LEWISTOWN — One of Montana’s top returning basketball players is off the college market.
Jaden Graham, an all-state junior at Lewistown’s Fergus High School, has committed to join the Northern State University Wolves. Graham announced his commitment on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Going down there on visits, first off, their campus is at the top of Division II campuses, for sure. Honestly, it’s better than a lot of the Division I campuses that I visited, as far as facilities and everything go,” Graham said of the location in Aberdeen, S.D. “Their environment and their culture, they’ve led the nation the last 10 seasons in attendance, they nearly sell out every game. As a team, their culture, they’re just a family and I really love the tight-knittedness. I loved Coach (Paul) Sather and the coaching staff. They actually just hired Jamie Stevens from MSU Billings as a second assistant. I love those guys and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Graham is a two-time Class A all-state selection and led the Golden Eagles to the program’s first State A tournament appearance since 2002. Lewistown fell to eventual state champion Hardin in the semifinals, before losing out against Hamilton on Saturday morning.
Graham scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Eagles’ 20-point first-round win over Frenchtown, then added 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the team’s elimination game against Hamilton.
— Jaden Graham (@jaden20g) May 10, 2018
The senior-to-be had mulled offers and even walk-on opportunities at numerous schools throughout the northwest — talking with Division I programs in Montana, Montana State and Seattle University, while fielding offers from the likes of MSU Billings and a majority of the Frontier Conference schools — but says NSU gave him a feeling of confidence above the others.
“I’ve had that gut feeling and stuff. I’ve had a lot of offers and interest, which I’m very thankful for, but I had a gut feeling with them. I felt at home, everything felt right. I just decided I might as well get it out of the way so that I can concentrate on my game,” Graham said of committing as a junior. “I’ll still go through AAU and stuff this summer, I’ll work on getting better so I can take care of business next year.”
Northern State posted a 36-4 overall record, with a 20-2 league record, last season. The Wolves won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate/Sanford Health Basketball Tournament championship, defeating Southwest Minnesota State 81-75. NSU advanced to the Division II national championship game, falling to Ferris State 71-69.
Graham says Sather and the staff won’t know his immediate role in the program until next season, but did discuss the team’s redshirt policy. According to Graham, Sather “won’t redshirt you if you can come in and help the team right away.” The dynamic forward says he’s prepared to play whatever role the program needs, but knows subtle improvements in his game and bulking up are the biggest points of emphasis in his final prep season.
“I think my biggest point of improvement that everyone’s pointed out, obviously if you’ve seen me, I’m pretty skinny,” Graham laughed. “They just want me to gain weight and get that muscle mass on, which I’m trying to do, but it’s a slower, tough process for me. I can’t always add it on, but that’s the biggest thing for me. I have to shove carbs down and gain some weight.”
As the final days of his junior year count down, Graham is already focusing on the offseason, summer circuit and next winter’s senior campaign. Lewistown returns a bevy of talent, including fellow all-state athlete Tanner Trafton, who Graham says should “have the choice of playing college football, college basketball or running college track.”
That tandem, along with next year’s rotation, will be expected to compete with the likes of state champion Hardin and runner-up Billings Central. Graham says he’s enjoying the reality of committing to a college basketball program, but hopes to use that excitement as motivation next season, leading Fergus High to its first state championship since 1979.
“I’m very excited, obviously, but right now, now that I have that off my shoulders, my focus is next year with Fergus. I’m not done here yet. I have to concentrate on that, and I’m pretty good at shielding off the pressure and stuff. We just have to get it done at Fergus,” he said. “That’s my final goal, is I want to put a ring on all my teammates’ fingers and I want to put a banner in the FHS Fieldhouse.”