The incessant summer buzz coming out of Stillwater wasn't Joey Graham's airplane--though the 6'7" senior forward did earn his pilot's license--but rather the sound of a career that's been cleared for takeoff. With Tony Allen gone to the pros, Graham is set to move from power forward to the wing, where he dominated some of the nation's top players during games at the Nike and Michael Jordan camps last summer. "It's my natural position," says Graham, whose size and athleticism make him a matchup nightmare. "My role last year was to set a lot of picks and crash the boards, but now I can go back to being aggressive and trying to make big plays happen."
Graham showed glimpses of big-dog potential during last year's Final Four campaign (witness his 36-point explosion against Nebraska), and Cowboys coaches think he can be the latest Oklahoma State wing to become an NBA first-round pick, joining Allen and Desmond Mason.
"We can use Joey in a lot of ways," says assistant coach Sean Sutton, who calls the team's offensive plays. "He's a great one-on-one player, he can shoot the three and he can create his shot at any time. And with his size and strength he's a difficult matchup in the low post." If Graham can boost his rebounding (from 5.2 to eight or 10 per game) and prove himself as a perimeter defender, Sutton thinks he could be the Big 12 player of the year.
That would be scary considering the Cowboys still have point guard John Lucas III, the reigning league co--player of the year, along with two other returning starters (guard Daniel Bobik and forward Ivan McFarlin) from a team that came within seconds of advancing to the national championship game. Nor will depth be a concern with a rotation that includes 6'11" forward Aaron Pettway (a 24year-old juco transfer and Air Force vet), freshman guard JamesOn Curry (North Carolina's alltime leading high school scorer) and guard Stevie Graham (Joey's twin brother).
Joey and Stevie, the sons of a former Navy pilot, have already earned their aviation management degrees, and both passed their FAA pilot exams last summer. The next challenge is simple: to see how high they--and this team--can fly. --G.W.
2003--04 RECORD: 31--4 (14--2, 1st in Big 12)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Georgia Tech in Final Four
These Pokes ain't slow: Lucas is the Big 12's quickest point guard, and Graham is a mad slasher.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"Everybody talks about the four starters they have coming back, but I think they're going to really miss Tony Allen. He gave them toughness and a badass personality. I don't see any of the other guys doing that.... John Lucas is the best point guard in the Big 12.... I love Ivan McFarlin. He's just a beast. He's not a great scorer, but he's going to crash the boards and play hard.... From what I hear, JamesOn Curry is pretty good. It's tough for a freshman to come in and play well in our league, but he has veterans around him, which should keep his mistakes to a minimum."
MANNY MILLAN (2)
The reigning Big 12 co--player of the year, Lucas will lead the drive for a second straight trip to the Final Four.
MANNY MILLAN (2)
ON THE MOVE
Graham, who switched to the wing from power forward, could end up as a first-round draft pick.