January 5, 1999
By Eric Wachter
Most freshmen undergo an awkward transition from high school to college basketball.
Notre Dame freshman forward David Graves simply scored 29 points in his fifth collegiate game, the most points by an Irish freshman had scored in 24 years.
“I kind of knew what college basketball was going to be like because I played with college players a lot during the summer,” says Graves. “I played at Kentucky a lot with their players. I kind of knew what to expect. It is still an adjustment because you need to learn how play on the road, how play with the referees and have to go through all the scouting reports learning other people’s moves. On top of all that you have to go back home and study, but college basketball has been a great experience for me so far. Personally, I’ve exceeded every thought that I could imagine I could do. It has been great.” Irish seniors Dennis Carroll, Phil Hickey, Paul Rainey and Antoni Wyche have made the transition even smoother than it already was for Graves. “The seniors have been very open to our coming in and playing, and I think they expected us to come in and play,” says Graves. “They’ve been great and helped us learn the ins and outs of a lot of different things.” While Graves was prepared for the adjustment from high school to college basketball, he was not as ready for the lifestyle change that accompanies the life of a college freshman, despite what his parents Barbara and Steve said to him.
“My parents are a big part of my life and always told me that this would be the biggest adjustment I was going to make,” Graves says of going away to college. “I always thought that going from middle school to high school was big but this is just crazy. Everything is put on you shoulders and you have to deal with it. You have to do everything yourself and have to learn when to study and when to get some sleep. A social life is kind of put to the side. At Notre Dame you learn to grow up and take care of responsibilities.”
Graves already has helped take care of the Irish offense this year. He has started all 13 games and is Notre Dame’s second leading scorer at 14.4 points per game. Graves stands seventh among all players in the BIG EAST with 50 percent field goal shooting in all games and is 12th in free throw percentage at 78 percent.
The Lexington, Ken., native came to Notre Dame after a standout career at Lexington Catholic High School where he led his team to a No. 3 national ranking during his senior season. The honorable mention McDonald’s All-American scored the game winning basket in overtime in a 60-58 overtime win over nationally second-ranked Whitney Young of Chicago and current DePaul freshman Quentin Richardson. “It was a great game,” Graves says. “I had to guard Quentin Richardson. He was probably the best player I’ve ever guarded and had to play against. He is that good. He is incredible. It meant a lot to me because that game was so close to Notre Dame. I knew where I was going to school. I knew there were a lot of people that were going to come up from South Bend. It was not only the best game I played it was one of the most fun.”
After graduating from Lexington High School, Graves opted to spend his next four years at Notre Dame.
“I was looking for a school that overall is well-balanced both academically and athletically,” says Graves. “Other schools can’t offer the same things this school can offer on the academic side. Athletically, I wanted to go to a place where I could make in impact immediately and possibly start. This was the best choice for me to make.” Graves joined Troy Murphy and fellow Kentuckian Harold Swanagan to form Notre Dame’s class of 2002, one of the most heralded group of freshmen in recent Notre Dame history.
“Harold and I are best friends,” says Graves. “Troy is a great person to be around. He’s funny and not so serious all the time. We all have a great relationship. We are always joking around and there never is any tension between the three of us. It is a lot of fun.”
Graves and Swanagan were no strangers when they came to Notre Dame.
“Harold lives two and a half hours southwest of me in Kentucky,” says Graves. “We were on the same summer team and traveled a lot together. The past two summers we became closer and when we came up here we were inseparable and always together. It is fun to have him around.”
“It is good to have a friend from home to relate to here,” says Swanagan, a native of Hopkinsville, Ken. “We are always there for each other if one of us needs something. He’s one of the key factors on the team. He has one of the hardest jobs on the team because a lot of the times he has guard a top scorer but he is one of the top scorers on our team as well. David’s a big part of the team.” Graves even helped in Swanagan’s decision to come to Notre Dame.
“I threw out the option of Notre Dame to him because coach McCaffery said they needed a kid like him,” says Graves. “I told him about Harold and they loved him because they had seen him when they saw me play. They brought him up for a visit, and he like it and committed.”
The Irish freshman class of Graves, Murphy and Swanagan have scored nearly half (49.5%) of Notre Dame’s points this year and have recorded 23 of the team’s 48 double-figure scoring games. In fact, after Graves’ 29 points were the most by a Notre Dame freshman in 24 years, Murphy waited just 11 days to score 30 in the win at Providence.
“In our senior year, if things go well, I think this team will explode,” says Graves. “It is hard to stop us. Matt Carroll is a big time shooter and Mike Monserez is a big point guard. Hopefully we’ll get a big thug to come in here and fill up the center stop. I think this team will turn on the jets and take off.”
Steve Graves will be right there with his son David then, just like he is now and always has been, nearly every step of the way. “My father is my biggest fan,” says Graves. “He comes up any moment he can. People always ask whether he works or not. People back home say they want Mr. Graves’ job. He travels a lot. He went to Alaska and is going to Miami. My mom got him direct TV for Christmas to watch all the games. It is always nice to see someone in the stands.” Besides his parents, Graves older sister Lindsey and older brother Matt have helped him.
“My whole family has been great,” says Graves. “I got a little homesick at the beginning of the semester. I went home for my niece’s baptism and another time after that. My brother is a junior at Kentucky and he loves it here. Every chance he gets he comes up here and hangs out with us. They have been supportive the whole way.” When Graves and the Irish take the floor tonight against the Panthers, they will be playing with some extra excitement because of the postponement of the Villanova game due to Saturday’s blizzard in the Midwest.
“We were ready to get out and come to practice for the first time in a while,” says Graves. “You’re never really ready to go to practice but we were begging to practice. After the wait, we just have to come ready out against Pittsburgh.”
Graves will be reunited with an old family friend when he looks over the Panther bench tonight and sees Pittsburgh head coach Ralph Willard.
“I know Coach Willard really well,” says Graves. “He was the first assistant under Rick Pitino at Kentucky, and Rick lived right next door to us. Coach Willard lived down the street and used to come to Rick’s all the time. My dad and Coach Willard had a good relationship when he left, and they’ve kept in touch. It will be good to see him again.” Graves hopes the best part of his freshman year is follow as the Irish approach the meat of the BIG EAST schedule.
“This is the important part of the season and we’ve got to come out and execute,” says Graves. “We might not be as talented as some of the teams we play so we’ve got to really execute. We can’t take anyone lightly. I think we’ll do well. We have the team to beat people. We’ll surprise a lot of people. We won’t be 12th in the BIG EAST, I promise that.”