‘Pipo’ gets JUCO All American Showcase invite

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 5/6/20

TONKAWA, OK - Former Fleming Island High School basketball standout Gianfranco “Pipo” Grafals earned an invitation to one of junior college’s post-season all star showcases after a strong …

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‘Pipo’ gets JUCO All American Showcase invite

Posted

TONKAWA, OK - Former Fleming Island High School basketball standout Gianfranco “Pipo” Grafals earned an invitation to one of junior college’s post-season all star showcases after a strong freshman season at Northern Oklahoma College.

“We made the national junior college tournament, but the virus thing ended our season,” said Grafals, in a telephone interview in Miami. “We had a tough schedule and got the at-large big.”

Grafals, a 6’-4”, 180 pound freshman shooting guard for the Mavericks, was the top drawer for the Golden Eagles under coach Traavis Chandler that made a Class 7A Final Four run in 2017.

At Northern Oklahoma, Grafals played in 32 games with one start averaging just six points per game and three rebounds after nearly 30 per game for Chandler.

“It was tough to make the transition,” said Grafals. “Going to a new school in a new state with a new coaching staff is a big challenge. The shooting guard in front of me was a sophomore All-American.”

Grafals best games were two 20-point efforts; a 119-37 win over Oklahoma Wesleyan in November and a 106-56 win over Bethel College also in November. Grafals also had two games with 18 points and one with 10 points as his finishes in double figures.

“At the beginning of the season, I was struggling, but, as the season got on, I started to move with the speed of the game,” said Grafals. “Near the end, I was more comfortable and confident and ended up doing well.”

Grafals shooting percentage hovered above 50 percent for the season with his most proficient month at 80 percent in December. Grafals hit just four of seven in three pointers and sees that has his improvement target. “I was playing over 15 minutes off the bench and just doing my work,” said Grafals. “I was shooting well, but they wanted me to take more shots. They wanted to shoot more and also to improve my dribbling. Basketball here is much faster and a lot of press defense.”

Grafals, who was named a Northern Oklahoma student athlete of the week in last February, was one of 160 players invited to the All-American JUCO Showcase, dubbed “The nation’s top invite-only JUCO showcase for the best rising sophomores in the U.S.” in Atlanta in July.

Grafals, a member of the Puerto Rico National Team prior to Fleming Island, chose Northern Oklahoma for their strong program nationally and their network reputation for putting players into the four-year university level with seven former Mavericks earning four year slots last year.

“My first time in Oklahoma, but definitely not Florida,” said Grafals. “One time, we had a early Saturday practice and I woke up to three inches of snow. That was very different.”

A teammate of Grafals, sophomore guard Demaree King, was chosen an NJCAA third team All-American after the Mavericks finish 28-4 for the season with an at-large bid, the third for the school, into the national tournament. Unfortunately, the Mavericks season ended with a Region 2 semifinal loss and a seventh ranking nationally. All NCAA championship tournaments were shut down due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Northern Oklahoma had NJCAA entries in 1998 abnd 2000.

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