It wasn't a complete shocker, because Monday's news that 2014 7-footer Michal Cekovsky committed to Maryland alerted us all that some type of attrition was coming. We just didn't know that it was going to be three players on the outs.
The transfer news answered the immediate question of where that Cekovsky scholarship was going to come from, but it also creates a new question that Maryland fans will be debating endlessly in the coming days and weeks: What about those other two scholarships?
Well, I've got an answer for you -- or at least half an answer. There's no need for Mark Turgeon to look long or far to find a home for one of those full rides. Look within your own locker room, Turge. Do the right thing and give that scholarship to current Terp reserve forward Jonathan Graham.
A little background: Graham was a Penn State transfer from Baltimore who came home to Maryland before last season. He was awarded a scholarship for his junior year because Maryland had not used its full allotment, but there was an understanding that Graham would lose that scholarship in 2014-2015 since the team had no seniors graduating while four incoming freshmen were due to join the roster.
On the court, not much was expected of Graham. He was thought to be a practice guy, a character guy and, most importantly, a Maryland guy who was the son of Terp great Ernie Graham. Then the season started and Maryland quickly learned that its interior situation was something less than ideal. Starting center Shaq Cleare was struggling, banger Charles Mitchell was inconsistent, and freshman Damonte Dodd just wasn't ready for prime time yet.
When Maryland played its ACC opener on Dec. 12 in Chestnut Hill, Graham had played 19 total minutes in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and George Washington, but he led the Terps big men that night with 21 high-energy minutes in a much-needed 88-80 win. Graham wasn't -- and isn't -- flashy. He'll never score 20 points, but what he will do is rebound and defend with an attitude, play hard at all times, and run the court like he's running from a burning building.
After that game, Graham became a rotation regular, playing some games more than others but serving as a vital part of Mark Turgeon's center-by-committee approach. Depending on the matchup, Graham would see anywhere from DNP to 20 minutes, but there were several games where he made a meaningful contribution.
There's so many reasons to give one of those two scholarships to Graham. Among them:
- He's a high character guy and a leader who will contribute to the Terps next year. Graham fills a role. He's strong, experienced, defense-minded, big, and mobile. He's not a skilled offensive player and never will be, but his skill set is one the Terps will need -- especially now that we know Shaq Cleare won't be back. He's a lunch-pail guy who will selflessly do the little things like fouling and weakside rebounding, and he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be happy. Graham can also be a role model and leader for young bigs like Dodd, Trayvon Reed and Michal Cekovsky.
- He's a legacy with a big Maryland name. His dad, Ernie Graham, played for Lefty Driesell from 1978 to 1981 and is 13th all-time in the Terps' scoring ranks. He holds the single-game scoring mark of 44 points, set against N.C. State in 1978, and he was drafted by the 76ers out of college. His No. 25, also worn by his son Jonathan, hangs from the Comcast rafters. The elder Graham is also a respected guy who regularly works with youth in anti-drug programs.
- The Grahams are from Baltimore. Jonathan went to Calvert Hall, his dad went to Dunbar, and any damage done by the unfortunate end to Baltimore City grad Nick Faust's Terp career can be rectified at least in part by making things right with Graham.
- The scholarship itself is only a 1-year commitment. Graham will graduate after next season and the Terps can roll over that scholarship into a 2015 commitment. There's already a big class of five 2014 commits coming in -- Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Reed, Jared Nickens and Cekovsky -- so Maryland does not need anymore freshmen. An additional 2015 recruit would serve the program better, since only two scholarship Terps -- Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells -- will be seniors. By this January or so, Maryland will have a much better idea of what its roster needs are, then Graham's scholarship can be used to fill those needs.
Jonathan Graham only averaged 1.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game last season and it's not fair to expect more than that next winter either. If Maryland becomes the team its fans badly want it to be, then it likely means someone like Mitchell, Dodd or Cekovsky stepped into the paint effectively and that Graham is playing a small role again.
Minutes, however, are beside the point. Jonathan Graham gave up a lot to come home to College Park, where his father once roamed the Cole Field House hardwood, and he made it clear that he's here to stay with or without a scholarship. Now that two such scholarships are available, and now that the incoming class has grown to five, it's should be a no-brainer for Mark Turgeon to give one of them to hard-nosed forward Jonathan Graham. He's never been a walk-on before, he doesn't look, act or play like a walk-on, and he shouldn't be a walk-on next season.