Janesville's Riley Grafft knows plenty about American U

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John Barry
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

JANESVILLE--The second-seeded University of Wisconsin's men's basketball team opens up NCAA tournament play against 15th-seeded American University.


American University—a private, coeducational, liberal arts curriculum, doctoral, and research-based university in Washington, D.C.

The majority of Badger fans probably aren't familiar with the Eagles' program or their conference, the Patriot League.

Janesville's Riley Grafft knows all about American and its campus—which is about 20 minutes from the White House.

Grafft, a 2008 Janesville Parker graduate, played four years for the Eagles and earned a degree in Business Administration from the school in 2012. He was on the 2008-09 American team that qualified for the NCAA tournament and started 16 games during the 2009-10 season. As a senior, he scored a career-high 21 points against Howard University.

Although Wisconsin enters Thursday's game as a 14-point favorite and is playing in its backyard (Milwaukee), Grafft believes American can keep it close.

“If they can get Wisconsin to play to their style, they can be competitive,” Grafft said. “American went to Ohio State earlier this season and nearly pulled off the upset. It comes down to making shots and taking advantage of each possession.

“Wisconsin has a big advantage in depth. American only goes six deep, so if one of their starters gets in foul trouble, that will really hurt.”

The 6-foot-11 Grafft keeps close tabs on the American program and has remained friends with several players on this year's team.

American first-year coach Mike Brennan recruited Grafft out of Parker and was one of the main reasons he signed with the school.

“Coach Brennan came out to watch me play in a tournament in Las Vegas the summer heading into my junior year,” Grafft said. “He made a big push for me to sign, and after visiting the campus and seeing the facilities, I decided that was the best fit for me.

“He (Brennan) left after my freshman year to go to Georgetown, but now he's back as head coach at American and has done a great job.”

American's offense can cause its opponents fits. The Eagles run a Princeton-style offense, a scheme perfected by former Princeton coach Pete Carril, which emphasizes constant motion, passing, back-door cuts, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork.

The Eagles struggled early learning the new system. American started the season 3-7 but then rattled off 11 straight wins in finishing second in the Patriot League. It earned the school's first NCAA bid since 2009 by upsetting top-seeded Boston University on the road in the title game of the conference's postseason tournament. 

Grafft will be in the stands Thursday cheering on the Eagles. He hopes to make a return trip to the Bradley Center on Saturday.

“I think I'm the only one in my family that won't be cheering for Wisconsin,” Grafft said. “I was planning on going to American's game with a couple of guys I played with regardless of where they were sent, but when I found out it was in Milwaukee, I knew it couldn't have worked out any better.”

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