It didn’t take long for Destiny Graham to figure out where she’d fit in on this year’s University of Arizona women’s basketball team.
All she had to do was look at her teammates in practice. The Wildcats’ four other forwards stand 6 feet, 6 feet, 6-2 and 6-3.
The 6-3 Graham, a junior, knew she’d be playing center.
“Coach didn’t have to tell me. I just looked at us and thought ‘we are small,’” said Graham, whose Wildcats play USC on Sunday at the Galen Center.
Though Graham had spent her previous two years playing forward, the center position isn’t totally new to her. She owned the space down low at Palo Alto, California’s Eastside College Prep. As a senior, she led her team to the state title game, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds.
After switching back to center last fall, Graham got a crash course in the position with UA assistant Morgan Valley. She has quickly picked up the nuances of this position.
Graham now knows how to read defenders, which post moves to use in different situations, how to use her hands and length to disrupt shots and passes, and when to take the shot from the perimeter and when to drive.
The one thing the slender Graham can’t learn is size. She typically gives up a few inches to her opponents, but it’s her lack of pounds and muscle that makes a difference.
“She should be a 3 or a 4 this year and not a 5,” said UA coach Adia Barnes. “That’s what’s hard for her; having to bang. She is so thin (that) she gets tired fast. It’s hard physically when exerting so much energy. She’s done a good job going wherever she is needed. She’s grown since last year.
“She’s so versatile. Destiny is one of the highest basketball IQ players we have and is always in the right place at the right time. She is a smart player. Next year it will be easier and she won’t have to work so hard fighting.”
Despite playing out of position, Graham has learned how to make an impact. She hits 82 percent of her free throws, good enough for second in the Pac-12.
She is averaging 8.3 points per game, up from 3.8 last season. And she has already scored more points this year (199) than any in her career.
Graham has used her smarts — she’s on pace to graduate this spring, a year early, with a degree in psychology — to make an impact.
“I have to use all I’ve got, I’m not bigger than them,” Graham said. “I feel I keep a lot of balls alive rebounding and crashing the boards hard on offense and defense. If I don’t get it I tip it out to my teammates or make it not as easier for others to get it. I’m proud of this. My rebounding efforts are the most consistent thing I’ve been working on this season.”
And it shows. She is averaging 6.5 rebounds this season, more than double her 3.1 total from a year ago.
Graham’s minutes have increased, too. She’s averaging 27.6 minutes per game after playing 19.2 per game as a sophomore.
“I don’t want to come out of the game, so I fight,” she said. “Putting up the effort makes my opponent work hard. They are not getting easier shots and hopefully they will be tired and I can score quicker on them.”
And Graham has managed to find a few positives on a UA team that’s just 2-11 in league play.
“This team never gives up,” she said. “Our coach tells us that the best players have amnesia. It’s hard this year, but if we lose in our locker room, we’re not dead. We have a spirit; we’ll get them next time. Everyone appreciates that we’ve been getting better each game we play.
“Another thing I love about this team is that we don’t care who is playing well. We’re happy for everyone’s success. Whether it’s Kat shooting threes or someone else. Individual success leads to team success.”