Like a lot of children growing up in Charleston during the 1990s, Jarrell Brantley dreamed of someday playing basketball for the Cougars.
That was understandable.
Not only was the College a dominant basketball program that regularly sent teams to the NCAA Tournament, but those teams were led by legendary Coach John Kresse. Many kids on playgrounds around the Lowcountry dreamed of one day sinking the game-winning shot before a packed house inside the Johnson Center.
Dreams are nice, but Brantley knew that dreams only take you so far. So he worked on his basketball skills: Shot … after shot … after shot.
Soon, he caught the eye of AAU coaches and was invited to spend several summers traveling across the region competing against other talented players. Sure, it was fun. But all that competition also pushed Brantley to continue working on his game. And he did: Shot … after shot … after shot.
While attending Ridge View High School in Columbia, S.C., Brantley was offered the opportunity to transfer to Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Mass. There, he would be competing against better players in a tougher conference.
So he went back to the gym to practice even more shots.
It didn’t take long for Brantley to inch his way up the depth chart and become the No. 7–ranked basketball prospect in the state of Massachusetts and the No. 27 top overall prospect in New England.
College scouts started looking his way. The basketball offers started to trickle in. Then one evening, he saw Cougars head coach Earl Grant in the stands for a game.
“I had one of the worst games ever,” laughs Brantley. “But Coach Grant told me I played amazing.”
Grant invited him back to Charleston for a visit, and Brantley knew right away he was in the right place.
“This is my home,” he says. “When I came here on my visit, everything clicked.”
But the college game is a lot different than the high school game. After signing with the Cougars, Brantley knew he couldn’t let up. More shots, more practice, more training. And the coaching staff noticed.
“Jarrell always gets to practice early, stays late and tries to get in extra work,” says Grant.
That added effort quickly paid off.
Not only did Brantley lead all freshmen in the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring (11.7 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 per game), but he was also named the 2016 CAA Rookie of the Year and earned spots to the All-CAA Third Team and All-Rookie Team.
A lot has changed since a young Jarrell Brantley picked up a basketball and played his first one-on-one game against his older brother, Jamal. In that span, the TD Arena replaced the Johnson Center. Coach Kresse retired in 2002 and the Cougars’ last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1999.
When Grant took over as head coach in 2014, he changed the climate of basketball at the College. As the team heads into the 2016-17 season, the Cougars have the talent to secure an NCAA Tournament berth in March. But, as Grant has preached to the team during the off-season, it’s going to take hard work and discipline to get there.
Brantley smiles at that and says he isn’t worried. This is the dream he’s been preparing for all these years. Shot … after shot … after shot.