College of Charleston guards Grant Riller and Joe Chealey and forward Jarrell Brantley and coach Earl Grant spoke at a press conference before practicing in Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday.
No. 13 seed College of Charleston (26-7) looked ahead to facing No. 4 seed Auburn (25-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday (6:27 p.m. CT, truTV).
Below is a full transcript of what Grant and College of Charleston’s players said Thursday.
EARL GRANT: Just really excited about this opportunity for our program. I know the players are excited. We’ve got a very tough challenge with Auburn on Friday, but we really look forward to it.
Q. Coach, arriving to this point has to feel really rewarding after what you guys have been trying to do building there. How is the excitement right now trying to get settled in for this tournament and how do you get your team to manage the nerves when the lights go on and they realize they are part of something they have watched on TV their whole lives?
EARL GRANT: It’s really exciting. Every year we start the season off and get into the early meetings and the first of the semester we watch One Shining Moment, we talk about the NCAA Tournament, we set our goals, and sometimes you come up a little bit short like last year we lost in the Championship game. We thought we could make it to the NCAA Tournament but we came up short.
So it’s exciting for our city, for our fans, our administration, all the former players, all the coaches who built this program before me. Now we just wanting to out and put our best foot forward against a really good team and stay true to who we are once we get into the game.
Q. Coach, there’s a couple of head coaches here that you’ve been on their staffs in the past what have they meant to your development as a coach?
EARL GRANT: I spent ten consecutive years with Brad Brownell and Gregg Marshall before coming to the College of Charleston, so they taught me a lot. The thing they taught me more than anything was being true to myself and don’t be apologetic for who you are as a person and what you believe in. They were both great fathers and husbands and great examples with their kids and their wives. They were good ball coaches, so I learned a lot from a basketball standpoint. But more importantly about ethnics and how to be a good man and a good role model to the players that you’re dealing with and I really appreciate the ten years that I had to spend with those two guys because they molded me as a young coach.
Q. Has it dawned on you, you’re in San Diego, you’re at the Big Dance, you’re taking your team on national TV tomorrow to play Auburn. Has it dawned on you yet? Or is this what it was supposed to be and it’s business as usual?
EARL GRANT: It’s weird. Hasn’t dawned on me. All week we’ve been practicing, trying to refocus after the Conference Championship game. We had to fight hard to win that game! After two days, you know, taking two days off, we talked about getting grounded, getting our feet back on the ground and trying to prepare for what was next. I haven’t really reflected. We’ve been working and preparing and getting ready for this moment and we know we’ve got a huge challenge in front of us and I think it’s a great opportunity for our conference, our program, our campus, our city. So we want to go out and play basketball the way we’re capable of tomorrow.
Q. Coach, Brantley, one of the players from the Midlands, how has he impacted this team? I feel like when you watch his growth he’s elevated his play. How does he impact this team in a positive way and how significant will his play be in determining the outcome of this game?
EARL GRANT: He’s impacted the program and the team. We’re trying to build a program not just one team, and when I got here we had nobody on the roster from South Carolina, and he was the first kid to come play for us from the state and I know how important our state is, what our fans’ support and the people in the surrounding area. They want to pull for the kids in the state. He’s just brought a great, determined spirit and great energy and passion to us. After my first year we were searching for passion and energy and toughness and he does all of that for us.
Q. Especially until a time like this, how much does the alums of this program, seems like a great alum program, Marion Busby and Danny Johnson is there. Those guys are there every single night. The pressure is on because those guys want the best for this program, but do you lean on them at all, talk about what it was like for them 20 years ago? Is there any back and forth from those guys that are at the arena all the time?
EARL GRANT: Not really. Those guys have been very supportive. I talked to Coach Kresse about that. He was the coach who coached those guys, so I talk to him about that experience. But the former players they just show their support and they come around and practice sometimes. They send texts. They call. We got a good working relationship with those guys, but I do talk to Coach Kresse about what it was like and how to prepare for these moments probably more than I do the players.
Q. Coach Brownell was in here talking about the two staffs and is this the final day you are willing to talk to each other because after tomorrow you could end up playing each other?
EARL GRANT: It’s weird. We talked a lot the last two weeks, but we haven’t talked much the last three or four days. I think that’s just, that just happened. We haven’t really said much to each other, but, you know, at the end of the day this is bigger than a game. The relationship will never change. You work for somebody 365 days a year and you do it for four years and trying to build a program and you win and lose together. You cry and you have good times together. That relationship is always going to be there, but we haven’t talked a lot in the last three or four days. I think all of us are trying to prepare our teams to play the best basketball that we possibly can play.
Q. I guess you’ve seen the way Wichita could be looked at as a mid-major or Winthrop was or VCU when they made the run. What could a win or two in this tournament do for the College of Charleston? How important would it be for you guys?
EARL GRANT: We made the first step. In order to move the program forward you’ve got to win in the tournament. We made it to the dance and the next step is to try to win in the tournament. There is no guarantee because you are only promise the one game, but I feel that’s the next step. You try to move it forward every year, got to the NIT, now to the NCAA, you start asking what’s next, you’ve got to try to move forward and advance the program you’re going to have to win games in March.
Q. Tomorrow’s opponent, formidable, they won their Conference Championship, Auburn, what do you think it’s going to take in this ball game for you guys to walk away with that victory on this floor?
EARL GRANT: It’s going to take a good performance, some toughness. We don’t have to be perfect but we’ve got to really play well, take care of the ball. We’ve got to share it on offense and defensively we’re going to have to really be sharp. Our rebounding is going to have to be at a high level. This is a good team, they won the SEC regular season Championship and Bruce Pearl is a good coach. So we’re going to have to play well. We’ve for the a great challenge in front of us come tomorrow at 4:27.
Q. Coach, since you’ve been at the school, the team has gotten better every single year, obviously a testament to what you and your staff are doing, but what does it say about the group of guys they’ve bought into what you are doing and have gotten better every year?
EARL GRANT: It says a lot about them because they keep hearing the same message every year. To be honest with you it’s representative and it’s boring, probably. Just about how to conduct yourself as a man. You know, in the classroom, in the community, giving an honest day’s work, you know, making sure you are willing to work, having enthusiasm about what we are doing, being honest, you know, having some humility about yourself. Having all this success and being able to deal with it. So it’s a lot that goes into it and trying to establish a certain way we want to live our core values and our culture. The guys have bought in.
I think we’ve done a great job of selecting the right type of people for the College of Charleston. We’ve got some good players, but they’re better people than they are players. My staffer has been a tremendous asset, because they work so hard to help me behind the scenes and they help me carry out the message. They spend a lot of time behind the scenes working with these guys. So we have been very fortunate with the people we have been surrounded with and the decisions we made in the recruiting process and hiring the staff.
Q. Earl, just talk about the guard play and how important that’s going to be and then y’all’s protection of the ball. They try to pressure and turn you over and you guys have done a good job of protecting the ball this year.
EARL GRANT: Yeah, you know, they want to turn you over and they do a good job of it. They turn a lot of people over. They trap. They change defenses. They press you at the free throws. Pick you up on a made basket. You’ve got to be smart. You’re going to have to play some breakdown basketball because they’re going to trap. You can’t just set plays all the time. You have to play breakdown basketball, knowing when to go, when not to go, make sound decisions, shot selection. That will be a challenge, but we’ve done a great job all year taking care of the ball, one of the things we’ve done well. So I’m excited. I’m excited about our guards. I’m excited about, you know, our forwards, taking care of the ball. I’m not concerned, you know. If we stay true to who we are we should be able to take care of the ball.
Q. For Grant and Joe, this is going to be a match-up between guards. Talk about their three guards and what you’ve seen from them and the keys that are going to happen?
GRANT RILLER: I know Harper a little bit from AAU, so kind of been matching up against him in the past. Bryce Brown I don’t know too much about, but I know they’re having a good season. I think it should be fun.
JOE CHEALEY: Good backcourt. They can score the ball and play make really well, looking forward to the match-up. Should be fun.
Q. Clemson is kind of like the popular pick to upset in that 5-12. You guys are a popular pick to upset Auburn. Do you take that into mind at all? Do you have to play the game as normal? Do you use motivation that people respect and you are picking you as an upset?
JOE CHEALEY: Try not to pay attention to the noise, what people are saying. I’m sure a lot of people are pick us to lose. We try to focus on our preparation and go about it the same way. We’re confident in our game plan and go out and do our best and try not to focus on what everybody else is saying.
Q. The excitement just to be on this stage. How is it sinking in now that you are part of the tournament you’ve watched for years on TV, and how do you think you will handle the moment when the lights turn on and you realize you’re about to lace it up in the Big Dance?
JARRELL BRANTLEY: I would say for myself I think this is an amazing experience. Some people never get to cherish this moment, so I think that’s the biggest part of what we’re doing, embrace everything we’re going through. We’ve been through adversity, good times and bad times. So I think when we get on the court after we get past the first few minutes we will be all right.
Q. Grant then Joe, Coach Grant every year he’s been with this program, incrementally better every season. What is it about him that’s allowed you to get better each year?
GRANT RILLER: Sticking to his system, buying into what he says. We’ve a lot of hard-working guys. We’ve been together for about three years now, so just the experience. I think that’s about it.
JOE CHEALEY: Yeah, I think you said what is it about him? He talked about our work and we get that from Coach. From day one he stepped in and told us we was going to have to work hard and we could achieve some remarkable things. That’s what he instilled in us from day one. I think that’s what it is about him.
Q. Grant, you said taking his mindset and the things that he’s instilling in us. What exactly is he instilling in you guys?
GRANT RILLER: Hard work and toughness. That’s with where he came from in the past, so just trying to feed off him.
Q. Jarrell, being from Columbia, what does it mean for you watching the game last year, your home town team going into the tournament and now you get to do the same thing. Is there pride in that, now it’s your time to represent for the Midlands as well on the big stage?
JARRELL BRANTLEY: A little bit. I haven’t been carried away with that mindset, but it has been fun to put on away from home, but I think of Charleston as my home and my teammates. So I think this is more fun.
Q. This is going to be a game where Auburn likes to press. They like to turn the ball over and you guys are a team that doesn’t turn the ball over very much. Talk about how important that’s going to be tomorrow?
JOE CHEALEY: It will be the battle of styles, who can impose their will on the game. We know they like to play fast and try to pick up the tempo. We try to take care of the ball. I think we got talented guys, older guys, and we’re confident that we will be able to do that. It will be fun.
GRANT RILLER: Same thing as Joe said, really.
Q. Grant and Joe, you guys both had serious injuries during your career. Jarrell, you could have earlier in the year but you came back. How good does it feel that you’re all clicking, healthy, ready to go? Is this kind of been what you’ve waited for in the pinnacle of where everything should be?
GRANT RILLER: Definitely for myself my injuries in the past, try not to think about it too much, but just being here and everybody being healthy, this is what we lived for and worked for. So we’ll be ready.
JOE CHEALEY: What it’s taught me is to enjoy the moment. It can be taken from you in a second, so I don’t take any of this for granted. I know the guys don’t. We’re happy to be here and we’re ready to compete. I’m happy.
Q. Jarrell, as much as the guards are going to be a focus in the game, Auburn has the most success when they’re role players are contributing. You’re going to face off against a couple of those guys. How important do you feel your match-up is against Desean Murray and Chuma Okeke and Horace Spencer to keep them from scoring double figures?
JARRELL BRANTLEY: I think I will attack it, like I attack every other game, follow the scout, follow the game plan and stick to my standards like what Coach gives us and stick to my standards. I think I’ll be all right.
Q. Jarrell, I believe you went to Ridgeview correct?
JARRELL BRANTLEY: Uh-huh.
Q. Your former team won the state Championship has anybody reached out to you, knowing they made a deep run, you won your conference tournament and now you have a chance also?
JARRELL BRANTLEY: I keep up with a few of the guys there and a few of the coaches. A lot of guys got away, but for the most part, I don’t talk too much to them. But it has been fun to watch them win and hopefully I can continue to win, too.