RICHMOND, Va. – At this stage, Treveon Graham’s career requires very little outside input to convince us of his place in VCU basketball history. With each mid-range pull-up, bucket in traffic or shot clock-busting 3-pointer, Graham draws closer to the phase of your life where they hang your laundry from the arena rafters.
So most opinions on Graham’s basketball acuity are simply redundant. Then again, Gary Waters holds a fairly unique perspective on the VCU senior guard/forward. Four years and 1,565 points ago, Waters was one of two Division I coaches to offer the Temple Hills, Maryland native a scholarship. The other, of course, was Shaka Smart.
Monday, Graham reminded Waters, a successful college basketball coach in his ninth year at the helm of the Cleveland State program, of what could’ve been, scoring 20 points to spur VCU (10-3) to a 72-63 win over the Vikings (6-8) at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
Graham scored VCU’s first eight points of the game as the Rams built a 12-0 lead they would not relinquish, and moved into ninth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. While Graham’s true position is on the wing, he’s built his legacy primarily as a uniquely talented power forward in VCU Coach Shaka Smart’s system.
“He’s a guard playing a four-man that can score and it’s hard to combat that when he’s playing that well. I thought he did a great job today. I thought he was the key to their team,” Waters said.
It wasn’t long ago Waters hoped Graham would be key to his team. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to say that Graham was destined to be a star, but the number of D-I head coaches who felt that way four years ago would fit into a phone booth, and that’s only because Smart stays in good shape.
Waters is a pretty sharp guy. He shocked to life a dormant Kent State program in the 90s and later pulled Cleveland State out of a Kevin Mackey-induced 30-year haze in 2007. It was Waters who built the majority of Kent State’s 2002 Elite Eight team, save Antonio Gates, before handing the keys to Stan Heath as he left for Rutgers.
Heck, my father-in-law was a longtime Rutgers season ticket holder, one who has reached a certain level of bemused self-loathing as it pertains to Scarlet Knights fandom. Rutgers hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and the only coach during that stretch that my father-in-law liked for more than three months was Gary Waters, who led Rutgers to three winning records in five seasons, three more than Fred Hill, Mike Rice and Eddie Jordan – his successors – have in eight seasons combined.
He unearthed future NBA players Norris Cole (who once committed to an NAIA Division II school) and Quincy Douby. So Gary Waters is a smart guy, and he can spot talent – and he liked Graham.
“I thought he was going to be a great player,” Waters said. “That’s why we recruited him so hard. They’re out of our jurisdiction a little bit, but we saw how well he could do some things and he showed it again today.”
To Waters’ chagrin, Graham chose VCU, and four years later, the player nicknamed “The Freight Train” is chugging up the program’s scoring chart. These days, it’s tough to imagine Graham as anything but VCU’s engine for the last three seasons.
“I really didn’t think too much about it until their coach came up to me and said that he wishes I was in their uniform,” Graham said. “But I still have respect for them as a team, and they came out and gave us a fight, but it’s really just about VCU and we played pretty good today.”
Graham was particularly good, knocking down 7-of-11 field goals while corralling nine rebounds. Despite a size disadvantage on most nights, the 6-foot-6 Graham has pulled down better than six rebounds per game the last three years.
VCU led wire-to-wire Monday, but in the final minutes, Cleveland State pulled within single digits. In need of a bucket to stem a rising Viking tide, Smart instructed Briante Weber to give the ball to Graham, then called a play that saw his star put his head down and drive right around a ball screen on the way to a layup. Game over. It was the final reminder to Waters that he had been right about Graham all along.
“Those are actually the two schools out there that offered him a scholarship, VCU and Cleveland State,” Smart said afterwards. “That’s it. So I’m glad he picked us.”
Stat of the night: VCU never trailed Monday. In fact, the Rams have not trailed since near the end of regulation of their double-overtime win over Northern Iowa on Dec. 13. All told, the Rams have not trailed for their last 170:36 of game time.