Saturday, January 19, 2002

ND's Graves has UK in his blood

Irish forward grew up getting tips from Pitino

The Associated Press

        SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame forward David Graves has been “entangled” in Kentucky basketball for as long as he can remember.

        The memories, on his mind as he prepares for today's game against the No.12 Wildcats, include practicing moves in his yard in Lexington, Ky., dreaming of playing for Kentucky. His neighbor would come over and give him some tips. Graves listened intently since his neighbor, Rick Pitino, knew a thing or two about basketball.

        “I remember vividly, 11 years old on the court outside, him coming out after practice and him teaching me moves and what I could do better,” Graves said. “As an 11 year old, the head coach of Kentucky coming out, it's like, "Oh my Lord.' So I'm out there for three hours doing that one move.”

        Graves said Pitino was a major influence, but he wasn't always the 11-year-old boy in awe of the coach. Graves came to know Pitino as the father of his friends and the friend of his dad.

        “He and I took shots at each other when we saw each other. He would give me some hits, as a son's friend I would kind of throw it back at him,” Graves said.

        The relationship didn't help Graves win a scholarship offer from Kentucky, though.

        Pitino never offered Graves a scholarship. When Tubby Smith succeeded Pitino, he talked to Graves about a possible scholarship if a player already offered one didn't accept and about the possibility of Graves walking on and earning a scholarship later.

        “It was enticing. It was flattering,” Graves said. “But you have to look and see what's best for you.”

        Graves decided Notre Dame was best for him, listening to the advice of his boyhood friend, Mike Pitino, who already was at the school. Graves said even though both his parents and his sister attended Kentucky and his brother and four cousins are there now, he's never regretted his decision.

        “If I had it to do all over again, I would do the exact same thing,” he said. “My position here at Notre Dame is valuable. I don't know how valuable I'd be at Kentucky.”

        Graves, who averages 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds, is a tri-captain for the Irish (12-4). He's started 97 of the 113 games he's played in. He looks at the Kentucky roster now and wonders how he ever would have fit in. He's proud to be a key part in helping Notre Dame return to respectability.

        “He's had one heck of a college basketball career here at Notre Dame,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “He came when we were very poor, he helped us win a league championship last year and get us back in the NCAA tournament and back on the map.”

        All those accomplishments are important to Graves.

        He'd like to add one more accomplishment — a win over the Wildcats (11-4). The Irish have lost seven straight to Kentucky and 16 of the last 19 games.

        But he said he has to avoid making it personal.

        “The one thing you don't want to do is make it personal. You don't want to sit there and say, 'I have to beat Kentucky.”'

        It may be difficult, though. Graves' father has bought 26 tickets to the game and is looking for more.

        “Personally, I want to beat Kentucky. There's no doubt about it,” he said. “My house is five minutes from Rupp Arena. You want to beat them. Everyone on the team wants to beat them.”

        No one else on Notre Dame, though, is as entangled in Kentucky as Graves.


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