“I always wanted to come here but toward when I started getting older, I felt like it wasn’t going to happen. But later on when I got the opportunity I had to jump on it because it was the easiest pick.”
For Jarrell Brantley, a sophomore forward for the Charleston men’s basketball team (15-4, 6-0), getting the chance to play for the Cougars is a dream come true. However, the Columbia, South Carolina native did not have an easy path to the Charleston front court.
After spending his freshman and sophomore year of high school at Ridge View High School in Columbia, Brantley spent his upperclassmen years at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Maryland, where he averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game his senior year. Despite having success at the nationally respected school, Brantley’s college choices underwhelmed him. Instead, he opted to spend a post graduate year at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. “When I went to Notre Dame, I could develop my game more so it made it a lot easier for me to go to school,” Brantley said.
In his first year at the College last season, Brantley burst upon the scene, carving out a significant portion of playing time. As one of only two Cougars to start every game alongside Cameron Johnson, Brantley led CAA freshmen in points (11.7) and rebounds (7.3), with double figures in points in each of the last 13 games of the season. Brantley was recognized as CAA Rookie of the Year, becoming the first player at the College to earn the honor since Jermaine Johnson in 2006.
Whereas some players might have been content with this level of achievement, Brantley continued to strive for improvement.
“I want to be more efficient,” Brantley said. “I put in a lot of time anyway and I do a lot of things to try to be the best I can be but trying to keep the same good habits or get better habits so you can better your game when it comes to being mental, or focusing on things you have never focused on like the small things.”
This attitude toward improvement is one that many players on Charleston men’s basketball team share this season. As one of the top defensive teams a season ago, the Cougars finished the season ranked No. 8 in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 62.0 points per game. This season, they have allowed just 59.7 points per game, which pegs them at No. 6 in the nation.
“Early in the year we knew the depth that we had and the talent we had in the locker room. So we understand that certain nights it won’t be your night, but it’ll be someone else’s night to play really well, so we understood that we are going to have to really care for one another so we can have better chemistry and learn from one another,” Brantley said.
As a team with just two players departing from last season, there is a great amount of continuity in the roster. Continuity does not always lead to chemistry, but the Cougars share a great bond. In no way is this more apparent than the amount of time the team spent together over winter break.
“We got a little bit of time to go home, but then when we came back, we were just with our team so that was still fun for us. I’m sure nobody complained about that because we like being around each other anyway.”
Since losing to the defending national champions, at Villanova (Nov. 23), the College has won 12 of 13, including seven in a row. In doing so, the College is 6-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2009-10.
With a match up against defending CAA Champions UNC Wilmington (17-2, 6-0) looming (Jan. 19, 7 p.m.), the Cougars have a chance to take over sole possession of the top spot in the CAA standings.
“I think we’re coming along,” Brantley said. “We’re still nowhere close to our best basketball, but I think every day we get closer. The coaches do a really good job of putting us all in positions where we can be effective and showing us the way to be the best we can be.”
To better understand how Brantley views his game, he was asked if there is a player he would compare himself to, either at the college or professional level.
“There’s this saying in Coach Carter (the movie) where one of the guys asks ‘are you the next LeBron?’ He said, ‘I’m the only Ty Crane.’ That’s kind of how I feel,” Brantley said. “I don’t feel like I have anybody’s game, I feel like I’m my own self. I don’t really have anybody else I play like. I’m the only Ty Crane.”
Whether we have seen the best of Brantley remains to be seen. However, there is no doubt that he has improved his efficiency on both ends of the floor this season. He is shooting a higher percentage from the charity stripe as well as from beyond the arc, while ranking in the top 20 players in the CAA in points (13.1 per game, No. 19 in CAA), rebounds (8.4, No. 3), steals (1.1, No. 13) and blocks (0.5, No. 20).