Massai Graham: The next great WNY basketball product
Heading into this season, the Dunkirk Marauders were lined up against some stiff competition both in their own division and out of it.
In fact, their toughest competition may have come in their first game, when they fell to the Tapestry Charter Thunderhawks in their season opener, 95-61. While Tapestry has several stand out players and are a team that Dunkirk coach Luke Gullo deemed “special,” sophomore Massai Graham is the ‘Hawk that soars above the rest.
Christian Laettner and Bob Lanier have made their marks on higher levels of basketball coming out of the Western New York area, and if you are looking for the next likely candidate for a superstar out of Section VI, look no further than Massai Graham. Graham, who finished with 19 points against Dunkirk, was playing his first game at the high school level, and it is certainly safe to say his name will be heard around Western New York for the next two years to come.
Graham’s recent basketball journey began when he was very young, only five or six years old watching his uncle play basketball at a Buffalo high school. It was there that he first tuned his mindset to wanting to play at a higher level.
Graham progressed playing tougher and tougher competition, until he found his way to the AAU squad NEBC Buffalo, but when the time came to find a high school team, Graham found a home at Tapestry.
“Finding a good structure and a good school was important to me,” Graham said. “It’s hard to find a good environment, but I love Tapestry. I think I’ll stay there for my last couple years.”
Part of what made his transition to Tapestry so strong was the familiarity with his teammates. A majority of the Thunderhawks have essentially grown up playing basketball together, which has made Graham’s transition to the high school game much easier, meaning it should be an exciting couple of years for Tapestry basketball.
“I’ve been playing with most of them since I was in fifth grade,” Graham said “We have a chemistry. It’s no different than playing when we were kids. It’s easy for us on the court.”
Graham’s gifts aren’t limited to the environment that he’s found himself in. He’s got quite a few gifts of his own, the most prominent of which being his natural athleticism. At six feet, seven inches tall and the ability to jump out of the gym, a few of Graham’s accomplishments have found some national attention already, as he shattered a backboard on an emphatic dunk this past September. Despite his absurd leaping ability and tremendous height for only a 16 year old, he is a much more well rounded athlete, which is partly due to his own dedication.
“When I was younger, I used to play center, but I didn’t like it as much,” Graham said. “So I wanted to be better overall, and get better at my craft. I wanted to move from center to all the way around the court. I like playing small forward, I modeled my game after Paul George.”
Watching Graham play is a delight, as he brings several skills to the table. Between throwing down alley-oop lobs from his teammates, hauling in key offensive boards, driving the lane and finishing at the rim himself, or rejecting the attempt of an unsuspecting shooter who couldn’t feel his presence in time, Graham is the whole package in a body built to contain it.
Even with the athletic gifts he possesses, his greatest gift is between his ears. Graham knows his strengths, weaknesses, and more importantly, is one of the nicest, most humble kids to take the court, focusing on team success above his own.
“I really want to win a ring,” Graham said. “If that doesn’t happen, I at least want to have a good season. That’s all I want from this season.”
Not focused on video highlights of him breaking backboards, Graham tries to tune out as much external noise as he can. Beyond his high school career, he has a goal for where he wants basketball to take him.
“Those are just things that have happened, I don’t focus too much on the social media aspect,” Graham said. “I just try to go out there, focus on my game, and do well in school. My mom and dad always told me to not let anybody else dictate your life. I don’t let that happen. I just focus on my goals, and that’s to go to college. I want to use my athleticism to get a good education.”
Graham certainly has a good opportunity to make his goals a reality. According to Future150, who specializes in national high school basketball prospects, Graham is a four star recruit, ranked as the 58th overall recruit in the nation for his graduating class of 2022, and fourth overall in New York State.
While Graham still has room to grow in his game — he knows he needs to space the floor a little better — it certainly seems the sky is the limit for someone who can nearly touch it when he jumps.