Jerian Grant Sees Potential for Expanded Role With Magic

by John Denton

LAS VEGAS – On his first day in Orlando after he was acquired in a trade by the Magic, Jerian Grant fittingly got advice and spent time at the house of a close friend who basically lived with him a decade ago.

And, probably, in a couple of days or so when the news finally gets around to his technologically challenged uncle, Grant will have another tremendous source of information about playing NBA basketball in Orlando.

Grant, who is the nephew of former Magic great Horace Grant, spent time with former Orlando standout Victor Oladipo just hours after finding out he’d been dealt from Chicago to the Magic. Who better to get some home-cooking and Orlando advice from than Oladipo, who played for the Magic for three years from 2013-16? After all, the two DeMatha Catholic (Md.) High School former teammates have known each other for much of their lives.

``We were just talking, and he was telling me what an amazing city this is and how they love their guys and know their guys,’’ said Grant, who was acquired by the Magic late Saturday night in a three-team trade. ``He was telling me about the organization, how much he loved it here and how they gave him the opportunity to become the player that he’s become. I’m just looking forward to growing with this organization like he did.’’

The Magic have the same hopes, acquiring Grant, 25, as he seems to be coming into his prime and ready to potentially make a jump in his career. He is coming off a 2017-18 season with the Bulls in which he averaged career highs in points (8.4), assists (4.6), rebounds (2.3) and steals (0.9). He’s started 60 of his 213 career games and he’ll do battle with the incumbent D.J. Augustin and free-agent signee Isaiah Briscoe for Orlando’s starting point guard job.

``You never know a player until you coach him, but it all starts with him having the size, athleticism and the natural intensity level to play against the better players,’’ said Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who is expected to have lunch or dinner in the coming days with Grant after he arrives back in Las Vegas. ``Now, it’s just a matter of getting to know him and working with him. He’s at an age where he could, hopefully, take another step and that’s what will play out in the next couple of months or a year or so.’’

Grant, an elite competitor who has basketball coursing all throughout his bloodlines, feels a bigger, steadier role in Orlando will allow him to finally reach the full potential expected of him when he was a consensus All-American in 2015 while in college in 2015 and later a first-round draft pick that same year. Seemingly, the only thing that has held him back in years past is his shot as he is a career 41.1 percent shooter from the floor with a 31.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range.

``I’m a 100 percent believer in that (he’s coming into his prime) and I feel like that while (his production) hasn’t been maybe as much as I wanted, but I’ve improved and learned a lot about the game – about how you have to be aggressive, know the game and know your teammates,’’ Grant said. ``Being that point guard, it’s the toughest position in the league and you’ve got to bring it every night. I feel that with this opportunity, I’m ready to take advantage of.’’

That willingness to compete has been taught to him by his father and former NBA player Harvey Grant, his uncle Horace (Harvey’s twin brother) and brothers – Jerami (a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder) and Jerai (a professional basketball player all over the world).

Horace, of course, is the best-known member of the family in Orlando because of his success stints with the Magic from 1994-99 and 2001-02. Horace won NBA titles in Chicago in 1991, ’92 and ’93 while playing alongside of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and he famously left that duo in 1994 to help the fledgling Magic get over the hump. In 1995, Grant played a key role in the Shaquille O’Neal/Penny Hardaway-led Magic ousting Jordan and the Bulls out of the playoffs. With the Magic in the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets – where they were swept, 4-0 – the city of Orlando went bonkers over Horace’s workman-like style and his big smile and hundreds wore goggles as a tribute to the big man. Jerian has heard hundreds of stories from Uncle Horace and Dad Harvey and he longs for that kind of success.

``It taught me the love for the game. I have such a passion for the game and it came from watching my dad and uncle play,’’ he said. ``They were always my role models and I wanted to be like them. (Horace) was just a winner. He wasn’t the star guy or the guy scoring 20 points, but he was just as key as those guys. I want to be thought of as a winner like him and I’ll do whatever it takes to be like him.’’

In the hours after the trade went down, Jerian was still waiting to hear from Uncle Horace, who recently turned 53 years old and doesn’t exactly embrace modern technology for breaking news.

``I’m pretty sure he’ll call in the next couple of days, but he’s not too big on the social media stuff, so I’m not even sure if he’s even heard yet,’’ Jerian said with a big laugh. ``Maybe I’ll shoot him a text and then I know I’ll be hearing from him.’’

He’s heard plenty about the Magic, of course, from Oladipo, who still makes his offseason home in suburban Orlando even though he now plays for the Indiana Pacers. In a move that badly backfired on the Magic, they traded Oladipo to Oklahoma City on draft night in 2016 only to see the electrifying guard become the NBA’s Most Improved Player this past season.

That’s a level of success that Jerian has always thought possible for Oladipo since their days playing together at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., and on many of the same AAU teams. Back in those days, Grant and Oladipo were inseparable – whether they were on the basketball court or off of it.

``It was pretty much living together because Vic was at my house every day after school and every weekend or when we were playing AAU together,’’ Grant said with another hearty laugh. ``During the week, he’d go home, but pretty much every day on the weekend he was right there with me. We pretty much grew up together.’’

So, with Grant new to Orlando and still looking for a place to call home, will Oladipo allow him to crash in his palatial estate this next season?

````Nahhhh, not for the season,’’ Grant joked. ``We did have a couple of good hours (on Sunday) at his house when I was over there kicking it with him.’’

Grant is eager to make a home for himself in Orlando by using his dogged competitiveness and elite, 6-4 size to make himself a fan favorite in the city – similar to how Horace did in the ‘90s and Oladipo did more recently. What the Magic are getting, Grant said, is a point guard who won’t back down from any opponent or challenge.

``It’s the position you want to be in in the league right now. If you are a point guard and you can go at these guys every night and prove yourself against them, you can do it against anyone,’’ he stressed with conviction. ``Every night there’s that opportunity to prove yourself. I’m looking forward to competing – for minutes, for playing time and against the best players in the NBA.’’

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