By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EST, January 12, 2014
COLLEGE PARK — He wears the same No. 25 jersey worn by his father, a number that hangs from the ceiling of Comcast Center as a reminder of a career that included a record-setting performance 35 years ago.
That is where the on-court similarity ends between Jon and Ernie Graham.
If his father was known for being a high-volume shooter during his career at Maryland, the son is quickly gaining a reputation as a high-energy role player who does everything but shoot.
After transferring from Penn State last summer and being granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA in order to play immediately rather than sit out, Graham's role has grown dramatically over the past month.
"He's a coach's dream, a kid who plays hard and tries to do everything right," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said recently.
Brought in to be mostly a practice player who could provide depth and experience if sophomores Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell fell into foul trouble, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound redshirt junior forward is now being used to give the Terps a boost with his defense and his intensity.
Asked what the Calvert Hall alumnus has brought to the Terps through the team's first 15 games, leading scorer Dez Wells smiled.
"Experience, energy, passion, toughness," Wells said. "Bringing in a guy who's been through the struggles, coming from the Big Ten. He can show our young post players the ropes, show them things they don't know yet."
Said fellow Baltimorean Nick Faust: "Jon does all the little things to help a team."
'You get what you earn'
After playing a total of 19 minutes in Maryland's first eight games — and not getting off the bench in three of them — Graham's role has expanded as Cleare and Mitchell struggled.
Graham, 22, has averaged 14 minutes over the past eight games, played 20 minutes or more twice and started once before Turgeon realized he was more valuable off the bench.
"In this game, you get what you earn," Graham said. "I wasn't going to ask for playing time. I was going to keep working hard every day."
Graham said that he got his work ethic from his parents.
"I was taught early on that effort is very important in life — not just in basketball, in school and everything, " Graham said after his first significant playing time this season, a 15-minute stint last month against George Washington. "You've got a test coming up, you've got to study. I just apply that to life. Effort and working hard and achievement is the key to success."
Karen Graham, who grew up in South Baltimore and has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense for the past 38 years, said that she has passed her values on to her only child.
"I just encourage hard work, no excuses, no slacking," she said, sitting with her husband in their usual seats behind one of the baskets at Comcast Center at a recent game. "I'm a perfectionist. That's why he's so hard on himself."
Said Ernie Graham: "Jon deserves everything he gets. You can teach anybody anything, but it has to come from inside. Jon is a worker, that's really rare these days."
Jon Graham's decision to transfer to Maryland began more than a year ago, after he saw his playing time decrease under new Penn State coach Patrick Chambers.
Graham went from averaging nearly 18 minutes and starting 17 games as a redshirt freshman under Ed DeChellis to playing just 13.6 minutes with eight starts last season.
While neither he nor his parents would disclose the reason Maryland gave the NCAA in order to get a hardship waiver — "a family decision," Ernie Graham called it — the attraction to Maryland was Turgeon.
Jon Graham told his parents that Turgeon reminded him of DeChellis, who now coaches Navy.
"They're both high-character guys," Ernie Graham said.
DeChellis said Graham worked hard in the weight room "to improve his body" while redshirting his freshman year, then worked his way into the rotation and eventually the starting lineup as a sophomore.
"He was a blue-collar player, a guy who brought his lunch pail to work, which you don't see a lot these days," DeChellis said this week.
Many thought Turgeon was doing the family a favor by taking Graham last summer, but Ernie Graham said he wouldn't have allowed his son to transfer to Maryland "if I knew in my heart he couldn't compete. He just needed the opportunity."
'Whatever is needed'
Turgeon — whose Terps (10-6, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Florida State on Sunday night — appreciates what Graham has done for his young and still developing team. He has given a group with a lot of shooters a guy who spends most of his time chasing down their misses. He has also given a team that lacks a shot-blocker a semblance of one.
Graham has 10 blocked shots in 146 minutes, one more than Cleare has in nearly 100 more minutes and three more than Mitchell, who has played the most of Maryland's big men.
Against George Washington, Graham had five points, five rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes; against Tulsa, Graham pulled down seven rebounds in 20 minutes.
But Graham is quick to point out that "I feel like I still have more that I can give to this team."
While his father was used at nearly every position except center for Lefty Driesell, Graham is playing mostly at center and power forward despite being smaller than many of his opponents.
Graham said the shooting lessons his father gave him years ago have stuck. The younger Graham said he could now outshoot his father, who made 52 percent of his field goal attempts at Maryland and ranks 13th on the school's scoring list with 1,607, including the record 44 he scored against North Carolina State.
"I'm a pretty good shooter, actually," Jon Graham said. "I want to do whatever is needed. If a team starts to zone us, and there is an open 10-footer or 15-footer, I can make the shot. But I want to make the right plays when I'm out there."
That does not surprise Calvert Hall coach John Bauersfeld. Recalling how Graham averaged about 18 points and 10 rebounds a game as a sophomore, Bauersfeld said Graham never complained when his offensive numbers went down as the talent on the team improved.
"He's incredibly selfless," Bauersfeld said of Graham, who wound up as the school's second-leading scorer with over 1,700 points, behind only Duane Ferrell and right ahead of Juan Dixon. "He never batted an eye, never complained, never said he wasn't getting enough touches. He really just wants to win."
Turgeon said Graham has shown in practice an ability to hit an open 15-footer "off a pick and pop". But in Maryland's offense, Graham is needed more for tip-ins than 3-pointers, more for his defense than his dunks.
"I bet he's one of the better 3-point shooters on the team," Ernie Graham said, "but he's not going to step outside his role."
On a team lacking role players, Graham is in the mold of a Byron Mouton, whom the younger Graham recalled watching when he started following the Terps the year before they won the 2002 NCAA title.
"Mouton was one of the more underappreciated players on that team. He did a lot of the dirty work, things that most people don't see," Graham said. "The game is more than just scoring and rebounding. You can impact the game in many positive ways."
He has so far. And it could put the Terps in an interesting predicament come next season, when barring any early departures or transfers, the team's scholarship limit will be filled by a four-player recruiting class currently ranked in the top 5 nationally.
It seems obvious listening to Turgeon that Graham — who was put a on scholarship this year with no guarantees for next season — will certainly have a place at Maryland for the remainder of his college career.
"He's a great kid, a great teammate," Turgeon said. "I'm really happy for Jon. He didn't say a word [when he wasn't playing much], he's paid his dues, and now he's feeling more comfortable and he's really helping us."
About Jon Graham
Year: Junior (transferred from Penn State)
High school: Calvert Hall
Parents: Karen and Ernie Graham. Ernie who holds Maryland's single-game scoring record with 44 points against North Carolina State during the 1978-79 season.
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