03/12/09 — Graham gets one last chance

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Graham gets one last chance

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 12, 2009 1:50 PM

Jimmy Graham doesn't mind the reputation he's developed with his Miami teammates.

He's treated like a big brother.

He's called an aggressor.

He's a hustle guy with a lunch-pail mentality who doesn't gripe about handling the dirty work off the bench. He uses his big body to out-muscle defenders for rebounds and prevent guards from sniping the Hurricanes on the perimeter.

"I'm the hard worker who brings it defensively, emotionally," said Graham, a Goldsboro native. "I get everybody going with how I play. People feed off that and my role is to get everybody playing as hard as me."

Who would argue with the 6-foot-8, 256-pounder?

Graham has proven to be a valuable sixth man this season. A senior co-captain, he's averaged just under four points, 6.1 rebounds and 19 minutes an outing. He recorded or equaled season highs for rebounds (15) and blocked shots (5) against No. 1-ranked North Carolina on Feb. 15.

"I've had an up-and-down season," said Graham, who missed three games due to a wrist injury. "It was a coaching decision early in the year to put me on the bench and let me come off the bench because of foul trouble and other things. It's not about starting, but about being in the game."

And Graham looked forward to today's game against Virginia Tech in the opening round of the 56th annual Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Atlanta. The ninth-seeded Hurricanes (17-11 overall) are seeking their fourth consecutive first-round tournament victory, which will help boost their NCAA hopes.

Virginia Tech won the teams' lone meeting, 88-83, in overtime in late January. The eighth-seeded Hokies (17-13) concluded regular-season play with three consecutive losses.

"We see it as a great opportunity for us," said Graham. "We have to be ready to play because they're going to bring their best, and we need to bring our best. It's going to be a tough game.

"We've been beating each other up all year in the ACC. It's been a crazy, up-and-down year for everybody. You really don't have time to sit and think about what hurts or if you're tired now ... you've got to play."

Graham said the Hurricanes must play a consistent 40 minutes every game if they hope to advance in the ACC tournament. Miami has gotten off to slow starts in several contests this season and managed to finish opponents off in the final four or five minutes.

"We have to play a complete game to give us a chance," said Graham. "Whenever we defend well, our offense comes. We can't give people second-chance shots. I've been playing better these last 10 games with rebounding and defending.

"I've got to bring the emotion."

If Miami can succeed, that tournament bubble might not bust.

The Hurricanes played the nation's third-toughest schedule this season and it's overall strength of schedule is rated 25th nationally. Their RPI is in the mid-40s and they have six wins over top-100 teams -- a 27-point decision over Wake Forest, a series sweep of Boston College and a road triumph at Kentucky.

Six of Miami's 11 defeats occurred against teams who have top-25 RPI ratings and its lone non-conference loss came against UConn. The Hurricanes have played five games against teams ranked No. 1 at some point in the season -- UConn, UNC, Duke and Wake Forest.

"I think a lot of people have been talking about the (NCAA) bubble," said Graham. "We're just focused about the next game. We're not caught up in the NCAA hype until Selection Sunday. If we do what we need to do to win, we'll be fine.

"We want to win a ring just like every other team in this tournament."