End in Sight

Zach Graham peaked through the double doors separating the team-only area from the common room of the basketball practice facility Monday, looked ahead and asked Joey Jones, Ole Miss' media relations representative for basketball, if it was time.

Jones nodded in the affirmative. So Graham eased through those double doors, slowly making his way into a seat amongst the many reporters there to record his every word. There was nothing unique about the process. Actually, there was nothing especially unique about this Monday.

He had been here before. Talking to the media, especially early in the week following a win over the weekend, was customary.

But the line of questioning was far different than the countless other interviews he had experienced over his Ole Miss career. Graham is but a few days away from playing his last game inside Tad Smith Coliseum, barring, of course, the Rebels host a postseason game.

Graham is one of two seniors set to play his final game inside Tad Smith Coliseum Saturday
Courtesy: Associated Press
The finality of the situation -- that his days in an Ole Miss uniform were numbered -- had finally dawned on him. His head coach, Andy Kennedy, had warned Graham and fellow senior Chris Warren that this day was coming. However, it had seemed so far away in November.

My, how time flies.

"I know we're getting close to it," he said. "But we got more games on the schedule. That's all I'm really focused on."

Of course Graham would say that. He and Warren have drastically different playing styles, but their personalities, how they talk, how they carry themselves, are similar.

Both are soft-spoken. Both are low maintenance. Both are hard workers, who are singularly focused on wins and losses, not eye-popping numbers on a stat sheet.

"Our next two games are very winnable games," he said. "Are they going to be easy? No. We know that we're going to need to make a run, but it only starts with the next game. That's all we're focused on now."

Graham has been the lesser appreciated of the two.

He signed with Ole Miss out of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Ga., in November of 2006, arriving as a slasher-type with limitations in his perimeter game. Still, he played in every game over his freshman season and performed well enough, averaging just 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14 minutes a game.

Meanwhile, Warren, also a 2006 signee, burst onto the scene, setting Ole Miss basketball on fire with his volume offense and rainbow 3-pointers.

But Graham has grown immensely in four years; from a second, third or even fourth option as a freshman, to the 22nd player in school history to reach 1,200 points in his career.

He has added pieces to his game every year, most notably as a sophomore, when Warren suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Graham, despite a partially torn patella tendon, stepped in and led a youthful roster as a defensive stopper and competent scorer.

Graham is the 22nd player in school history to reach 1,200 points in his career
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"I just go out and try to do all that I can do," Graham said. "Just try to help the team, whether I'm the No. 1 player, or the last player on the bench. I'm just going to do whatever I can to help the team."

He enters Wednesday night's game at Auburn 20th all-time in career points with 1,216 points, and is 17 points shy of passing Dwayne Curtis for 19th. Graham has played in 130 games in his career, which sits two shy of Jason Harrison's school record of 132 games played.

"When I reflect back on Zach's time here, honestly the first thing I think about will not be basketball," Kennedy said. "He's been a great addition to our university. He's never been one minute of trouble. He's going to graduate, and be very successful in life.

"I want for him to finish the way that he deserves. He's put a lot of time and effort into this. He wants it more for the name on the front of the jersey than the name on the back, which is not always the case. He's been a pleasure to coach."

Ole Miss is 18-11 overall and 6-8 in Southeastern Conference games. Far more likely than not, he will again fall short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels probably need to win the conference tournament March 10-13 to snap a tournament drought dating back to 2001-02.

Graham, who is 10th in the SEC with a 14.7 scoring average, can hold his head high, though. He is proud of where he's come. He doesn't know what the future holds. He hasn't really thought about it, honestly.

"I can say I'm proud of (my career), because I've seen myself mature over the years from my freshman year to now," Graham said. "I remember every summer, just trying to do what I can, whether it's dropping weight or ball-handling. Trying to get better. I've seen results."

OM Spirit Top Stories