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Arizona, Gonzaga, and Louisville are some of the higher-profile programs that can’t claim to have had players selected in both the 2019 and 2020 NBA drafts. College of Charleston, on the other hand, can.
The Charlotte Hornets drafted Grant Riller last month, and the explosive scoring guard follows Jarrell Brantley from Charleston to the pros. Brantley played nine games with the Utah Jazz last season, filling in between his time putting together an outstanding season in the G League.
The tenuous aspect to having NBA talent on a college roster, however, is that those players eventually have to be replaced. College of Charleston coach Earl Grant is having to get accustomed to it.
Grant entered his seventh season leading the Cougars with the added degree of difficulty from replacing a pro-quality guard on top of the universal uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A truncated offseason without a summer tour, no exhibition games, the loss to more than 20 points per game, and — oh yeah — College of Charleston opened 2020-21 against blue-blood powerhouse North Carolina.
It’s a challenge, Grant said, but so much more than that.
“It’s also fun,” he said. “You’ve got to go out and play and figure out some things together, and I’ve really enjoyed how our guys have responded to anything we’ve asked them to do.”
Among the things asked of them has been picking up the production left with Riller’s departure from the NBA. The All-Colonial Athletic Association honoree averaged 21.9 points per game in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
No one player is expected to take up that load, though. Two games into the season — a competitive loss at North Carolina and a rout of Limestone — five different Cougars scored double-figures averages.
“You always want to have that one, really talented guy,” Grant said. “But, one of the things I’ve noticed with us, our assist numbers are up. We rely on each other a little more.”
After having already experienced the process of replacing an NBA player last year with Brantley in Utah, perhaps the Cougars came into this season prepared. Experience, after all, is a trait Grant hyped when discussing this year’s Charleston roster.
“It’s a different feel [from 2019] because we’re not as young,” Grant said.
The addition of transfers Payton Willis (Minnesota) and Lorenzo Edwards (St. Joseph’s) give the Cougars some additional veteran presence to go with the bevy of starters who played alongside Riller last year.
Leading that contingent is Brevin Galloway.
Galloway has improved his numbers each year at Charleston, and last season solidified himself as the Cougars’ No. 2 scoring option. He posted more than 11 points per game and is easily passing that very early into his senior campaign.
“I know I have to be a lot more aggressive this year than I was last year in order for us to be able to be what we’re supposed to be as a team,” he said.
Galloway came out with fire at North Carolina, putting together a solid all-around performance of 15 points, three assists, and two steals.
“I love the big games, the challenging games,” Galloway said. “Those are the games you live for as a college basketball player. . . . Those games make college basketball what it is.”
Should College of Charleston evolve as it’s capable this season, the Cougars will have plenty more big games in pursuit of an NCAA Tournament berth. Charleston was tabbed to finish sixth in the preseason CAA poll, a designation more reflective of the league’s depth than a slight against the Cougars.
Still, it might be the predictably easy trap to fall in when evaluating a team that lost a playmaker of Riller’s ability, yet fails to account for who’s returning.
The Cougars backcourt of Galloway and Zep Jasper is one of the conference’s most dangerous. Either can shoot the three-pointer, coming off a 2019-20 in which both shot better than 37 percent, and both can set the table for teammates.
“Playing with them, learning from them, I’ve taken bits and pieces and put them into my own [game],” Galloway said. “Learning from their experiences has put me in a good position.”
And if Galloway’s in position to succeed, College of Charleston will be well-positioned to succeed.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.