It isn’t often that you will come across American players balling overseas that played at St Vincent-St Mary high school in Akron, Ohio. The school probably wouldn’t stand out as much as it has in the last 20 years had it not produced a famous alumni. He isn’t just famous, but currently the greatest basketball player and for many the GOAT the same way Tom Brady is in the NFL. The question is who is the GOAT of all sports, but that’s for another article. I’m talking about The King Lebron James. Over the last 20 years there haven’t been too many guys go pro from St Vincent-St Mary’s. Some notable guys have been Jakarr Sampson, Jerome Lane and Jalen Hudson just to name a few. There actually are 2 more guys with Dru Joyce and Romeo Travis who had the distinction of being Lebron’s teammates at St Vincent and helping win 3 state titles from 2000-2003. These are 2 guys that could probably write a book about their experiences with Lebron James and have enough stories to fill the time for the next 30 Thanksgivings and are brothers for life. But every now and then there will be an exceptional talent that played at St Vincent-St Mary and then made it to the pro ranks. The newest is Jayvon Graves (190-G-1998, college: Buffalo) who is balling this season with for Limoges CSP Elite (France-Betclic ELITE ProA). It can be imaginable having to hold up the torch for excellence and success at St Vincent-St Mary’s wasn’t always easy. ‘I never felt pressure playing at St. V but the pressure can come from when teams always target your team because of LeBron’s name and the program that has been built there. He’s a legend and has done so much there for myself and others so you are always honored to have him mentioned’, stressed Jayvon Graves. He is one of the few lucky professional players that was able to breathe the exceptional Lebron Mystique on a daily basis.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Dru Joyce in Frankfurt in his rookie season in Germany in 2007 when he played for ratiopharm Ulm
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Romeo Travis in Ulm in 2008
The guard who remembers going back and forth with Ronaldo Segu in daily 1-1 battles at Buffalo was born on December 29, 1998 in Malvern, Ohio and grew up there. He not only excelled at basketball at a young age starting at age 6, but also was a talented baseball and football player. He helped lead the well known high school St Vincent-St Mary’s to it’s first high school title and first since 2011 helping it to a 25-5 record and averaged 21,5ppg, 4,9rpg and 2,5apg and produced a fine double double of 22p/10r in the title game. Being able to win a title there is something he will never forget. ‘This meant everything to me because it capped off my high school career the perfect way. I made it to state 3 of my 4 years but I finally was able to win it my last year after having a really good individual season and I was able to play with some of my best friends and make memories. I was also able to play under great coaches who taught me a lot, especially assistant coach Illya McGee who I developed a great relationship with on and off the court’, said Jayvon Graves. He was named All-Ohio player of the year and Ceveland.com Boys Basketball Player of the Year as well. Having been able to play for Dru Joyce Sr was vital in his early development and just having the Joyce family present in his life then was massive. ‘Coach Dru has played a major role for my career, he trusted me to be the player I eventually became. He lets your role grow each year as long as you put in the work. He is a great coach but even a better person. Little Dru gave me some good lessons and even offered me some advice before I came to Limoges because he also played here before’, stressed Jayvon Graves. He also played AAU for the King James shooting stars.
Jayvon Graves and St Vincent St Mary´s head coach Dru Joyce Sr
Despite having NCAA offers from 13 schools, The Ohio native who lists Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Markus Howard as his toughest foes in the NCAA opted to attend the University of Buffalo which was a great choice as he reached 2 NCAA tournaments and won the MAC title twice beating Toledo and Bowling Green. ‘ For me personally winning the MAC championship my sophomore year against Bowling Green was sweeter because I contributed a lot in that game and our team was really rolling as we were ranked 14th in the country so it was a great moment’, remembered Jayvon Graves. As a freshman he averaged only 16 minutes averaging 5,3ppg, 2,2rpg and 1,0apg. One of his first big moments was reaching the NCAA tournament and battling against an always tough Kentucky team losing 95-75 and had to duel against future NBA player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. ‘Playing against Kentucky was a good experience. We had just beat a really good Arizona team the game before and played Kentucky tough all game. They had over 5 NBA pros that year. Shai was a tough match up because he controlled the pace of the whole game’, stated Jayson Graves. He made another jump in his sophomore season averaging 24 minutes and averaging 9.8ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 37.6%, FT: 62.5%. He reached the NCAA tournament again helping beat Arizona State, but then losing to Texas Tech. He had his best season as a junior as the school lost 3 key players to graduation and averaged 17.1 ppg, 5,4rpg and 2,5apg. He had a 33 point explosion in a double OT win over Kent State. ‘This game was my most memorable for sure because I had only 3 points in the first half. All of my family was in the stands because Kent State is only 20 minutes from where I live. Also they were a really good team’, added Jayvon Graves. In his senior year he put up solid stats again despite Covid being a pest for everyone averaging 14.2ppg, 6.1rpg, 3.8apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 48.8%, 3PT: 28.1%, FT: 57.5%. ‘The biggest challenge of my senior year was trying to get a rhythm. We never knew when a game would get cancelled or if some places would have fans in the stands. For school it was easier for me because every class was online so I had more time’, expressed Jayvon Graves. He played 56 NCAA games in his last 2 seasons and had 50 games where he scored in double figures. Another memorable game was beating Dru Joyce’s old school Akron 80-78 and registering a rare triple double of 13/10/11. He couldn’t of had all this success without the superior guidance of head coach Nate Oates who was also a big reason why he chose to play at Buffalo and Jim Whitesell. ‘Coach Oats and Whitesell have prepared me a lot for the next level. They made sure I focused on the details, always played hard, and held me accountable. To get on the floor a lot as a freshman and then start as a sophomore under Oats I had to play good defense. And under coach Whitesell he trusted me to make plays and he also put me in the position to develop into a point guard my senior year’, warned Jayvon Graves.
The ex Buffalo (NCAA) player who lists Michael Jordan, Lebron , Kobe, and Magic Johnson on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore began his professional career in 2021 and played a season with the Austin Spurs in the G-League. Often guys will choose the G-League first to get a taste of how brutal that first season can be and then head overseas. ‘The G League experience for me was good.In fact I was able to learn from good vets, play a key role at most parts of the season, and play against guys with a lot NBA experience and a lot of talent. We had eyes on us a lot of times in the year based off of San Antonio not being far away as well as the Covid outbreaks allowed for many call ups for guys throughout the season’, remembered Jayvon Graves. The G-League is a very tough league, because everyone wants to reach the NBA. Sometimes guys get lost in the shuffle. He did the most out of his situation. ‘When some guys were playing with us that the NBA team drafted a lot of times my minutes would drop as well as guys that had bigger names based off of already spending time in the NBA it could be tough but mentaly I stayed positive and was able to put up good numbers for many games throughout the season and showed what I can do with the minutes I got’, commented Jayvon Graves. He played 40 games with Austin averaging 7.4ppg, 3.0rpg, 2.4apg, FGP: 45.9%, 3PT: 36.7%, FT: 77.3%. He scored in double figures in 15 games. He had some good spurts like hitting Texas back to back with 20 and 18 points and later in his last game against them scored 16 points, but to keep consistency is just very difficult and getting that fair chance to be able to become a player that can score and get a good amount of shots because of all the players coming and going. ‘I think it all depends on the situation and organization you are in. You just have to control what you can control’, warned Jayvon Graves. He had a great game against Iowa with 16/8/8/4 stats showing what he can do when given the opportunity. ‘I think this game was in my top 2 or 3 games that year. I felt like I showcased my abilities all over the stat sheet and also that game I forced one of their players into many turnovers which is big for me because I pride myself on being a good defender’, remembered Jayvon Graves.
This season the guard who can’t mention just 5 great teammates of all-time simply because he has played with so many is playing his first season overseas with Limoges CSP Elite (France-Betclic ELITE ProA). ‘ This experience has been a pretty quick adjustment for me. I came into a situation with good teammates that have welcomed me and I have a good role on the team. I learned to appreciate the wins of each game no matter how they come by. Also the fans out here, the games are very intense and the crowd always shows their excitement at home games and on the road’, stressed Jayvon Graves. Despite putting up solid stats in the France Pro A with 8/2/2/1 stats and in the Basketball Champions league with 9/3/2/1 stats, he did have a wake up call to being overseas for the first time and also still getting adjusted to certain rules on the court. ‘The wake up call for me was Thanksgiving and Christmas being away from home from family seeing them all together and enjoying the good meals. I would say the biggest adjustment has been that there is no three seconds on defense so it’s more of a crowded paint when attacking but I think I have adjusted well’, said Jayvon Graves. Being overseas for the first time is never easy for an American and despite having missed the last few games because of a minor back problem, he is 100% again, it is having strong ties to other American vets like teammates Bryce Jones and Jovontae Hawkins that makes the whole overseas experience a lot easier. ‘ Bryce has been a great presence for me with him being a veteran overseas he’s told me good advice on and off the court. When he was hurt I had to step up into a larger role to begin the season and now that he’s back we’ve been battling and making each other better in practice. Javontae was my host when I took a visit to Fordham University and ever since then we kept in touch so whenever I got this opportunity to play with him, I was excited to be with someone familiar. He plays hard and is versatile he can do a lot of different things on the floor’, warned Jayvon Graves.
The ex high school state champion of Ohio who has Jordan and Lebron 1-2 on his GOAT list is a 190cm guard that compares his game to a trio of fine NBA players with Jrue Holiday, Donovan Mitchell, and Jamal Murray. ‘I watch a lot of different guys so not just one specific’, said Jayvon Graves. If you watch his game, it becomes apparent that he can do so much for the success of a team and not just one or two things. ‘I would describe myself as a versatile player that can do whatever the team needs to get the win’, stressed Jayvon Graves. His three point shooting is still a work in progress, but going in a positive direction as his goal is too hit that shot consistently and hold the 40% or better mark. ‘I work on my shot a lot, I think with the right shot selection that will hit the 40% mark very soon. I am in different roles and positions often so my shots come from many different spots. So I just have to keep trying to be consistent’, added Jayvon Graves. He is just at the start of his professional career and knows improving will be the key to reaching the highest level one day. ‘I’ve been studying film with someone after every game so there are a few specific things we’ve talked about trying to improve in the off season but in general right now I just want to stay consistent and aggressive’, warned Jayvon Graves. Lebron James is still going strong at age 38 and whenever he does retire, will without a doubt go out as the greatest skilled player of all-time. Getting asked about Lebron James must be a daily thing for him even overseas. One has to wonder how often he had the pleasure of shaking Lebron James’s hand and just indulging in small talk? ‘I have encountered him multiple times but it has always been positive. My freshman year he came and talked to us at practice and every year while I was there he came to at least one game a year just supporting us and telling us to keep winning and doing our thing’, remembered Jayvon Graves. It will be interesting how far a guy like Jayvon Graves will go in the next years in his quest to become the best player he can. One thing is for sure, Jayvon Graves will always have A few mindboggling stories to tell anywhere he is in his life about having special experiences with Lebron James.