Some Bowie flavor to NCAA Tournament

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Duke’s Quinn Cook grew up playing basketball together in Bowie, Md. and now will try to take their respective teams on deep NCAA Tournament runs.

For as long as they can remember, Bowie’s Quinn Cook and Jerian Grant have been part of each others’ basketball lives.

“That’s my guy,” Cook says of Grant.

“We go way, way back,” said Grant. “As far back as I can remember.”

Reprinted from Capital-Gazette Sports.

Duke vs ND

Their basketball lives remain intertwined, even though Cook starts in the backcourt for fourth-ranked Duke (29-4) and Grant is one of the top players at eighth-ranked Notre Dame (29-5).

Both are chasing the same dream as their amateur careers wind down – trying to lead their teams to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, which started in earnest on Thursday.

Grant’s third-seeded Notre Dame team took care of business – barely – against Northeastern, escaping with a 69-65 win over scrappy Northeastern in its NCAA opener.

Cook and the top-seeded Blue Devils will open tournament play on Friday night in Charlotte against the winner of Wednesday night’s North Florida-Robert Morris first-round game.

Both their teams have a legitimate chance at reaching the national semifinals – the Final Four – and possibly even competing for the national championship.

It’s a long way from where they started, playing youth basketball at the age of about seven (according to Cook) in Prince George’s County with Cook’s late father, Ted, serving as their first coach. They were so little at the time that a good, hard bounce pass probably could have knocked either one of them over.

The Cooks and the Grants (Jerian is the son of former Washington Bullets forward Harvey Grant) lived just a couple of minutes from each other and played on the same teams on and off while they were growing up.

Grant’s older brother, Jerai, had played for the legendary high school basketball program at DeMatha, so when it came time to decide on a high school, the choice was clear. DeMatha coach Mike Jones wanted Cook for his team as well and the school’s interest in him persuaded Cook to play for the Stags as well.

DeMatha has been the premier high school program in the Washington area – if not the country – for years. The team Cook and Grant played on was particularly strong. It featured two current NBA players in Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic) and Jerami Grant – another of Jerian’s basketball-playing brothers – who’s now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

After high school, Cook went off to Durham and Grant to South Bend, but they stayed in touch as their college careers have progressed.

“We talk once a week, just communicating with each other through social media,” Cook said. “If one of us has a good game, the other always checks in.”

There must have been a lot of contact this past season – the senior campaign for both players. Grant enters the NCAA Tournament averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. Cook, who shifted to more of a shooting guard role this season after playing the point previously, is averaging 15.7 points per game, while hitting 89 percent from the foul line and 40 percent from 3-point range.

Grant was named a first team All-American by the U.S Basketball Writers Association and by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale. The Sporting News named him to its second team. Cook was a second-team pick by The Sporting News and third-team pick by Vitale.

Grant’s team beat Cook’s twice in three meetings this season, including in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Grant, by the way, won the MVP Award as the Irish won the event, toppling North Carolina in the finals.

Duke, on the other hand, has been the higher-ranked team almost all season and finished with a better overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Both Grant and Cook are looking to continue their success in the postseason, but both have traveled a difficult road to reach this point.

For Cook, his senior season involved a position switch. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had recruited high school standout Tyus Jones to play the point guard position, which meant that Cook would have to move over to the wing. Rather than sulk about it, Cook dedicated himself to his new responsibilities and remained on campus all last summer, working out. He wasn’t worried about playing without the ball in his hands so much and becoming a spot-up shooter – he’d filled the same role while playing with all those good players at DeMatha.

He was more concerned about having to guard the bigger players (like Grant) he would face on the wing, so he worked on getting stronger and taking better care of his body over the summer.

“When you’re here (in Durham) you have nothing to do but be in the gym,” he said. “I didn’t take a day off.”

He had another motive for getting into top condition – he wanted to show the highly recruited freshman class coming in (Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow) what kind of commitment was required of a Duke player. He wanted to be a leader.

“I didn’t want to be in my senior year regretting the summer and why I didn’t do this or that,” he said. “All the races, all the conditioning we did, I wanted to be first. I wanted to lead by example.”

Nobody appreciates the sacrifice Cook made more than Krzyzewski.

“Really, it started with his acceptance of how we were going to use him with Tyus coming in,” the coach told ESPN. “What a great example … in addition to that he’s been an all-conference player. Quinn’s been a great player this year, not just a great leader.”

Grant’s journey to success required even more work. He had to leave school in mid-season last year because of an undisclosed academic issue. He accepted full responsibility for the situation, writing on the Notre Dame athletic web site at the time that he showed “a lack of good judgment and (made a) poor decision.”

Grant tried to stay as much a part of the team as he could, watching games on television and e-mailing his thoughts and suggestion to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. Grant was sorely missed, however. After an 8-4 start with him in the lineup, the team dropped 13 of its last 20 games without him.

He was re-admitted to school over the summer and both pleased and moved by the reception he got from his teammates.

“It was a huge test not to be able to be with my team,” he said. “And to watch them struggle without me – I really felt like I let them down. But they welcomed me back with open arms. Just being able to be out there (on the court) with those guy again gave me confidence. I’ve definitely come a long way.”

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