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Still a top 30 recruit nationally, he opts for Raleigh's Word of God Academy, where his friend John Wall flourished before heading to Kentucky, but a strong junior season is tainted by Torian's departure from school following an altercation with a teammate. He finishes that year at PACE Academy in Carrboro, N.C., and in May 2011 makes his first commitment to N.C. State, only to back away from it in August around the time his mother's health rapidly declines: Crystal decides, after years battling heart problems and pain and addiction, to enter a hospice, have her pacemaker removed and let the Lord take her away.
"I remember getting that call at Rutgers, and I'm like, seriously?" says Tyree. "This is after my basketball dream is in shambles, and now I'm hearing that my mom is about to be gone? It's like, God, I know you love me, and I know you're testing me, but why am I going through so much right now?"
Crystal spends nine nights in a hospice on Roxboro Road. Tyree and Torian stay with her, alternating between a cot and the floor. There is something soothing about this vigil, even though they know how it will end. "It was time," Torian says. "I was tired of her having to struggle." It is the first time since the Cadillac that they know they can fall asleep within an arm's reach of her and still wake up next to her in the morning.
Torian struggles at his next destination, Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, while trying to cope with his mother's death. He commits to N.C. State again in December, this time in a video posted on YouTube—only to decommit the same day, after Tyree and Lilly persuade him to spend more time on the decision. Torian leaves ACD in January by mutual agreement with its coach, Rex Morgan, and finishes up at Christian Faith Center Academy in Creedmoor, N.C., but five stops in four years has his transcripts in such shambles that he fails to qualify academically for Division I.
The silver lining of Tyree's injuries at Rutgers is that he has time to focus on academics, and he graduates with a 3.3 GPA and a degree in labor and employment relations. At his graduation ceremony in May 2012 he feels his mom's presence—a degree was the one thing she asked for in the hospice.
Tyree could no longer play at Rutgers, because he signed a medical-hardship waiver (relinquishing his athletic scholarship), so he takes a graduate year at UNC-Wilmington, where he shows flashes of his old self, scoring 18 points on five threes against Towson in January. But his play is not consistent, and he falls out of the Seahawks' rotation, failing to appear in their final eight games.
Will Torian, who is now 6'5", have more success than his brother did at the D-I level? If the younger Graham, who averaged 7.2 points last season, can graduate from Chipola next spring, he'll be facing what should be his final college choice. The right call could set him up to earn money professionally; the wrong one could derail his basketball career for good. Lilly plans to monitor Torian's choice as closely as possible, to find the best fit. "I told Torian, O.K., you tried it your way and you jumped around, but we have to really study it this time.... Because we have no room for any more mistakes."
Tyree packs up and leaves Wilmington shortly after the season ends, declining to finish the school year. He returns to Durham and works enough basketball camps to start making payments on his first car, a used black Lexus, in which he's now giving a tour of the Southside. He stops outside Lakewood Elementary, to show the spot where he and his father used to pick up his mother after school in the early 1990s, and after pulling away, he says, "I don't know if I'm ever going to get married."
You wouldn't want to try to do things differently?
"I'd just be so scared of ... if it didn't work out, and my kids had to deal with what I have to deal with. She was a teacher. You wouldn't think my mom would end up the way she did."