Just because someone uses an economy of language doesn’t mean he has little to say.
Take Jordan Lupfer-Graham, for example.
The West Valley High School senior guard speaks volumes. With his game.
“You don’t get much out of him when you talk to Jordan,” coach Jamie Nilles laughs, “He has two pretty distinct personalities. Off the court, he’s a very quiet kid. Get him on the court and he’s a fierce competitor who hates to lose.
“He’s definitely a lead-by-example kind of a kid.”
Want to know about Lupfer-Graham’s love for the game of basketball?
Ask him and he nods graciously, smiles a big, genuine smile. It may not stand up in court, but from Lupfer-Graham, that is an admission to having a long-standing love affair with the game on the court.
But watch him play and the answer is clear.
Take Tuesday, for example. The school district has canceled classes for the second day in a row coming back from the holiday break. With canceled classes comes with a canceled Great Northern League game with Deer Park — the team’s first game of the new year.
Still, there is Lupfer-Graham in the gym, working on his jump shot. His stepdad, West Valley assistant coach John Graham, keeps track of shooting percentage as his son fires off 300 three-pointers. The goal is to knock down 70 percent of his shots from beyond the top of the arc. Today, he is three misses shy of that goal.
“That’s typical of Jordan,” Nilles said. “He’s in there every chance he gets. Even when he was playing football this fall, he didn’t want to lose his shooting touch, so he would come in and shoot like that, just to keep his stroke. Same way over the summer.”
“Sometimes you get more out of practicing like that by yourself,” John Graham said. “When you practice by yourself, you can get in 300 shots a session. There’s no way you can get that many shots in during a regular practice.”
Graham is used to these kinds of practice sessions – and getting drafted for rebounding duty.
“Yeah, I’m a coach and I’ve been Jordan’s father since he was pretty young,” he said. “But Jordan is the one who initiates these sessions. Not me.”
The smile says he’s happy to do it.
Sure, he knows a guy with keys to the gym – an “in” most guys don’t have. But the smile on Lupfer-Graham’s face translates easily: he’d be here no matter who he had to get to open the gym.
“It goes beyond that,” Nilles said. “He got a bunch of his teammates together when we couldn’t practice and got them all over to one of the open gyms out here in the valley and they all had a shoot-around.”
When the team does practice, Lupfer-Graham is the last one out – sticking around after practice to work on his shot.
As hard as Lupfer-Graham works to get on a basketball court, it’s tougher to get him off.
Ask Lupfer-Graham about his future, and he says he’s talked with college coaches. The eyes twinkle as he smiles at the thought of playing college basketball somewhere. There is no doubt in his mind that it will happen.
Passion and desire, combined with a toughness hidden behind a gentle smile, will make it happen. He has no desire to exit the court any time soon. For any reason.
A year ago, during a spirited practice session, the young guard drove to the basket and collided with a much-larger opponent. The collision left him with a broken ring finger on his shooting hand.
“I didn’t tell anyone about it,” he said. “My shooting was a little bit off, but I was still able to play.”
“He broke his hand playing AAU ball,” John Graham remembers. “You couldn’t get him off the court then, either. We put a soft cast on it and he played right through it.”
“That a big part of where he leads by example,” Nilles said. “I think he’s missed one practice because of an injury in the whole time he’s been here.
“As coaches we talk a lot about pain and discomfort and knowing the difference. In the past we’ve had kids miss several days of practice with blisters on their feet. Jordan wouldn’t think of something like that. He breaks his hand and he doesn’t want to see a doctor or get it treated, doesn’t tell anyone because it might keep him from being on the court.”
Despite struggling early with the broken finger, Lupfer-Graham led West Valley in scoring and helped guide the team to the state Class 2A tournament.
A year ago, Lupfer-Graham was a shooting guard. The team had an established point guard in Parker Flynn. This year, with Flynn graduated, he’s moved to the point.
This year, he’s again the team’s leading scorer, averaging just over 18 points per game. While running the team’s offense effectively.
But that’s not all.
“He our leader in taking charges,” Nilles said. “He’s always been a tough kid that way. Back when he was just playing AAU ball he was a lot smaller than the rest of the players on the court, but he was always getting in there and taking a charge to help his team.
“He still does that. He’s a tough, tough defender. Some of that may be that he’s a coach’s kid, but it’s more about the kind of player he is.”
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