Skip to Content

College of Education

Former player builds life skills on and off the court

Markeshia Grant holds the keys to success for teams from elementary school to national champions.

Markeshia Grant knew as a child that she felt ordained to be a part of something bigger than herself — she might not have known that she would eventually help others do the same. As a child in Tampa, Fla., Grant was always active. At the age of 10, she had a fateful encounter with a neighbor who introduced her to her passion, basketball.

“My neighbor Greg Carrington was a basketball coach and invited me over to play,” says Grant. “I made my first shot and it was the introduction of what basketball would mean in my life. Basketball would become my saving grace.”

She went on to participate in 3-on-3 Hoop It Up tournaments around Florida and later joined Wilson Middle School basketball team. Grant played her freshman year of high school at Plant High School for Coach Carrie Mahon before taking her talents to Florida High School/FSUS where she won back-to-back championships. While she was excelling on the court, her grades began to slip.

“I learned how to be a winner at Plant High School,” says Grant. “At Florida High, I understood what it meant to be a champion, but I also learned what it meant to only focus on basketball.”

Grant attended Junior College at the College of Central Florida, while she worked toward the goal of playing at a four-year university. Yet again, her coach Cheryl Rice pushed her to be a ‘STUDENT-ATHLETE’ and not just an athlete. She transferred to the University of South Carolina. Grant says her interactions with Coach Dawn Staley were the main driver in her choice.

“Coach Staley didn’t talk about basketball at all on my visit,” Grant says. “She shared with me how she could help me be successful from a personal perspective and even after my basketball career was done. She was my spades partner on the card table and made South Carolina feel like home.”

At South Carolina, Grant got a taste for more basketball success. The team made it to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). During her senior year, they made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first-time during Coach Staley’s tenure at South Carolina and in her career. After college, Grant played in Germany, and considered a transition to coaching. She came back to USC to serve as a graduate assistant for the women’s basketball team and pursue a master’s in educational technology.

“I was a part the coaching staff during the 2017 National Championship,” says Grant. “I missed the leadership that I had as a player and I wanted to contribute back to the program that made me. Coach Staley’s leadership is different than anyone else I have encountered.”

During this time, Grant realized that coaching was not the path that served her talents, but knew she would be impactful in another way. She focused on career development and began working with a nonprofit out of Charlotte called Life Sports. The organization combined education on life skills, basketball, reading and literacy.

“I thought I had found my dream job,” says Grant. “All of the things I was passionate about were in one space, and then the pandemic happened.”

The time at home allowed Grant to begin her own business called Savvy Skills. She felt like many basketball players were not prepared for an environment where they had to keep their skills sharp outside of their standard training program and excel in remote learning. Grant’s company provides consulting services where she uses her program development knowledge and basketball experience with team building activities and mental performance training.

“I want student-athletes to be able to navigate any transition imaginable,” says Grant. “I want to build adaptability. We learn adaptability in sports, but sometimes struggle to apply it to everyday life. I help student-athletes turn their sports skills into life skills.”

Grant builds mental, emotional and social understanding with players and cultivates personal alignment. Her business began working with athletic teams and now supports nonprofits, local businesses and school districts. Her success led her back to Coach Staley to assess the basketball team’s culture and chemistry. Her 2023-24 team was younger and was a new generation of players. Coach Staley thought a former player might be able to meet them on their level and understand how to boost their success.

“In my practice, I always meet with leaders and players separately,” says Grant. “I like to assess individual strengths and weaknesses and then see how far apart responses are. Getting everyone to focus on one goal is a clear indicator of potential success.”

While focus on mental performance among athletes is currently trending upward, Grant shares that it is a relatively new concept among players. As players achieve at higher levels, they need access to a wide variety of supports to continue that momentum. Grant studied psychology as an undergraduate and pairs that knowledge with programmatic design to build capacity with her clients.


Cultivating champions

Grant began her work with this year’s South Carolina women’s basketball team with a team building assessment she often uses. The results totally changed the direction of her work.

“I started with some icebreakers, and the team totally opened up,” Grant says. “Many of these players had previous interactions together and had already established a rapport. The transition to teammates was much easier than it typically would be.”

Grant says the team’s incredible chemistry allowed her to pivot to activities that cultivated togetherness earlier in their time together. She was able to add in elements of competition and game play that contributed to the team’s culture as a whole. During one of their sessions, each teammate painted their theme of the season, “Love.” That message became pivotal to their interactions on and off the court.

Grant cites Coach Staley’s supportiveness as an additional element to the team’s success.

“Coach Staley did an incredible job of making sure this team was covered from all sides with support staff,” Grant says. “Between myself, coaches, academic advisors and others we were able to wrap around this team and embrace them. We didn’t keep them from challenges, but we helped them navigate the season.”

Grant shares that Coach Staley is wildly successful at recruiting with character.

“When players, their families and friends have character, a healthy culture follows,” says Grant. “I felt that foundation when I played for her, and it is ingrained in me. My teammates and I can still finish each other’s sentences. Culture leads to chemistry and success follows.”


What’s next

Grant knows there is more to come post championship. She’s partnering with local nonprofits to teach soft skills to children throughout the upcoming year. Grant will also continue her work with USC and other universities around the nation.

“It could look like we are just playing kickball,” says Grant. “But we’re actually building multi-sensory skills. Working on balance, cognitive thinking, all kinds of things kids, athletes and young adults need for life.”

Grant’s work with Coach Staley is not limited to the basketball court. In August she will join Staley and Tragil Wade-Johnson for the All Girls Matter conference. The conference will highlight topics for girls ages 9 to 18 focusing on mental health, self-care, self-image, wellness, entrepreneurship and more. The event will also provide back-to-school supplies for the participants.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.