Ole Miss basketball will be playing in St. Louis Wednesday night against South Carolina at 8:25 p.m. CST but that is far from the most important thing in regards to this program’s future. Andy Kennedy is gone and the Rebels are on the search for a new head coach.
Thad Matta was recently in town to talk with officials and see what’s what but there are still concerns about his health and if he would be able to fully commit to recruiting. Other names like Kermit Davis and Steve Forbes are out there and almost assuredly on Ross Bjork’s list, but they’re both still coaching. And would they really be upgrades? Both are great on the white board, much like Kennedy, but aren’t exactly dynamic and/or elite recuriters.
And hell, Davis does his best work with graduate transfers and junior college players. Sound familiar?
But, one name that is rarely mentioned by most is College of Charleston’s Earl Grant. The 41-year old from North Charleston has spent four seasons as the head man for the Cougars and has them on the cusp of winning a conference tournament title. And, yeah, he’s already won a share of the regular season Colonial Athletic Association title.
So why do I think Grant could turn things around in Oxford? Hear me out.
He has been to rock bottom and made it out.
In his first year in the Holy City, Grant’s Cougars finished 9-24 overall, 3-15 in the CAA, and last in the conference standings. A year later, his team went 17-14 (8-10). Last season, they won 25 games, 14 in the CAA, finished 2nd in the conference, and went to the second round of the NIT.
This year, his team is 25-7 and will play Northeastern tonight for the season sweep of conference titles. His first year’s team was No. 279 in KenPom. Since then, they have enjoyed a rise that has seen them go to 122nd, 89th, and 120th this season. His teams play a significantly different style of basketball that Ole Miss fans are accustomed to over the past 12 years, but he no doubt gets results.
Ole Miss finished last in the Southeastern Conference after going 12-19 and just 5-13 in against conference foes. Next year could be more of the same. Grant has seen a program when it is in the shit. And he has helped guide it out.
He was a part of a staff who built-up a top 25 program.
Earl has built a national reputation as a dynamic recruiter during his years as an assistant coach at The Citadel, Winthrop, Wichita State, and Clemson. He is young, enthusiastic, and a tenacious individual when it comes to identifying and closing top talent.
He was a key cog in signing All-ACC forward K.J. McDaniels, who was a second round draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014. During his four years in Clemson, he helped sign 10 of Clemson’s 15 players who payed significant minutes in 2014. a team that was 51st in KenPom and 23-13. He was Clemson’s lead recruiter for players such as Austin Ajukwa, Jaron Blossomgame, Gabe DeVoe, Ibrahim Djambo, Sidy Djitte, Rod Hall, Patrick Rooks, and the aforementioned ACC Defensive Player of the Year, McDaniels.
The most pivotal catalyst in Grant’s career is Wichita State head man Gregg Marshall. The Greenwood, South Carolina native and former CofC assistant hired Grant at Winthrop and he then followed the Shockers’ coach to WSU, where he helped build the foundation with Marshall to what we now know as a perennial tournament contender.
The Shockers made huge improvements each season with Grant on the sidelines, finishing 25-10 and 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference his final season there. Before that, Grant helped Winthrop to three-straight Big South Conference Championships and three-straight tourney appearances.
He is a proven defensive mind.
It has been something that has driven me and virtually everyone else I know crazy for the past decade. Outside of Reginald Buckner’s blocks, the Rebels were never known as a tough, blue-collar team under Kennedy. And that’s no dig at Andy, that’s just not his style. Grant on the other hand, he likes to get in the mud and work.
During his tenure at Clemson, the Tigers were known as a defensive unit that was tough and hard to score against. In 2010-11, the Tigers were ranked 24th nationally in scoring defense. A year later, Clemson yielded just 60.6 points per game to the opposition, 2nd in the ACC.
Two years later, his Tiger defense was an ACC era-best at Clemson – 58.4 points per game. The Tiger perimeter defense was No. 1 nationally defending the three-pointer (.286) that season, something Ole Miss fans should love.
Just like Marshall, Grant’s teams play tough defense and rarely take bad shots. They’re going to share the basketball, move, and have a defensive identity from zone, to match-up, to man-to-man that hasn’t been seen in Oxford for a long, long time.
He apparently hates Twitter.
After combing through Earl’s Twitter timeline, his last original tweet was on December 30th, 2017.
Grant and his Cougars are playing for a CAA tournament title tonight a mere three years removed from only winning NINE GAMES IN ONE SEASON. No. 1 seed CofC will take on the No. 2 Huskies of Northeastern tonight at 6 p.m. CST in North Charleston. The Holy Roller is vying for another trophy and a guaranteed trip to the dance tonight and if you would like to watch and see what could be at the Pavilion, great because you will be joining me.
And Jim will be there, too. So if you tune in, look for a goober eating a hot dog with mustard all in his beard.