Jerami Grant is at the USA Basketball practices this week in Las Vegas. He might not be the first name that most people think of when they start running down the list of the best basketball players in the world, but he’s earned his spot.
Team USA is favored to win the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, which begin at the end of the month. Grant, heading into his second season with the Pistons, has developed his game enough in the past couple of seasons to share the roster with the likes of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard and some of the elites in the NBA.
For all his perceived shortcomings, Grant was a valuable addition to Team USA, because of his positional versatility and how he’s worked on his game to nearly become an All-Star. He’s getting that level of respect around the league from his fellow players, but also from some elite coaches.
“I wanted him on this team because of his size, length, his flexibility, the versatility that he will give us, and the fact that he’s a competitor. He wants to win. He’s physical. He runs well,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday via teleconference. “He’s just a very active player. He’s also willing to fill a role. I just told him today, as a matter of fact, one of the things I want him to do is go to the offensive board almost every time, because he’s got a knack for that.
“If he knows that’s what we need out of him, I’m confident he’ll do it. He’s very coachable, aggressive, and a good, good person, and great to have on a basketball team.”
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On a squad with the likes of Durant, Lillard, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and others, Grant won’t need to be a top-line scorer, but he has that ability. More likely, he’ll be able to contribute in multiple ways on both ends of the court, as he did with the Pistons last season.
It’s a big jump for Grant, who is in just his seventh season in the NBA. He previously was on the Select Team, a squad of developmental players who help prepare the main team. He’s made that jump and now finds himself among the elites in the game because of the development he has made in his game, especially on the offensive end.
“The growth in his game has been incredible. I still remember the days in Philly of the scouting report being ‘He’s downhill and he’s Euro-stepping every time,’ and playing off him and giving him the shot,” Green said. “To watch his journey, he’s one of the (top) guys in the NBA now, an (almost) All-Star — just an incredible year.”
Grant has garnered the support and admiration of his peers already, but this season with the Pistons has opened a few more eyes about what a talent he is on the bigger NBA landscape, though it gets lost in the shuffle sometimes because of the Pistons’ record.
That’s changing too.
“I always watch the Pistons — I’m from Michigan, and what he’s gone there and done is incredible. He’s one of the most-improved players in this league, for sure,” Green added. “Coming out here, it’s very easy for a guy, especially a guy like Jerami who hasn’t been at that level for as long as Kevin Durant or Damian Lillard, it’s very easy for a guy to come in and just take a back seat to those guys.
“He’s come in and he’s been aggressive, playing with extreme energy and he’s going to play a huge role in us winning the gold.”
The ascent has happened quickly for Grant, who was, at best, a third option on the Denver Nuggets a couple of years ago. He wanted a chance to be a No. 1 option on a team, which led to him joining the Pistons in the infancy of their rebuild.
That work has paid off with a big addition to his basketball resume.
“I was blessed when I got the call. It was an honor. I love to play the game — that’s why I’m here,” Grant said. “I told my family and everyone was excited for me. I think this is going to benefit me, being around a group of guys this talented, and being able to pick up the little things that they do, and watching their movements and observing, it can only help me for my future.”
There might be small nuances and things with mental preparation or technique that Grant can pick up, but Grant already fits in with the group. He’s as capable a scorer as most of them, but he won’t have to do as much with Team USA — but he can, when called upon.
“I’m going to be playing a lot of defense, hitting open shots and being aggressive when I get the opportunity,” Grant said. “That’s my role — a lot of energy — and doing whatever I need to do to get this gold.”
Just as Grant was on the Select Team in 2016, he sees that experience as a benefit that Pistons rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who are on the Select Team this summer, can draw from as a building block to their own success.
Their growth this year and the ascent that Grant made can serve as a blueprint for how they can make a similar jump in their careers.
“It extends a lot to them. I was talking to them (Wednesday) night and they were extremely excited to be here,” Grant said. “They were talking to me about how I went from being on the Select Team to being on this team. I was telling them to keep working and they can get here.
“They have to keep putting the work in and they’ll be fine. They’re ahead of where I was at their age.”