Nov. 4, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Whether it’s the big smile or the seven 3-pointers she drained at Tennessee as a senior, South Carolina women’s basketball fans have good memories of former Gamecock Markeshia Grant. She graduated in 2012, and after playing for one year overseas and getting her feet wet as a volunteer assistant coach, Grant is back with the South Carolina program as the graduate assistant manager and learning everything she can about how to run a basketball program.
“Coach tells us all the time that a disciplined person can do anything,” Grant said. “Being prepared and being a forward thinker is something that I’ve learned. I oversee managerial duties, making sure practice is set up and that all of the players have their gear. I’ll be assisting Cynthia Jordan, our Director of Ops, with every day basketball operations. Ultimately, I want to be a head coach, but seeing the ins and outs of everything with operations and media technology will be a great experience too.”
Affectionately known as “Granny,” in part because of the care she showed for her teammates, Grant played two years in the garnet and black after transferring from community college. Her senior year saw the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Dawn Staley’s tenure at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks advanced to the Sweet 16 after upsetting #13 Purdue on its home floor in the second round. With all of that success, it was South Carolina’s first win in Knoxville, behind Grant’s 27 points, that helped put the Gamecocks on the map and stands out as one of her favorite memories.
“After the Tennessee game, Coach Staley said to me ‘I didn’t know you could shoot that well,’ ” Grant recalled. “She still says that to this day. That was one of the best days of my life.”
That day wasn’t a fluke for Grant or the Gamecocks as South Carolina posted a 25-10 overall record on their way to the Sweet 16. Grant earned Second-Team All-SEC honors and led the team with 11.2 points per game and 64 3-point field goals.
I want them to win a national championship. It would definitely be another validation of why I decided to come here.
With all of those accolades, Grant is most proud of how that team laid the groundwork for higher expectations and continued success as the Gamecocks continued to increase their win total while reaching the NCAA Tournament each year, capped by last season’s historic run to the program’s first NCAA Final Four. While South Carolina did not yet have a roster filled with McDonald’s All-Americans when she played, it was the team chemistry that propelled the often under-sized team to achieve.
“The success of that (2011-2012) team all started with our team building that summer,” Grant said. “We were able to express things that we wouldn’t normally share with each other as a team and a staff. That brought us a lot closer and was instrumental in our success. As the season went along, we never broke. We always stayed together, even when things got hard. We believed in each other. We were all different, but once we got on the court, we just played. We just played like we had something to prove.”
Grant isn’t done proving herself. She played in Germany in her first year after graduation, eventually teaming up with former Gamecock teammate Valerie Nainima. She returned home and volunteered as a high school assistant coach and then spent time working at a couple of programs at different levels. Missing in those jobs were the collective passion and singular commitment to success she knew existed at her alma mater. Grant contacted Staley last December about opportunities in the Gamecock program in order to work her way up as she pursues a career in coaching.
“I wanted to have that leadership that I had experienced from her when I was here as a player,” Grant said. “I’m really grateful. It doesn’t feel like a job because I’m used to the environment. It’s my comfort zone. Being on the staff really shows me how much work everybody puts in. I always tell Coach Staley that I don’t know how she does it. She balances her program, involvement with USA Basketball, the players on the team, practice, being in the office and recruiting. It takes somebody with strong leadership to run a program, especially to take it from the ground up.”
Grant continues to be impressed with the growth of the program and the support it receives. She’s excited, but not surprised, about South Carolina’s recent announcement of more than 10,000 season tickets sold for women’s basketball.
“It speaks for what Coach Staley stands for,” Grant said. “Whatever she touches or is involved with, there is going to be a following. I don’t know if I ever believed that we would have 12 or 15,000 fans at our games, but it’s just who she is, so why wouldn’t we have a following like that?”
As she learns the ropes while earning her Master’s degree in educational technology, Grant isn’t one to brag about her own accomplishments, but her experiences certainly give her valuable “street cred” as she tries to relate with current student-athletes. Grant is proud of her time, and proud of what the program has become, but she wouldn’t trade places with the current Gamecocks.
“People ask if I wish I was on this team, and I say ‘no’ because we have our legacy and they’re building theirs,” Grant said. “I can offer experience and advice to them because I want them to be better than we were. They’ve surpassed that, so now I want them to win a national championship. It would definitely be another validation of why I decided to come here. I was definitely grateful to play for Coach Staley.”
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