Jan. 19, 2000
by Tom Kolbe
With the turn of the century, there has also been a turn in fortunes for the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball program. The 1999-2000 season has thrown out the old and brought a new dimension of basketball that has ultimately delivered much success.
With a new offensive and defensive scheme led by first-year head coach Matt Doherty, there is now an immense opportunity for sharp-shooting players with much hustle, such as David Graves.
The 6-6 sophomore from Lexington, Ky., has followed up a strong freshman season where he started 28 of 30 games and averaged 12.3 points per game with an even larger beginning his sophomore year.
While Graves may say it started before the season began, it became evident to the entire basketball nation when Graves sunk the game winning shot to defeat Ohio State in a nationally televised game to begin the season. It was Graves who hit the running jump shot at the buzzer to lead the Irish to a 59-57 defeat of the fourth ranked Buckeyes in Columbus.
“I am pretty satisfied with the way this season has started,” says Graves. “Coach Doherty’s scheme, both offensively and defensively, has really sunk in with my teammates, along with myself.”
While leading his team in three-pointers with 32, Graves feels he has improved all facets of his game. With a rebounding average of 5.1, Graves also ranks second on the team with 45 assists and 28 steals. Though Graves considers himself a shooter, draining 46 percent of his shots from three-point range, he is quick to recognize his improvements in other areas.
“I have been doing the little things,” says Graves. “My rebounding has improved and I have also been getting more steals and more assists. I also have not been turning the ball over as much. Overall, I would consider myself a much improved player.”
While posting 74 assists and 36 steals a year ago, Graves also averaged 3.9 rebounds per game to go with 35 three-pointers. Nearly halfway through his sophomore season, Graves is steadily moving up on his numbers from last year.
Graves credits much of his success this season to the hard work he put in over the summer. While dropping his weight to 208 pounds, the sharpshooter has prepared himself for success in other areas of the game.
“I lost a lot of weight in the off season,” says Graves. “Now I can stay on the floor longer and, in turn, move better. I consider myself more active, which leads to getting my hands on the ball more often. I also am diving on the floor and being much more aggressive than I was before. The 20 pounds I lost did that for me.”
While attending Lexington Catholic High School, the honorable mention McDonald’s All-American was lured to Notre Dame by former head coach John MacLeod. After one season Graves was informed of the departure of the arrival of Doherty. While change was imminent, the opportunity for team and individual success remained prominent.
“It has been a big change for everyone with the change of coaches,” says Graves. “Coach Doherty came to the team right away and really wanted to talk with us. It has been a tough transition for him as well. The change has been terrific. The emotion we are bringing to the floor is something.”
Graves is enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters, throwing in a little philosophy for this season as well. “We want to go out there every game and play hard,” says Graves. “We just want to continue to improve with not only every game, but every day.”
With the wide array of success as a shooter, one often wonders what position Graves is meant to play. While being listed as a forward, Graves possesses many qualities of a shooting guard with his high shooting percentages. While being overshadowed by his shooting numbers, Graves is second in team rebounding behind fellow sophomore Troy Murphy.
“I am a small forward,” says Graves. “Maybe in the future I will play the shooting guard position, but I just want to play whatever position coach puts me at and give myself the best opportunity to be productive and help my team. I shoot the ball well and I am working on improving my mid-range game. Having shooters like Troy (Murphy), Matt (Carroll) and Martin (Ingelsby) really takes the pressure off myself.”
With the improvement evident in Graves’ game, he still remains far from finished becoming a more polished player.
“I am really working on improving taking my man off the dribble,” says Graves. “I feel there is always room for improvement in ball handling, but the one facet of my game I really look to improve is my one-on-one game. I am only a sophomore, so I have time to improve.”
After participating in high school all-star games such as the Kentucky-Ohio Classic, the Kentucky Derby City Classic and the Kentucky-Indiana Classic, Graves stepped onto the court at Notre Dame where he made an immediate impact as a freshman.
Graves refused to bask in the spotlight of his successful rookie campaign and set out during the summer in pursuit of improvement and hopes of an expanded role with the Irish.
“I have improved 110 percent since the day I stepped on campus,” says Graves. “Most of my improvement came over the summer. I used last summer to get better, stronger and become a better player. I am satisfied with the results.”
While the secret to consistency among shooters is confidence, Graves does not deny the fact he was confident as a freshman. He attests this year’s improvement to the fact he is even more confident as a sophomore. Though Graves insists his change in confidence is not due to the rise in his numbers, it is the change in his team’s stature during the big games.
“I am a lot more confident than last year,” says Graves. “It is not all because I am that much of a better player. I feel I had a great season as a freshman and was overshadowed by Troy’s phenomenal play. Last year we would play the nation’s elite teams and not believe we could win the game. This season we expect to win those games. We go to places like Ohio State and Connecticut and come away with victories and shake hands and leave the court afterwards. We feel we can win any game.”
With the amount of success the Irish have enjoyed this season, the fans are not the only ones left in awe of this year’s Notre Dame team. While Graves maintains he expected much success, he was unsure of just how much success to expect.
“At the beginning of the year, we were extremely confident,” says Graves. “I was not sure we would compete like this. With the new offensive and defensive scheme, we were all unsure. I think the first five minutes of the Ohio State game cleared that up.”
The burden Graves and his Irish teammates will face for the remainder of the season is the fact the Irish will be singled out by opponents as a team to beat. With several quality performances against some elites teams, Notre Dame is quickly moving up the wish list on opponents teams-to-beat lists.
“We have a bullseye across our back,” says Graves. “Teams will think that if they beat us, then they defeated a team that beat Ohio State or Connecticut. We have set the standard for BIG EAST play by defeating the best team. If we sustain that, there is no reason why we cannot be the BIG EAST regular-season champs.”
With an 11-7 record on the season, four of those setbacks came to Maryland, Arizona Indiana and Syracuse, which are all ranked teams. Though Graves wishes the outcomes could have been different, he feels confident with the way his team learned from those losses.
“The losses we suffered this season have helped us,” says Graves. “Arizona and Ohio State are top-15 teams, and we had a chance to win every game. Not many people can go to Indiana and rebound from a 20-0 deficit to nearly win the game in overtime. There have been some bumps in the road, but we have also matured greatly throughout the course of the season.”
When scanning through the Notre Dame schedule, one cannot help but realize the difficulty of its schedule. While playing in the BIG EAST conference which is filled with tough competition, the Irish have played the likes of Maryland, Indiana, Arizona along with Siena, Miami (OH) and Valparaiso, who all participated in last year’s NCAA tournament.
“We have played well against every team we have played and they all have a legitimate chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” says Graves. Our first goal is to win the next game, second is to win the BIG EAST title and third is to go to the NCAA tournament.”
With the Irish pleased with the outcomes of many games and the initiative to improve and learn from mistakes, Graves has his own idea of what his next goal will be.
“We want to please our fans and the people who watch us play,” says Graves. “We have done a good job so far with instilling confidence within the community and the student body. This team is legit.”
While the teammates and coaches are satisfied beyond doubt with the productivity of Graves, he claims the past two weeks have been a time of a somewhat shooting slump.
“I have not been shooting very well the past couple weeks,” says Graves. “I am a shooter and that will happen. You will have those games where you are just not hitting. I feel I am still getting rebounds and forcing turnovers, in addition to creating scoring opportunities for my teammates in those games.”
David Graves carries high aspirations and goals with him to every practice and game and it is becoming more and more apparent that Graves and his fellow teammates are bringing life back to a Notre Dame program that suffered many setbacks in the 1990s. With a group of young players, consisting of four underclassmen starters, Graves looks to begin this decade with a special season that new head coach Matt Doherty can build on in the future.