Ken DeWeese’s lone complaint about Jerard Graham is there is only one of him.
In his first season with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Graham — a 6-foot-3 junior wing — has developed into a force for the Crusaders, leading the team in rebounds and ranking second in scoring. However numbers are only part of his appeal.
A transfer from Clarendon College, Graham’s passion for the game, attitude and overall maturity on and off the court immediately embedded him into the fabric of the team, according to UMHB’s head coach.
“His character is five times beyond what his athletic talent is,” DeWeese said. “He’s got great leadership skills. He’s got great camaraderie with his teammates. He is easy to get along with. He is compassionate. He is almost ridiculous. … If anybody had a whole team of guys like that, they would never lose.”
Raised outside Wichita Falls, the Burkburnett product spent his first two seasons with the Bulldogs before pouncing on an opportunity to join the Crusaders following their trip to last season’s NCAA Division III National Championship Game.
In the months since, Graham developed into one of UMHB’s most consistent players, averaging 15.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
But, Graham said, individual numbers are virtually inconsequential to him if he is helping his team.
“As long as I do anything to help us win, then I don’t care if I start or don’t start or play a lot of minutes or a little,” Graham said. “Just as long as I am contributing in any kind of way, I’m happy.”
Despite being a newcomer to the team, Graham was quickly accepted by his coaches and fellow players, earning the instantaneous trust of DeWeese. Out of the Crusaders’ 19 games this season, only three players started more than 13 and Graham is the sole person to start every one.
The decision is paying off.
The Crusaders (11-8, 9-7 American Southwest Conference) won eight of their last 12 games with three of their losses during the span being determined by six points or less. Twice during the streak, Graham led UMHB in points and rebounds, including a 19-point, 11-rebound effort against Howard Payne in an 80-56 road victory.
But DeWeese never had a doubt Graham would produce for the team.
“From Day 1 of working with Jerard, I knew he was going to be extremely dependable,” DeWeese said. “I knew he was going to be somebody that not only could we depend on, but we were going to have to in a lot of areas, and he has never let me down.”
Graham has always been a team-oriented player, forgoing any type of individual attention in favor of overall success.
“When I was younger, I played on teams where the coach wanted me to be that selfish person,” he said. “But I’ve always liked to get other people involved no matter how it is. Ever since I was probably in middle school, I just was always the one to get people involved. But, in the end, I would always turn out to be one of the main guys. It just worked out like that.”
Graham, who says playing for the Crusaders is an “honor,” finished with 19 points and seven rebounds Saturday, helping UMHB defeat Mississippi College 78-70, but he is not satisfied. His sole goal is to get the Crusaders back to the national title game once again.
“That’s really all I want,” he said. “All the other stuff that comes with it, of course, I’ll be glad to take it, but I’m all about the team’s success.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org