A quiet leader

Men’s basketball ‘unsung hero’ Jayvon Graves lets his play do the talking

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Jayvon Graves doesn’t say much.

He doesn’t have to.

Despite his reserved personality, Graves has filled a leadership void left by 2019 men’s basketball alumni CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris.

His teammates and coaches look up to him. They say he does all the little things right.

Graves, who started in 2017, got there through earning valuable minutes as a freshman and working his way up the depth chart. Last season, Graves, who hails from Ohio like his hero LeBron James, started in 35 of the team’s 36 games and averaged 9.7 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. Things changed this year, as Graves stepped onto the court with a larger role as a team staple and a leading scorer. Now eight games into the 2019-20 campaign, Graves is averaging 16.6 points per game. But his biggest challenge isn’t his ability to score. He already proved himself there. 

He now has to adapt to his newfound leadership role. 

“I know my game can speak for itself,” Graves said. “But I think leadership, taking ownership, being the example [is where I need to improve].”

Last season, Graves was the Bulls’ “unsung hero,” according to head coach Jim Whitesell. 

He helped the team achieve Mid-American Conference Championship status with his critical play, but didn’t hold the spotlight like his teammates at the time. And while Whitesell appreciates Graves’ humble approach, he said Graves needs to embrace more of this “alpha dog” role. 

“I want him to be that way because he has that ability, the sky’s the limit for him,” Whitesell said. 

Whitesell remembers seeing Graves’ stardom in the making as early as his Amateur Athletic Union days, when he was playing for the King James Shooting Stars in Ohio. 

“When I saw him in AAU, I really liked his game but the biggest thing is I thought he knew how to pass the ball,” Whitesell said. “I mean I knew he could score, but the thing is he had good natural instincts of making his teammates better”

Graves developed these instincts at a young age. 

He grew up in Malvern, OH playing football, baseball and basketball. He played all positions expected of the typical star athlete, he said. 

Graves, growing up in Ohio, says he was always inspired by Akron native James.

And after middle school, Graves took a huge step in his basketball prophecy. 

He and his family moved 45 minutes north to Akron, where Graves attended the prestigious St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, LeBron James’ high school. 

“It meant a lot,” Graves said about the illustrious school. “I knew I could excel well and be ready for college, that’s why I chose it.”

He thrived in high school, improving his numbers every year and ultimately averaging 21.6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game as a senior. Graves’ efforts earned him Division-II Player of the Year and Cleveland.com’s Boy's Basketball Player of the Year. 

In 2017, Graves helped bring a state championship back to Akron, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the then career-defining game. When he won the game, it affirmed his dreams of following in LeBron James’ footsteps.

But unlike James, Graves wasn’t headed straight to the NBA after graduating St. Mary’s. He had a decision to make. He received scholarship offers from several MAC opponents, including Kent State and Graves’ hometown team Akron, but, even with staying home on the table, he decided to choose UB. 

Buffalo was exactly what Graves was looking for, he says reflecting on the decision. He loved “the style of play, the atmosphere, closeness to home, and the coaching staff.” Graves, since choosing UB, recognizes he’s grown as a player.

With his statistics in nearly every category increasing every year since 2017, Graves’ work ethic speaks for itself. 

Whitesell said Graves’ “unselfish” attitude will allow an easy adjustment into his leadership role.

“He understands there is a process to being successful,” Whitesell said. “There’s no shortcut to it.”

And Graves knows he has the dedication and drive to be the leader everyone is starting to see him as.

“[I want to] be more vocal and leading by example. [I’m going to] breath first on the floor [and] the last to leave.”

The sports desk can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com.