Grant, Connaughton ready for NBA call

Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton have the ability to make the players on the court with them better through their athleticism, intelligence, unselfishness and savvy.

The last time Notre Dame had two players selected in the first two rounds of the NBA draft, Jerian Grant was a few months away from birth and Pat Connaughton was to follow three months later.

They’re all grown up now.

Thursday night from the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, Grant and Connaughton are expected to go in the first and second rounds respectively in the annual NBA Draft, marking the first time Notre Dame has had more than one player chosen in the same year since LaPhonso Ellis was the No. 5 overall pick by Denver and Elmer Bennett was a second-round, No. 38 overall selection by Atlanta in 1992.

Grant is one of 19 players invited to the Barclays Center “green room” as a potential lottery pick (top 14) and a sure-fire first-round selection. The last Notre Dame player to be selected in the first round was Ryan Humphrey by Utah in 2002, one year after Troy Murphy was the 14th overall pick by Golden State.

“I think 14-to-20 is very realistic for him,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who will join Grant and his family at the event. “He was with Oklahoma City (Tuesday), and they pick 14. That’s the projection and it sounds like that’s the window he would go in.”

An endless stream of mock drafts finally comes to a close Thursday night with Grant – projected as a point guard – generally listed as the No. 18 pick by Houston, the No. 19 selection by Washington, the No. 21 choice by Dallas or the No. 23 pick by Portland.

“He’s really delivered,” said Brey of Grant’s combine and workout sessions. “How we played was very conducive to evaluating him, using him in ball screens and screen-roll stuff, which the NBA is heavy doses of now.

“I think it’s very clear that he was the best ball-screen decision-maker in the college game this year. There was a comment that came from the Spurs that (Grant) was the best, most polished basketball player in the draft.”

Things are a bit less clear for Connaughton, which is a testament to his meteoric rise in basketball after the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in 2014 and inked him to a $428,000 signing bonus as a promising right-handed pitcher capable of reaching the mid-90s on his fastball.

Connaughton wowed observers at the May combine in Chicago with a 44-inch vertical jump – the second highest in combine history – and a 37 1/2-inch standing vertical jump, which was the best mark this year. He also tied for the fastest times in the lane agility drill and ¾-court sprint. Just as important, Connaughton showed himself to be an accommodating teammate and a capable shooter from distance.

“With Connaughton, I think he’s a second-round pick, somewhere in the 30s based upon some of the feedback, and it’s not out of the question that he sneaks into the end of the first round,” Brey said. “That’s a longshot, but it’s not out of the question.”

Most projections have Connaughton somewhere in the middle of the second round of the 60-player draft. Utah with the 42nd overall pick, Milwaukee at No. 46 and Philadelphia at No. 47 are among some of the mock projections for Connaughton.

Brey encouraged Connaughton to attend the event in Brooklyn.

“I told him, ‘The last time you were drafted (for baseball), they called you on the phone!” Brey laughed. “I told him that when he’s drafted, he’ll have a chance to shake the commissioner’s hand. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

As he did throughout Connaughton’s four years with the Irish, Brey continues to marvel at the 6-foot-5, 206-pound rebounder extraordinaire who is projected as a shooting guard in the NBA.

“Whatever challenge is given this young man, he just eats it alive and loves to prove people wrong,” Brey said. “It was very much the dynamic when he was being recruited. Right before his senior year of high school, he thought he was a major college basketball player, even though nobody thought that at the beginning of the summer. By the end of the summer, a lot of people did.

“He entered the draft with the same frame of mind. Memphis told him at the Portsmouth Tournament that if you’re not drafted, we really want to do something with you. Well, things sure have changed! Certainly we knew the athletic ability. When they put the numbers on it at the combine, he blew people’s minds. Then he shot the ball well.”

Grant will join his father Harvey and uncle Horace as first-round draft picks. Horace was the No. 10 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1987 draft; Harvey went a year later to the Washington Bullets with the No. 12 overall pick.

Jerami Grant, Jerian’s younger brother, was a second-round draft pick (No. 39 overall) by Philadelphia a year ago.

“They see his strength and maturity,” said Brey of Grant. “The question was shot-making, but I think he’s shot it pretty well.

“You hear, ‘He’s old, that’s a negative.’ That may be true for a few teams, but for most teams, his maturity, leadership, and being older is a positive. He cemented himself in that mid-first round and maybe sneaking into the lottery.”

If there’s a tipping point in favor of Grant and Connaughton, it’s the qualities that so often come with a Notre Dame education.

“With both of our guys, the thing that keeps coming back is when they’re interviewed, they’re men, they’re stable, they’re smart,” Brey said.

“They blow people away when they sit down with people for 45 minutes face-to-face because they’re class acts and they’re really intelligent.”


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