Grant Jerrett is Cali's top baller

Arizona recruit Grant Jerrett has led La Verne Lutheran to back-to-back state championships Kelly Kline/ESPNHS

This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s California edition.

When Grant Jerrett arrived at La Verne Lutheran three years ago, he already had the total package. Well, almost.

Jerrett had the size, standing nearly 6-foot-8, and he had the skill — ball-handling ability, quickness, a good post game, court vision and a soft shooting touch.

He also possessed a strong work ethic right from the beginning, which is why he’s currently in the position of trying to lead Lutheran to its third straight state championship.

All of those gifts (and his hard work) have contributed to Jerrett being ranked the No. 9 senior in the ESPNU 100, and they’ve gotten him a scholarship to Arizona.

The one area of Jerrett’s game that was lacking was his strength. Physically, the state’s top power forward never really played with a lot of power. Not that it held him back much (see the two state titles he’s already won).

But that doesn’t mean he was satisfied. So Jerrett attacked his one weakness and turned it into a strength.

After lifting weights five days a week during the offseason, Jerrett has added about 15 pounds of muscle. And he’s ready to use all of it this year.

“When he went up against the big, strong guys, he used to struggle,” says Lutheran coach Eric Cooper. “That happened during his first two years. Now, he can pretty much play against anybody.”

As a sophomore, Jerrett weighed in at 210 pounds. Now, the 6-foot-10 superstar is up to 230. And he doesn’t get pushed around anymore.

“Sophomore year, I was used to being skinny and finding ways to score against bigger people,” says Jerrett. “I’ve just always been skinny. I don’t know if it’s genetics or what. I’d try to maneuver past the bigger guys. They’re bigger, so I had to be quicker.”

That style was successful for Jerrett. As a sophomore, he worked bigger opponents for 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, both team highs. And in the state championship game against Branson, he posted nine points and nine rebounds to help Lutheran grind out a 35-32 win.

Last year, Jerrett posted a similar line of 18.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, but he really came alive in the postseason, upping his averages to 20.0 points and 12.6 boards, including a 30-point, 16-rebound, six-block takedown of Orange Lutheran in the second round of the state tournament.

In the Division III title game, Jerrett matched up against Bishop O’Dowd power forward Brandon Ashley, the No. 4 player in the ESPNU 100. Ashley, who transferred to Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) this season, scored 26 points, but Jerrett countered with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to lead Lutheran to victory.

It was a perfect end to a great postseason run.

“He was phenomenal during that run,” says Cooper. “We were a low seed in the state tournament, so we had to play every sectional champion — at their home — to get to the title game. And Grant just destroyed everybody.”

But Jerrett thought he could be even better, which is what spurred him to hit the weights so hard. Now he’s looking to dominate the 2011-12 season from beginning to end.

“I think I’m ready,” says Jerrett. “I’m expecting more of myself. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get to the state championship and win it. My mindset is to be more assertive, play harder, play longer, just like I did in the playoffs last year. I want to do what I can to win every game.”

Jerrett helps Lutheran win games in a multitude of ways. He’s the ultimate X-factor when it comes to matchups, because Cooper can use him at any position. For example, the coach urges Jerrett to dribble the ball up court and push the tempo after he grabs a rebound, because he’s one of the team’s most skilled ball-handlers.

If the opposition tries to guard Jerrett with a big man, he can set up on the wing and beat him with skill. And if they try to use a smaller defender against him, Jerrett has the post game (and now the strength) to back down in the paint and score at the rim.

It makes him an impossible cover, unless you want to double-team him the entire game. And some opponents may take their chances with that tactic. Good luck to them, because Jerrett is also doing everything he can to make sure his teammates are up to speed.

In addition to having the total package on the court, Jerrett is stepping up as a team leader. Cooper says that Jerrett stays late after every practice to work on his shooting. At first, he would be alone in the empty gym. But after a while, some of Jerrett’s younger teammates started sticking around, too.

“I’ve noticed that,” says Jerrett. “When the kids tell me they want to stay after to shoot, it’s little things like that. I’m trying to become a better leader, and I think that’s an example of leading people in a positive way.”

Once you add leadership to the package, there’s not much that Jerrett is missing.

“We’re trying to make this a special year,” says Jerrett. “I’m trying to do everything I can to make that happen. In the games, in practice, in the locker room, I’ll do whatever it takes to get us there.”