Feb. 13, 2001
by Ken Kleppel
David Graves has had more than his fair share of good timing on the hard court.
Now in his third year at Notre Dame the 6 foot, 6 inch forward may be best known for his ability to beat the buzzer and deliver in the clutch.
But that is just the start of it.
"I think what I bring to the team is leadership and stability," says Graves.
"I've played a lot of minutes in college. I've been in situations a lot of the younger guys haven't been in before. I am a veteran who has played a lot of minutes and knows how to play."
Missing only five starts in over 80 career contests, Graves can either post up on defenders or create scoring opportunities for himself in the interior. But his driving force comes from experience.
"One thing you learn is not to get your highs too high or your lows too low and keep everything in perspective."
Graves' investment in this attitude has paid dividends from the beginning as he started his first collegiate game against Miami of Ohio and former high-school rival Wally Szczerbiak. Graves was able to hold the Miami standout to just two points in the first half.
"My whole freshman year was so valuable to me because (former) Coach (John) MacLeod had enough confidence in me to play through my mistakes," says Graves.
"We didn't have the privilege to come in, sit and see where we fit in. We had to fit in right away."
While Szczerbiak became a lottery selection of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Graves has developed quite nicely himself.
During the 1999-2000 season, Graves established the Notre Dame three-point field-goal record with 83. Along with junior All-American Troy Murphy, Graves was the only Irish player to average double figures, scoring 13.2 points per game. He led the Irish in scoring with 25 points, including 21 in the first half, at home against Xavier in the second round of the postseason National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
As a freshman, Graves started all but two of 30 contests, finishing second on the team in minutes played. His 370 points ranked fourth all-time among Irish freshmen.
Today, he is perhaps the BIG EAST's most dangerous threat from three-point range. Graves has now connected on at least one three-pointer in 48 straight games after sinking three treys Sunday afternoon in Notre Dame's 78-61 victory over West Virginia. The last time Graves failed to record a shot from behind the arc was against Maryland on Nov. 26, 1999. In fact, he has had at least one three-point field goal in all but 10 career games.
Not coincidentally, the versatile man with a deadly shot has an uncanny flair for the dramatic.
Striking a 15-foot game-winning jumper at the buzzer against fourth-ranked Ohio State in the first round of the 1999 Pre-Season NIT, Graves set the tone for the 1999-2000 campaign. In February of that same season, Graves connected on a fall-away jumper with 0.3 seconds left at Seton Hall, lifting the Irish to a narrow two-point victory in a key BIG EAST road contest.
In his senior year of high school, the honorable mention McDonald's All-American and his Lexington Catholic squad stunned undefeated and second-ranked Whitney Young High School of Chicago with a rebound basket at the buzzer in DePaul's Alumni Hall.
"I've always hit big shots, even in junior pro days," says Graves.
"I remember vividly the shot at Ohio State. I was at half-court and the ball was going out of bounds with the clock ticking down. I ran out of bounds, threw the ball over my right shoulder and we won the game.
"It is just one of those things. As a college athlete you hope to get one of those in your career, but I was fortunate to have two in one year. You want to be in those situations and have the team trust in you to take the shot. All the great players hit the big shots."
In Graves' case, his teammates' trust has been earned.
His immediate insertion into the starting lineup in 1998, and consequent impact both on and off the court closely paralleled the development of surging stars Murphy and Harold Swanagan.
While Murphy emerged into an All-America, Swanagan and Graves have mastered key roles on the team. Yet, the common bond of leadership ties all three unique athletes.
"I've established friendships with those two that are hard to break," says Graves.
"They are friendships that come along only once in a lifetime. Playing with those two on the court is so much fun."
Growing up just towns apart in Kentucky, Graves, a Lexington native, and Swanagan, a Hopkinsville resident, played together on numerous all-star and tournament squads throughout their high school years.
"David and I have been friends for the longest time," says Swanagan.
"We played AAU basketball together. We came to college together. Actually, he's probably the one who talked me into coming here. As a friend, he is very important. Whenever I'm down, I'll go talk to him. Whenever he's down, I'll try to talk to him. We stick together and are the closest of friends."
"I've played with Harold for a long time, six or seven years in the making, and I've had fun since day one because he knows how to play," responds Graves.
"He screens, plays hard, gets rebounds and does all the things
nobody wants to do. As soon as I played with him, I knew he was one of those guys you look forward to playing with."
Graves celebrated a homecoming with Swanagan as the Irish visited Kentucky on Jan. 13, scoring 13 points and rebounding three balls in 37 minutes.
"My favorite arena to play in is Rupp Arena," says Graves who continued to play through a somewhat serious ankle injury that transpired midway through the second half.
"Just being in that arena my whole life, going back and playing was special. It is a great place to watch a college basketball game, and with the electric atmosphere, there is definitely a home-court advantage."
Against Vermont on Dec. 21, Graves became the 41st player in Notre Dame history to reach the 1,000-point mark. He joined Murphy as the second member of Notre Dame's class of 2002 to reach that plateau, marking the first time that a Notre Dame class has produced at least two 1,000-point scorers since the trio of LaPhonso Ellis. Elmer Bennett and Daimon Sweet did it in the late 80s and early 90s. Graves and Murphy have combined for over 2,800 points in two-plus seasons.
"David is a great friend, one of my best friends," says Murphy.
"He's the craziest guy I've ever met. I love playing with him and he is a great college player here for us at Notre Dame."
"Adding Troy to that mix is terrific," Graves replies.
"He is a great player and he works very hard. Our work ethics all help each other. When somebody's down, we pull each other up. With Harold, Troy and I, there is a bond and it makes us all better players and people."
According to Graves, the unique bond has probably withstood its greatest tests over the course of the last several months. Following two coaching transitions, a rise in national rankings and the resulting attention from media and fans alike, Graves and his teammates have endured a little bit of everything.
"You have to stay close, especially when things aren't going well," says Graves.
"It is easy for a player and a fan when things are going
great. But when things get hard, that is when you find out what people's intentions are and what kind of person they might be. We definitely have had our highs and our lows here."
According to Graves, pre-season projections have proved the most noteworthy of challenges.
"We had all these expectations coming in this year," says Graves.
"That is something we never witnessed before as players. We never had that luxury to come in as an established program - we had to build something. It was new territory. But the bottom line is that you just have to go out and play. It doesn't matter if you play in a pick-up game or play a national championship game, it's just going out and playing basketball.
"It's a simple game. You shoot, you screen, you dribble. It is a little higher profile now, but you stay together. You need to weed people out and understand who keeps it real and who is fickle and fake."
For freshman guard Torrian Jones, Graves demonstrates what it means to keep it real.
"He has definitely influenced me by how hard he goes at the game. If he gets injured during the game, he just keeps playing hard. Just the way he plays - he's so smooth and under control. He has helped me out a lot."
"Especially with the freshmen, you help them along," says Graves.
"You need to be a role model, a leader and a teacher. You don't get down on your teammates. If they make a shot they normally miss, you help them out, pat them on the back and move on to the next play."
Graves practices what he preaches. Under the guidance of head coach Mike Brey and his staff, he is beginning to overcome a hidden challenge.
"I think the biggest thing I've had to overcome is not getting so down on myself," says Graves.
"I am a competitor and I take things personally. If I miss a shot that I normally make, I get upset with myself. Coach Brey has given me a level head and it helps me on the court, especially when things aren't going well. You rely on your teammates and coaching staff to help you through that."
With a graduation date set for May of 2002, Graves is beginning to point to his future. And of course, basketball is still his priority.
"Obviously my dream is to play after college, whether that be in the NBA or in Europe," says Graves.
"What I'd like to do after basketball is go into coaching, and while I'm in coaching, go to law school. It's a great thing to help kids. Especially in college, when you take kids that are boys and watch them grow to men. That is by far the most rewarding thing that any coach can have. All the national championships they've won do not really matter. Seeing kids do the right thing by getting an education and being good citizens is what it is all about."
One of the backbones to this Irish squad, Graves is doing all those right things himself. And his teammates have always responded.
Seems like that coaching transition won't be any trouble at all.