By Tim Casey
Raising four sons while juggling the travel demands of an NBA career, Harvey Grant bonded with his boys through basketball. They attended games. They hung around locker rooms. They shot and played one-on-one before and after practices.
Three of the kids ended up competing for major colleges: Jerai at Clemson, Jerian at Notre Dame and Jerami at Syracuse. Jaelin Grant, the youngest, is a junior at famed DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland and a future Division I player.
And yet, in a family filled with accomplished athletes that includes former NBA veteran Horace Grant (Harvey's twin), no one compares with 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Jerami Grant.
"To be honest, out of all us including my brother and everybody, he's the most athletic," Harvey Grant said.
Watch any Syracuse game, and it's a fair bet that at least once Grant will have a dunk or block that awes even family members and teammates accustomed to his leaping ability. Against St. John's at Madison Square Garden last month, he showed off his athleticism, particularly in two sequences.
Late in the first half, Grant caught a pass on the left wing beyond the three-point line, dribbled once with his left hand, jumped, switched the ball to his right hand in the air and dunked over forward Orlando Sanchez. With Syracuse ahead by seven points and 36 seconds remaining, Grant slid over from the right wing under the basket and jumped with his two arms extended vertically, looking like a volleyball player at the net and blocking forward JaKarr Sampson's seemingly wide open dunk attempt.
"Into Grant's tomb," Fox Sports 1 announcer Bill Raftery said. "Wow!"
Grant is a television producer's dream, someone to rely upon when putting together highlights. There was a putback against Cal in November when Grant's head nearly hit the rim after a two-handed dunk. There was a block that thwarted a Virginia Tech dunk attempt last week that was third on SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day. There was a one-handed slam off a Syracuse missed shot against Boston College on Monday night that was second on SportsCenter's best plays.
And on and on it has gone for Grant, who has emerged as one of the main reasons Syracuse is 17-0 and ranked second in the nation.
"Oh, man - - every time I see [the highlights] I'm the proudest dad in America," Harvey Grant said. "Some of the stuff he's doing is surprising. He did it in high school, but once you're on that college scene, you're at Syracuse and you're playing against some of the best competition in America, for you to get out there and do it at a high level, it's something."
Grant is more than simply a runner and jumper. Evaluators rave about his rebounding and defense, and he's expanding his range on offense. The past two years, Grant made USA Basketball's under-18 and under-19 national teams, although he missed the world championships last summer after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. He is almost certain to follow his uncle Horace (10th pick in 1987 out of Clemson) and father (12th pick in 1988 out of Oklahoma) as a first-round selection.
As a freshman last season, Grant averaged 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game for a team that advanced to the Final Four. This season, he is averaging 12.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes per game. Grant has improved his field-goal shooting from 46.2 to 49.6 percent and his free throw accuracy from 56.2 to 66.7 percent and has gained 15 pounds in the past year. He was the Orange's first man off the bench before recently replacing fellow sophomore DaJuan Coleman (injured left knee) in the starting lineup. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said on Tuesday that he plans on starting Grant for the rest of the season.
"He's making a natural progression strength-wise, he's worked hard on his shooting and he's getting more playing time," Boeheim said. "Those things all add up. He's off to a great start this year."
Grant arrived at Syracuse already accustomed to playing with and against top competition. He learned the sport from his father, who played in the NBA from 1988 to 1999 and didn't take it easy against his boys when he faced them on the court.
"Oh, no," Harvey Grant said, laughing. "I knew one day when they got older, they were gonna beat me. I got all my wins in."
Jerian Grant, two years older than Jerami, also dominated his younger brother during heated games at the family's home in Maryland. Mike Jones, who coached all four Grant brothers at DeMatha Catholic High School, remembers watching Jerami and Jerian as kids attending summer camps. They were competitive even at a young age.
"Playing one-on-one, it would usually end in a fight," Jones said.
Jerami Grant didn't react too well to Jerian getting the upper hand.
"Oh, my goodness," Harvey Grant said. "Yes, indeed [he got upset]. He hates to lose."
Looking back, both Grants believe those games helped them develop as did the guidance from their older brother, Jerai, who is three years older than Jerian and now plays in a professional league in Latvia.
"[Jerami] was the one who was real scrappy and fouling all of the time," Jerian Grant said last month before being dismissed from Notre Dame for the second semester because of academic issues. "I was trying to play smooth and shoot jumpers. It was fun. We always pushed each other to the limit."
Said Jerami: "Ever since I was in high school, I always looked up to [Jerai and Jerian]. They always showed me the way."
So did Harvey, a constant presence at Jerami's games. He encouraged him to play aggressively instead of settling on the perimeter, but he wasn't overbearing.
"He's real laid back with it," said Keith Stevens, Grant's AAU coach. "He kind of just goes and supports him, gives him some pointers, but he's not a guy that's going to ridicule him or tell him he should do it this way or how he used to do it. He's real good with him."
Outside of his immediate family, Jerami Grant has been surrounded by other star players throughout his career, too. At DeMatha, his teammates included Magic guard Victor Oladipo (the second pick in the 2013 NBA draft) as well as numerous current college players, such as Duke guard Quinn Cook, Georgetown forward Mikael Hopkins, Pittsburgh guard James Robinson, North Carolina State forward BeeJay Anya and VCU guard Jairus Lyles. His AAU squad (Team Takeover) was one of the best in the country and featured Robinson, Anya, Wake Forest forward Arnaud Moto, George Mason guard Patrick Holloway and George Washington guards Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald.
Still, despite being ranked among the top 50 recruits in the nation, Grant was mostly praised for his potential rather than his production in high school. As a senior, he only made fourth team on the Washington Post's All-Met squad. Grant chose Syracuse over Notre Dame and Rutgers. He built a strong relationship with Boeheim, and he already knew Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry, a former Team Takeover assistant.
"He was a very under-recruited kid, we thought," Boeheim said. "I think if you compare him to the players who were picked above him (on the All-Met teams), he's better than all of them."
Boeheim is right, at least as far as the NBA draft boards are concerned. None of the 20 players who made first-, second- or third-team All-Met in 2012 are now considered a better professional prospect than Grant.
"He understands the game and he understands what he does well and he works on his weaknesses," Boeheim said. "I think he's going to be great. I think he'll be twice as good next year."
Boeheim spoke as if he's planning on Grant returning to Syracuse for his junior season. It may be tough, though, for him to turn down the guaranteed money that come as a first-round pick. For now, Grant is a key contributor on an undefeated team looking to win the second national title in school history. With the NFL season coming to a close and March approaching, more casual basketball fans will watch him play. Even the normally stoic Boeheim, in his 38th season as Syracuse's coach, can't help but get excited seeing a Grant dunk or block.
"He makes you hold your breath a little bit sometimes," Boeheim said. "He's a tremendous athlete."
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Tim Casey is a freelance sports writer and a former Sacramento Bee sports reporter. He works for HMP Communications, a health care/medical media company.