Graves Earns a Man's Role

He's never been "the man" with the Notre Dame basketball program, but he hasn't had to be. All David Graves has done in four years is set two significant individual records and help the Irish win 25 more games than they have lost. On the eve of Senior Day, IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli pays tribute to one of our favorites.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

March 1, 2002

Graves Leaves
A Winning Legacy

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, IN (IE) David Graves has never been the man, but if Notre Dame secures more men like him this will indeed be a perennial NCAA Tournament program.

You should stand long and cheer long when Graves and his parents are brought out to center-court at the Joyce Center Saturday as part of the Irish’s Senior Day ceremonies, prior to the Big East regular season finale with Providence. He’s had his moments of insecurity and immaturity, his spells with poor marksmanship, but there’s more good than questionable in this package. David Graves is a winner, tangibly defined by his team’s four-year won-loss record and his growth from a brooder to a leader.

The 6-6, 209-pound forward from Lexington, Kentucky will leave Notre Dame first in all-times games played, seventh in total points scored, first in three-point field goals, second in steals, third in games started, 10th in assists. He will tally more points that Kelly Tripucka, LaPhonso Ellis, John Paxson, Tracy Jackson and Orlando Woolridge, other four-year Irish players who went on to play four or more seasons in the NBA.

More important, however, is this statistic. Notre Dame is 75-50 in games played by Graves after going 53-58 in the four seasons before he enrolled.

"When I got here," Graves said, "we were losing to Alaska-Anchorage. Now we’re back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament."

You can say that the Irish turnaround is more a credit to Graves’ former classmate Troy Murphy. Freshman phenom Chris Thomas is clearly the catalyst this year and senior Ryan Humphrey has had a courageous year worthy of first-team All-Big East. Kentuckian and Graves confidant Harold Swanagan has been portrayed, accurately, as the "glue" of the current team.

But Graves, due to equal parts perseverance and versatility, has provided you with so many memorable "Notre Dame Moments."

It was Number 34 who hit the game-winning shot against No. 4 Ohio State to open the Matt Doherty year. His buzzer-beater sunk No. 23 Seton Hall later that year. Those two victories put the Irish back on the national radar screen.

Notre Dame’s most important regular season victory last year – home versus BC – was preserved by a Graves steal from Player of the Year Troy Bell. He didn’t miss a shot in the Irish’s NCAA Tournament victory over Xavier.

"And this year," said coach Mike Brey, "the most impressive thing is that he has become a leader. He’s reliable, he’s durable and now he leads. What an impressive career."

Graves averaged 12.3 points per game his freshman year, 13.2 as a sophomore, 13.8 last season. He’s improved for the fourth consecutive season this winter, up to 14.7. You think it’s easy to improve on your scoring average four consecutive years? Of the six players who will be ahead of Graves on the all-time scoring list – Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Pat Garrity, Rivers, Murphy and Tom Hawkins – only Garrity did it. He’s drawing NBA pay checks now too.

Graves has succeeded, also, in a tumultuous environment. Recruited and nurtured by John MacLeod, at his very first private workout with Doherty, Graves was called "soft." Last year’s team, despite its success, was dysfunctional, with a third coach in three years, a transfer infused in the starting line-up, and Murphy emotionally checked out by early February. This year, Brey challenged Graves to lead and this current Notre Dame squad is a pleasure to watch and be around. They may not be West Division champions again, but they play a more attractive game and care more. Graves has done his job.

"There are no egos now, we focus on basketball," Graves said. "It’s been a great way to finish my career."

Graves would love to play in the NBA. "There has to be a team that needs my skills," he says. He’s also realistic and his Plan B is to attend Law School and become a sports agent. Tall, handsome, educated and with a gift for candor, you can see him fitting into this role. Maybe his first client could be current teammate Chris Thomas.

Notre Dame is better for having recruited Graves, and Graves is grateful he accepted the invitation. He’ll leave the Joyce Center Saturday with few regrets.

"Nobody cared about this program when I came here," he said. "Now we’re everybody’s biggest game. I’m happy to break two records here and have good statistics, and I have to thank my teammates and coaches, all the guys I have played with through the years. Every coach I’ve had has put me in a position to succeed and play well, starting with coach MacLeod."

Notre Dame is favored to win its 20th game tomorrow. It will almost certainly qualify for the NCAA Tournament again. It has a spectacular recruiting class coming in. The athletic administration is in the final stages of planning a complete renovation of the Joyce Center. Basketball is back at Notre Dame.

Yeah, David Graves is worthy of your applause tomorrow.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at Top Stories