Kelly Graves sat behind Gonzaga’s bench, roughly a mid-range jumper from the McCarthey Athletic Center sideline he used to patrol as GU women’s basketball coach.
But coaching was the last thing on his mind Saturday. Graves, now in his eighth season as Oregon’s head coach, was taking advantage of a rare chance to watch his son, Will, a GU senior walk-on.
“The bad thing about being a coach and a dad, there aren’t that many opportunities so I figured I have to take advantage of everyone I can,” said Graves, who was joined by wife, Mary, at Kraziness in the Kennel. “This worked out.”
Graves noted that it worked out because his assistant coaches were handling Saturday’s practice back in Eugene, adding, “I’m sure my team is OK with that.”
An ear-to-ear smile formed on Graves’ face when he described how much his son enjoys being with the Zags for his third season.
“He loves it, he just really loves it here,” Graves said. “This is a dream come true for him and now he’s a senior. Come on, how often do you get a chance to play on the No. 1 team twice?”
Or potentially three times, for that matter. Gonzaga is in the running to begin this season ranked No. 1. Last season, the Zags were No. 1 in the AP preseason poll through the final rankings, released prior to the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga had a four-week stretch at No. 1 in 2019-20 during Graves’ sophomore season.
The Zags and Graves’ Ducks were among the favorites before the 2020 NCAA tournaments were canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will, a 6-foot-5 wing, played one season at Lane Community College in Eugene before joining the Zags. He played in 13 games as a sophomore, showing off his smooth shooting stroke by hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers. He made 10 game appearances last season. He played nearly three minutes in Saturday’s scrimmage, missing his lone shot attempt.
Graves has tried to be on hand for Will’s games when the coach’s hectic schedule cooperates. He made it Indianapolis for the Elite Eight and Final Four after his Ducks lost in the Sweet 16 of the women’s tournament.
A few years ago, the Graves family attended the Gonzaga-Pepperdine game in Malibu. It fit in nicely between Oregon’s road contests against USC and UCLA in Los Angeles.
“We were on a Friday-Sunday schedule and the Zags played on a Saturday,” Graves said. “My other two boys flew in, too, and came to all three games.”
Graves has made plans to watch Will and the Zags on Nov. 26 vs. Duke at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas during a Thanksgiving holiday break in the Ducks’ schedule. Oregon plays three games in the Bahamas from Nov. 20-22 before entertaining UC Davis on Dec. 1.
“I don’t have the greatest memory, but as far as I can remember this is the first time ever I haven’t had any games over Thanksgiving weekend,” said Graves, who guided GU to a 317-136 record in 14 seasons and has posted a 170-63 mark in seven years at Oregon. “We’ve got our reservations, we’re all in and we’re really looking forward to that.”
Graves is hoping for big seasons from Gonzaga and Oregon.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he said of the Ducks, setting up his own one-liner. “It’s the same question we always have: If they get any kind of coaching we’ll be pretty good.”
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