Dec. 3, 2010
By Mike Swartz
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant
Like any other college athlete, Ole Miss Hoops senior Zach Graham could have played sports at a number of other schools in the country. However, unlike most others, it could have been a different sport entirely.
Not many know that the Rebels' 6-foot-6 shooting guard was a high school championship winner, in football.
As the record-setting quarterback for the Peachtree Ridge High School Lions, Graham led his team to the 2006 GHSA Championship Game, where they came back from a 14-3 deficit at halftime to tie the game, becoming Georgia State Co-Champions. He also set nearly every school passing record during his time there.
"It was the some of the most fun times I've ever had, especially in high school and my senior year when we had that championship run," Graham said. "We had some great players on that team. Cameron Heyward, who's projected to go top 10 in the NFL draft this year, plays for Ohio State."
Although Graham has moved from the gridiron to the hardwood for college, he still has some quarterback in him.
"I probably think about playing football every time I watch it on Saturday," Graham said. "I miss football."
When he became an upperclassman in high school, Graham knew he had a difficult decision ahead, to not only choose where to play in college, but what sport to play as well. His family background may have made the decision even more difficult. Graham's father, David, was a defensive lineman with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks after a standout career at Morehouse College.
"It was really tough leading up to my senior year," Graham said. "I went to a camp called the ABCD camp the two summers before and after my junior year, and after going through that it showed me a lot about basketball that I really hadn't seen before. I got really good instruction and skill development, and it made me develop a love for the game. So I knew I wanted to play basketball in college."
After the camp, Graham began getting offers for both sports and looking further into where he would play basketball.
"I actually got more offers in football than I did in basketball," he said. "A lot of people questioned why I chose basketball over football, but I'm happy with my decision to play basketball. I love being outside and playing football with my friends, but basketball is where I really wanted to be."
Like many athletes before him, Graham tells a similar story about when he visited the University of Mississippi.
"I just got that feeling once I came to Mississippi," he said. "At first when I thought of coming here, my friends were like `Mississippi?' But I told them, `hey, if you know it's the right place to be, it's the right place to be.' I felt comfortable with the coaching staff, and I felt comfortable with Oxford. It's not close, but it's not too far from home. I just felt good about my decision."
Although he almost played a different sport at potentially a different school, Graham has done nothing but produce since coming to Ole Miss.
He is currently on his way to becoming a 1,000-point scorer, with 864 points through the first five games of his senior year. That puts him on track to break the 1,000-point mark somewhere around the 15th game of the season.
Another little known fact about Graham is something even he wasn't aware of until earlier this year. With 23 wins this season, Graham would become the winningest Rebel of all-time in the basketball program's history.
"It would feel great to be the winningest player at Ole Miss. I actually never saw it coming until my coaches told me about it earlier this year," Graham said.
Although the records would be an extraordinary achievement, Graham is more concerned with the team's success this season than personal records.
"Although it would be great, I'd like to get more wins than just 23," Graham said. "The 1,000 points would be a great achievement as well, and if we keep winning games then hopefully both of those will happen."
After last season's goal of making the NCAA Tournament was not achieved, the Rebels pushed their way through the NIT, making it to the semifinals. This year the team is even more focused to make it to the "Big Dance."
For his senior season, Graham says the team's goal is to "just win games and play hard. Of course our number one goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament, so as long as we stay competitive throughout the season hopefully that'll happen."
Graham has become known for his all-around play. As a notable three-point shooter, he is also able to use his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame to play in the paint with the bigger players, and his athletic ability allows him to play some of the best defense on the team.
Knowing if he keeps his elevated level of play going, Graham believes the team will feed off of him. "I just want to continue to push myself and help lead this team. I just want to lead by example this entire year."
As his senior season begins, Graham knows he is reaching a crossroad similar to the one he saw in high school.
"I want to take my basketball career as far as I can," he says. "I plan to graduate in May with a degree in marketing communications, but I've been working hard at (basketball) all my life so I'm going to take it as far as I can, as far as God's going to let me."
With all the success and records he is attaining at Ole Miss, it seems obvious he made the right decision coming out of high school. That experience should bode well for his decision-making process once again after he wears the Red and Blue for the last time this spring.