(MCT) — SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When another winter night passed with his contributions just a faint rumor, Jerami Grant returned to his room and felt like he was about to cry. Day after day, in practice after practice, the Syracuse freshman worked to earn a chance. Sometimes it came. As often, it did not.
Ready to abandon hope, facing three more months of this torment, he sent a text message that was relatively desperate. And when Jerian Grant read his little brother’s pleas, Notre Dame’s junior guard had a ready response. He just told Jerami what he told himself two years earlier.
“I’ve been through it,” Jerian Grant said. “My freshman year, I didn’t play at all. His time was going to come eventually, for sure. Just keep working and outwork the next person and eventually your time will come. Clearly it’s here now and he’s playing pretty well.”
It’ll be a family circus, all right, Monday at the Carrier Dome. For the first time in any meaningful context, Jerian and Jerami Grant will play each other when the Irish and the Orange clash, a matchup underscored by Jerami’s ascension to a starting role thanks somewhat to Jerian pushing him there.
In Syracuse’s first 16 games, Jerami recorded double-digit minutes just nine times. As recently as Jan. 9 against Providence, he logged two minutes of action. But opportunity arrived thanks to James Southerland’s discipline issues, and the 6-foot-8 swingman has averaged 31.8 minutes, nine points and 5.4 rebounds in the last five games.
“There was a point in time where I definitely was ready to give up on the season,” Jerami Grant said. “But talking to (Jerian), it helped me out a lot. It gave me inspiration. He told me he’s been through worse, and people have been through worse. He told me if I keep my head up, then everything would be all right.”
That his older sibling nudged him along was no surprise, though it was a far softer touch than it had been growing up as the middle two of four sons of longtime NBA player Harvey Grant. In games of one-on-one or King of the Court, Jerian and oldest brother Jerai would score on Jerami, and then unleash the torrent of laughing and name-calling.
Looking back, Jerami knows it toughened him. At the time, it infuriated him.
“Eventually, I got fed up with it, and after they scored on me, I would try to fight with them,” Jerami said. “I give them props for doing that, even though they didn’t really know what they were doing at the time.”
Jerian and Jerami, separated by just a year and a half, only grew closer.
Whichever brother played first during AAU tournaments challenged the other to top his performance. Jerian marks his brother’s basketball arrival with one moment during summertime open gym at DeMatha Catholic High School before Jerami’s sophomore year: Jerian, a rising senior, drove baseline and dunked on his little brother.
A couple of trips later, Jerami drove baseline and flushed one in his brother’s craw.
“It was like, all right, he’s really coming at me,” said Jerian, the Irish’s second-leading scorer. “We were always behind each other, but we always wanted to do better than the other person.”
They communicate daily. Each watches every game the other plays, advising or teasing based on what they see. When the date for Notre Dame-Syracuse was set, no one is sure who texted first. But Jerian told Jerami he wouldn’t score if he guarded him. Jerami responded by estimating he’d go for 40 in that scenario.
So a troop of parents and siblings and former coaches will see two brothers take the floor wearing different uniforms Monday, battling in a moment brought about largely by one urging the other along, as usual.
“(Jerami) surpassed all expectations,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It’s a difficult time, they all want to play right away. But Jerami was really good. When he wasn’t playing a lot, he was working hard. His time came earlier than expected and he was ready for it.”
Jerami Grant has no problem explaining why.
“I just did what my brother told me,” he said.