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Tyree is distraught. After playing well in a Christmastime tournament, he stops showing up at practice and at class.
In the year and a half that follows, Tyree moves from Durham's Mount Zion Christian Academy to Hillside High, where he doesn't have the grades to play basketball. His D-I dream dwindles. The intervention of Len Lilly, a popular barber for North Carolina and Duke players who takes an interest in Tyree's plight, helps him get back on track. Lilly, who lost his mother to cancer when he was five, offers to train Tyree and then—because Tyree is still feuding with his father—lets him start staying at his apartment.
Tyree then has a run of success: He revives his grades and his recruitment by taking a prep year at Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville for the '07--08 season. He commits to play for the strictest coach who offers him a scholarship, Texas Tech's Bob Knight. "I'd been getting away with too many things because of my talent," Tyree says, "and I felt like Knight could be a father figure."
Tyree's relationship with his real father is impossibly complicated: Ed and his current wife, Lisa, played a major role in raising the boys, and Ed says, "They brought a lot of this [instability] on themselves. I gave them tough love, and they thought the world owed them things. They got sympathy and handouts from people by saying their father wasn't around and sometimes telling people [I] was dead."
Tyree laughs at this—he calls Ed the most unreliable person he's ever met and says, "I honestly think he believes he was a good father." Tyree believes Ed wanted to let the boys go into social services after their mother disappeared in 1997 and took custody only after being talked into it by his then girlfriend. Ed has a different version of that story, saying that he had been living with his aunt at a boardinghouse, which wasn't suitable for the kids. When Ed moved in with his girlfriend, Tyree and Torian went with him.
Before Tyree leaves for Lubbock and Texas Tech, in the summer of 2008, he asks Lilly to promise to watch over Torian, who's now a 5'11" freshman shooting guard at Hillside and shows the potential to be an even better player than Tyree. Lilly agrees, eventually becoming Torian's legal guardian.
Knight had resigned from Texas Tech the previous February, and his son Pat takes over. Tyree still honors his national letter of intent and cracks the Red Raiders' rotation as a freshman, averaging 14.3 minutes over the first 13 games—until he gets a call from his maternal grandmother in January 2009, informing him that Crystal needs to have open-heart surgery.
"That," he says, "is when immature Tyree comes back out." Rather than take emergency leave, he withdraws from school to return home. Once his mom recovers, he takes classes at Harcum (Pa.) College, then moves to Brunswick (N.C.) Community College for the 2009--10 season. During that span he commits to Binghamton, then watches as six players are dismissed from the team for violations of university policy; commits to UAB, only to have Wes Flanigan, the assistant who recruited him by talking about "building a relationship," leave for Nebraska; and finally settles on Rutgers, where a former assistant from his D.C. Assault AAU program, David Cox, has joined new coach Mike Rice's staff.
But upon arriving at Rutgers and taking a physical in the summer of 2010, Graham learns that the left-knee pain he has gutted through for several months is more serious than he thought. He has a torn ACL and will have to have surgery and miss the '10--11 season. Tyree's luck gets only worse from there: While rehabbing the ACL in April 2011, he ruptures his right Achilles. That costs him the '11--12 season too.
BACK IN DURHAM, Torian passes on an opportunity to transfer to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, the nation's most prestigious basketball prep school, for the 2010--11 season. Lilly and Tyree, knowing Oak Hill's rep for getting elite prospects qualified for college, both want Torian to go. "That could have been the best decision of my life," Torian says, "but I wasn't mature enough to leave home."