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Explosive Jayvon Graves takes a great leap forward for No. 19 UB

The roster lists Jayvon Graves at 6-foot-3. Talk about misleading.

The sophomore guard for the University at Buffalo plays so much bigger because of his leaping ability.

Just ask West Virginia's 6-8 Lamont West. He got posterized under the basket on a Graves dunk that went viral in November. Or ask Akron’s 6-8 center Emmanuel Olojakpoke. He got what looked like a sure layup blocked by Graves two weeks ago.

“Jayvon plays way bigger because he’s so explosive, he’s big and strong, and he gets off the ground so quick,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “He can go in and get rebounds because he’s built like a man and he jumps so well.”

Graves’ emergence in a supporting role has been one of the reasons the 19th-ranked Bulls have been able to stay in the top 25 for 17 straight weeks.

UB shoots for its 26th straight home win Friday night when it closes the regular season against Bowling Green at 6 p.m. at Alumni Arena. The game is a sell-out, and it’s on ESPNU.

Everybody knew entering the season UB had a great “Big Three” in CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris. The consistency of senior guard Dontay Caruthers and Graves’ development have given the Bulls’ five legitimate scoring options on any given night.

Graves has started every game for the Bulls and is averaging 9.7 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. That’s up from 5.1 and 2.3 as a freshman.

Graves also has improved his shooting from 38 percent overall to 47 percent overall, and he’s shooting a solid 38.3 percent from three-point range.

He's ascending. The past five games, Graves is averaging 14 points and shooting 57 percent.

“I keep trying to get him to be more aggressive, and he has been more aggressive this last month,” Oats said. “In conversations with him, he made the point that he’s playing his role. I’ve made the point: Your role needs to increase.”

Graves’ athleticism helps him fit right in with UB’s fleet of tenacious perimeter defenders. He owns a team-best vertical jump of 39.5 inches. (That would have ranked fifth among all cornerbacks at the NFL scouting combine this week.) Graves ranks No. 2 among all guards in the MAC in blocks with 27.

“Defense, that’s the way to get on the floor in college,” Graves said. “Blocking shots is something I feel I can do really well. This year I feel way better on defense and I feel like I can guard anyone, one through four” (point guard to power forward).

Graves was a big recruit for Oats two years ago.

He played for Akron, Ohio, powerhouse St. Vincent/St. Mary, the alma mater of LeBron James.

Graves went 78-10 over his last three prep seasons. His team, coached by highly respected Dru Joyce, was ranked No. 3 in the nation for part of his sophomore year. It lost in the state title game his junior year and won the state title (thanks to Graves’ 25-point performance in the final) his senior year.

He picked UB over Toledo and Fordham.

“It really showed me that winning is all that matters,” Graves said of his high school experience. “Every college coach wants a winner, and that’s the reason I picked here. Being on a team that wins is what matters to me. Playing with great players helps me get better."

“He could have gone to a program where he would have been The Man right away,” Oats said. “He wanted to come someplace where he’s winning, knowing that he may have to not play as many minutes. He’s a winner. And he was coached. He came into college having been coached very well, so he was ready to play.”

Graves has met James once, and he played in front of him once a year in high school.

“When he was in the stands, you could tell everybody you’re playing against was trying their hardest to impress him,” Graves said. “He’s there to support the family he created. The first time he came, I might have been nervous. By my senior year, I knew it was my time and I wasn’t nervous at all.”

Graves now is 131-19 the past five years. He knows what a winning locker room feels like.

“I’m happy about the way we’ve competed this year,” he said. “I feel like everybody’s getting along with each other. We all have a good chemistry that helps us on and off the court. Just the culture here, everybody’s close and it’s very competitive. That helps me get better.”

“Obviously everybody sees all the put-back dunks and fast-break, 360 dunks he gets,” Caruthers said. “But nobody talks about his shooting. He’s shooting at a great clip right now. His defense has picked up way better since his freshman year.”

Graves is a big reason UB’s outlook for next year is promising, despite the fact five seniors graduate.

Graves’ averages per 40 minutes are comparable to Massinburg’s sophomore-season numbers.

Massinburg averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per 40 minutes. Graves is averaging 15.9 and 6.7 boards.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Oats said. “CJ played more minutes that year, and we weren’t as good. But we’ve all said since Jayvon got here, he’s got as much potential as anybody in this program.”

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