SENIOR SERIES: A profile look at triumphs and struggles experienced by some Aurora senior prep athletes in the time of the coronavirus pandemic:
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
Graham Ike is super excited for his college future in Laramie, Wyoming, he just don’t know what it looks like.
Literally, doesn’t know what it looks like.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound star center on the Overland boys basketball team — who missed all but one-plus games of his much-anticipated senior season due to a knee injury — committed and signed with the University of Wyoming sight unseen.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prevented Ike from even so much as taking a trip on the campus to “Laradise” — which is what new head coach Jeff Linder calls it — but he trusts the coaching staff and a laundry list of Overland athletes who have played for Wyoming when they tell him it’s the right place.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with the coaches and guys like (former Overland star) Austin Conway and some of the guys I’ve played with in AAU like Kwane (Marble III) and Kenny (Foster) who are up there and they’ve been telling me how great the school is,” Ike told the Sentinel. “Kwane (a Denver East grad) told me that I would love it up there, not just the campus, but everybody that supports them so heavily. That’s how he felt coming from similar places down here, so I could feel the truth coming out.”
Ike — who hopes to visit the campus in June if conditions allow — should have plenty of time to get acclimated to his surroundings as he is expected to redshirt in his first year with the program so he can get his knee back to full strength.
Coming off a monster junior season in which he averaged 17.6 points and 12.0 rebounds per contest for coach Danny Fisher’s Overland team, Ike looked ready to take the state by storm as a senior.
In a foundation exhibition game in December against defending state champion Rangeview, Ike knocked down a number of 3-point shots to add a further dimension to a game in which he was already accomplished with post moves and dunks. His 29-point effort nearly helped the Trailblazers knock off the Raiders, who would go on to a 26-0 regular season.
It turned out the regular season opener against Regis Jesuit — in which he scored 21 points and snagged 16 rebounds — would be the only full game Ike would play, as he suffered partial tears of his Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in a road game at ThunderRidge Dec. 5 that eventually became the last time he would take the floor for the Trailblazers.
Ike had surgery in January and spent several agonizing weeks recovering in virtual isolation, made especially tough as his great friends on the Overland team had to play without him. It was hard on Ike mentally, but he eventually experienced a moment of clarity on how to overcome it.
“After I got the diagnosis from the doctor, I broke down and it was hard for a couple of weeks, but then I just had to realize that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself,” he said. “What was that going to get me? I had to find a positive out of it. It took about a month after surgery. I was just sitting in bed for two or three weeks, just going from my home to my physical therapy and back.
“One day I was sitting in the room after seeing my doc and I just started to formulate a plan of how to pull up out of a slump and not be negative.”
Ike returned to the bench with his team and played a support role for the Trailblazers (who were knocked out of the 5A playoffs in the second round by rival Eaglecrest) while he soaked up the in-game knowledge of Fisher, who has developed a reputation as one of Colorado’s best motivators and strategists.
Without Fisher, Ike is certain he wouldn’t be in the position he is with a Division I basketball future ahead of him and possibly an NBA career if all goes right.
“Coach Fisher is not just a coach, he’s a father figure; he teaches you stuff on the court and off the court that you can use in life,” Ike said. “This is bigger than basketball. They are trying to mold us into being great young men and I appreciate that so much. I wouldn’t be in this position today without it.”
On top of the fortune to be around Fisher in high school, Ike has only has to look within his own family for the stuff it takes to be a professional athlete.
His grandfather, the late Tom Graham, played in the NFL for seven seasons — including three with the Denver Broncos — while his uncle, Daniel, was a star tight end at the University of Colorado and played with the Broncos as well among four NFL stops.
His uncle’s advice often hits home with Ike.
“My uncle would tell me about how he would be up at 6:30 in the morning in Boulder running every day and how his schedule was built when he got to the pros,” Ike said. “There’s so many hours that are put in. When you see somebody that is an inspiration and got it done at that level, if that’s what you want to do, he can help you get there. I’m blessed to have a great support system.”
For now, Ike — who continues to rehab twice a week and has home workouts as well to help strengthen his knee — is “really excited to get on campus and get to work with the guys in Wyoming and meet the people up there.”
Wyoming people have become quite familiar with Overland athletes, as Ike becomes the latest to join a flow north that has included Conway, Kevin Prosser, Alijah Halliburton and Cameron Murray in football in recent years.
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