Graham goes on defensive

Raptors forward Joey Graham attacks the basketball during the first quarter, despite the efforts of...

Raptors forward Joey Graham attacks the basketball during the first quarter, despite the efforts of 76ers defender Steven Hunter last night. Toronto has lost all six home games. (SUN/Veronica Henri)

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

Twenty games into his NBA career, Joey Graham is starting to show signs of that defensive stopper reputation he brought from college.

The process -- making the jump from college to the pros -- is never an easy one, but for Graham it has been particularly hard, given he has been asked from the moment he stepped on to an NBA court to guard what is normally that night's opponents highest scoring player.

Consider that Graham already has been matched up against LeBron James (twice) and Paul Pierce.

"I knew coming in here it was going to be a challenge facing so many off-guards, but I'm up to the challenge every night," Graham said yesterday. "It's not going to do anything but make me better every night."

When it is suggested to Graham that the job he did on Carter in the second meeting between the two -- a 95-82 Raptors road win -- is one of his better performances, the rookie quickly corrects the impression.

"It could have been, but I thought I did a good job on a lot of guys. You could probably pick and choose from any of those games," he said.

Head coach Sam Mitchell has seen progress, but clearly he wants more. Asked to assess Graham's progress, Mitchell replied: "Slow-moving. It's going to take time, but it's coming."

Mitchell is well-aware of the defensive reputation Graham earned at Oklahoma State, but he says it's up to the youngster to prove that reputation at the NBA level.

"Nobody in the NBA cares what you did in college," Mitchell said. "You think the guys on another team are thinking about what anyone did in college? They couldn't care less. These guys are proven NBA players. Until you prove it over 82 games, no one really cares.

"Whatever your rep was before ... that's what helped get you here but it's not what is going to keep you here."

Assistant coach Jim Todd believes Graham is literally one step from becoming that solid stopper on a consistent basis at the pro level. What he sees is a young player who is still wary of getting too close to an opponent for fear he will turn and fly right by him. Graham is being told to trust that his teammates will be there should that happen, allowing him to get right in the face of his opponents.

"Sam keeps throwing him out there every night and he is getting better at it every night," Todd said.

So Graham may not be getting the glowing reviews fellow rookies Charlie Villaneuva or Jose Calderon are enjoying, but even he knows those will come with time.

"Play hard," Graham said of his role. "That's what Sam told me to do and that's what I'm doing."


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