PHOENIX — The last time Torian Graham wore his Arizona State jersey, he scored a career-high 32 points and knocked down seven three-pointers, but ASU lost to No. 1 seed Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament on March 9.
Thursday, Graham will put his ASU jersey back on for the final time to compete in the three-point portion of the 29th annual State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships at Grand Canyon University.
“Yes, my last time,” Graham said Wednesday at GCU. “It’s sad, but also a good feeling to be able to perform again, on national TV, in front of friends.”
Graham is one of eight men’s college basketball players competing in the event’s three-point contest. The event also includes a women’s three-point competition and a slam dunk championship. The competition will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. at GCU and will broadcast live on ESPN.
“Very excited,” Graham said. “Definitely going to try to win. Very excited to be part of the atmosphere. Going to perform and compete.”
Twenty-three of the nation’s elite men’s and women’s college basketball players will join Graham in the competition that includes fellow local DeWayne Russell of Grand Canyon, UCLA’s Bryce Alford, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Iowa’s Peter Jok, Duke’s Matt Jones, Iowa State’s Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr.
Of the group, Graham has the closest bond to Jenkins. The two have known each other since they were teenagers, playing AAU basketball on the D.C. Assault in Washington, D.C.
“We have a friendship and a bond that will last a lifetime,” Jenkins said. “I have so much respect for him so to come out to Arizona and see him and spend time with him, it’s great.”
It’s been a couple years since the pair has seen each other in person. They’ve been busy, particularly Jenkins, who was in the spotlight last season after hitting the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in last season’s championship game that gave Villanova the win over North Carolina.
“It’s great to see him and I’m just so happy and proud of the success he’s had,” Jenkins said. “Nobody has an easy road to get to where they want to be and his road has been tough, but I appreciate him and his hard work and I am happy to see him.”
Jenkins said Graham might be his biggest competition Thursday. Graham’s 108 made three-pointers tied for 14th in Division I men’s basketball this season and was the seventh-best tally in Pac-12 history.
Graham earned the nickname Torian “Green Light” Graham while playing at ASU for his plethora of three-point attempts, 279 total last season for an average of 8.5 attempts per game.
“Torian has always been a great player so that doesn’t surprise me,” Jenkins said. “He has always been a knockdown shooter, a high-level athlete, a great defender, so he’s always been a great player.”
Alford, who faced off with Graham twice this season, joins the ASU guard as the only Pac-12 players in the contest.
“He’s a big-time shooter, I don’t know how many threes he made this year but he’s made a ton,” said Alford, whose 107 three-points during the regular season left him one shy of Graham. “He played really well against us in the two games we played them. He makes really tough shots It will be interesting to see how well he can shoot when he is open because that is what this competition is about. He makes all the tough ones look really easy.”
In preparation for the contest Thursday night, Graham said he’s been training the last couple days to get ready by shooting off a rack similar to those used for the competition. Shooting off the rack takes a different hand-eye coordination approach than shooting off the pass or dribble in regular basketball games.
Graham isn’t going into the three-point competition without some advice. ASU head coach Bobby Hurley competed in the three-point competition 24 years ago after a successful senior season at Duke University.
Hurley was a first-team All-American as a senior in 1993. During his stellar Duke career, he went to the Final Four three times and won back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992.
“He (Hurley) just always tells me to go out and compete with relentless effort and just try to win,” Graham said. “Always try to win.”
Graham is the sixth ASU basketball player to compete in the State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships. The first was Eddie House, who competed in the men’s three-point portion of the event in 2000. Kyle Dodd (2003) and Carrick Felix (2013) competed in the slam dunk contest. Briann January (2009) and Katie Hempton (2016) participated in the women’s three-point competition.
Any regrets from Graham about not being invited to compete in the slam dunk portion of the event?
“Yeah I would rather dunk,” Graham said. “But this is what they chose for me to do.”
Despite wanting to be in the dunk competition, Graham said he had “no doubt” he wanted to compete in the three-point event when he got the offer a couple days after the final game of his collegiate career.
“Little jitters because I’m sure a lot of people will be watching, but at the same time ready to perform again,” Graham said.
(Video by Jake Garcia/Cronkite News)