Devonte’ Graham is standing in a Spectrum Center hallway, the only player outside the interview room being interviewed. The Charlotte Hornets acquired Graham in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft (the Atlanta Hawks selected him and traded him to Charlotte for two future second-round picks).
The player Charlotte chose in the first round, Miles Bridges, who is not being interviewed, walks up. Who is this guy getting the attention? Bridges is 6-foot-7, Graham 6-2, and Bridges bends to check the front of Graham’s shirt, pretending he doesn’t know who he is. It will be interesting to find out.
The last time a Charlotte second-round pick made an impact was — before you were born. Graham, 23, is a rarity, a player who spent four seasons in college, in his case, Kansas. He attended Raleigh Broughton High, the school that has sent out such athletes as basketball’s Pete Maravich (legend), John Wall (Washington Wizards), Jerome Robinson (Los Angeles Clippers), Shavlik Randolph (Beijing Fly Dragons), and golfers Webb Simpson and Scott Hoch.
I tell Graham that when I think of his game, I think of a player that goes to the basket, finds open teammates and plays defense. He nods his head so, yes, he’s good with this.
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Last season Graham averaged 17.3 points, 7.2 assists and four rebounds, was the Big 12 Player of the Year, and an all-American. With those credentials, why was he available with the 34th pick? Why was he the ninth point guard drafted?
Graham is old for a rookie, born three years before Bridges and three years before last season’s top pick, Malik Monk. He doesn’t explode off the dribble past opponents.
He wasn’t craved out of high school, originally committing to Appalachian State. But he keeps pushing and he keeps improving. He sees the game, sees what’s developing usually before those around him do. He knows where his open teammates are, and runs an offense as if it’s what he’s supposed to do.
In three NBA Summer League games, he averaged 10 points and six assists. The assists are impressive. In summer league, free agents audition for jobs and attempt to impress coaches with all that they can do. Graham made them a team.
He played only three summer league games because of a cartilage injury in his right knee. He saw multiple experts, avoided surgery and says he’s doing “everything I normally would be doing.”
Says Hornets’ coach James Borrego: “Just walk in and watch our guys play pick up and go through a workout and I’d say, ‘This kid has been in the NBA at least one or two years.’ He’s just a pro, he’s won at multiple levels, he understands his how to get people better around him.
“The speed of the NBA game, the size of the NBA game, is now the challenge for him. Can he make plays off the bounce with bigger more athletic bodies around him? We’re about to find out. My guess watching him in the summer league and through the summer, this kid is going to figure it out somehow. His ability to shoot the ball really excites me. He’s going to have to be a knockdown shooter for us, and I expect him to do that.”
On the court and off the court, he’s the one huddling with veteran Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker and new veteran point guard Tony Parker. Kemba had him to his house.
“Decent?” Graham asks incredulously.
“Way beyond decent.” Think about it.
A rookie point guard walks into practice and there’s Kemba, the all-star, and Parker, former champion and 17-year veteran. “You couldn’t ask for a better set-up if you’re a rookie point guard coming into the NBA,” Borrego says.
Kemba laughs. “I mean, he’s looking up to me,” Kemba says.
It wasn’t so long ago that Kemba was the rookie looking up. Walker says he’s a “huge fan” of Graham, and was when he watched Graham at Kansas.
“Reminds me a lot of myself,” Kemba says.
NFL picks for Week 4: I’m having a prognostication struggle
So, Buffalo is not terrible, Washington is good and Green Bay and Minnesota are disappointing. Seattle and Tennessee are all right, Atlanta is good in regulation and the New England Patriots move as if they need help crossing the street. Also, ties are bad. If I don’t pick a tie, a tie counts as a loss. I lose enough conventionally.
Most of us in the prognostication game are struggling. It is a mixed up, shook ’em up world. Teams are still trying to figure themselves out and the rest of us trying to figure teams out. Miami is undefeated and Houston is winless. Except for the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders, nothing is certain.
Last Week: 8-8
Lock of the Week: Minnesota (-17) 26 over Buffalo.
The Vikings did come back. Down 27-0, they didn’t quit. They lost 27-6.
The last time a favorite as big as Minnesota lost was in 1995.
This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:
L.A RAMS 7 over Minnesota
GREEN BAY 9 over Buffalo
NEW ENGLAND 8 over Miami
ATLANTA 6 over Cincinnati
Philadelphia 4 over TENNESSEE
Seattle 2 over ARIZONA
L.A. CHARGERS 8 over San Francisco
INDIANAPOLIS 4 over Houston
CHICAGO 4 over Tampa Bay
DALLAS 2 over Detroit
OAKLAND 2 over Cleveland
New Orleans 6 over N.Y. GIANTS
PITTSBURGH 5 over Baltimore
Kansas City 6 over DENVER
Lock of the Week: JACKSONVILLE (-7½) 11 over New York Jets
Big fight card coming
Two fighters sit on the edge of the ring at Charlotte’s Ultimate Fighting Gym. Each will be featured in co-main events Oct. 20 at CenterStage@NODA. One is Stevie Massey, a Charlotte featherweight who is 7-1. The other is Derek Hyatt, a welterweight from Gastonia.
I’ve known Hyatt, who also has had a mixed martial arts career, for years. He’s 3-2-1 as a boxer, and the draw with Kyle Harrell still is so frustrating he wants to hit himself. Win or lose, but don’t draw. He wears a black T-shirt with white letters that say: God, Family, Boxing.
Hyatt, 35, goes by H-Bomb, and is perpetually upbeat. But on this day, not so much. His October opponent, Kelvin King of Wilson, is 3-0-1, and posted on Facebook that Hyatt is a “b----.” He wrote that there will be “love and joy” when he punches Hyatt. King is 12 years younger.
Hyatt doesn’t scream or shout. But this is worse than the tie.
“I want a tough fight,” Hyatt says. “He’s coming to beat me. It’s up to me. I’m not going to back up.”
Promoting the card is Charlotte’s Christy Martin, the longtime women’s lightweight champion.
Hyatt is tall and lean and tough to hit because he’s sound fundamentally and tough to reach.
He nods at Massey and says, “I’ve been boxing 15 years and I’ve never been hit as hard as I have by him. He dropped me with an overhand right.”
No surprise; Massey has knocked out each of his seven opponents. He’s known as a puncher, but is fast, and working to get faster. He’ll fight James Early of Seat Pleasant, Md. Early is 3-3, but his last three opponents were undefeated, and the fourth had one loss.
The card will feature several local fighters, among them Cody Bullock, 22, of Asheville, who is 3-0. He might be the most talented of the N.C. boxers. James Gregory, 4-1, of Charlotte will be featured, as will Jose Ibarra, 1-0, of Willow Springs.
Ringside seats are $70, general admission $35. For more information, go to www.eventbrite.com.
The Tiger of old returns
We like our older athletes. We like it when they come back and exceed our expectations, if not theirs. We even liked the unlikeable Jimmy Connors when he made a late career run. We liked the elderly George Foreman and of course we liked Muhammad Ali. We liked Mike Tyson in “The Hangover,” and some of us went to see his one-man show. No matter how old he became, we cheered for Ric Flair.
When Tiger Woods – he was the one in red — approached the 18th green Sunday at Atlanta’s East Lake, the golf course was his. He was going to win the Tour Championship, and everybody scrambled to become part of his gallery. Thousands did. Thousands more will say they did.
As Tiger, 42, walked, fans slipped over and through the ropes to join him. But they posed no threat. They wanted to be as close as they could when Tiger won his first tournament in five years and the 80th of his career. It looked like a pep rally.
The scene was genuine and joyous. Older fans wanted to see the Tiger of their youth, the one who seemed to win whenever he wanted to, and he wanted to all the time. Young fans, including the two that on Sunday climbed a first-hole tree for a better look, wanted to see the Tiger they knew through old videos and stories their parents told.
Few of us have led a clean and purified life. We take hits. Some of us invite them. Tiger seemed for decades to live about the fray in which the rest of us occasionally are mired. Then came the stories about the multiple women and the cheating, about the 2017 Memorial Day DUI and the four back surgeries.
Despite the cold almost disdainful countenance with which Tiger played, he was human. He spent years proving it.
And then on Sunday, he was human no more.
And we were thrilled.
Short takes: Eric Reid unsigned? Come on
I’ve written and said on radio at least 11 times that safety is the Carolina Panthers’ biggest need. I wrote it before training camp and during training camp. And yet...
I at least would like the NFL to come clean and say the reason that free agent safety Eric Reid has not been signed is because he was at the forefront of the take a knee movement. Instead, there’s just this amazing and enduring coincidence. The coincidence is that a good player in his prime is, for some bizarre reason, unemployed…
LeBron James doesn’t look right in the uniform of the Los Angeles Lakers. But he will. I don’t understand the contempt some fans have for LeBron, but I don’t need to. This is a fantastic basketball player and a philanthropist and a compelling man to spend time around. Does anybody resent him for heading to the West Coast? I admire those who spend their lives with one team. But if an athlete wants to go, he gets to…
Walker said at the Hornets’ media day Monday that he wants to stay in Charlotte. He doesn’t want to join a team that others have built. He wants to build here. I wrote during the summer that the Hornets should trade him. Nobody who watches Walker play or talks to him wants him gone. I just didn’t know how else the Hornets could escape the lower middle-class perch in the NBA standings that feels like a permanent home.
Seeing Walker Monday reminded me how much I admire the man. It was fun to be around Walker and his teammates. Players joke with and on each other, and seem so excited about the opportunity to start the season. They have new management and a new coach and a new philosophy. I love the sport, and I’m curious to see what they can do…
We talk about Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton, and the maturity with which he plays. It’s as if his instincts have caught his athleticism, and the result so far is impressive. I saw it happen with another Panther. Thomas Davis was a primarily a safety at Georgia, and when the Panthers drafted him in the first round of the 2005 draft, they didn’t know if he was a safety or a linebacker. All they knew is that when they played the Atlanta Falcons, they’d send Davis at Michael Vick. Davis was good at that.
Because Davis had to learn two positions, time was required for his instincts to catch his athleticism. In 2008, they did. Davis seemingly was always in the right place, and he was there in a hurry. That was when the Legend of Thomas Davis began. It has yet to end…