Jon Graham providing an unexpected source of toughness for Terps basketball

Son of high-scoring former Terp Ernie Graham has played a selfless role as a rebounder and defender

  • Jonathan Graham, left, isn't the father his scorer, Ernie, was in College Park, but his play this season after transferring from Penn State has been a pleasant surprise for coach Mark Turgeon and the Terps.
Jonathan Graham, left, isn't the father his scorer, Ernie,… (J Pat Carter, The Baltimore…)
January 12, 2014|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — He wears the same No. 25 jersey worn by his father, a number that hangs from the ceiling of Comcast Center as a reminder of a career that included a record-setting performance 35 years ago.

That is where the on-court similarity ends between Jon and Ernie Graham.

If his father was known for being a high-volume shooter during his career at Maryland, the son is quickly gaining a reputation as a high-energy role player who does everything but shoot.

After transferring from Penn State last summer and being granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA in order to play immediately rather than sit out, Graham's role has grown dramatically over the past month.

"He's a coach's dream, a kid who plays hard and tries to do everything right," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said recently.

Brought in to be mostly a practice player who could provide depth and experience if sophomores Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell fell into foul trouble, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound redshirt junior forward is now being used to give the Terps a boost with his defense and his intensity.

Asked what the Calvert Hall alumnus has brought to the Terps through the team's first 15 games, leading scorer Dez Wells smiled.

"Experience, energy, passion, toughness," Wells said. "Bringing in a guy who's been through the struggles, coming from the Big Ten. He can show our young post players the ropes, show them things they don't know yet."

Said fellow Baltimorean Nick Faust: "Jon does all the little things to help a team."

'You get what you earn'

After playing a total of 19 minutes in Maryland's first eight games — and not getting off the bench in three of them — Graham's role has expanded as Cleare and Mitchell struggled.

Graham, 22, has averaged 14 minutes over the past eight games, played 20 minutes or more twice and started once before Turgeon realized he was more valuable off the bench.

"In this game, you get what you earn," Graham said. "I wasn't going to ask for playing time. I was going to keep working hard every day."

Graham said that he got his work ethic from his parents.

"I was taught early on that effort is very important in life — not just in basketball, in school and everything, " Graham said after his first significant playing time this season, a 15-minute stint last month against George Washington. "You've got a test coming up, you've got to study. I just apply that to life. Effort and working hard and achievement is the key to success."

Karen Graham, who grew up in South Baltimore and has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense for the past 38 years, said that she has passed her values on to her only child.

"I just encourage hard work, no excuses, no slacking," she said, sitting with her husband in their usual seats behind one of the baskets at Comcast Center at a recent game. "I'm a perfectionist. That's why he's so hard on himself."

Said Ernie Graham: "Jon deserves everything he gets. You can teach anybody anything, but it has to come from inside. Jon is a worker, that's really rare these days."

Jon Graham's decision to transfer to Maryland began more than a year ago, after he saw his playing time decrease under new Penn State coach Patrick Chambers.

Graham went from averaging nearly 18 minutes and starting 17 games as a redshirt freshman under Ed DeChellis to playing just 13.6 minutes with eight starts last season.

While neither he nor his parents would disclose the reason Maryland gave the NCAA in order to get a hardship waiver — "a family decision," Ernie Graham called it — the attraction to Maryland was Turgeon.

Jon Graham told his parents that Turgeon reminded him of DeChellis, who now coaches Navy.

"They're both high-character guys," Ernie Graham said.

DeChellis said Graham worked hard in the weight room "to improve his body" while redshirting his freshman year, then worked his way into the rotation and eventually the starting lineup as a sophomore.

"He was a blue-collar player, a guy who brought his lunch pail to work, which you don't see a lot these days," DeChellis said this week.

Many thought Turgeon was doing the family a favor by taking Graham last summer, but Ernie Graham said he wouldn't have allowed his son to transfer to Maryland "if I knew in my heart he couldn't compete. He just needed the opportunity."

'Whatever is needed'

Turgeon — whose Terps (10-6, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Florida State on Sunday night — appreciates what Graham has done for his young and still developing team. He has given a group with a lot of shooters a guy who spends most of his time chasing down their misses. He has also given a team that lacks a shot-blocker a semblance of one.

Graham has 10 blocked shots in 146 minutes, one more than Cleare has in nearly 100 more minutes and three more than Mitchell, who has played the most of Maryland's big men.

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