Starting in May of this year, there was a new presence within Penn basketball as Quakers alumnus Nat Graham joined Jerome Allen’s staff as a new assistant coach.
And with Graham came a new buzzword: Tremendous.
“When I was here, any time you asked [former Penn coach Fran] Dunphy , ‘How are you doing, coach?’ He would look at you and go, 'Tremendous’ and be really intense about it,” Graham said. “That stuck with me for so long and I think it’s funny, so I say that to everyone, whether it is around basketball or not.”
That may stick out as weird to some, but the players have embraced what Graham has brought to the table with his positive attitude.
“Coming from Cornell and then Boston College, he brings a very good atmosphere around him,” senior captain Patrick Lucas-Perry said. “He’s always positive. He knows what to say and how to really touch some players.”
“He’s awesome,” fellow senior captain Camryn Crocker added. “Ever since the first day that he stepped in, he has fit right in with the rest of the coaches.”
As Lucas-Perry mentioned, Graham came from Cornell and Boston College, where he was Steve Donahue’s top assistant. Graham helped Donahue win three straight Ivy League titles with the Big Red before moving to BC. He also played for Penn from 1993-1995, winning two Ivy titles at Penn.
“With Nat within our league, it is documented what he has accomplished as a coach at Cornell and as a player [at Penn],” Allen said. “He brings a unique perspective in terms of how to foster a winning culture.”
But after the Eagles went 8-24 a year ago, Graham found himself without a job. As a husband and father of three kids, finding a new position was a necessity.
Graham called his former teammate and current Penn assistant Ira Bowman shortly after seeing that Scott Pera had left the Quakers for a top assistant job at Rice. From there, Graham knew he likely had the job before it became official and was able to transition into his new position relatively easily.
“It has kind of been a seamless transition in terms of recruiting and respecting the student-athletes in this league,” Allen said.
Once he was hired, Graham immediately hit the recruiting trail since that often dominates the late spring and early summer for college programs. After looking into possible late recruits for the 2014 class, he began helping the Quakers fill out their next few recruiting classes.
At the same time, the former Cornell assistant began looking into his new players and what he could do to help the Quakers improve on their 8-20 finish from last year.
“I watched film. I watched a lot of games from last year early just to get a feel for the way Penn was playing and for the guys on the team,” Graham said.
“More than the rest of the guys here, I’m probably a little into the analytics and the stats, trying to figure out what was good and what was bad.”
Penn’s new assistant had just come from a school that had graduate assistants committed to helping with advanced statistics and a coach (Donahue) that was also interested in their application.
But Graham also doesn’t believe that statistics are the answer to everything and now works on a staff with Allen who doesn’t use analytics quite as much.
On the court during practice, Graham is still trying to find his footing after being Donahue’s top assistant for a long time.
“A lot of times Ira will take the bigs and Mike [Lintulahti] will take the not-bigs. I had always been the bigs guy so I would go with Ira but Ira has got his thing really down,” Graham said. “That’s been different for me because I was Steve Donahue’s right-hand man for so long. I knew exactly what he was doing all the time.”
But despite the transition, the players are receptive to what he has brought to practice.
“He’s been real approachable for us,” Crocker said. “He definitely has a different style than some of the other coaches but he’s definitely encouraging and trying to get the most out of us.”
And with a just a few months under his belt, fans will get to see whether Graham’s impact lives up to his favorite word: Tremendous.Comments powered by Disqus
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