UHH men’s basketball preview: Graves returns, shoulders share of load

  • Jordan Graves is returning to the court with the University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball team.

Every team needs a glue guy like Jordan Graves, UH-Hilo’s senior guard, who holds everything together and best of all makes sacrifices for the good of everyone.

Who knows what would have happened to the Vulcans if Graves hadn’t injured his left shoulder and played only eight games?

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Unfortunately, hypotheticals don’t really work in the real world, only cold hard facts.

What we do know is that when Graves played he made an impact. He shot 44% from the field, averaged 2.3 steals per game, and scored 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including a game-winning 3-pointer, in an upset over No. 2 Azusa Pacific.

During those eight games, he sacrificed his scoring to feed the ball to Kupaa Harrison, who later signed a contract to play pro ball in Europe.

Graves is making another sacrifice to be the secondary ball-handler behind Darren Williams. But like always, he’ll find other ways to contribute.

“I hope to bring leadership, help the younger guys adjust to the college level,” he said. “I hope to keep playing on the defensive end. That’s a big key with me. My left shoulder is almost 100 percent.

“Darren brings a lot to the team. He can create plays, knock down shots. He’s a great defender as well. It’s a duo partnership, and it’s nice having that.”

Graves grew up in Monterey, Calif., and followed Michael Jordan as a youngster and one other guy as well, Allen Iverson, forever famous for his practice soliloquy.

Of course, Graves has no aversion to practice, where he’s always working on his game, a perfect fit for UHH’s transition attack. He can attack the rim, nail the pull-up jumper or bomb away from beyond the arc.

“He’s a dynamic player. He’s not an easy cover,” coach Kaniela Aiona said. “He can score from all three levels. He’s got a good skill set on offense. He enjoys guarding the other good offensive player and trying to slow him down.”

Graves already graduated with a sociology degree and is working on a communications degree. He’d like a shot at pro ball. Either way, he’s already made his mother, May Esquerra, proud.

“I’m the first in my generation to graduate from college,” he said. “My mom was happy.”

He’s explored the Big Island with his uncle, but the only place he hasn’t been is Maunakea.

“I haven’t been to the mountain yet,” he said.

But he’s already put in the hard work to get there.

Williams will start at the other guard spot, a position of depth for the Vulcans.

Jalen Thompson will start at guard, too, and the better the backups play the more time they’ll get.

The deep bench includes senior Steven Hubbell, who’s from Burbank, Calif., junior Anthony Haskett, from Diablo Valley College (Calif.), redshirt freshman Payton Grant, from Maryknoll, and Hilo’s own Kiai Apele, out of Waiakea.

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“Hubbell does a lot for us as far as energy and effort. He can make the open shot,” Aiona said. “I’m excited to see what Kiai does because he’s a skilled player. I don’t care if you’re a freshman or senior if you have good skills, compete the right way, and do what we ask you’ll get a chance.

“Everyone will get a run to see what we have.”

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