Carter Gran did some soul searching following his junior season.
The Mission Prep forward was coming off a season in which he was a key contributor in the Royals’ co-PAC 8 championship. But admittedly, Gran didn’t have the season he had hoped for. On top of that, he was a little burned out on basketball.
“I was thinking how seriously I wanted to take this last season, and I decided to buy in and try to help the program as much as I could,” Gran said sitting in the bleachers of the Mission Prep gym this past week.
Entering his senior year, he did his best to do more outside of the gym, such as riding his bike and catching a few waves at Shell Beach — one of his favorite surf spots. Switching things up helped keep basketball fresh.
The result — Gran was having fun on the court again. And it showed.
The 6-foot-5 Gran averaged a team-high 16 points per game largely on the strength of his 3-point shooting, finishing the PAC 8 season making 42 percent of his shots from deep. He also averaged six rebounds a game.
He did it while often guarding the opposing team’s best player. Mission Prep (12-2) finished the season with a PAC 8 title, the third straight season the team has claimed at least a share of a title, and made a trip to the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs.
For his accomplishments this season, Gran is The Tribune’s 2016-17 County Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
One practice this season, Mission Prep head coach Terrance Harris was running through plays to work on end-of-game scenarios. On one particular play, Gran was supposed to be a decoy before making the final pass to a teammate.
Only Gran didn’t see it that way.
“He comes off the screen, catches and fires,” Harris said. “I blow the whistle, and of course the shot goes in. I’m like, ‘Well Carter, yeah you hit that, but do you know the play?’ He said ‘Yeah I know the play, but coach, I’m open.’ ”
It’s that confidence in his stroke that carried Gran late in the year. After shooting 31 percent from 3-point range in 15 preseason games, Gran started to find his shot as Mission Prep entered league play and bumped his average to 41 percent. In the final seven games of league play, Gran shot 45 percent from distance and averaged just less than 20 points per game, living up to the nickname given to him his freshman year: “Buckets.”
Gran said it was hours of late-night shooting at the park near his house with his dad, eating six meals a day and staying consistent in the weight room that helped him improve as the season went on.
“To come out as the leading scorer, I would have never expected it, but it was so much fun,” Gran said.
Gran was able to benefit from a balanced Mission Prep offense packed with playmakers. Talented junior Kyle Colvin was the focus for many opposing defenses. Add in last year’s County Player of the Year, Kyle Stewart, and a strong backcourt of Vince Ricigliano and Jake Jensen, and it made it hard for defenses to focus on one player.
That balance allowed Gran to fly a bit under the radar.
But in the playoffs, Upland saw what he was capable of. Gran hit five 3-pointers and scored 21 points in the first half. He would finish the game with 28 points to lead the Royals to a 78-62 road win in the second round of the playoffs.
What separated Gran from the pack was his dual-threat ability. Not only could he get buckets, he also stopped them.
“He wanted to guard the other team’s best guy,” Harris said.
When Harris floated the idea of switching from man-to-man defense to zone, Gran would shoot it down.
“It was challenging. It would get tiring, obviously, but Vince and my teammates would always hype me up before a game,” Gran said. “They would say you are guarding (Atascadero’s) Elijah (Cooks) today, and it got me hyped.”
In a game against Atascadero late in the season, Gran was able to hold Cooks, arguably the biggest and most athletic player in the PAC 8, to eight points in a key league win.
“I was more excited for defense,” Gran said. “Sometimes I would make a bet with my mom, try to keep a player to a certain amount of points.”
“To be able to lead us in scoring and in many games go and guard the other team’s biggest threat, it’s not something that you see a lot,” Harris said.
Armed with a fully filled out frame and a renewed passion for basketball, Gran must now decide if he wants to continue playing in college. He said there is one school interested in him but knows his anticipated major of computer science will be demanding. He plans to make a decision in the next month.
It will be hard for Gran to walk away from competitive basketball now because he is in a different place than he was his junior year — instead of burned out, he’s on fire.
Carter Gran is the third Mission Prep player in a row to be named The Tribune County Boys Basketball Player of the Year following Quinton Adlesh in 2014-15 and Kyle Stewart in 2015-16.