Zach Graham’s Hopeful Homecoming

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    Zach_Graham.jpgBy DONNELL SUGGS (Special to the Daily World)
    When an NBA team opens its doors to the media, giving reporters the opportunity to interview coaches and players in anticipation of the impending season, this usually means talking to “high-profile” personnel – both veterans and newcomers.

    So it wasn’t uncommon during the Atlanta Hawks annual Media Day, held on Dec. 12, that a long line of reporters were waiting to speak one-on-one with All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford, forwards Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, second-year point guard Jeff Teague and newly-signed veteran Tracy McGrady.

    After the prolonged stalemate between players and teams recently came to an end, and after months of waiting for the 2011-12 season to begin, the Hawks were finally able to announce their preseason schedule and training camp roster.

    On Dec. 9, Atlanta re-signed center Jason Collins, and signed seven-time All-Star guard/forward McGrady, 10-year veteran Vladimir Radmanovic, as well as rookie second-round draft pick Keith Benson.  In addition, the Hawks added 16-year veteran and two-time All-Star Jerry Stackhouse along with Charles Garcia, Zach Graham, Ivan Johnson, Donald Sloan and Brad Wanamaker.

    But across the floor at a recent practice session at Philips Arena sat another young man with just one thing on his mind. An un-drafted rookie guard out of the University of Mississippi, Zach Graham came home to the Atlanta area attempting to achieve his childhood dream – playing for his hometown Hawks.

    Graham grew up in Suwanee, 30 miles north of Atlanta, playing both basketball and football. As a senior quarterback at Peachtree Ridge High School, he was a member of his high school’s State Championship team in 2007. (A subsequent tie with Roswell High School had both teams awarded the title that year).

    However, with basketball being his first love, Graham chose Mississippi over in-state schools like the University of Georgia, who also had him on radar during recruitment.

    “I really had a good feel for the coaches [at Ole Miss]. I felt like I could communicate with all of them which made my decision easy,” Graham said. “I got to know the coaches and players at the University of Georgia and they were all good guys, but things just didn’t work out.”

    As a starter at Ole Miss, Graham played in 26 of 34 games as a senior, averaged 14 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest, while garnering membership on the 2011 South Eastern Conference Community Service Team.

    Mississippi is a long way from Georgia in more ways than distance, but Graham found the city of Oxford to his liking as soon as he hit campus on an official visit as a high school senior.

    “Oxford kind of fit me,” he said. “I was coming from a big city, but I’m a laid back kind of guy and really don’t do that much, so the transition wasn’t too hard. The small town lifestyle fit my personality.”

    Graham now has another kind of transition on his hands – attempting to make the Hawks final roster. Atlanta is guard heavy with playoff veterans Teague, Johnson, Kirk Hinrich and Stackhouse already signed, and rookies Wanamaker, a Pitt grad, and Sloan, out of Texas A&M, also trying to make the team.

    When asked what he could contribute to one of the league’s most stable lineups, Graham responded, “I just want to bring energy, and knock down open shots.”

    When asked if making the team, and if having his family make the quick drive downtown to watch him play was a big motivational factor, he didn’t hesitate to answer with:  “It would be a dream come true.”

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