Men's Basketball

Next man up: Jerami Grant’s role expands with Southerland ineligible

Ryan MacCammon | Staff Photographer

Syracuse forward Jerami Grant scored a career-high 13 points in the Orange's 72-61 win over Villanova Saturday.

Jerami Grant’s transformation is ongoing, but at an accelerated pace.

He’s stronger than he was in high school, and his aggressiveness shows he’s not afraid of the elite talent Syracuse faces on a game-by-game basis. Now he has a chance to perform more, to unveil his full range of talent in extended minutes.

With James Southerland ineligible indefinitely, Grant is seeing more playing time off of the bench. Against Villanova Saturday, Grant showed he has the ability to contribute in Southerland’s absence, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds in 29 minutes, the most he’s played all season. With No. 6 Syracuse (16-1, 4-0 Big East) playing No. 1 Louisville (16-1, 4-0) Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center, Grant’s role is even more critical against the Orange’s biggest test so far.

Grant’s playing time has been sporadic all year. He’s played as little as one minute (Arkansas Nov. 30), and now as much as 29. Mike Jones coached Grant at DeMatha Catholic High School (Md.), and said regardless of how much Grant plays, he has to play hard for every minute.

“If you know that you may only be out there for three or four minutes, you’re going to play as hard as you can for those three or four minutes,” Jones said. “And now that those minutes are going to increase, but if you’ve been playing hard every time you stepped on the floor, it becomes a natural thing that you can continue to do it.”

Grant’s always played against top-tier competition. He won two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles with DeMatha, and he was one of only 11 players to play in the 2012 Jordan Brand Classic. Grant also made the 24-man USA Basketball Under-18 team.

Jones said when he watches Grant on television, he sees a stronger version of his former stud player. His lack of strength would’ve been the only thing to inhibit Grant’s ability to contribute immediately as a freshman, Jones said, but that’s been resolved.

Grant has put in extra time in the gym to work on his shot, trying to get the ball higher while bringing the ball to his right a little more. It’s not only from the field, but also from the free-throw line, a part of the game where the Orange often struggles.

“I used to shoot flat, so I’ve been working on it a lot every day after practice and before practice,” Grant said. “I felt like it’s helping me on my free throws.”

Both Jones and Keith Stevens, Grant’s AAU coach for Team Takeover, said Grant is starting to understand how good he is. It’s showing in his aggressiveness on the floor, especially in the type of game he had against Villanova.

Stevens said he’s always told Grant he had talent. It was a just a matter of Grant believing it, too.

“But I think hearing from Coach Boeheim and the coaching staff the same things that I’ve spoken to him for so long,” Stevens said, “it’s starting to make him realize, like any other player, it’s making him realize he’s just as talented as anybody else.”

Stevens said Grant should score 12 or 13 points and grab seven rebounds every time he plays because of his “athleticism” and “motor.”

Grant said after Saturday’s game he wanted to raise his intensity and aggressiveness to be a factor at every possible opportunity.

“I think it’s just hustle,” Grant said. “Just going after every loose ball, following the ball wherever it’s at.”

With Southerland on the bench, Grant has a big role in head coach Jim Boeheim’s rotation in the foreseeable future. Boeheim said his preference is to have his more-experienced players on the court more often. With one of them out, Grant’s stepping up.

Jones said Grant’s potential is limitless. He can play multiple positions and give opponents fits at both ends of the floor. Now Grant has the chance to prove it even more.

He took advantage of nearly all of his 29 minutes last weekend. He proved he could hold his own on the court against Big East competition. Syracuse needs him to keep producing at that level.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Stevens said. “He’s in a situation where he’s going to be counted on to help pick up the slack.”

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