In my bachelor days, I would occasionally come upon a carton of milk in the refrigerator that was just about to reach its expiration date. I’d give it the old smell test, and if it passed, even if barely, then I could have a bowl of cereal.
To a degree, what the Maryland men’s basketball team is about to do with a young man named James Graham III is roughly the same. It passes the smell test, but just by the proverbial whiff.
Graham is a 6-foot-8 inch forward. He’s a high school senior who averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season. He’s ranked 52nd among recruits in the country, getting four stars out of five, according to rating services.
In early November, Graham and two other prospects signed letters of intent to play at College Park next year.
They were expected to form one of the top recruiting classes in the country and to make the Terps a force to be feared next year.
But Graham had other ideas. In a world where young men and women are increasingly abandoning their commitments to schools, the Milwaukee native is going the other way.
Graham announced that he will graduate high school early to enroll at Maryland and make himself available to play, not next season, but later this month.
In a statement released from Maryland, Graham said quote, I can’t wait to get to College Park and experience a new team, new coaches and new challenges. I wanted to start early so I could maximize my abilities and get into the Maryland system. It’s all about competition for me unquote.
His new coach, Mark Turgeon, said, in a statement quote, We’re looking forward to James joining our program early and getting a head start acclimating within our system and the weight room. James is fully committed to finishing his high school education this semester…We can’t wait to have him in College Park unquote.
Well, with all due respect to Turgeon and Graham, Maryland should wait.
Graham, who will have four full years of eligibility after this season, likely will not play much of a role this year, There are two players ahead of him at his position, so the rush for the Terps to get him in uniform now seems like overkill, bordering on greed.
Worse yet, Graham’s presence in College Park appears to mock the precious mythology built up on college campuses that both sides of the term student-athlete receive equal attention.
Turgeon’s statement says little if anything about supporting Graham academically at Maryland, but more about rounding him into shape on the court. All at once, it’s breathtakingly honest and devastating.
To be fair, what Graham’s doing is not completely unheard of. No less a pristine institution of higher learning than Duke has welcomed basketball players before their high school graduating class.
And this trend isn’t even confined to basketball, as athletes from other sports including baseball and football have taken a sniff at college early. But any parent will tell you that the fact that someone else is doing wrong doesn’t mean you should.
For now, James Graham’s situation is just on the right side of the expiration date. But that doesn’t mean that Maryland should drink the milk.
And that’s how I see it for this week.