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The Process of Graham…

The story is convenient. Too convenient. It's the ideal sound bite for a recruiting pitch, the kind of story you expect to hear during the junior season of a star college basketball player. It's so perfect, and so smelly, that you also wonder if it ever happened.

It goes that Treveon Graham was told by Shaka Smart on a recruiting visit that he could be VCUs alltime leading scorer, breaking Eric Maynor's mark of 1,929 points. It came out in full last year, the product of Graham's assault on 16 points twice a week and some quick math. It's a fun story, rather like that largemouth bass you reeled in when you were a teenager.

We know Shaka Smart and have heard similar stories. The ironman drill. Navy SEAL training. His quote book and thoughtfulness. His defensive stance. 137 wins and the 2011 Final Four. Havoc. The process. There's a mountain of those stories and we've soaked them up like the warmth of springtime sunshine.

But this time, it isn't about the story.

It's about the product of the process, those drills, those soundbites. It's about the endpoint, or more accurately the midpoint, from when Shaka Smart brings a player into the VCU basketball program to that point where he leaves to move forward in his life. This is Treveon Graham's story at VCU, of where he began and where he is.

And if that first story is true, that story about a lightly-recruited kid being told he can be the school's alltime leading scorer, we also must give credence to a leadership trait we don't talk about enough: the prescience of Shaka Smart.

***

You don't remember Treveon Graham's performance in the 2012 CAA championship game. Darius Theus scored 16 points, dished out five assists, and had five steals. Troy Daniels hit four free throws in the final 19 seconds to preserve the 59-56 win. They were the heroes, rightfully, in the press room.

VCU assistant coach Mike Morrell remembers.

Graham, VCUs ever-improving freshman, scored 13 points that evening. Ironically points were not his greatest contribution. Graham drew the defensive assignment on Drexel senior Samme Givens. Those of you who remember know Givens was as tough of a player as VCU has played against. Givens knew how to use every bit of his 6-5 frame, and was the Dragons' second leading scorer. Givens took 301 shots on the year.

That night, guarded by Graham, Givens posted a meek 0-3 from the field.

"Coach was so excited about him as a freshman, you knew right away he was going to play," recalls Morrell. "It's amazing, coach (Smart) has an uncanny ability to predict the future. With Tre he knew this was going to be the guy moving forward. (Tre) did an unbelievable job on (Givens) that night."

***

Nobody knows Treveon Graham like Trina Graham. Moms always know. Moms are strong, they are willing to face reality with grace and courage. Moms will talk about reality in absolutes, without the veneer that ultimately clouds that reality. Moms always see the big picture even when they don't discuss it.

Trina Graham knew. She knew that her son was confident in his choice of a college 100 miles south down interstate 95 from their home. She had never heard of VCU before Smart and his staff began recruiting her son, but she became convinced by the words of her son.

"Tre was a very quiet kid," she says. "What really got Tre to pick VCU was because they made him feel at home and comfortable. He told me 'if I'm going to be away from home I want to be comfortable.' When Tre was being recruited I had never heard of VCU before, and when he selected VCU a lot of people told him 'why did you select VCU?' but it was because he felt comfortable and what the coaches have done for the kids."

Graham's freshman season–not unlike every single freshman in the past dozen years, including VCUs two NBA draft picks, Maynor and Larry Sanders–was not awe inspiring. He did see the court about 16 minutes a night, and averaged seven points per game. It was the kind of freshman season where everyone could sit back and say 'okay. That was pretty good, but we have a ways to go.'
 
And that's when Trina Graham saw it happen for her son:
 
"Coach Smart had so much confidence in him and they respected him so much. From his freshman to his sophomore year I saw a change in him. He was so much more talkative. What I'm saying is that he went from a boy to a man in the matter of one year, and he was still 18. Even talking to the other guys on the team I could see they all had respect for him and he was still one of the youngest. Even the seniors at the time had respect for him. That blew me away, to see that my little boy is now a man as a sophomore. As a mother to see that and hear that, that was really special to me. I thank coach Smart and the staff for that because they gave him confidence and believed in him. He wasn't on a certain AAU team or at a certain high school. He wasn't talked about. He had a little bit of confidence but they helped him become a man and stayed on him and made him confident."
 
That growth, the freshman-to-sophomore jump you hear coaches talk about, helped Graham double most every statistical category from his first year. He averaged 15.1ppg in a year in which VCU stepped up from the CAA to the Atlantic 10. The honors stared rolling in, and the beginnings of the Freight Train began to take root.
 
"His role increased and there was opportunity, but he was the guy who stepped in and took it. He took over for Brad (Burgess)," says Morrell. "Tre has always been a guy to work on his craft. When we played Virginia Tech in a scrimmage he was out there at 17 years old and he's probably still mid pack as far as age goes and he's a senior. That's a big deal. We needed him to grow up a ton and he did. Coach (Smart) never hesitated one single bit."
 
That's also when the math began. Graham needs 604 points for that record. He's been a part of 82 wins. He's played in three NCAA tournaments. Treveon Graham has never played in the Siegel Center when it was not sold out. The numbers and typical standards of college basketball success are there for him.
 
But there's some unfinished business to his career. Graham wants what everyone wants–a deep run in the NCAA tournament. According to Smart, Graham can get there by buying into the leadership things, the teammate things, the Treveon Graham-as-a-young-man things he is being taught. The numbers are but half the story. This is where on-court success and off-court success intersect.

 
"He's the most respected guy on our team," says Morrell. "When your hardest worker and most respected guy is also your best player, you've got something. He's not a 'rah rah' guy but people follow him. He is much better with (being vocal). He understands at some point he's got to take a guy to the side and tell them 'this is what we do; this is what we want.'"
 
There's anticipation for this year's VCU squad, probably as much belief for a big season since, well, last year. But seriously you look at the roster and you can see the seeds of success. There is a maturity on the roster and a versatility and talent level that will give the coaching staff it's deepest team. This coaching staff will have options, including the next crop of baby-faced freshmen.
 
Those four freshmen have received plenty of flowery press, but remember: neither the school's leading scorer nor the man who may break that mark this year played 18 mpg or scored more than 7 ppg. There's a lot more to a great college career than showing up with talent.
 
"We have four freshmen and part of the process of getting them ready is Tre taking that (leadership) role," says Morrell. "I told Terry Larrier you're crazy  if you don't watch that guy every single day. Watch him. Those guys have got to understand one of the reasons Tre has had success is that he's followed the plan and he's trusted it. His mom and dad have supported it, even in times when we had to whip Tre into gear."
 
You see, that's what it's really about. The numbers are great and we cheer the wins and love the dunks and the bombs to beat UVa at the buzzer, but those are but one facet to what's going on in this program. Smart talks about his role with his players, that his job is to move them forward. It isn't as sexy as havoc press variations and turnover percentages, but it's more important. Smart is up front about that:
 

"You look at a guy like Troy Daniels, a guy like Darius Theus, a guy like Juvonte Reddic and you say 'those guys were very, very good players and they won a lot of games and had great careers at VCU but man I wish Troy would've done this or done that, or Juvonte had done this'–not me but people from the outside that look at this.

This is not the end of their journey. They are 22 years old when they leave here. I don't know where you were at 22 but it’s just the end of their time wearing a VCU uniform. No, they aren't going to score any more points or get any more rebounds here at VCU, but I do feel good that those guys made great progress while they were here, that they did help us win a lot of games and they’ve continued to grow afterward."

 

Because she is a mom, Trina Graham gets it.

"My main concern was the education," she says. "I like what coach Smart has instilled in him. They go to school in the summer time. They make sure it's a focus and they've stayed on top of him. Basketball wise, I see where my son started and where he is now and it has been a great experience to see him grow. I love the program and what coach Smart has done for VCU."

There is truly no better measure in this world than a mother's love. 

***

I don't care if Treveon Graham reaches the scoring record or not. His jersey should hang from the Siegel Center rafters. The scoring record is a number, and while significant it's one piece of the puzzle. Graham's mom convinced me, ironically, and she didn't even know it.

You see, Treveon Graham's career is everything we should strive for in this business. He entered VCU a 17-year old baby, with only a modicum of self-confidence. He will leave it a young man, confident, with his degree, prepared to meet his basketball future or any other future. He carries with him an abundance of basketball skills, and life skills.

And yes, he enters his senior season with 82 wins, looking for his fourth NCAA tournament. He is on the precipice of that scoring record and has enough honors to fill an attic.

If that combination is not jersey-hanging-worthy, I don't know what is.

***

The email exchange ended at 1:32pm on November 10, 2010. It was full of the typical news and notes two days prior to the season opener that I get from Scott Day. He is very good about getting me the information I need. This email string was no different, and didn't really raise my eyebrows.

Until I got to the last sentence:

 

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In fact Trina Graham remembers the conversation vividly.
 
"We were visiting and he told (Treveon) 'this is not a recruiting pitch but based on the things I saw this summer I bet you you can be the (career) high scorer at VCU,'" she recalls. "Whatever Eric's total is, and he knew the number, he said 'you can beat this total.'"
 
Treveon Graham may or may not beat that total. But the total of his career is to be celebrated and modeled. It's that process at its finest.
 

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