couple were my buddies," Grant said. "So I said 'Hey, we'll have an intramural team.' "

Born was a coaching career, and perhaps one of the best intramural teams in Upstate history.

Grant finished his college career at Georgia College where he stayed on for two years as a graduate assistant. He then took an assistant job at The Citadel (2002-04) before joining Gregg Marshall for six years at Winthrop and Wichita State.

At Spartanburg, Grant thought he could turn his coaching hobby into a career in the high school ranks. His reach was further than he anticipated. He now occupies a plush office in the

McFadden Building, where one must attempt to catch Grant between calls on his Blackberry as he settles into his new role on Brad Brownell's staff.

Among the new Clemson staff, Grant has the least working experience with Brownell, the new Clemson coach who stumbled upon Grant in high school gyms on the recruiting trail while at UNC Wilmington.

Brownell became intrigued with Grant, knowing his ties to South Carolina and seeing the quality of players Grant recruited -- including Demetrius Nelson, the runner-up to Stephen Curry as the Southern Conference player of the year in 2009, and DeAndre Adams, an integral part of the Winthrop team that upset Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament in 2007.

What Grant does have in common with the rest of the Clemson staff is hunger.

"He's much like me, a grinder," Brownell said. "He's from a small college, a self-made coach who worked really hard to get where he is. I just started doing a little research, talking to different people. I talked to Gregg about him."

Grant says that hunger and his work ethic was instilled from humble beginnings.

"My dad was always self-employed," Grant said. "He would go out in the woods and rake up pine straw, come back home, bale it up and go out to Mount Pleasant and sell a 100 bales and put it around people's flowers and trees. I was actually out there in the field raking that pine straw. That had a lot with me learning hard work, that people don't owe you anything, that you have to work for everything you get."

Lessons in worth ethic continued at The Citadel where the energetic Grant honed his communication and recruiting skills.

"Because of how tough it was, how regimented it was, you had to have a good relationship with those kids," Grant said. "You had to spend time with those kids. They needed support ... I think The Citadel really showed me how important coach-player relationships were."

His greatest basketball influence is Marshall, who he spent six years with as an assistant.

Grant is often approached and asked about how Marshall built Winthrop into a mid-major power and his answer is defense. Specifically, ball-line defense, a philosophy where Winthrop and Wichita State players guarding ball handlers were always supported to avoid dribble-penetration into the lane, thereby forcing passes and perimeter jump shots.

Grant coached guards under Marshall and he'll continue the same practice under Brownell in Clemson, just down the road from his first coaching position.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.om/blogs/tiger_tracks