- January 29, 2020
When Grant Riller reached for the long roll of paper that hung from the wall in Ocoee High’s gymnasium, all he could do was smile.
Surrounded by family, friends and the current Ocoee basketball team, Riller ripped the paper from the wall — revealing his old No. 11 jersey to the applause of those in the packed gym before the Knights’ game against Olympia Wednesday, Dec. 4.
It was a special moment for Riller and his old school, as the now College of Charleston senior became the first basketball player in the history of Ocoee High to have his jersey retired.
“It means a lot, especially coming from a school like Ocoee — they haven’t done stuff like this in the past,” Riller said. “It’s a great honor, and I made it a strong point to do all of my four years here at Ocoee with the people I grew up with. I wanted to be inspiring to the kids to stay at home, because we can be homegrown.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Riller and his family were invited by Ocoee head coach John “Sarge” Siers to take in a team dinner with his staff and players. It was there, in the school’s media center, where Riller got the chance to speak to current players and rekindle relationships with old coaches.
In the 14 years that the school has been in existence, Riller was — and still is — someone who has provided a positive, helping hand, Siers said. It’s a big part of why Riller was not only selected as the first basketball number to be retired, but also as to why he will be a member of next year’s inaugural Ocoee hall of fame class.
“He has had an impact on our program, and he’s the best player in a great conference and he’s on NBA draft boards … he is going to have a legitimate chance to play in the league, so he is going to be the first pro out of Ocoee,” Siers said. “We have 11 seniors that started as freshmen and all of them are going to play in college, and he has had a big impact on a lot of that.”
Having talented players stick around for all four years has become a rare scenario for a high school team.
Players will transfer for numerous reasons — from coaching changes to just being generally unhappy — but that was never the case for Riller.
When he arrived as a freshman in 2011, he found himself on the JV team. There, he made friends and enjoyed his time, but it was never easy — especially when you consider his size at the time.
“When you see the Division 1 player label itself, you think he was always that kind of player, but I wasn’t,” Riller said. “My first two years were more downs than ups as far as basketball goes. I was a small, scrawny kid at the time playing against a lot of older kids on varsity, so I didn’t have that much success early on, but I ran my race and trusted my process and eventually it all panned out.”
By the time his senior year rolled around, Riller was the established leader on a talented team run by head coach Rob Gordon — who’s now coaching Olympia.
During that year, which Riller said was the highlight of his high school career, the senior averaged a whopping 29.1 points per game and set a school single-game record when he scored 53 points against Leesburg in the championship game of the Ocoee Great 8 Boys Basketball Tournament.
Riller’s game drew the attention of a few schools, but it was the College of Charleston that piqued his interest.
Going into his freshman year, Riller was ready to get his Division 1 career underway, and then a roadblock happened.
During a scrimmage, Riller tore his ACL, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. It was a tough blow, but always the optimist, Riller took the time to dive deep into the X’s and O’s of the game.
“I got to work on my body, I got to watch film with a lot of coaches and I got to just — more importantly — watch the games as an observer and just learn so much during that sit-out year,” Riller said. “My freshman year playing there were a lot of ups and downs, but the coaches there do such a good job of just letting you be the player that you are supposed to be.
It would take eight months for Riller to get back to the court, but from there, he made up for it in his redshirt freshman year when he was named to the 2017 CAA All-Rookie Team after averaging 13.1 points per game and was third on the team in steals (33).
The success continued though his sophomore and junior years, as Riller was named All-CAA First Team two years in a row. In his junior season alone, Riller averaged a team-leading 21.9 points per game — ranking him No. 20 nationally in points per game.
While the accomplishments pile high for Riller — which will probably continue in his final year — he also knows one simple thing: That he wouldn’t be where he is now without the people who have helped him through his basketball journey.
“I’m just so appreciative — I’ve met so many different people over these last five years, and so many people who have helped me,” Riller said. “That’s the biggest thing — the basketball has been great to me, but at the same time the relationships that I’ve made have made more of an impact on my life than basketball.”