All-Star Guard Has Another Trip To NCAA Tournament In Mind, And Becoming Complete Player
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
In sports you can stop the clock, but only for a short while. In life time moves on. Eventually every athlete playing college sports will move on. Where they move on to is up to the player and his or her ability, education, and personal dedication to their sport. College of Charleston's stand out guard Grant Riller heads into his senior year with the team, not only as their on the floor leader, but as the team's leading scorer, and coincidentally, the Colonial Athletic Association's pre-season 'Player of the Year'.
The Cougars coming off a healthy 24-9 record lost one of their key players, big man Jarrell Brantley who now plays with the Utah Jazz organization. Brantley was a dominant figure underneath the basket, and provided additional points for the Cougars. With him gone does Riller who averaged 22 points per game last season, feel the need to further step up his game.
"There's always pressure. But it comes with the territory, and it comes with the role. I've had guys before me who showed me the ropes and helped mentor me. So I'm excited to help the guys coming up, help make them leaders, and to show them how we play basketball here at the College of Charleston. I think I'm very capable in a leadership role, so I'm ready to take on the challenge in my final year here. I want to leave the program in good hands."
After getting to the Big Dance two seasons ago, Riller would like a repeat performance. "When it comes to basketball that's the only thing I've got on my mind. Forget about all my individual success. The NCAA Tournament is all anybody has got on their minds. I know the players and the coaching staff have that mindset. I'm going to do everything in my power to get us back there, because it's a surreal experience, and it's something I want to feel again before my college career comes to an end."
Reflecting on his senior year and his journey over the past five years, Riller sat out his first year due to a pre-season ACL injury. "I'm excited about my last year. I came back to try to win another championship. It feels like yesterday I stepped on campus. My time here has been great. I'm not a guy who is very comfortable with change. Coming here for the first time I was kind of nervous, and a little home sick. But after I got comfortable, Charleston has become a home away from home for me."
Uncertain on what the future held for him back in 2015, Riller is appreciative to all that have made his time at CofC eventful. "Everybody embraced me here, from a basketball standpoint, the classroom, and to the city. It's very different from where I come from. I've never lived downtown or experienced anything like this. But I've had a lot of fun here, and not just on the court."
He humbly adds, "I'm just happy I picked a place like Charleston to play college basketball. I think being here has prepared me for the future. I'm just so grateful of all the people I've met so far. As for Charleston the city, I'm definitely going to miss it when I leave the school."
His athleticism and unselfishness earned him CAA Player of Year prior to start of the 2019-20 season. "Everybody likes a little bit of pre-season recognition. Obviously it's an honor with so many great players in the league. To be recognized by the CAA shows that I'm on the right path. But at the same time I've got a bigger goal in mind."
His scoring prowess is noted, but Riller wants to leave a more indelible mark at CofC. "That's something I definitely want to focus on. I came into college as a combo guard. My role for the past three years has been in that shooting guard position. But the coaches know that I've always been a complete basketball player. I like to score but in the same regard I don't want to have that stigma of only being a scorer. I want to be a play maker as well."
While he's not looking past this season, many national sports analysts have hinted his name in the 2020 NBA Draft. "It's always been my dream. I never knew how true it would be coming out of high school. Even my first couple of years in college I wasn't certain. But now that I've played with, and against a ton of great players who have made it to that level, I know the hard work it takes, and hopefully I'll follow in their footsteps."
Riller draws inspiration from former Cougars with NBA experience, such as all time CofC scorer Andrew Goudelock (former LA Laker), and journeyman guard Anthony Johnson who spent 13 years in the pros. "Andrew and AJ come back all the time, and they talk to us. Those are the kind of guys who have paved the way for me the rest of the team. They give us hope."
While Riller continues to eclipse scoring records at the college, he doesn't concentrate on leaving a personal mark. "I don't focus on individual records. It's not something I came to college with that in mind. To be close is great for me. I comfortable with what I've accomplished here so far. But for me it's how the team plays and how we've grown as a team and continue to make strides. That's what matters most to me."
Riller has nothing but respect for Head Coach Earl Grant, the man who convinced the Orlando native to play at the College of Charleston. "He's had a big impact on my life. As a man and as a basketball player. He came to my house when I was 18 years old. We talked about my future, and at the time I couldn't really see the vision, but after living through it, it's everything he said it would be. He's made me a man off the court. He's taught me things no one else has."
Coach Grant helped shape Riller in more ways than he could have imagined. "Being away from home and your parent, having a role model like coach is big. He's just a player's coach. He makes you feel comfortable out there. He gives you a lot of freedom, and he's taken my game to another level. I will always be in his debt for shaping me into the player I am, but more importantly the man I've become."
In every area of his game Riller has someone who helped improve his abilities. "I've loved every coach I've ever had here. If I had to pick some that standout I'd say Coach Q. (Quinton Ferrell) who just got the head coaching job at Presbyterian. He was my position coach my first four years here. He just developed me in ways I never imagined. He taught me all kinds of reads on ball screens. How to pick my spots. He helped teach me how to be a complete player. I'm very appreciative of him."
Playing high school ball in Florida, Riller was being looked at by other programs. "A couple of low mid major schools. I had a lot of the Florida schools, none of the Power Fives. Schools like Florida International, and UCF wanted me to go to prep school." He had offers outside the Sunshine State. "I had a few mid majors looking at me. My final three choices were Florida International, Cleveland State, and the College of Charleston."
That vibe you get when you realize it's right is what made Riller opt for Charleston. "I don't know. It's just a feel. My first two visits here were good. But by my last visit I knew this is where I wanted my home to be for the next four years, which actually turned out to be five years (due to his ACL injury)."
With the NBA still on his wish list, playing basketball is his ultimate goal after graduation. "I still want to play the game of basketball. I've been playing it for so long, just about all of my 22 years. It's hard to imagine life without basketball. Even if I don't get a shot at the NBA, everybody's path is different. So if that means going overseas than I'm still a professional basketball player. That's always been my dream. If I'm able to do that I'll be very happy."
Could magic happen a third year in a row. Could Riller follow in the footsteps of his former team mates Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley. He and Jarrell talk frequently. "We talk all the time. Jarrell and I don't talk too much about basketball because we're closer, we talk about other things."
But basketball does invade the conversation. "I'm happy for him. I knew he had the talent to play in the NBA, and I know he'll hold his own because he's fierce about the game. The other night when he went up against Lebron, he said it was surreal. I knew it was coming three years in advance. When you're on that stage I imagine it would be."
He keeps up tabs with Chealey who was recently let go by Charlotte. Riller says he giving him distance out to respect. "I want to give Joe some space. And let him go through it on his own with his family. But he has other offers on the table. I believe he's an NBA player, and other people do. Regardless of where he plays someone will get a special player."
What will Riller take when he finally ends his time at CofC. "The school and the city has impacted my life in such a way, I can't imagine not coming back here. Whether that is to interact with some of the team, or come back on vacation, or just see the city. I envision coming back here a lot in the future. Even if I don't live here I see myself coming back to Charleston, because it's been a big part of my life now."
Outside of sports other have had an equal impact on Riller at the school. "It's kind of hard to pinpoint, because some many people have done so many things for me here. If I had to narrow it down, maybe still in the athletics department it would be Kate Tiller who is our academic adviser. She's helped me so much. I wasn't the best student coming out of high school, but she turned me into a hard working student. I'm so appreciative of her. Without her I'm not sure I would have made it five years at the college." Riller will earn his degree in May of 2020. "I'm getting my degree in sociology.
Legendary CofC Coach John Kresse has equally made an impression on Riller. "I know how much of a legend he is here. He's given me great support. I look up to him. I've gotten to take his class while I've been here. He teaches a coaching class. He always encourages me, and having someone like Coach Kresse in my corner is immeasurable."
Aside from the classroom and the court, Riller has soaked up all Charleston has to offer. "There are so many things to do here, because we're right in the middle of the city. We have access to so much. My down time if I want to shop, I can walk down King Street look at some stores. Lots of great food places here. I go to pretty much every restaurant on King Street. When I want to get away I'll go the Battery."
Fast forwarding to late February in 2020 when perhaps Riller plays his final game at TD Arena, what will be going through his mind. "It will be very emotional for me. I've got to see Jarrell and Marquise (Pointer) do it. When it's my final game here I'm not sure I can find the words just yet. I know I'll miss every player I've played with and the coaches. I'll miss the fans and just the excitement of playing for the College of Charleston. I'm scared for that moment but excited as well."
Still in his senior year what two moments, home and away stand out for Riller. "Away I have to go last year playing in the Disney tournament, back at home in Orlando. I hadn't been able until then, to play in front of some of my hometown family and friends, until we played in Orlando last year. So that was special for me. To play three games there was even more special, just because it gave everyone more opportunity to see me. It was good to spread the wealth of tickets to several people."
Playing in front of the hometown fans. "I would say the Championship game in North Charleston. That's my favorite team moment, coming back from way down. Everyone cheering in the crowd and urging us on. That was another surreal moment for me." The top seeded Cougars came from behind to best number two seed Northeastern 83-76 in overtime in what was an epic battle between the best of best in the CAA during the 2017-18 season. Riller would earn overall MVP for the tournament. "That game will stay with me forever."
A moment closer to home on John Kresse Court. "A game here in TD Arena, it would probably be my sophomore year playing William & Mary. Hade a good game, I think like 37 points, but it was on my birthday (Feb 8th)." The Cougars won that contest over the Tribe 82-77. "That kind of put the icing on the cake for me."
What words would he impart to his teammates this season. "I just want to enjoy every moment with these guys, and let them know how much I appreciate and love them." Regarding any legacy, Riller wants that to be, "I'm a team first guy. I don't care so much about the individual success. I do everything for the College of Charleston, and the basketball program. I want to be remembered as a hard worker, and someone who didn't take this experience for granted. Most of all I want fans to remember me as a complete basketball player."
Being a team player is essential, but Grant Riller wants to be Mr. Clutch when the occasion presents itself. "I'm still going to be that guy. That's obviously who I am. I'll showcase the talents that I've always known I've have, when they are best needed for the team."