The package arrived at Earl Grant’s office inside TD Arena a couple of days ago. It was an early Christmas gift a from former player.

Grant, the head basketball coach at College of Charleston, pulled out an autographed Utah Jazz No. 5 jersey from  Jarrell Brantley, who was a second-round selection in the NBA draft in June.

Grant, who is 101-65 entering his sixth season as the Cougars head coach, was touched by Brantley’s thoughtfulness, but it was also another reminder that one of the program’s greatest big men won’t be around for the upcoming season.

Brantley, a two-time all-conference performer in the Colonial Athletic Association, is one of just two players in program history to score more than 1,900 points and grab 950 rebounds. Ken Gustafson, who finished with 2,571 points and 1,484 rebounds, played for Charleston from 1971-75.

“It’s going to be a little strange not to see No. 5 on the floor on our bench or in the locker room,” Grant said. “It probably won’t hit me until we play a game and I look down the bench and he’s not there.”

The Cougars, who held their first official practice for the upcoming season on Thursday, will spend most of the preseason searching for someone to fill the void left by Brantley.

“One person is probably not going to be able to fill the role Jarrell had the last three years,” Grant said. “Jarrell was special. A player like Jarrell doesn’t come around very often.”

The player the Cougars will rely on heavily this season is 6-7 senior Jaylen McManus. McManus has seen his playing time and impact increase in each of his three seasons with the Cougars. McManus averaged 4.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last season, and has started 14 games. He is a 36 percent shooter from 3-point range.

“Jaylen has been in our program for four years and he’s anxious to get more of an opportunity,” Grant said. “He’s won and he knows our system. He’s capable of doing more than he’s shown because we asked him to play a certain role in the past. He played that role well. He’ll get more of an opportunity now that No. 5 isn’t here anymore.”

A spot-up 3-point shooter for most of his career, McManus has worked to become a true inside-outside threat.

“I’ve worked all summer on being more versatile,” McManus said. “I’m trying to handle the ball more and get into the post and become more of a playmaker.”

McManus, who is from Charlotte, showed up in the best condition of his career. He has dropped 10 pounds, thanks to his commitment to conditioning and cutting back on fast food and sweets.

“We got him to stop eating those honey buns he likes so much,” Grant said with a chuckle.

In today’s college basketball world, players transfer from one school to another in search of more playing. McManus has stayed loyal to the Cougars.

College of Charleston vs Northeastern mens basketball02.JPG

After coming off the bench for the past three seasons, College of Charleston's Jaylen McManus will take on a bigger role this season. Andrew Whitaker/Staff

“He could have transferred, he had opportunities to go somewhere else, but he was very faithful to his teammates and this program,” Grant said. “I pull for a guy like Jaylen because of his commitment and loyalty to the program. I expect him to have a great year.”

McManus admitted he entertained the thought of transferring after his freshman season, but is glad he stuck it out as he begins his senior year.

“I just felt like something better was coming for me,” McManus said. “I knew I had to wait my turn playing behind Jarrell and my turn is finally here. I just had to trust the process.”

McManus won’t be the only player to get more shots with the absence of Brantley. Senior forward Sam Miller and guard Brevin Galloway, the only other returning starter besides leading scorer Grant Riller, will be counted on more this season.

“At 6-8, Sam Miller showed us what he can do and with another year in our system, he’s only going to get better,” Grant said. “Brevin and Zep (Jasper) will see their roles expand.”

The Cougars have five incoming freshmen. Of those, forward DeAngelo Epps (6-5), and guards Trevon Reddish (6-3) and Brenden Tucker (6-3) are expected to see playing time this season.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC

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