No one would accuse Chance Graham of lacking conviction. The tallest player on the preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team, the 6-foot-1 senior forward for the Coppin State women’s basketball team is not shy about where she stands among her peers.
“I’m better than any post player or forward in this conference night in and night out,” said Graham, who grew up in Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County and graduated from Largo High School. “Yeah, I’m going to have my bad nights, but overall statistically, yeah, I can say that I’m better than any post player in this conference. And it’s not just me. It’s on paper. We can go back to my freshman year stats, my sophomore year stats. I already got my 1,000th point as a junior, and I’m close to getting my 1,000th rebound. You can put that up against anybody.”
What might sound like bluster is founded in truth. Last winter, Graham became the 15th player in Eagles history to reach 1,000 career points, ranking 13th with 1,019. This season she passed Rene’ Doctor’s program mark of 908 set in 1995, and she ranked in the school’s top 10 in free throws made (fifth with 313), free throws attempted (fifth, 448) and blocks (ninth, 70) entering the season.
This season, Graham leads Coppin (0-5) with a 14.8 scoring and 7.0 rebound averages.
Graham’s march through Coppin State’s record books is the least surprising news to coach DeWayne Burroughs.
“I told her from Day One that I saw the ability that she had,” he said. “I told her that if she continued to work hard, by the time she was a senior, she could be a contender for Player of the Year in her senior year. I think if she has a good year this year and we do well as a team, she should be the Player of the Year. She’s gotten better each and every year. So I wouldn’t expect anything less this year.”
Graham’s confidence was not always present. Despite being the tallest student in school — she was 5-9 as an eighth grader — she did not begin playing basketball until the eighth grade and did not consider pursuing basketball in college until her senior year at Largo.
Graham, 21, said part of her uncertainty had to do with the lack of attention she drew from college recruiters. Programs such as Auburn, Georgia State and Middle Tennessee State sent her letters, but nothing as concrete as the scholarship offer the Eagles made to her.
“That’s why I wasn’t really sure whether I wanted to keep playing,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘If I’m as good as everyone keeps saying, why don’t I have more than one offer?’ I had a lot of partials and a lot of, ‘Oh, we can work with you once you get here and go from there.’ But I didn’t want to go anywhere unless I knew that the money was guaranteed.”
After she helped Largo capture the Class 2A state championship in 2016, Graham said she was contacted by more coaches, but insisted on honoring her commitment to Coppin State.
“I wouldn’t say it upset me, but it kind of opened my eyes,” she said. “I went back to that feeling of feeling like I wasn’t good enough.”
Burroughs said Graham demonstrated what she was capable of as a freshman when she had seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds in a 73-44 loss at Virginia Commonwealth in the 2016-17 season opener.
“I think she was a little hesitant going into that game,” he said, comparing her rebounding ability with former Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman. “I think coming out of it, she said to herself, ‘I really can play Division I basketball.’ … I think that was a turning point for her because she rebounded well and she scored the ball well. I think at that point, she really could play at this level and do well, and ever since then, she hasn’t looked back.”
Graham finished her first season averaging 6.8 points and 8.7 rebounds and was named the MEAC Rookie of the Year. The next year, she raised those numbers to 13.4 points and 10.8 rebounds and earned a spot on the league’s second team.
Then last winter, she averaged 14.5 points and a conference-high 11.4 rebounds and was the only player to rank in the MEAC’s top 10 in both steals (48) and blocked shots (35). She was recognized by the league as its Defensive Player of the Year despite a painful hip injury that limited her mobility and ability to practice with her teammates.
Senior forward Oluwadamilola Oloyede (pronounced O-lu-wa-dom-me-lo-la Oh-low-yay-day) has known Graham since the latter helped her move into a dorm on the school’s Baltimore campus when they were freshmen, and they were roommates for their first three years. Oloyede called Graham “a very dominant” player.
“She’s very aggressive, but she’s a team player,” she said. “She gets everybody involved, and when you’re not doing well, she tells you straight-up, and when you’re doing well, she encourages you. So she’s a well-rounded player. She’s a good person to lift you up — good or bad.”
As well as Graham has played, the Eagles have not finished higher than eighth in their previous three seasons. She acknowledged a sense of urgency stemming from her final season, but said she won’t assume the burden of demanding the ball, relying instead on the maturation of a five-member sophomore class and the addition of a four-member freshman group.
“I’ve just got to play basketball,” she said. “At the end of the night, I know that my team’s going to have my back if I’m having a good night or a bad night. I’m always big on involving my teammates because I don’t always want the spotlight to be on me. If it’s a win, it’s going to be a win because we won together.”
A criminal justice major, Graham dreams of becoming a homicide detective. But before she takes that path, she said she intends to find out if she can play professional basketball overseas. She is willing to go anywhere — with one exception.
“The only place I won’t go is Australia,” she said. “They have a lot of animals, crazy creatures down there. They have something called spider season. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I don’t want to go down there.”
Spiders aside, Burroughs said he has noticed Graham take the reins as a leader in the offseason and preseason.
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“She wants to go out on top, and I think she’s pushing everybody to do that, and she’s pushing herself to another level,” he said. “I think she feels that she has to step up and be a leader and try to carry the team. But like I told her, ‘You don’t have to take every shot and you don’t have to score 40 points a night.’ We’ve finally put pieces around her that are going to make her better and make the team better.”