Forward Jon Graham started his college basketball career by playing in 57 games for Penn State between 2011 and 2013. He had redshirted a year earlier, then played two seasons off the bench for new coach Pat Chambers.
These days, Graham is a veteran bench piece for No. 17 Maryland. He plays fewer minutes than he ever did at Penn State, but he's playing them at a higher level. The 18-4 Terrapins are a better team than either of Graham's two squads in Happy Valley, and circumstances have given Graham a fairly important role even as his court time has lagged behind where it was with the Nittany Lions.
Graham's offensive rating this season is a career-best 104.4, fueled by a personal-high 53.7 percent shooting percentage from the field. He fouls a lot (6 times per 40 minutes) and rarely gets to the line himself, and his per-game averages of 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds over 12.1 minutes per night are accordingly unspectacular. But even as his raw rebounding mark pales compared to the 3.7 he averaged as a freshman at Penn State, he's gotten a higher percentage of them, overall, than ever before. He is firmly a part of a three- to four-center rotation that is uninspiring but critical to Maryland's chances. Graham is the definition of a role player, but he's nonetheless been useful.
NCAA teams rarely allow players to transfer to conference opponents. But the timing of Maryland's transition from the ACC to the Big Ten, its current home, gave Graham the legal space to make the switch after his redshirt sophomore season ended in the Spring 2013. As a result, when the Nittany Lions take the floor at XFINITY Center on Wednesday night, the game will present a rare meeting between a current player and his old program.
When Graham transferred to Maryland late in the summer of 2013, the Washington Post report on his move said it was unlikely he'd stay on scholarship beyond one season. He has, taking on about two more minutes this season than last and playing an improved, if still unspectacular, game. He's posted career-best marks in effective field goal percentage (53.7), offensive rebounding rate (11.8), assist rate (3.1) and turnover rate (18.2). He's still a lousy foul shooter, but he's decimal points behind Damonte Dodd as the second-best offensive-glass presence on the roster. He contributes at a position where the post-deprived Terps generally lack.
Graham, of course, has Maryland bloodlines. His father, Ernest, starred for the Terps under head coach Lefty Driesell in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He scored 1,607 points in a four-year career and dished out 346 assists for the program before Philadelphia drafted him into the NBA in 1981. The elder Graham was listed at 6-feet-7; his son is an inch taller, if you believe the official register.
The younger Graham doesn't have his dad's pedigree, obviously, but he'll play a somewhat significant role as the Terrapins barrel toward the finish of what should be their best season in at least a half-decade. Graham never shed much light publicly about his departure from State College, but the perception is that Penn State didn't try hard to retain him.
The Nittany Lions are an abysmal 2-7 in league play after a 6-12 mark last year and 2-16 the year before that. In its first four seasons under Chambers, Penn State is 14-49 in conference play. Chambers' teams have won four conference games on the road in as many years, but this year's team is an oddity. In league games, the Nittany Lions are eighth in offensive efficiency – ahead of Maryland, even – and ninth in defensive efficiency. Neither is impressive, but it suggests their 12th-place standing in the Big Ten isn't indicative of their true talent level.
Here's an interesting note in the other direction, though: Graham has been more efficient on offense than all but one of Penn State's power forwards and centers, and he's grabbed a higher percentage of rebounds than any of them. The Nittany Lions, for all they do right or wrong, could almost certainly use him.