SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The emails landed in Mike Brey's inbox like clockwork.

Some came the day after a Notre Dame basketball game, others mere hours after the final buzzer. The exact timing never really mattered, because the sender was usually watching games on television, and the recipient was always busy coaching.

But the emails served an important purpose, acting as a lifeline of sorts for a player who had been separated from the Irish program for the second half of last season.

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Jerian Grant, then the Irish's leading scorer, had been forced to leave the school due to "an academic matter (he) didn't handle properly." At the time in late December, the junior guard was averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists per game.

After a brief period of time in which Grant considered his options – the temptation of declaring for the NBA is great for anyone, but especially for a player whose father and uncle had long careers in the league – he decided he'd wait out his punishment. He'd return to Notre Dame to finish out his college career and earn his degree in sociology.

After leaving South Bend, Grant spent the next five months or so bouncing around the country, visiting family and playing hoops. His first stop was California to see his uncle, Horace Grant.

"The first thing was to just get away," Jerian Grant told USA TODAY Sports. "But of course being out there with him, he's a basketball guy, I'm a basketball guy. We couldn't stay away from the court. We worked out, lifted, worked on conditioning. It was good to be with him and get away from everything. We got to talk to him about basketball and life. He said he's made some mistakes, we've all made mistakes. You've just come back from mistakes. That's what defines you."

As he waited, he watched. After each game, Grant sent Brey an email critiquing his team's performance without him. Help-side defense was poor. Cutting needs to be better. Feed the post more. That sort of thing.

"What we did well, what we didn't do well, individual guys – he knows them as well as anybody," Brey told USA TODAY Sports. "I got some amazing feedback that I actually used with the team and in our coaches' meetings, insights that were maybe better than what the staff came up with at times. It really kept him plugged in.

"I'd never tell the team, 'This is what Jerian said,' but I would use his feedback. You talk about finger on the pulse (of a team) – he had it."

It wasn't easy for Grant to watch and dissect. Without Grant, the Irish flailed, winning just seven of 19 games to close out the regular season before losing in the first round of the ACC tournament. It was, undoubtedly, not the first impression Notre Dame wanted to make in its new league.

"Down the stretch, there were a lot of one, two-point games," Grant said. "They were kind of looking for someone to pass the ball to, and I know I was that guy for them."

After a painful ACC tournament exit, Brey called a meeting at the team hotel. He excused the outgoing seniors and focused on next season's team. He invited Grant to attend – surprising the 6-5 guard who had come to Greensboro to support both Notre Dame and his brother Jerami's Syracuse team – and directed a portion of his speech at Grant.

"I'm saying, 'Look, whatever happened, that's old news,' " Brey said. "You paid your price. We can't wait to get you back. I don't want you feeling guilty about letting people down. We've got your back. We're moving on. When you come back to us in June, you'll have a clean slate. I need you to start leading this group.' "

Grant's teammates came up to him individually and echoed their coach's words. Grant took the call for leadership to heart, and he's worked on becoming a more vocal leader all summer, during the Irish's trip to Italy in August and throughout practices this fall.

"He's become a better leader than I ever could have imagined," Brey said. "He would not be the leader he is now if that didn't happen."

Said Grant: "Having (basketball) taken away from me like that was tough. You can't take it for granted. I know I'm going to preach to my team that you've got to treat every game like it's your last. Guys are going to practice harder, play harder."

They'll need to, in order to avoid a disappointment like last season. Brey compared this coming season to his first one at Notre Dame, back when his Irish needed to develop an identity in the old Big East. Now, they'll need to do the same in the ACC.

Grant will help.

"He's come back with a vengeance," Brey said. "Certainly, we need a lot from him. He's one of the best players in college basketball but he's off the radar. I like it that way."