At the start of the 2012-13 campaign, Penn State forward Jon Graham figured to be a key cog in an unproven frontcourt.
Graham — coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 17 minutes per game — was looked upon early to provide balance for a guard-heavy Nittany Lions offense.
While Penn State remains a backcourt-dependent team with just eight games remaining in the regular season, Graham has yet to tap into a well of potential as a sophomore.
Graham, who started the first eight games of the season, hasn’t been on the floor for the opening tip since Dec. 5. While in the starting rotation, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 2.3 points per game and had just one performance with more than five rebounds.
And while Graham was thrust into a starting role, Lions assistant coach Brian Daly said the forward’s determination to succeed was actually hindering him from doing so.
“He’s all passion and really wants to do well. But, sometimes that desire to succeed gets in the way a little bit,” Daly said. “You know, if he had a missed shot or doesn’t defend well he lets it get to him, which in the past has affected the next couple of possessions.”
With that being said, simplifying situations and taking one thing at a time has been a catalyst for improvement in Graham’s play recently.
After playing at a frenetic and jittery pace to start the season, the forward said his focus is to stick to the basics and play at his own pace.
“I’m playing at a much better place than I have been. I’m slowing things down more and playing with a clear head,” Graham said.
Lions head coach Patrick Chambers echoed his player’s sentiments, saying a slower pace for the big men, especially Graham, has come to the forefront as a point of emphasis.
“He looks like a different kid out there [recently]. I think with bigs we have to be patient,” Chambers said on Monday. “They go through their ups and downs, and he’s just a sophomore. He’ll find his way just like he did last year.”
Even though he’s not rapidly transforming into a double-double contributor, Graham has played within himself recently and it’s gradually paying dividends.
Averaging 16.8 minutes in his last four games, the Maryland native has hit 6-of-10 shots from the field and has pulled in six rebounds on two different occasions.
Most notably, Graham has played more aggressive in the paint defensively, stringing together three consecutive games with two blocks prior to Tuesday’s game against Purdue.
“Defensively, he’s been a great spark blocking shots, staying down in position and communicating really well,” Daly said. “His season would definitely be a rollercoaster if you look at it, but I think he’s on the upswing, playing with a high level of energy and finishing his shots around the basket.”