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Gwinnett Grads: Graham fighting through injury
Sophomore needed more than ever for depleted Ole Miss

Tuesday night wasn't all that different from Zach Graham's old high school battles with Jodie Meeks.

His Ole Miss team played the role of underdog Peachtree Ridge, his alma mater. Kentucky, like heavyweight Norcross a few years back, was led by Meeks.

Graham's high school team defeated Norcross in the Region 7-AAAAA finals, but that was a year after Meeks had graduated.

But he got a measure of revenge this week when his Rebels upset red-hot Kentucky 85-80 to stop a three-game losing streak.

"Our (high) schools had a rivalry, so we were rivals back in Atlanta," Graham said. "We've known each other for a long time. We were roommates at the ABCD Camp and played on the same AAU team. It was good to go against him."

It was even better to come out on top.

Graham scored 11 points for injury-depleted Ole Miss, which beat Kentucky for just the 12th time in 107 tries. But his play on the defensive end, mostly against his old-buddy Meeks - the nation's No. 3 scorer - got most of the attention and praise from the TV analysts.

Meeks scored 21, below his 26.1 average, but made just 4 of 15 field goals. He was held without a field goal for the game's first 28-plus minutes.

"I just tried to face-guard him," Graham said. "He's really strong and well-conditioned. I just tried to face-guard him and limit his touches so he didn't touch the ball as much as he normally does."

The defensive display was rewarding for Graham, who was known more in high school for his offensive skills.

"It was great showing people I can put more on the court that just offense," the 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore said.

Tuesday's effort was even more impressive considering Graham is playing with a 50 percent tear of the patella tendon in his right knee. The tear, which will require a postseason surgery, causes constant pain in games and limits his basketball practices to shooting mixed with treadmill and swimming pool workouts.

"I feel it a lot during games because it hurts and I can't really explode off it, push off it like I want to," Graham said.

Ole Miss (11-9, 2-4 SEC) needs Graham to play through the pain since the team's down to eight scholarship players. Three key Rebels have been lost to season-ending knee injuries and another two were lost to academic issues.

"Seeing (my teammates) go down one by one was tough," Graham said of the rash of knee injuries. "They were really big parts of our team. They were all respected in the SEC. At the same time, we had to go out and play our games. The team just had to stay strong and get through it."

Graham has stepped up his game in their absence, averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in SEC games. Those efforts lately have pushed his season averages to 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Meanwhile he's also been Ole Miss' top free-throw shooter (35 of 40, 87.5 percent) and 3-point shooter (13-for-32, 40.6 percent).

BASKETBALL

Witherspoon sidelined with minor knee surgery

Memphis freshman Wesley Witherspoon had surgery on Monday to repair torn meniscus in his left knee. The Berkmar grad is expected to be back on the court within a month.

The 6-8, 200-pounder had been averaging 15.9 minutes for a 17-3 team.

Wiedeman has big night

Greater Atlanta Christian grad Reece Wiedeman, a forward at Georgia College and State University, had a nice game Wednesday night against Columbus State.

Wiedeman made 7 of 8 field goals for 14 points and also had seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Hagans gets school honor

Brenau University named Shiloh grad Ashley Hagans as its Golden Tiger of the Week, given to the school's top athlete each week, on Tuesday.

The junior guard averaged 27.3 points the previous week with 19 rebounds and 14 steals in three games, including two Brenau wins. Her 21.7-scoring average leads the Southern States Athletic Conference and is third nationally among NAIA players.

TRACK AND FIELD

Berkmar tracksters shine

Three former Berkmar track and field standouts have started the indoor track and field season with strong showings.

Juliana Smith, a sophomore at Ole Miss, has a 20-pound hammer throw of 60 feet, 1 inch that ranks first in the SEC. She placed second in the weight throw at the Arkansas Invitational with a toss of 56-01/2, then threw 57-5 the next week for fourth at the Kentucky Invitational.

Hasheem Halim, a freshman at Virginia Tech, placed third in the triple jump at the Virginia Tech Invitational with a leap of 48-63/4. He topped that the following week, going 48-91/2.

Runner Girma Mecheso, an Auburn freshman, won the 5,000-meter run at the Boston Terrier Invitational with a time of 14:01.14, the second-fastest in school history. The run is a provisional qualifying time of the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in March.

Union runners among nation's best

Union College (Ky.) teammates Johnnie Nabors and Andre Thornton, both Gwinnett grads, are each ranked among the nation's best NAIA runners in indoor track and field.

Nabors, a Meadowcreek grad, has a converted 6.93-second time in the 60-meter dash that is the nation's fourth best. Thornton, who went to South, is 23rd nationally in the 400 with a time of 50.35.

SOFTBALL

Rogers, Taylor, Wiggins on national list

Gwinnett grads Brittany Rogers of Alabama, Rhea Taylor of Missouri and Megan Wiggins of Georgia were each selected to the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year watch list, which includes the nation's top 50 players per preseason rankings.

Rogers, a senior from Dacula, was an All-American last season for the third straight year. She led the nation with 60 stolen bases - she now has 146 for her career - setting Crimson Tide records for both. She also hit .452, the third-highest average in school history.

Taylor, a Peachtree Ridge grad, was the Big 12 freshman of the year and a second-team All-American in 2008. She hit .402 and was second nationally with 57 stolen bases, which set a school and conference record.

Wiggins, a Shiloh grad, was a first-team All-SEC selection last year as a freshman, when she hit .347 with 44 runs, 76 hits, five triples, 52 RBIs and a .553 slugging percentage. She led the Bulldogs in each category.

Side, Iduate on preseason team

Georgia Southern's Jenny Side (South Gwinnett) and Nina Iduate (Norcross) were named to the All-Southern Conference preseason softball team.

Elon's Jaimie Rao (North Gwinnett) and Jackie Gonzalez (Peachtree Ridge) were on the second team.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.