Destiny Leo is Cleveland State’s superstar of course, and an outsized portion of the Vikings’ identity. However, a less-heralded but also-vital part of what has made CSU so good in recent years has been what often seems like an unending assembly line of six-foot-tall wings that do a little bit of everything at a high level. Some end up as stars in their own right, like Brittni Moore. More often though, they’re in line with Barbara Zieniewska or Isabelle Gradwell, players whose stats didn’t always pop off a game sheet – at least before arriving at the final column on the page, plus-minus. In other words, their contributions are often difficult to quantify until it’s time to count up the wins and losses.
Over the weekend, the Vikings took major strides towards securing the future of that vital position through their first two 2024 commitments, Sarah Hurley and Brenae Jones-Grant.
Jones-Grant attends Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, New Jersey, following two years at Bound Brook High School. As a junior, she helped the Lady Lions to a 22-6 overall record and a playoff run that extended to the Northern New Jersey final for schools in the state’s Non-Public B classification. With 9.9 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game to her credit, Jones-Grant was a consistent double-double threat.
Her positions are listed on Hudl as “C, SG” which certainly looks unusual, but may actually make perfect sense given a skillset that covers almost everything both of those seemingly-disparate positions entail. Case in point: Jones-Grant had a seven-steal game last season, then had a six-block game a month and a half later. She can run the floor in one moment, then make an extremely athletic play on the other end, like flying in from somewhere out of frame to swat away what looked like a sure two points – or three a lot of the time, as she has incredible talent for closing out shooters.
Highlights from April’s Spooky Nook AAU recruiting showcase event demonstrate a lot of that.
Prep Girls Hoops gave Jones-Grant a breathless scouting report following a different event a couple weeks later.
“Brenae’s domination on the court was felt on both ends, with explosive buckets in transition and stifling pressure on defense,” PGH’s EJ Arocho wrote. “Her commanding two-way game left opponent’s gassed as they tried to keep up with her quickness, energy and intensity. She used every bit of her 6’1″ frame and exquisite footwork to play bully ball in the paint and impose herself under the basket.”
“Whether playing with her back to the basket or facing up and taking the defender off the bounce, Brenae went deep in her bag and proved she can score in a number of ways. Her stock continues to rise astronomically as the weeks go on!”
Cleveland State was in on her early, as the Vikings were her second DI offer, though it was extended on the same day (May 23rd) as her first, LIU. Iona and Binghamton were also pursuing the rising senior.
Hurley, meanwhile, is from Pelham, Ontario, part of the Niagara region and not far from the Canadian province’s border with western New York. She spent ninth and tenth grade playing for E.L. Crossley Secondary School before moving to Lincoln Prep, a school affiliated with the ultra-competitive Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) as a junior. Why? She wanted to play more, and an elite league for national and provincial-identified players offered that opportunity.
“My high school season this year, I was at a public school and because of all the COVID stuff, we didn’t really get a great season,” she told local outlet BPSN. “I just really wanted a higher level of basketball so I decided it would be best for me to go play for OSBA.”
The extra court time has helped develop a very well-rounded player who, like Jones-Grant, can help win games in ways both large and small. It’s clear from watching the Lincoln Prep games available on YouTube that she’s a stellar defender (notably, the Huskies play a lot of 2-3 zone, Cleveland State’s preferred defense, of course) and isn’t afraid to get dirty going after rebounds and loose balls. Most of her offense starts near the three-point line, where she’s a capable shooter capable of working around overcommitted opponents to find a lane.
The six-footer has become a regular for Team Ontario at various national championship tournaments as well – including last year when, as a 15-year-old, Hurley was selected to play for Team Ontario in the Canada Summer Games, an 18-and-under tournament, and won a bronze medal.
Hurley is also extremely well connected to several notables, both in basketball and the wider sports world.
Her brother, TJ, is entering his sophomore year at Vermont and their father, Mike, is a legendary figure in the region’s hoops scene thanks to his school-hall-of-fame-worthy exploits as both a player and a coach at Niagara College (not to be confused with Niagara University on the other side of the border). Additionally, her coach at Lincoln Prep is Richard Nurse, the patriarch of arguably the most famous sports family in Canada – WNBA point guard Kia Nurse and NHL defenseman Darnell Nurse are his children (another top-end hockey player, Canadian national teamer Sarah Nurse, is his niece). Appropriately enough, Hurley’s EYBL club team is called Kia Nurse Elite and includes several players from Lincoln Prep.
One of those Lincoln Prep/Kia Nurse Elite crossover players is Taeya Steinauer, another 2024 graduate who committed to Purdue Fort Wayne last month, setting the stage for what could be a fun rivalry over the coming years.
Before the Vikings managed to close the deal with Hurley, she had received interest from Buffalo, Vermont, and Eastern Michigan.