There were few dissenters when Treveon Graham – a chiseled 6-foot-5, 215-pound walking icebox – was dubbed “The Freight Train”. Like a speeding locomotive, Graham is difficult to stop once he begins moving in one direction, no matter what is in his tracks. Like a train, he’s also strong enough to pull several times his own weight. Graham has been known to put the VCU offense on his back from time-to-time.
Maybe that’s why VCU Coach Shaka Smart didn’t mind laying the weight of high expectations on Graham’s sturdy shoulders. If anybody could bear an extra load, it was him.
During the recruiting process, Smart told Graham he had the ability to become the leading scorer in school history, that he could top Eric Maynor’s record of 1,953 points. What may have sounded like a typical recruiting pitch to some was actually just typical Smart. When the VCU coach puts his belief in someone, he’s all-in. It’s confidence-building and goal-setting rolled into one tidy delivery.
If those expectations are too much for Graham, he has a funny way of showing it. Through 22 games this season, he’s leading the Rams and is seventh in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (16.1 ppg) and is second on the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg). He’s seamlessly stepped into the Bigfoot-sized shoes of Bradford Burgess with aplomb.
Much like Maynor, Graham had a solid, occasionally exciting freshman season, only to break out in his second year. Now Graham is the only sophomore (or freshman) among the Atlantic 10 Conference’s top nine in scoring. In seven league contests, Graham is averaging 19.0 points per game.
“We recruited him we told him he could be the leading scorer here at VCU,” Smart said. “In order to do that he was going to have to get on the ball here as a sophomore, and that’s what he’s done. I’m not surprised. He can score in a lot of different ways and that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to put a big number on the board.”
If Smart’s challenge to Graham seems a tad lofty, consider this: Through his first 58 collegiate games, Graham has scored 607 points, 74 more than Maynor did over the same period.
As much as Smart is willing to go to bat for Graham, the Washington, D.C. native isn’t much of a self-promoter. He says little in his measured, baritone cadence, but then again, he rarely needs to. His play on the court is doing plenty of talking.
Through Jan. 29, Graham has topped double figures in 15 straight games and reached double digits in all but two contests this season. He poured in a career-high 26 points in VCU’s 78-65 upset of 19th-ranked Memphis in the Bahamas and dropped 24 on the Rams’ first A-10 victory, a 74-62 win over Dayton.
He’s done so with a varied offensive skill set that makes him a match-up nightmare. Bull-strong, Graham is adept at absorbing contact on the way to the rim. He gets to the free throw line more than any Ram, and has also improved his accuracy from mid-range and beyond the 3-point arc. Few teams have found a way to combat those combined abilities this season. As important as those skills have been, Smart says it’s the intangibles that have allowed Graham to become a top-flight scorer.
“Confidence has been his biggest area [of improvement],” Smart said. “Just believing in himself. Tre is not the most outwardly confident person. He’s very quiet. He’s very laid back. He doesn’t really talk at all until he knows you really well. So, he’s grown by leaps and bounds by his confidence by the last year and a half and I think that’s only going to continue.”
While Graham’s versatility makes him difficult to guard, it’s his efficiency on offense that separates him from the pack. Graham is shooting 48 percent from the field this season, including 37 percent from 3-point range. Of the league’s top 10 scorers, Graham is the only one averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game (27.1).
Graham always looked like a scorer. He grabbed people’s attention last season with back-to-back games of 15 and 18 points against UNC Wilmington and UAB, respectively, and averaged 11.0 points in three CAA Tournament contests. But it wasn’t until Burgess, a similarly gifted swingman, graduated that Graham was able to earn major minutes every night.
“[The big difference is] just having an opportunity to play bigger minutes and my teammates being real confident in me and my game,” Graham said. “Even when I’m off, they’re telling me to shoot or if I’m on, they’re telling me to keep going. It gives me the confidence to go out there and play my game.”
Graham’s poise is uncommon for a player with his level of experience. Even in the face of VCU’s sometimes chaotic style of play, Graham is cool, calm, composed. In the Rams’ recent overtime win over Atlantic 10 preseason favorite Saint Joseph’s, the sophomore converted a four-point play early in the extra period and later added a crucial jumper to help fend off the Hawks for a pivotal league win.
“He’s a good player,” Smart mused afterwards. “I love that guy. I want to coach more guys like him. He’s very under control on offense. He’s coming. He’s progressing. I think his future is bright. He can get even better. The good thing you see happening is he’s gaining confidence with each game.”