Zach Graham is a 27 year old 198cm forward that is playing his second season with Guaros de Lara (Venezuela-LPB) helping them win the Liga Americas. Last season he played for Movil Estudiantes (Spain-Liga Endesa) playing 7 games averaging 8.0ppg, 2.4rpg, 2FGP: 36.6%, 3FGP: 22.7%, FT: 91.7%, left in Dec.’15, in Jan.’16 moved to Guaros de Lara (Venezuela-LPB) playing 31 games averaging 15.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 52.3%, 3PT-1(45.0%), FT-3(85.3%); Liga Americas: 8 games: 14.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 42.1%, 3PT: 30.4%, FT: 80.0%He started his basketball career in 2007 with Mississippi (NCAA) and played a total of 135 NCAA games until 2011. As a senior he played 34 games averaging 14.2ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 42.7%, 3PT: 33.1%, FT: 87.1%. He turned professional in 2011 and was part of the Atlanta Hawks veterans roster after the lockout and also played with the Reno Bighorns (D-League). In the 2012-2013 season he played for Maliye Milli Piyango (Turkey-TBL2) playing 33 games averaging 14.5ppg, 3.6rpg, 1.5apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 49.4%, 3PT: 38.9%, FT: 76.5%. He also played for Air21 Express (Philippines-PBA) playing Governor’s Cup: 9 games: 28.2ppg, 10.0rpg, 2.6apg, FGP: 50.7%, 3PT: 28.3%, FT: 77.9%. In the 2013-2014 season he played for Soles de Mexicali (Mexico-LNBP) playing 38 games averaging 19.0ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.3apg, 2FGP: 52.9%, 3FGP: 35.8%, FT: 82.0&. He also played for Indios de Mayaguez (Puerto Rico-BSN): 5 games: 26.0ppg, 2.8rpg, 2.6apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 65.5%, 3PT: 30.0%, FT: 96.9%, in April signed at Caciques de Humacao (Puerto Rico-BSN) playing 15 games: 19.4ppg, 3.7rpg, 1.7apg, FGP: 54.5%, 3PT: 41.3%, FT: 86.8%. In the 2014-2015 season he played for Soles de Mexicali (Mexico-LNBP) playing 51 games averaging 20.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 1.7apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 60.2%, 3PT: 29.8%, FT: 85.4%. He also played for Brujos de Guayama (Puerto Rico-BSN) playing 18 games averaging 11.8ppg, 2.7rpg, 2.1apg, FGP: 52.9%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 83.3%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Intercontinental Cup game against the Fraport Skyliners in Frankfurt, Germany.
Zach thanks for talking to German Hoops. You are now starting your sixth professional season and second with Guaros de Lara (Venezuela-LPB). Except for a short stint in Turkey with Maliye Milli Piyango (Turkey-TB2L, and last season with Movil Estudiantes (Spain-Liga Endesa), you have played mostly in the States(D-league) and Central and South America. Is money and the weather a big factor that has driven you away from Europe?
I never consider how the weather is when I am deciding about a team. I am from Atlanta, Georgia and we have all seasons there. I play the game because it´s my passion and so I can feed my family. Important for me is the type of people that I will be around. Another important factor is where I can grow the most as a player and person.
Do you feel like the basketball in South America is not really respected as much? Last season there were three ex NBA players on your squad with Guaros and you won the South American title?
I am not sure how the world views the basketball in South America, but when I was playing in Mexico, I saw basketball grow which made me want to play here even more. The competition level continues to get better and I think that the more that we are winning, the more awareness is coming to basketball here. I feel that we have a lot of talent and could compete with many top teams in Europe.
Welcome to Germany. You are playing in the Intercontinental cup against the Fraport Skyliners. Is this your first visit to Germany? What do you know about Germany in general and do you have friends playing here?
This is my first time in Germany and I like it a lot here. The people are very nice here and Frankfurt is a beautiful city. I actually took German for seven years growing up. I played with Brandon Thomas in Spain last season who has played in Germany as well as Justin Griffin who has been one of my best teammates ever.
The Fraport Skyliners haven´t even been together as a team for a month as they prepare for the new season. How tough in general will this game be for both teams as it is a title game at the start of the season instead of at the end?
We haven´t been together long as a team, maybe 2.5 weeks. I have noticed already that we have a good group of guys on and off the court. We also have a very good coaching staff that is working hard to make us better. But at the end of the day it´s basketball and if we play hard on defense then the rest should take care of it´s self. We have 5 Venezuelen national players who are the best players from this country. We have a lot of experience and I am very excited to have a big game like this so early in the season. Being able to win the Intercontinental cup would be a big opportunity for this organization.
Guaros de Lara (Venezuela-LPB) have brought in seven new players including three Americans. How has the team chemistry been developing as of recently what is the most important aspect that this team has already now that will be most vital in bringing the title back home to Venezuela?
I feel that we have developed team chemistry since day one. Coach has done a good job to put us in difficult situations in certain part of a game and helping us to get better. We will see where our hard work will put us against a great team in a hostile environment.
You have been champion in Mexico and Venezuela. What would it mean to you if you could win the 2016 Intercontinental Cup?
As a player winning a title in anything is always the most important thing. It would be great for Venezuela and our team history if we could bring the Intercontinental Cup home. It also would bring the country of Venezuela and it´s basketball some added respect.
The Fraport Skyliners have a very young team with only two veterans. Guaros has an average age of 28. How much of a factor will experience be and what will be key to getting the win?
Experience will be a big factor. We have many players that have been part of championship teams and been playing on winning teams and just know with experience when to take over in important moments of a game. We aren´t an old team, but play like a young team.
Guaros de Lara (Venezuela-LPB) has many talented players, but what would say is the club´s biggest strength on the court at the moment?
Our biggest strength is our depth. When a guy is tired no matter if it’s a big man or guard, we have guys at each position that can give the same input off the bench. There is no big drop off from our bench when they come in. We are a team that is full of guys that can always get the job done.
With Damion James you have a former #1 NBA Draft Pick on the team that played with Kevin Durant at Texas. Is he the best rebounder you have ever seen at 201cm?
Damion is a great player that does so much no matter if it´s playing inside or out, talking on the court, playing tough defense or just being aggressive and bring intensity to the game. I have played with many great players, but I´m really glad to have him on my team. His frame, long arms and athleticism make him such a great rebounder and he will knock guys around. He always has advantage in the paint because of his skill level.
You were a solid role player at Mississippi (NCAA) and became more of a scorer as a professional. What part of your game do you feel isn´t always noticed right away on the court?
I am not sure. I am a player that takes game as it goes. I always give the team exactly what it needs at that moment.
Last season you had a brief stay with Movil Estudiantes (Spain-Liga Endesa) playing 7 games averaging 8.0ppg, 2.4rpg, 2FGP: 36.6%, 3FGP: 22.7%, FT: 91.7%. Your teammate Brandon Thomas struggled there. Why do you think did you both not feel more comfortable there?
It was a tough start to last season. Our team struggled from the start, but it was all a great learning experience. The Endesa is a great league. Despite my struggles, I still feel like I learned a lot from my coaches and teammates. I think that my experience in Spain helped me raise my game in Venezuela. I am very thankful for my short time in Spain.
Your best game was in a 80-75 loss to Real Madrid where you had 16 points. What memories do you have of playing one of the world´s best teams with so many ex NBA players?
I had had that game written down in my schedule. I was really up for that game. I always want to play my best against the best. I played against my best friend Trey Thompkins who I had been up against since I was eight years old. It was a great experience for me to be able to play on a stage like that. I really thrive off competition vs players that have so much recognition.
Were you still able to learn something last season at age 26 from ex NBA player Damien Wilkins? In the final against Bauru, you and Wilkins teamed up for 39 points?
I have known Damien for a while and also always respected his game from a far. It was great being able to play with a guy of his talent and he embraced me like a little brother. I feel that I grew very much just being around him as a person as well as a player on the court. Damien is a player that is respected by all the greats in the NBA and to be able to watch and play with him was great.
After a solid senior season at Mississippi(NCAA) you played in the D-league with Reno and got a call up to the Atlanta Hawks. What memories do you have of your rookie season?
That was during the NBA lockout period. My rookie year was a great experience. I was invited to mini camp and was one of three that was invited to the veterans camp. It was a great experience being among great players like Jerry Stackhouse, Joe Johnson, Tracy Mcgrady and Al Horford. Horford actually came to my camp last summer to speak to the kids. We have a great relationship.
Did you end your NBA dream after your rookie season deciding to make as best of a career in other countries?
No I didn´t. I take things one day at a time. NBA is the ultimate goal for anybody since their young. I am still perfecting my craft and if the opportunity presents it´s self then I would make that step, but until then I will keep playing the game and working hard to get better.
You played at Mississippi(NCAA) from 2006-20010 an din this time played with many fine teammates like David Huertas, Eniel Polynice, Chris Warren or Terrico White just to name a few. What teammate gave you the fondest memories during your NCAA time?
I have two vivid memories from Mississippi with two guys that you mentioned. I will never forget the game winning three pointer from Chris Warren against Kentucky at home. Kentucky had guys like Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones on the team. The other memory I have was against Memphis. I remember throwing up an alley-oop pass for Terrico White. When I released the pass, it really felt like it would be a bad pass and sail into the stands, but he caught it outside of the back board with two hands and dunked over someone. I really thought my pass would be a turnover, but White caught it and made the dunk.
How did head coach Andy Kennedy groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Kennedy was the type of coach that brought out the best in you. Kennedy was like family for me and he helped me grow as a player and man. I am really glad I made the decision to go to Mississippi.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
There were so many great players. There was a lot of great competition in our conference that I couldn´t name just one.
Now that Lebron finally brought an NBA title home, where does this further ring put him in the debate against Michael Jordan as the all-time best ever?
I am a huge Lebron fan, but it is hard to compare two players of different era´s. Jordan was the best ever and Lebron is a top 3 all-time. I don´t really like to get into this debate of who is better Michael or Lebron. It has been exciting for me to have seen Lebron grow throughout his career.
If you had to construct an NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you choose?
Shaq, Lebron, Jordan and Kobe.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Thanks Zach for the chat.