Atlanta's Gwinnett County, Atlanta, has produced some big time basketball players over the last couple of years. Louis Williams and Mike Mercer proved that on Monday night when they knocked off Oak Hill Academy. When they leave for Georgia, or the NBA, the community northeast of Atlanta will continue to thrive on the hardwood with guys like Zach Graham, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard from Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwannee, Georgia.
The class of 2007 prospect has only been playing with his varsity squad since the second semester began but his impact has been felt right away. Since returning to action after sitting out the fall semester because of academic ineligibility, Graham went right to work. His first game of his sophomore season, he erupted for 29 points.
After a couple more 20-plus points games, he faced his toughest match up last week when Peachtree Ridge hosted state power Norcross, featuring Western Kentucky bound Daniel Emerson and star junior Jodie Meeks. While Graham's team lost the game, he did show off why so many in the Peach State are excited about his return.
Graham was effective by getting to the foul stripe early and often. Fearless with the ball, he continued to attack the basket and converted 10 of 13 from the charity stripe. His court vision allows him to play the point and his long frame allows him to defend both guard spots and the small forward.
His all around game isn't an overnight success but it can be traced to what he calls the biggest secret in the country at Jordan Rhodes park, a community hot spot that has attracted the likes of Graham, Williams, Mercer and many others.
"That's where we all play and just challenge each other," Graham said. "That's where we all get better before the season starts."
Ironically, Graham's first ever varsity game was against current Georgia freshman and former Jordan Rhodes park player Channing Toney.
Graham isn't getting his success just from his county mates. Peachtree Ridge head coach Keeth Jones has coached big time talent. As a head coach in Florida, Jones taught NBA superstar Amare Stoudamire.
"I talk to coach a lot and he gives me a lot of advice not only on the court but off of it, too. We talk a lot about character and keeping my head straight. My dad has a lot to do with it, too."
Graham is also a standout quarterback and safety on the gridiron. Football runs in the family. The elder Graham, David, had a cup of coffee with the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks in the early 1980s.
Schools are showing interest already in the two-sport star. Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Furman, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Ohio State and Texas are sending letters. There is little doubt that he's a high-major. Mr. Graham says a school that offers more than just a basketball future is a high priority.
"We're looking for an environment that gives him an opportunity to grow into the right kind of young man. Whether or not he plays right away isn't necessarily that important but somewhere that he can get a transition from sports to academics is something that is important," Mr. Graham said.
"Of course his mother would really like it if that somewhere was close but if the school is a place where they can get their players to the next level and a system that cares for their kids, I'll think she'll be alright."
If Graham keeps doing what he's doing, he'll be alright, too.