With a Chip, He'll Chase the 'Ship

Jerian Grant's individual goal of earning ACC Player of the Year honors was not realized. His remaining goals are far more important, both to his program and his future.

Honesty, in this case, was refreshing. And itt might be beneficial.

Duke freshman Jalhil Okafor was named ACC Player of the Year Monday. The runner-up, and Okafor's fellow unanimous first-team All-ACC selection was a disappointed Jerian Grant.

Asked if he felt he deserved the honor, Grant didn't hesitate.

"I do. (Okafor's) a great player, he played a great season. But what I did for our team, personally, I think I did."

Grant took the moribund 6-12 Irish of 2014 to a 14-4 ride one conference season later. Okafor and Duke finished one game ahead of the Irish at 15-3 after a 13-5 campaign last winter, though with largely a different cast. Both were deserving, only one could win.

The other doesn't appear likely to forget.

"At the end of the day, our team winning the ACC would be (better)," said Grant. "It was a goal of mine individually. It's something I wanted. I didn't get it, but the best way to show that I deserved it is to go out there and play."

Irish head coach Mike Brey believes Grant will channel that energy for the good of the whole.

"He'll be hungry. He made a great run at it," said Brey of Grant. "It's a quite an honor to be a unanimous first-team. A lot of people felt he was the player of the year. I have a little ammo to poke him with these next few days."

Today will include a team meeting -- in Brey's hotel room -- 363 days following his squad's ignominious exit from the 2014 ACC Tournament where Brey and the Irish convened for a post-mortem on a season to forget.

"I'll bring them back there (his room), I'm serious. At 5:00 (Tuesday) I'm going to bring them back to my room. Talk about where we were a year ago and where we are now."

A year ago they were one of the three worst teams in the conference. This year, one of the three best.

"We are where we are going into the post-season because those two guys (Grant and captain Pat Connaughton) have led us there," said Brey. "When your two senior guys are unselfish, chase it as a group, and want to win, that circles through the young guys."

Though Grant, Connaughton, and Brey each referenced the more important set of games that awaits -- the NCAA Tournament --- they believe focusing on winning in Greensboro is the best way to prepare and chase their ultimate goal.

"We're going to get a tough team in our first game and we want to keep playing with confidence going into the NCAA Tournament," said Grant. "We know we have a team that can make a deep run. It's starts Thursday. We're going to play well, play hard. It would mean a lot to say we're ACC Tournament champs."

In attendance but suspended for last year's ACC Tournament, Grant was forced to sit and watch his teammates wallow in an 81-69 snooze-fest loss to Wake Forest last season. Connaughton (19 points, 5 boards, 3 steals), conversely, was forced to suffer front and center.

"It's a 180 from last year. That's what we've worked so hard to set ourselves up for," said Connaughton. "This feels more like the Big East years. It's the same setup (Double Bye for the Irish, Saturday title game) and we know going in we have to be concentrated completely on what we need to do so we can get past the semi-finals."

Notre Dame lost four consecutive semi-finals in Big East play from 2010-2013; three times to Louisville.

Reminded the team's likely first foe this week, Miami, will be attempting to play its way into the Field of 68, Connaughton offered, "It's like we were playing at the beginning of the season. We were playing with a chip on our shoulder and that's what we should have in Greensboro and moving forward."

They do. So does their best player.

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