Paul Graham waited a long time to become a head coach in college basketball. That time came when he was introduced as the Washington State University head men's basketball coach March 25, 1999. He became the 14th head coach in the history of Cougar basketball, which heads into his 102nd season in 2002-03.
Now, in his fourth season at the helm, Graham continues to build a program in the highly competitive Pacific-10 Conference.
Graham paid his dues prior to coming to the Palouse as he spent 15 years as an assistant coach at Southern Methodist University, the University of New Mexico and Oklahoma State University. During those 15 years, Graham helped guide 12 teams into the postseason, including the 1995 Final Four as a member of Eddie Sutton’s staff at Oklahoma State.
During his tenure as an assistant, Graham coached 12 all-conference players and was part of Southern Methodist’s 1988 Southwest Conference championship team.
“Paul is a great family man and is a good role model for his players,” Sutton, who has been at OSU for 12 years, said. “He has a philosophy that student-athletes should be treated just like you would treat your own children. He is a good teacher and has a wonderful knowledge of the game.”
Graham became the 13th Sutton-mentored assistant coach to go on to a head coaching job. Others include Gene Keady (Purdue), Rob Evans (Arizona State), Leonard Hamilton (former head coach of Oklahoma State, Miami of Florida and the Washington Wizards), and Bill Self (Illinois). His ability to be a successful head coach is unquestioned by many of the top names in collegiate coaching.
Signs of that success emerged in 2000-01 when the Cougars won 10 games at Friel Court, the most by a WSU team in six years. The Cougars also added back-to-back conference victories and swept Arizona State for the first time in four seasons.
The Graham-led Cougars won 12 games, doubling WSU’s win total from 1999-2000. In addition, the Cougars recorded their best finish in the Pacific-10 Conference in six seasons.
Graham has already demonstrated his ability to bring in talent at Washington State overseeing a 2000 recruiting class recognized by several publications among the best in the country and in the top two in the Pacific-10 Conference, including 28th by recruiting expert Bob Gibbons and 37th by Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. Francis also recognized the Cougars junior college class as the fifth-best in the country. That recruiting class produced Marcus Moore, a 2001 All-Pacific-10 Freshman Team member, 2002 All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection and All-America candidate this season. In 1999, Graham brought in J Locklier, a transfer from Miami, Ohio, who won the 2001 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year Award. Locklier went on to a brief professional stint in Europe and opened training camp this season on the Boston Celtics roster.
The 51-year-old Graham has earned the respect and admiration of some of the top experts in collegiate basketball.
Graham helped lead Oklahoma State to a 150-72 record, five NCAA Tournament bids and one National Invitational Tournament (NIT) appearance. In his final year at OSU (1998-99), the Cowboys were 23-11 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In 1995, Graham helped guide Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and the Cowboys to the NCAA Final Four. Graham also coached all-Big XII players Adrian Peterson, Brooks Thompson and Randy Rutherford, while at OSU.
Graham began his coaching career as the head basketball coach at Kimball High School in Dallas, Texas, where he coached from 1974-82. Graham broke into the collegiate ranks in 1982 as an assistant coach at Southern Methodist, where he studied under Dave Bliss until 1988.
While he was at SMU, the Mustangs won the 1988 Southwest Conference Championship. Graham coached several outstanding Mustang players, including Jon Koncak, the school's second-leading scorer, Butch Moore, SMU's career assists leader, and NBA draft choices Kevin Lewis and Terry Williams. Graham then spent the 1988-89 year as an assistant athletic director at SMU before spending one season as the cross country coach at Samuell High School in Dallas.
In 1990, he returned to the collegiate sidelines and was reunited at New Mexico with Bliss. In his two seasons in Albuquerque, the Lobos advanced to postseason play twice. Led by Willie Banks and future Chicago Bull and NBA champion Luc Longley, New Mexico went 20-10 in 1990-91, before seeing its season end against Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at College Park, Md. Two years later, Graham joined Sutton on the Oklahoma State staff.
Graham earned his bachelor's degree from North Texas in 1974, majoring in physical education and obtaining a minor in history. While at North Texas, he qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships in the high hurdles. He earned his master’s degree in educational administration from Prairie View A&M in 1979.
Born March 11, 1951, in Kansas City, Kan., Graham graduated from Sumner High School and was a member of a State championship basketball team as well as being an all-city basketball selection and a state track champion in the high hurdles and 60-yard dash.
Graham and his wife, Vanessa, have two children, Nicholas (21), who is a junior member of the 2002-03 Cougar team, and Brittany (16).