Legendary coach John Kresse built College of Charleston up from the NAIA, where the Cougars won a national championship in 1983, into an immediately credible Division I program.
In it's D1 infancy, Charleston reached the NCAA Tournament four times from 1994 through 1999.
The Cougars endured a 19-year NCAA Tournament dry spell following their last appearance under Kresse, who retired following the 2000-01 campaign. But shortly after the move up to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013, the process of returning to its 1990s glory began with the hire of Earl Grant.
As an assistant to both Brad Brownell at Clemson and Gregg Marshall at Winthrop (and later Wichita State), South Carolina native Grant came with plenty of experience winning in the Palmetto State.
Over the next 10 days, we'll hear from the 10 #CAAHoops men's and women's coaches on various topics.— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) October 21, 2019
Today, @CofCBasketball's Earl Grant talks about the new talent on his roster, as well as those returning. pic.twitter.com/cM9gvTFpVA
It didn’t take Grant long to get Charleston going, reversing the Cougars from a 9-24 finish in his first season, to runner-up in the CAA with an NIT bid in Year 3.
Charleston ended the NCAA Tournament drought in Grant's fourth year—and very nearly seized its first win in the Big Dance since 1997. The 2018-19 season produced 24 more wins, and just the third NBA draft selection in program history with Jarrell Brantley joining Anthony Johnson (197) and Andrew Goudelock (2011).
A Colonial championship and return to the Dance are two milestones well within reach for Charleston in this, the 40-year anniversary of Kresse coming to the school and helping to set the program’s foundation.
Head Coach: Earl Grant (6th season at Charleston, 101-65 overall)
Assistant Coaches: J.D. Powell, Eric Wilson, Mantoris Robinson, Luke Simons, Anthony Johnson and Jermaine Blackmon, Jr.
2018 Record: 24-9 (12-6 CAA)
2019 Preseason Poll: 2nd, 323 points (18 first-place votes)
Cougars senior guard Grant Riller earned Preseason CAA Player of the Year, and it’s easy to understand why. Riller averaged 21.9 points per game in 2018-19 on an impressive 53.8 percent shooting from the floor.
Riller also led Charleston with 4.1 assists per game. He’s a quintessential combo guard and could develop into the program’s second NBA draftee in as many years. In the meantime, he’s the pillar of a team aiming to return to the NCAA Tournament as the leading holdover from the 2017-18 squad.
“It’s kind of hard to believe he’s going into his fifth season,” Grant said on the preseason preview show. “He came in as a little, young kid, and now he’s a grown man. He got better every year.”
Riller can set Charleston’s all-time career scoring mark with 776 points this season.
Backcourt mate Brevin Galloway is the second-leading returning scorer. He averaged 7.9 points per game, and is a reliable ball-handler. He ranked No. 43 nationally in turnover rate, per KenPom.com metrics.
The perimeter rotation also includes returners Zep Jasper (5.4 points, 1.3 assists) and Jaylen Richard (4.1 points). Up front, Jaylen McManus and Sam Miller both enter their senior seasons having contributed significant minutes last year as reserves.
Certainly losing someone who is now part of the rotation of an NBA roster, as Brantley is with the Utah Jazz, leaves a sizable hole. Brantley averaged 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Brantley’s absence is the obvious biggie, both literally and figuratively. Grant employed a primarily small lineup, embracing elements of positionless basketball. Still, the Cougars will need to see some post players emerge to address the gaps, with Charleston also losing 6-foot-10 Nick Harris.
The center Harris started all 31 games in which he appeared, and ranked No. 219 nationally in blocked-shot percentage.
Grant signed four freshmen for the 2019 class: guards DeAngelo Epps, Brenden Tucker and Trevon Reddish, and forward Dontavius King.
Tucker was a high 3-star prospect per 247sports, and the No. 11 overall recruit from Georgia. He had Power Five conference offers, including from Grant’s former Clemson staff. But the Cougars landed the explosive guard instead.
Charleston plays an impressive schedule, including a non-conference slate that doubles as preparation for the CAA gauntlet; and a portfolio-builder for NCAA Tournament at-large consideration.
The stacked Wooden Legacy in southern California, a home game against Big 12 Conference member Oklahoma State, and hosting likely Top 25 opponent VCU headline the out-of-conference docket.
The Cougars will play live on FloHoops no fewer than 20 times in what is the first year of a four-year partnership between the CAA and FloSports.