Former OHS Hooper Returns to Oneonta
By TED MEBUST
“Anytime I get on the court, I’m happy,” said Graham Wooden, a former Section 4 basketball star for Oneonta High School. After recently transferring to SUNY Oneonta from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania this fall, he has hit the ground running.
“We’re happy to have him in the program,” said Red Dragons coach Cameron Conover. According to Conover, SUNY Oneonta had been recruiting Wooden during his time at OHS, telling the 5’11” guard he was always welcome to come play despite choosing Mansfield.
Wooden missed his first college season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience he described as “tough and unfortunate,” though recognizing the struggles of friends and family during that period provided him some perspective in retrospect.
After the canceled season, Wooden picked up his career in the Mansfield Mountaineers’ 2021-22 campaign, where he averaged 9.4 minutes of play and 3.1 points per game.
“It was nice being back on the court. I definitely didn’t take it for granted and met some great people,” Wooden said of his time in Pennsylvania before deciding to transfer. “What it came down to was, academically, I wanted to change my major to exercise science,” a 122 credit-hour course of study at SUNY Oneonta which he aimed to pursue after predominantly taking biology coursework at Mansfield.
Wooden recently put his academic interests into action, helping create and implement an exercise program, the “Little Red Dragons,” for area children at the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club. The pilot program helped exercise science majors further skills in human growth and motor development.
Since making the move to Oneonta, Wooden is averaging 26.7 minutes of play and 11.5 points per game. Described as a “next play guy” by Conover, Wooden’s presence has helped the Red Dragons take eight out of 10 games so far this season.
His rebounding and defensive efforts, Conover says, prove he’s always moving the game forward. Though it’s early on in the season, the team’s defensive statistics have seen notable improvements when compared to the last three seasons (excluding the canceled 2020-21 campaign).
During their 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons, the Red Dragons’ opponents averaged 70.7 points per game. So far this year, they’re averaging 60.7. Average opponent turnovers per game during the earlier time period were 13.7. This year, 17.0.
Oneonta has increased their average steals per game from 7.2 to 8.2 this year as well. They’ve capitalized on increased turnovers, raising their average points off turnovers from 15.6 the last three seasons to 18.2 this year. Oh, and opponents’ field goals per game numbers have also dropped this year, from 25.6 to 21.8. While the sample sizes are not quite comparable, the numbers indicate a marked shift should they hold throughout the season.
When asked about his presence in games, Wooden described himself as a “glue guy,” prioritizing defense and recognizing its impact on the team’s ability to win games.
“Defense leads to good offense, but mostly I try to be a leader on the court. Being enthusiastic and promoting team cohesion will be the key to success at the end of the season,” Wooden said, giving a nod to his experience beyond the sport itself.
“I love playing basketball, but, ultimately, it’s about the relationships we get to make as a team,” he said.
The Red Dragons face tough competition in the State University of New York Athletic Conference this year, Wooden noted, with their games against Cortland and Oswego being competitions for which the team will prepare especially hard.
They play next against Wheaton College, currently ranked 15th in the Division III men’s basketball by D3hoops.com, at a tournament hosted at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey on December 29.