03/13/08 — Graham chasing ACC dream

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Graham chasing ACC dream

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 13, 2008 1:48 PM

Growing up in Goldsboro and playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference was beyond Jimmy Graham's wildest dreams. Now a junior at Miami, Graham is not only playing in the ACC, he's an integral part of one of the best seasons in program history.

The Hurricanes enter today's 55th annual ACC Tournament as the fifth seed and will face 12th-seeded N.C. State at 2:30 p.m. at Bobcats Arena. The Wolfpack won the only meeting between the two teams 79-77 in overtime in mid-January at the RBC Center.

Miami (21-9 overall) closed out regular-season play with six wins in its final eight outings. The Hurricanes are three victories shy of tying the school record for wins (24), which was set in 2001-02.

Graham's willingness to fill whatever role he's asked to occupy has helped the Hurricanes claim wins over Duke, Clemson and Mississippi State -- all teams which are expected to receive NCAA Tournament bids.

Barring a collapse in Charlotte, Miami could be part of that 65-team field when the brackets are announced Sunday on CBS. The Hurricanes' last tournament appearance was 2002.

"We've been working hard and playing every possession like it's our last," said Graham. "I think we've played really focused defensively and we've just been a tough team to beat lately."

The Hurricanes traveled to Durham in early February and were sent home 88-73 losers. When Duke visited Coral Gables just 18 days later, Graham and his teammates gave a packed BankUnited Center a glimpse at history. Miami knocked off the Blue Devils, ranked No. 5 at the time, 96-95. It was the program's first win over Duke since 1962 and just the second in school history.

"The whole place was rocking," Graham said. "Our fans were into every possession. It was just a big-time ACC basketball game. It was one of the greatest wins of my career. It was just a great win, not only for me but for our team."

Having spent his childhood a short drive from Tobacco Road, Graham admits playing any of North Carolina's four ACC schools is just one more perk in a career that's become more than he envisioned.

"My freshman year we went and beat Carolina in Chapel Hill," Graham said. "For me, just winning basketball games in the ACC is special. I never imagined when I was a little kid I would get to play in the ACC. It's a dream come true."

An all-state selection as a junior at Charis Prep, Graham's been called upon to contribute in a number of different for ways for Miami head coach Frank Haith.

Graham has started 31 of 86 career games and is known mainly for his rebounding and defense. He is currently third on the team in rebounding and has led the Hurricanes in that category on four different occasions this season, including a 12-rebound effort against Florida State.

Miami upset 21st-ranked Maryland in the first round of the 2007 ACC Tournament in Tampa before falling in overtime to Boston College in the quarterfinals.

As the ACC Tournament and Graham both return to their North Carolina roots this weekend, Graham would love nothing more than to once again assume the role of spoiler for the teams he grew up idolizing.

"Going back home is just going to be a special time for me," said Graham, who also spent time at Eastern Wayne and Community Christian. "I really don't know how to describe the feeling of the ACC Tournament, especially when you win a game. I've got to find a way to get some more tickets."