College basketball: North County’s Graves closing a chapter at Hawaii-Hilo

Peninsula Premier Admin

HILO, HAWAII — Diving for a loose ball — much like he has done throughout his basketball career — left Jordan Graves’ left shoulder numb upon colliding with an opponent.

Adrenaline enabled him to ignore the injury, charging back down the floor until he went up for a layup and his left elbow locked up, leaving him in a state of shock.

“My trainer said you’re done,” Graves said.

Not just for the night, but the 2019-2020 season for Hawaii-Hilo, as Graves had torn his labrum in his left shoulder. As a senior, the first question that crossed the 6-foot-2 guard’s mind was whether he had played his last collegiate basketball game.

“I thought my career was over,” said Graves, North County High’s all-time leading scorer. “I really did.”

North County grad Jordan Graves leads Hawaii-Hilo in assists. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Graves)

In part, because Graves had used his redshirt year. Yet, because the injury occurred early in the season, he was allowed to petition and was granted a medical redshirt season.

“It was a blessing,” Graves said. “Then the pandemic hit.”

Once again Graves was left in limbo, unsure if Hawaii-Hilo would have a 2020-21 season after the start was delayed in December — unsure if he would get on the hardwood again.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Graves said. “I’m taking the bumps as they go. I’m just trying to stay on the ride.”

While a delayed and abbreviated season consists of just games on the Hawaiian islands, Hawaii-Hilo is playing the schedule handed to it and Graves has asserted himself as the leader on the floor.

The Vulcans opened Pacific West Conference play 2-0 for the first time in over a decade, and are 3-1 overall, with Graves leading the team in minutes played, assists and steals.

“Honestly the extra time from the pandemic enabled me to spend more time rehabbing and strengthening the shoulder,” Graves said.

While Graves feels no discomfort in his shoulder, it has taken time to regain his shooting touch from the perimeter, where he made a habit of torching opponents while at North County.

Unable to shoot for five months, Graves didn’t get the normal repetition of shots he would take in the off-season to keep his skills sharp.

As a result, the 22-year-old is averaging just 6.5 points a game, down from the 14 points he was dropping last season before the injury.

“The shot will come,” Graves said. “I just need to dial it back. Even though my shots aren’t falling, I’m not letting it impact my game.”

That’s been evident with his contributions on the floor, averaging a team-high 3.1 assists and two steals a night, while also pulling down 4.5 rebounds in conference play.

“What I remember most about Jordan is he was our best defender,” Seaside’s Finest travel coach Jason Hieb said. “He flew under the radar at all these camps because he’s a team guy.”

For as dominant of a scorer as Graves was in producing over 1,000 points in four years at North County, overlooked was his defense and ability to distribute when teams doubled down on him.

That part of his game began to blossom when Graves got to college and began showcasing all of his skills at Santa Rosa Junior College, earning a ride to Hawaii-Hilo.

“I had to change my game,” Graves said. “I had to learn how to move off the ball better. At North County, the ball was always in my hands. I needed to have motion and play within the game.”

Graves also believes he has grown and matured into his role, having become a smarter player as his skills have evolved.

“Everyone at this level has talent,” Graves said. “I had to have a better basketball IQ. I needed to learn to make better decisions on the floor.”

Hieb, who has four current players from his travel ball teams playing Division I or II basketball, started working with Graves when he was 10, both on the court and in the classroom.

“I saw him play in Fresno a couple of years ago,” Hieb said. “He destroyed their guards. After the game, the coach came up to me and said ‘I made a mistake. I didn’t focus on Jordan when recruiting him. I learned my lesson.’”

With their preseason wiped out, the Vulcans’ regular season will consist of facing Hawaii-Pacific and Chaminade University six times each in the Hawaii pod portion of conference play.

The winner of their pod conference will compete in a tournament at a site yet to be determined against the Northern and Southern California pod conference winners.

While fans are not allowed to attend home games, Graves says the support in the community has been overwhelming for all programs at Hawaii-Hilo.

“The sports teams here are treated like the pro teams on the mainland,” Graves said. “Being on an island, you feel a little safer and secluded from the pandemic. You don’t get too many crowded areas.”

As passionate as Graves is for basketball, he didn’t make it a focal point in high school, playing four sports, quarterbacking the Condors football team as a senior in 2015.

“Playing multiple sports keeps you from getting burnt out on one sport,” Graves said. “Playing one sport kind of gets repetitive. The other sports helped me work in different environments. I’m glad I made that decision.”

Basketball, however, has enabled him to earn a degree in psychology. He is spending his final year at Hawaii-Hilo chasing a second degree in communications.

“I came here because the coach had faith in me, believed in me,” Graves said. “He had confidence in me being the point guard. It’s all I could have asked for. It’s something I could get behind.”

Closing a chapter on his college career doesn’t necessarily mean he is closing the door on the sport. Graves has looked into the potential of playing professionally in the Philippines. His mother is of Filipino descent.

Graves has sought out advice from Palma grad E.J. Rowland, who played professional basketball overseas for 15 years and former Indiana Pacer forward and Seaside native Orlando Johnson.

“Orlando’s brother is close friends with my mom,” Graves said. “I’ve talked to him just to pick his brain. He said he had a great experience in the Philippines. E.J. also gave me some great advice. You only get to play this game for so long.”

Contributed by local news sources

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