Treveon Graham carries bulk of load for VCU

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

D.C. native has become central to Rams' offense

The sudden ascendance of Virginia Commonwealth under Shaka Smart had plenty to do with the warrior mentality the young coach instilled in his players; a deep, quick backcourt; and the unique versatility of undersized power forward Bradford Burgess.

With the graduation of the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Burgess last spring, it was interesting to see whether VCU still could be the same team.

Enter D.C. native Treveon Graham. At 6-5, 215 pounds, Graham has the imposing look of Burgess. And so far this year, he has done a stunning impersonation on the court. Averaging a team-high 15.9 points to go along with 6.0 rebounds, Graham is actually doing some things better than his heralded predecessor.

"Treveon is stronger than Brad as a sophomore. Everyone around here calls him 'Freight Train' because he's so powerfully built," Smart said. "They have different games. Tre is much more aggressive offensively. Brad, certainly by the end of his career, he was just so well-rounded. Literally he could do everything. He could play the point guard if you wanted. He knew the plays from every position. He really thought like a coach by the end of his career."

While Graham has a way to go to be able to play the point, he has provided the Rams with a go-to offensive player who has the ability to hit from the perimeter, drive inside, run the floor and pound the offensive glass. Among players in the Atlantic 10 with at least 60 rebounds, Graham is the only one with more offensive boards (79) than defensive (65).

"I think Tre's a better scorer. He gets to the foul line certainly a lot better, and he's a guy, like Brad, that we count on to make a lot of plays from the four spot," Smart said. "I really like having both of those guys at that spot because I think they can be difficult to defend."

Burgess was too quick for a traditional power forward to handle and too strong for a wing. With a body to match, Graham has presented the same matchup problems for opponents. His progression after averaging 7.0 points as a key reserve last year was essential considering Burgess' heir apparent, his brother Jordan Burgess, was ruled academically ineligible before the season.

A later bloomer at St. Mary's Ryken in Leonardtown, Md., Graham was only 5-11, 150 pounds as a sophomore and was lightly recruited. But after sprouting five inches and adding 50 pounds, Graham drew the attention of Smart thanks in part to glowing reviews from other coaches in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

"To be honest, I gotta give a lot of credit to Mike Jones [of DeMatha] and Steve Turner [of Gonzaga] for their words about Tre to us in the recruiting process," Smart said. "[They helped] us understand how good he was so that we could have a sense of urgency in recruiting him."

Smart knew Graham would fit his system. Smart's gambling, havoc defense requires four guards quick enough to pressure foes with at least one of them big and strong enough to handle a traditional power forward.

Considering Graham is a young sophomore, having turned 19 in October, there's plenty of room for further improvement.

Over the next three days, Graham will get reacquainted with some of his old D.C. friends as VCU (19-5, 7-2) has key games Thursday against Massachusetts (16-6, 6-3), which is loaded with D.C.-area products, and Saturday against George Washington (11-11, 5-4).

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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