By now, Will Graves should have been shooting for a second NCAA title with North Carolina during the biggest time of the year for college basketball. But the 6-foot-6 swingman had to experience a very different kind of madness this month.
After being dismissed from the Tar Heel squad earlier this season for what coach Roy Williams deemed as not doing “everything he needed to do to be a part of (the) basketball program,” Graves enrolled the Akita Happinets of the BJ League in Japan in February. He was averaging 22.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg when Japan was struck by a massive 8.9 Richter earthquake, which caught Graves in a bus back from Tokyo.
Even though Akita is 173 miles away from the very troubled Fukushima nuclear plant, he has plans to play out the season in Japan before returning to the States.
Where were you when the earthquake happened?
Will Graves: When the earthquake occurred, we were on a charter bus returning back to Akita from our weekend games in Tokyo.
How was the moment of the earthquake for you?
WG: At the moment of the earthquake I was asleep on the bus and woke up. I noticed the bus kept swaying side to side. Because there was a snow storm going on, I thought it was the effects from that. We swayed for a couple of minutes, so I just tried to go back to sleep. When we got back to Akita, there was no power in the city. It took us an hour to travel what usually takes 10 minutes by car. As for the rest of the day, night, and next day, there was no power and no way to eat – for me, because I didn’t have the resources.
How much was your city (Akita) affected? It wasn’t affected by the tsunami, right?
WG: Akita was affected because due to not having power, the grocery stores were flooded with people raking up the last of what they could. Restaurants were shut down for days and there was no food to buy from the grocery stores. Local convenient stores were the only places to eat. Well, at least for me. Power was turned back on within the next couple of days, but the food resources have not fully regained stock and service.
How many games have you played since the day of the disaster?
WG: Since the disaster, my team has not played any games. We are set to resume the season this coming weekend against Hamamatsu. Teams that were located in the southern region of Japan that were not affected by anything were able to play games this past weekend.
Are fans still going to the games as usual?
WG: The fans around the city seem excited that the season is going to continue and the people I have encountered with all seem eager to come and keep supporting. We are using earnings from the game to send off in support of the disaster.
Overall, how is people in Japan dealing with the aftermath of the disaster?
WG: People seem encouraged to help in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. Our team and other pro teams in Akita City have conducted fund-raisers and the people of the city have given tremendous support. I have met a couple of people from the city of Sendai where the disaster struck, due to their relocation in Akita. They are very thankful for our support in helping out the cause.
Have any of the American players left their teams?
WG: Yes, American players have left their teams. I don’t know all to be exact, but Wayne Arnold and Jermaine Dixon of Hamamatsu returned to the States. But it is said they want to return if we have a playoffs to defend their championship from last year. Sek Henry, the point guard from our team, returned home for a week and will miss this weekend’s games, but he is supposed to return and stated that he wanted to finish the season as well.
How hard did you consider leaving?
WG: I really never considered leaving because the health issues are not supposed to affect us here in Akita. This is my second chance around and if my health is not at risk, I am going to take full advantage of it. I also like being a part of the fund-raiser and being a supporter in giving help and aid for Sendai.
What if the situation at the nuclear plan takes a turn for the worse?
WG: If the situation with the plant takes a turn for the worse, then I will maybe consider leaving, because like I said, my health is important to me.
Have you changed your day-to-day habits much?
WG: Yes, in some ways I’ve changed my day-to-day habits just in by where and what I eat. Nothing different as far as being outside, but there has been statements that the milk and vegetables have radiation in them. I asked the coach about where we get our crops from and he said our resources should not be affected, so I will probably resume to my normal habits again, once the grocery stores become fully stocked.
Are you following the the NCAA tournament?
WG: I do follow the NCAA tournament. I haven’t watched any games, but I do check the boxscores and highlights and get a clear image of what was going on in the game.
Have any comment on the way your college career ended? Obviously not the way you were expecting it to.
WG: Yeah, my college career didn’t end the way I wanted it to and everyone doesn’t always get to do things in the manner they pictured it being done. I grew up a Tar Heel fan, I always dreamed of going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and I accomplished those goals. Again, I’m not happy with how everything ended and not saying I wouldn’t want to be there now, but things happen in ways we just have to bounce back and keep fighting from. Coach Williams used this quote a lot during my time there and I am living by it right now… “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” I am very appreciative of my opportunity at UNC, and I am definitely very appreciative of my second chance.
What is the plan for you career-wise once the season in Japan is over?
WG: Well, I am still draft eligible so hopefully there is some way I could get drafted. If not, then I will keep pursuing my dreams of the NBA in the summer circuit if possible. If that doesn’t work for next year, then I will see what my options are overseas again. But my ultimate goal is to reach the NBA.