Greg Graham was attending the annual Nike Boys Basketball Camp last summer in Chicago when he found himself breaking bread and talking hoops with two coaching icons.
Surreal moments indeed for the sixth-year Warren Central boys basketball coach as he lunched with Bob Knight and Geno Auriemma.
Graham knew Knight, having been a 6-foot-4 guard for his Indiana University program from 1989-93, an era in which the Hoosiers racked up 105 victories, two Big Ten championships and one Final Four.
Auriemma ... complete stranger.
But Graham is too smart not to talk shop with the man who has guided Connecticut’s women’s basketball program to eight national titles and appears primed for a ninth.
“Playing for coach Knight was the opportunity of a lifetime. A great experience,” said Graham, whose team visits Center Grove tonight in a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference game. “Most people see the tyrant Bob Knight, but he’s a very funny guy.
“When you’re winning, things are great, and people don’t understand what a humanitarian he is.”
Graham cites an example, one he can respect now more than he did 21 years ago.
During the 1993 filming of the movie “Blue Chips” at Case Arena in Frankfort, Graham, who had just earned his degree from IU, played for Knight’s Indiana team in the film. The small role came with what Graham thought would be a $10,000 or $15,000 check.
Perfect starting-out money for a freshly minted college graduate.
In time, Graham discovered Knight took the money owed to him and fellow novice actors — and Hoosiers’ teammates — Calbert Cheaney, Chris Reynolds and Eric Anderson and, without asking, donated it to the IU Library.
Paydays were ahead for Graham, the No. 17 overall selection in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets that very summer. However, Graham would never break a sweat in a Hornets’ uniform. His five-year NBA experience included playing for Philadelphia, New Jersey, Seattle and Cleveland.
Graham later played in the CBA and one season in Sweden before deciding to retire in 2000.
The 1989 Indiana All-Star out of Warren Central claims not to copy any one of his coaching influences. Rather, he pulls in a little of Gary Jacob, his high school coach, along with snippets of Knight, Fred “Mad Dog” Carter, Mike Fratello and George Karl.
Graham also praises two of his older teammates in Philadelphia for helping shape him into the man he is today.
“My rookie year, Moses Malone and Johnny Dawkins were great influences on me,” Graham said. “They took me under their wings, ate lunches with me. Now Moses is in the Hall of Fame, and Johnny is the (men’s basketball) coach at Stanford.
“But in practices I definitely didn’t go down the lane against Moses. He didn’t like that.”
Since returning to his alma mater, Graham has guided the Warriors to a 67-58 record. Warren Central is 9-7 this season and 2-2 in the MIC standings entering tonight’s game at Center Grove.
“I’ll be quite honest, I can’t see myself coaching at any other high school. It’s kind of coming full circle to be able to coach and also be able to influence the rest of our student population,” Graham said. “I realize kids aren’t built like they were back then. Players are put on pedestals and sometimes told they’re better than they really are. I’m a straight-shooter, even with recruiters.
“I really instruct our guys to work on their games, but more than that we stress the importance of academics.”