Former OSU and NBA player
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Joey Graham was a key cog on Oklahoma State’s last Final Four squad, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week. Joey and twin brother Stephen transferred to OSU from Central Florida, continuing Eddie Sutton’s successful trend of taking on transfers, helping fuel those Cowboys to a 31-4 record, Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles and within seconds of a national title game berth, before they lost on a late shot to Georgia Tech.
The No. 16 pick of the Toronto Raptors in the 2005 NBA Draft, Joey played for three teams over six seasons in the NBA. Most recently, he’s played in Puerto Rico, battling injuries that have hindered his hopeful return to the NBA.
He’s now back home in Tampa, with a 21/2-year old son, recovered from a leg injury and hoping for another shot in the NBA.
I was always a bigger brother to Steve. I always weighed more and was taller. So a lot of people didn’t know we were twins. A lot of people just thought he was my younger sibling.
We never really acted like twins. We never really did a lot of things that twins might do. We never dressed alike. We never did all that stuff. I don’t know why, we just didn’t.
We’re still brothers at the end of the day. We’re blood. As we get older, we find out that we do have a lot of the same interests, like food and hobbies and things like that. So we’re very close. We talk every day.
I don’t know if it’s a myth or what (about the sixth sense), but there have been a couple things that have happened. Growing up, I’d be inside or outside, and vice versa, and we would cross paths and we’d be singing the same song. That’s one little incident I know of where we kind of think alike.
It was a little rough when we were smaller (being the son of Navy pilot), because we moved around a lot. But it was also fun, because my dad used to take us flying all the time. And I think that’s where we got the itch to become pilots. That’s where I know I got the bug. The first time my father took me up, I threw up, and after that I was hooked.
He coached us in elementary school and middle school. That’s where we got that passion and the desire to compete. It started with us playing with each other. And then we started playing competitively and that’s when he started coaching us. We never played with our same age group, we always played up. So when we were 12 or 13, we were playing with the 17- and 18-year olds.
When I was coming out of high school, I was recruited by everybody in the nation. But one of my requests from my mother was that she said she wanted us to go to college together. At the time, a lot of big universities didn’t have two scholarships, especially for two brothers at the same time. Central Florida was one team that was close, right up the street about an hour and a half from Tampa, and they had two scholarships. So that gave us a great opportunity to stay together and to be close to home.
So Central Florida became the No. 1 choice out of high school.
We were freshmen and we had some fifth-year seniors at the time. The last home game, the coach went out to center court and gave the fifth-year seniors a handshake and plaque with a picture of themselves. I said to myself, “All the time and effort and sweat and tears I put in, all I’ll get is a handshake and a plaque?”
At that point in time, I wanted something more. So me and my brother both said we’ve got to do something else if we want to play at the highest level.
Eddie Sutton is one of those kind of guys, he doesn’t take any mess. That has always been his M.O. And he had a great track record of bringing in guys from awkward and tough situations and molding them into the players that he wanted them to be. And most of the time they became successful. So we knew about that track record. We knew about Eddie’s reputation. We knew all about him. And we were just excited and eager to play for him.
When we got there and we met him for the first time, it was a no-brainer.
Eddie is a handful. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. He made sure everything was a tight ship. He kept everything in line. That’s the way Eddie has always been.
It was fun to be around. We used to have to sign in every morning. And Coach would bring me in his office and we’d sit down and have chats for hours before school. That was one opportunity Eddie had to talk and figure each other out and to see exactly what he expected of me and what I needed to do to get to the next level.
Eddie touched on a little bit of everything. We would talk about women. We would talk about the co-eds and school. We would talk about his past coaching career. We talked about everything.
We had a good group of talented guys there. To credit Eddie, he knew how to get guys motivated. He knew how to get guys from different walks of the Earth and different talents and different egos and different personalities and mesh us well and get us to go out and have one common goal: to play hard, play defense, and to win.
The first year, me and my twin were redshirting. We had these scrimmage games where we played the starters, which was Victor Williams, Melvin Sanders, Andre Williams, Tony Allen, all those guys. And we would play pick-up and we would have practice and I was like, ‘This is intense. I need to be playing now.” That redshirt year was so painful, because I knew we could help the team, could help the guys win. But we had to sit the year out.
So I knew it was going to be a chip on our shoulder and a personal hunger for that following year.
We started off the summer early. And we had guys in there for open gym. And I think that’s when it started, when we had guys with a common goal, and we knew we wanted to win something and we wanted to be in the basketball gym. That was one thing I noticed, that I wasn’t exposed to. You had 15 guys who wanted to play basketball and wanted to get better. And we stayed in the gym all day.
I was like, “Wow, this is incredible.” And that’s when I knew we had something special.
That big run we had in the conference … I remember at one point, we all just sat down in the locker room and we went around in a roundtable kind of way and said, “What do we want?” And we point out to each other what all our goals were for this team. And what each player’s role was. When we cleared that up, I think we just started rolling. That’s something that sticks out to me.
The thing that sticks the most about the St. Joe’s game, we had four of our five starters who were sick with stomach viruses. A lot of people didn’t know it, but coach quarantined us from the rest of the team. I think Ivan (McFarlin) or Tony had it first, then it went to John (Lucas III) and it went to me.
I think it was Ivan and me, or Tony and me, we were both throwing up before the game and we didn’t think we were going to be able to play. But we looked at each other and said, “This is what we signed up for. We can’t win all these games this season and not have anything to show for it.” So we sucked it up and went out there and put a hurtin’ on St. Joe’s.
It was a good game, they had a lot of talented guys, but I knew in my heart we weren’t going to lose that game. There was no way. We’d been through too much. We did too much. The shoulder pads and helmets, all those things. We’d sacrificed too much to just stop right there.
Georgia Tech was the heartbreaker. It came all the way down to that last-second shot where Will Bynum hit that layup.
It was an intense game. The whole Final Four experience was just kind of surreal. First, you’re playing in the Alamodome, and that place is huge. And I’ve never seen so much orange in my life. So it was a surreal feeling to be in that atmosphere.
I think we were pegged to win that year. There was a whole lot of weight on our shoulders and we had the fans and we had us coming back saying, “We came too far to lose now.” And they hit that last-second shot and it was just crushing.
The NBA was kind of surreal, too. And kind of bittersweet, because I got drafted and my brother didn’t get drafted, although I knew that he was going to make it. It wasn’t a thing that we were worrying about. We both made it and played pretty long careers.
The first thing that I picked up on, the acronym for NBA is No Boys Allowed. That’s the first thing I noticed. It went from you’re more talented and faster and bigger and you’re coming out of college ranked in the top 10 in the country, and now you’re in with a bunch of guys that were ranked and talented and just as big and just as fast as you.
It’s a shocking kind of experience. But once you get over that and you find your niche and what you’re good at and what you can do, the game just kind of comes back to you.
Me and my brother both are waiting on our next opportunity in the NBA. He hasn’t been hurt, but he just came back from Venezuela, where he had to leave early because of all the crazy stuff going on with their government. It was a little scary.
There’s an anxiety you get waiting on somebody to call you. You’ve been in the league for so long. You know coaches and GMs who know your talent and know you can play. It’s just a matter of fitting what you bring to the table to that team that’s looking for what you can do. It’s just a waiting game. I’m in the gym every day. I think I’m at the top of my game right now. The anticipation of it is what kills you.
I know these are long seasons and I know how free agency goes, because I’ve been in it before. I know there’s going to be an opportunity. Right now I’m just making sure I’m ready when the opportunity calls. And I am ready.