Friendly Foes

Having known each other since their high school days, the relationship between Ole Miss' Zach Graham and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks goes far beyond basketball. Read about it inside.

Averaging close to 30 points when his team visited Oxford for a Super Tuesday affair on January 27th, All-SEC First Teamer Jodie Meeks appeared unstoppable.

But with a familiar face defending him, the conference's No. 1 scorer was held without a field goal in the first half, and only 21 points for the game – 10 of those coming by way of free throws.

Sophomore Zach Graham had done his part. Not only did Meeks appear flustered most of the night, but he wasn't allowed to will his team to victory. With the horn sounding, Ole Miss had captured an 85-80 upset at home and Graham was a big reason why.

"He did a pretty good job on me the last time we played," Meeks said of Zach's defensive performance. "My shooting percentage wasn't too good, but it's not all about me. I'm just trying to play hard and win in any way possible."

He wasn't afforded a win on that night.

Meeks has been a headache for opposing coaches all season. He's had 20 20-point games this season, while ranking fifth nationally in scoring at 24.7 points per game.

Against the Rebels, however, he was never in a groove. If not for six points within the game's final minutes, he would have been held well-short of his season average.

What was the secret formula to Meeks' inefficiency? The fact that he and Graham have been battling since their early high school years might be the answer.

"We went to separate high schools, about 10 minutes apart, but he was on the same AAU team as me. He was also my roommate," said Graham. "In the offseason, we work out together and everything. We played three years together. I've known Jodie for a while."

A year older than Graham, Meeks was the 2006 Atlanta Journal Constitution and Gwinnett Daily Post's Player of the Year as a senior. He was a team captain, averaging 23.7 points per game for Norcross High School, who won the AAAAA State Championship in his final year on campus.

Graham, also a decorated recruit from the state of Georgia, and Meeks faced off multiple times over their high school careers. Graham led his Peachtree Ridge squad in scoring with 23 points and four rebounds as a junior.

Those numbers quickly caught the attention of the elder Meeks.

"I knew (he was talented) all along, but I think he matured probably his junior year," Meeks said. "He was scoring a lot and doing a lot of the things he's doing now. I knew all along, but he's matured a lot since high school."

Meeks said that maturation is what helped Graham play so well in their teams' previous meeting.

"For him, he's taller than me," he said. "He's about 6-foot-6 and physical. He did a good job last time guarding me. It was the first time I had seen a defense like that. They were all focused on me. (Thursday) I'm just going to try and be patient and take good shots."

Graham draws the toughest assignment every night, as Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has relied upon the sophomore to shutdown the opposition's most feared threat.

While he looks forward to guarding any player his coach sees fit, Graham feels added motivation when facing Meeks.

"It's exciting," he said. "It kinda gets your adrenaline rushing, because I played against him in high school. And when it's one of your best friends...Thursday is going to be fun.

"Jodie's motor never stops. It seems like he never gets tired. He's gotten so much stronger. It's hard to push him off screens."

But no matter what happens on the court, the two remain close off it, according to Meeks.

"It's just business," Jodie said. "On the court it's just business. Off the court we're friends and call each other after the game. But on the court, I don't do that much talking."


OM Spirit Top Stories