A year ago around this time, Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman was scorching nets around the Colonial Athletic Association on his way to Player of the Year and amid growing buzz he would be the conference’s first NBA draft pick since 2015.
Smash-cut to February 2020, and it’s Grant Riller’s turn.
“I was arguing with my son,” said Towson coach Pat Skerry, days after Riller poured 28 points on the Tigers in a 79-70 Charleston win. “He said, ‘I think Justin Wright-Foreman’s better.’ But I’m not so sure.”
The debate in the Skerry household warrants discussion among the college basketball community at large.
While Utah Jazz draftee Wright-Foreman averaged north of 27 points per game in 2018-19, almost five more than Riller’s impressive-in-its-own-right 22.3 per, the Charleston guard is also posting 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game to Wright-Foreman’s 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
The latest #CAAHoops In Focus feature takes a look at @cofcbasketball senior Grant Riller, who is poised to end his collegiate career as one of the top scorers in both CofC and CAA history pic.twitter.com/cZWbX3BjhQ— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) January 30, 2020
Add 1.5 steals per game, and Riller boasts a uniquely well-rounded game. Never mind who is better between Wright-Foreman and Riller; the latter could be poised to follow his former CAA opponent’s path to the NBA.
Riller heads into his final month of college competition in a position to bolster his stock. He plays a style well-suited to the modern NBA game, able to hit the 3-pointer with consistency that demands defenders play up, but with the explosiveness necessary to get to the rim off the dribble.
Driving so effectively gets Riller to the foul line -- a lot. He averages a shade below seven free throws per game, and he makes those opportunities at an 85 percent clip.
In terms of sheer statistical output, the comparison to Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard is a difficult one to avoid. Lillard posted 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals per game in his final season at Weber State.
The two have similar frames and similar styles. Although a player the caliber of Lillard is a remarkably high-bar comparison -- Lillard is arguably one of the 10 best in the NBA currently -- disregard the parallels at your own peril.
Damian Lillard has been absurd his last 6 games:— ESPN (@espn) February 2, 2020
♦️61 Pts, 10 Reb, 7 Ast
♦️47 Pts, 6 Reb, 8 Ast
♦️50 Pts, 6 Reb, 13 Ast
♦️36 Pts 10 Reb, 11 Ast
♦️48 Pts, 9 Reb, 10 Ast
♦️51 Pts, 2 Reb, 12 Ast pic.twitter.com/qMlZJVqKey
Another quality of Riller’s that stands out in 2019-20 is that, while he’s been an elite CAA player throughout his tenure, including a junior campaign in which he scored more than 21 points per game, he’s continuously developed as a playmaker.
This season in particular, Riller’s uptick in rebounding and assists coincides with the guard taking on more responsibility to fill the void left by Charleston’s own NBA draftee, Jarrell Brantley.
“He’s developed something new to his game every year,” said Cougars coach Earl Grant. “Underappreciated guy, tough guy, one of the better guys I’ve coached in 20 years, at any level. Happy that he’s had some success...and I hope he continues to have success and finish his career strong.”
Part of finishing out strong includes the pursuit of a CAA title -- regular season and tournament. Riller was an integral part of the 2018 Charleston team that won the Colonial’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Were it not for a disputable non-call on a 3-point attempt at game’s end against Auburn, the Cougars may have advanced.
In the first week of February, Charleston is part of the bottleneck atop the CAA. A regular-season championship is no guarantee of winning the conference tournament -- Wright-Foreman’s Hofstra team last season is an example of how difficult that sweep can be to pull off -- but it’s a good building block.
As for the guard’s basketball future beyond Charleston, that’s a chapter to be written in the coming weeks and months. Pursuing championships and NBA dreams is an uncertain road, but one certainty along the way?
CAA coaches will be happy they no longer have to game-plan for him.
“I’ll be glad to see Grant Riller graduate, there’s no question about that,” Skerry said.