Feb. 10, 2000
By Greg Walker
They are as different as Fords, Chevys and BMWs. They do, however, all park in the same garage and run on the same petroleum. These three key rookies - Nick Graham, Bryan Whitehead and David Adams -- were playing in high school gyms less than a year ago. But now they have been called upon to rev up their games and play vital roles for Washington State as the Cougars enter the stretch drive of the Pac-10 season.
"I told our freshmen they have to start being sophomores now," said WSU head coach Paul Graham. "We ask them to do many things for us for them to be playing like freshmen. For the most part, I've been impressed with how they've responded."
Nick Graham, the coach's son, is like that new BMW M Class - the roadster that Pierce Brosnan pilots about in while chasing international bad guys in recent James Bond films. A bit flashy and brash with confidence, but lacking the arrogance of a Mercedes, the M Class is a head-turner, yet not unfamiliar to the common man. Its ancestry is steeped hard work and persistence and the current design owes a tip of the hat to its father, if you will, the unenclosed cockpit of the Indy cars, circa 1957.
And wow, talk about great acceleration and speed to burn, this car, er, kid, can get down the floor in a hurry. That's no surprise considering that his father is a former Kansas state track champion. Factor in that Nick's father is also WSU's head coach and it's like having a personal mechanic. Nick Graham's game, both on and off the court, has been meticulously refined by his coach.
"Playing for my dad, that's something that we talked about for a long time," said the son. "It's been a dream really, something that we've been waiting to happen for a long time."
The spidery, 6-0 Nick Graham, who sprained his ankle in mid-January and may miss the rest of the season, was the first recruit signed by the new WSU coach. "His mother told me I might have to give him a car in order to get him to sign," the coach joked. He was the last of the freshmen to sign with WSU and rounds out an interesting trio of prepsters.
Graham is as fast as fellow frosh Brian Whitehead is not. The lumbering 6-8 Whitehead is like that old blue Chevrolet Impala station wagon that took you just about everywhere when you were a kid. How many trips did mom make to and from soccer and baseball practice in that thing? Your father loaded that wagon up until it looked like the axles would break and took you and your siblings on that summer vacation to Yellowstone.
Like Whitehead, it was big, boxy and screamed blue collar, but it always got the job done and got you where you needed to go. Whitehead is the latest in a long line of blue-collar power forwards at WSU. These were guys like Fred Ferguson, Ken Critton, Rob Corkrum and yes, even Mark Hendrickson - guys who would grab about 10 rebounds and score about 10 points per game. Whitehead has shown that same presence along the baseline and almost always converts when the ball finds his hands in the low post.
"Bryan's got to develop some things, but he's got the potential to be a real solid player here before he's done," offered Hendrickson, a fellow Mount Vernon High grad who worked out with Whitehead and the Cougars this fall before his recent stint with Cleveland in the NBA.
Somewhere between Graham and Whitehead lies the last member of this trio, David Adams. And somewhere between a Beemer and an Impala is what Adams is like - a Ford Mustang Convertible. A symbol of American pride, fun and youthful exuberance, what schoolboy hasn't dreamed about opening it up on a street much like Adams' native Ruston Way in Tacoma. Flying along the waterfront drive behind the wheel of a candy-apple red Mustang ragtop, four-on-the-foor, tearing through the gears and racing past blurs that used to be warehouses and railroad crossings until your heart just about jumps out of your chest.
There is similarly something undeniably American about the way the 6-2 Adams shoots the three. With the calm of a ten-year NBA vet, Adams simply steps up and knocks them down. His high-arcing shot has yet to be blocked this season and he has shown the ability to drive through the lane, accelerate through traffic and find the bucket while getting knocked about like the middle car of a three-wide in turn four at Daytona.
There have been many challengers to the Mustang's place in Americana - the Trans Am, the Camaro, the Viper - but none have endured. Their failure has been in trying to be faster than the Mustang, instead of better. Those who try to defend Adams discover this as well.
These three young horses - Adams, Whitehead and Graham - will be the driving force behind Cougar basketball for the next four years. To win games, sometimes WSU will need a Beemer, sometimes a Chevy, sometimes a Mustang. More often than not, it will need all three. And WSU will have the horsepower to get the job done.