College basketball has become a young man’s game at Duke over the past decade as a parade of one-off players played for the Blue Devils and then rose to riches in the NBA.
Jacob Grandison goes against this narrative.
Oh, he’s new to Duke, like all but a few of his Blue Devils teammates this season.
But he’s 24 and playing in his third school – surrounded, running plays and playing defense with 18-year-olds like Derek Lively, Dariq Whitehead and Kyle Filipowski.
He has heard the old man’s jokes and knows why. And even …
“Of course, there are jokes and stuff about age, but honestly, I don’t really know…” Grandison, his voice trailing off during an interview with The News & Observer, before stating : “Put that out there. I don’t want to be asked my age too much, because I’m on my own path, I have my own path.
The journey was quite wandering, from high school in Berkeley, California, to prep school in New Hampshire. Even then, his only college offer, from Holy Cross, came after his prep school season ended.
Now, having earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Illinois after transferring there from Holy Cross, he will begin training later this month with the Blue Devils.
“I had no stars out of high school,” Grandison said. “I went to mid-major, low major. Moved up. I sat down. I mind my business. I was, you know, a grinder.
‘On my journey’
Now, the grind has put Grandison in a big role in one of the top college basketball programs in the nation.
And he is grateful.
“I’m just another basketball player on my way to where I want to be,” Grandison said. “And now I’m at Duke. Thank God.”
He is also grateful to be healthy again.
The 6-6 forward injured his non-shooting left shoulder in March while playing for Illinois. Starting before the injury, he missed two games before returning as a reserve to play a total of 13 minutes in Illini’s two NCAA Tournament games.
Without that injury, Grandison planned to turn professional. Instead, recovery and rehabilitation last spring meant he couldn’t train for NBA teams.
“Jacob went from ‘I just took my last final exam’ in the middle of May, to hearing from many coaches in top programs at the end of the same month,” James Grandison, Jacob’s father, said in a email to The News. & Observer.
Jacob Grandison’s visit to Duke and the candid responses he got in coaching conversations sold him to the Blue Devils.
“I’ve seen it all,” said Jacob Grandison. “With what I’ve seen, you can’t lie to me. You can’t BS me. So it was fair, it was very professional. Like, wow, this is where I need to be.
Recovery from the injury limited him during Duke’s summer practices to non-contact situations. But he’s healed now and ready to go. It’s a testament, James Grandison said, to his son’s diligence, but also to what he called “a smooth transition” from his California doctors to the medical staff at Duke.
“They really did the most outstanding job rehabilitating Jacob’s shoulder to prepare him to compete for the season,” said James Grandison. “For the past three weeks, he’s been hopping around the Duke campus.”
When healthy last season, he provided reliable shooting, hitting 45.5% of his shots from the field, including 41% of his 3-pointers.
He averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists as Illinois shared the Big Ten regular season championship with Wisconsin. Houston eliminated the Illini, 68-53, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I tried to play off my shoulder,” Grandison said. “But it just wasn’t something I was capable of doing.”
Duke coach Jon Scheyer was looking for an experienced perimeter scorer to add to his freshman-dominated roster. What he saw of Grandison, when he was healthy, intrigued him.
“We love the experience and high-level basketball that Jacob brings to our roster,” Scheyer said. “He is battle tested with a high IQ for the game and a very good shooter. What makes him special is his ability to play seamlessly on the pitch with his teammates.
That last trait is the product of everything Grandison has been through.
A talented athlete who grew up in California, Grandison excelled in swimming and was a late basketball player. A 6-foot freshman at Berkeley High, he worked with a private trainer to change his body and his game.
He eventually went to college as a junior but was a reserve and didn’t play his senior season.
He played grassroots football with the Lillard team and, although an excellent student, had no college prospects as a player.
When he reached Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire for his post-college year, the 6-6 Grandison excelled, scoring 20 points while leading his team to a win in the New England Preparatory School Class A Championship game. Athletic Council.
However, no university offer had presented itself to him. Finally, three days after this match, Holy Cross proposed to him and he accepted.
“A bunch of opportunities”
Grandison started 50 games in his two seasons at Holy Cross, averaging 11.5 points per game. But when the coach who signed him, Bill Carmody, retired after the 2018-19 season, he decided to transfer.
For the first time, Grandison was wanted by the kind of big colleges where he dreamed of playing.
“It was one of the first or second years where the transfer portal really became big,” Grandison said. “I didn’t really think about it. Then I did and all of a sudden I had a bunch of opportunities. ”
He landed in Illinois where NCAA rules forced him out of the 2019-20 season. Again, had to prove himself at a higher level.
The following season, 2020-21, Grandison averaged 4.6 points while making 52.6% of his shots, including 41.5% on 3-pointers. He started 16 games as Illinois won the Big Ten championship.
Now it’s on to another challenge at Duke, where the yearly goals start with winning the ACC and making the Final Four to win the NCAA Tournament.
Grandison is ready for this challenge.
“I will do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I had a different role, a different percentage of responsibility. I had different things to do and I can show them all. I felt like I slipped under the radar because I don’t like the show, jumping out of the gym with 100 dribble moves. But if you look at my resume, I’ve earned a lot.
That’s what he was brought to Duke to do.
“Having a guy like that is going to help you,” said Duke junior guard Jeremy Roach, the only player on Duke’s roster besides Grandison to start an NCAA tournament game. “He’s been there.”
Back in California, his mother, pediatric neuropsychologist Carina Grandison, said despite everything her son had been through, he was far from done.
“I know,” she said, “he still has more to offer.”
This story was originally published September 17, 2022 6:40 a.m.