As a longtime student of basketball, Chuck Graham said the influence of his high school coach served as inspiration for him to pursue something more meaningful beyond a playing career.
Graham wanted to have that same impact on kids, building positive relationships while changing the lives of young men through basketball. He never strayed too far from the court, working with non-profits and coaching in AAU leagues before joining forces with Benjie Wood in his final season at North Hall High in 2012-13.
“I kind of fell in love with (coaching) and just wanted to pursue it even more,” said Graham, who moved to Gainesville High with Wood in 2013. “I never thought it would lead me to this point, coaching at Gainesville.”
It finally came full circle for the longtime assistant coach Thursday, when the Gainesville City Board of Education officially announced Graham’s promotion to head boys basketball coach at Gainesville High.
The Red Elephants’ top assistant absorbs a program that amassed a 114-33 record over the last five seasons with Wood, who will be Cherokee Bluff’s first boys basketball coach when the new Hall County school opens its doors for the 2018-19 academic year.
“It was actually bittersweet. We’ve been working together for five years, and we had a great run here at Gainesville,” Graham said. “I am super excited about the opportunity, and looking forward to leading our young men.”
In Wood’s final two seasons, the Red Elephants won back-to-back Lanierland titles and consecutive Region 8-6A crowns, not to mention a state quarterfinals berth and Class 6A runner-up finish. Gainesville fell to Langston Hughes, 85-78, in the Class 6A championship game March 9 in Atlanta. It was the first state title game appearance for Gainesville since 2013.
Graham indicated he will keep the core values that molded the program into a perennial power while also implementing his coaching philosophy.
“We had a tremendous run over the past five years, and that will shape our future here,” the coach said. “But one thing I want to convey is, we gotta get it done with our character, we gotta get it done in the classroom, we have to be a part of our community and the court will take care of itself. If we take care of those three things and develop these young men into positive role models or productive citizens, the basketball will take care of itself.”
Graham is also tasked with replacing a senior class of seven — KJ Buffen, Bailey Minor, Kajuan Hale, Xavier Bledson, Austin Long and Jarred and Jarrel Rosser — that made the Red Elephants go in terms of up-tempo play and suffocating defense.
“Our system here has been really successful. But we also had the pieces to make the system work,” Graham said. “And this year’s team will be a lot different, but we still have a lot of talented kids coming back.”
A graduate of the Richmond Academy in 1989 as a highly touted shooting guard, Graham played for Florida State (1989-94) before a brief stint in minor league basketball, even playing overseas in Hong Kong.
Graham plans to get started right away in the weight room as soon as a bulk of his players return from spring break.
“My message to them was, ‘Enjoy your spring break, because when you get back, it’s time to go to work,’” he said with a laugh. “We’re gonna go at it full stride.”