Four-year Growth

When his career in basketball ends, be it upon the final horn of his last game in an Ole Miss uniform or further down the line, Zach Graham will have his time to reflect.

Because he can't do it now; not with his team just five games into its schedule. The future, at least today, seems so far away. He wants to continue in basketball for as long as he can.

He has developed a passion for this game. It's a part of him now.

"People ask me that all the time," Graham said. "I've put so much work into this since I've been a kid. I've developed a love for this game. I like football, but I love basketball. If you put so much work and effort into something that you love, you definitely want to continue doing that as long as you can."

Before he signed with Ole Miss in November of 2006, Graham was a two-sport standout for Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Ga.

He was athletically gifted in basketball and football, receiving multiple scholarship offers in both sports.

Zach Graham

But he preferred basketball. He had a future in the sport. And, more importantly, he was drawn to Ole Miss and its head coach, Andy Kennedy.

Four years later, Graham, with 67 career wins, is just 20 wins shy of become the winningest player in program history. Jason Flanigan currently holds the record with 87 career wins.

Graham also has a chance to eclipse 1,000 points in his career.

"Zach is understated," Kennedy said. "He's really grown up before our eyes. I know he's got a real sense of urgency that you want to see seniors play with. He's a quality kid who's going to get his degree in business and be very productive when basketball stops.

"My primary goal is for Chris (Warren) and Zach to leave here the way that they want, the way they deserve."

Kennedy, of course, was referring to the NCAA Tournament. It's a final destination Ole Miss hasn't reached in eight years. The Rebels are 3-2 through five games, including its most recent game, a loss at Miami.

Ole Miss hosts Southern Mississippi Saturday at 7 p.m.

"I don't know what it would feel like," Graham said of appearing in the NCAA Tournament. "I've never gotten there. It's a long way away from right now. It's a long road of hard work. If I do get that experience, I'll let you know how it feels."

If given the chance, what advice would Graham the senior share with Graham the freshman?

Zach Graham

Graham laughed at the notion Thursday, mainly because he couldn't find the answer. He's learned so much in his three-plus seasons.

"Man, I wouldn't even know where to start," he said, eyes turned upwards in recollection. "I'll just say I know a lot more now than when I first got here."

Lessons learned:

Ole Miss nearly erased a 30-point halftime deficit in its loss to Miami Tuesday.

The Rebels, led by Warren, engineered a 29-8 second-half run, cutting the lead to 79-70 with 4:10 remaining. However, Miami's Durand Scott, who had a game-high 27 points, converted four free throws in the next 1:25 to secure the victory.

"I think we showed the type of team that we can be in the second half," Graham said. "But I think we've learned that we just can't give up big leads like that, because that's tough to really fight back from."

Now Ole Miss shifts its focus to Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles will roll into Oxford following a 100-71 win over Alcorn State, their fifth win of the season. Ole Miss defeated Southern Miss, 81-79, in spectacular fashion last season, outscoring the Golden Eagles, 10-2, in the final 1:12 inside Tad Smith Coliseum.

"Every time we play Southern Miss it's an intense game," Graham said. "I know they're going to be ready to come in here and give us a fight. I know it's not going to be an easy game. Every time we play them, it's like a dog fight. We've got to be ready for that."

Gary Flowers paces four players in double-figure points with a 21.0 average. R.L. Horton adds 15.6 points per game, followed by Josimar Ayarza (11.6) and D.J. Newbill (11.2). Newbill also averages a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game.

The Golden Eagles are 4-0 at home and 1-0 on the road (at USF).

"I know they have some talented players," Graham said. "They have a couple of seniors in their starting lineup. I know they like to spread the ball out and play one-on-one, basically, with the floor spread out. We have to just be ready to sit down and play defense."

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