Former Fontana star leading Western Washington

Having led or tied for the team scoring lead in 10 straight games, Western Washington University men’s basketball player Ira Graham is working on a streak unmatched in school history.

Verifiable school records in that category go back to the early 1960s. The best during that span was nine by Monte Birkle in the 1976-77 season.

In 1972-73, Viking guard Mike Franza averaged 25.6 points and led Western scorers 21 times in 25 games, but his longest run was eight, accomplished twice.

Graham’s streak began in Western’s last game of 2006-07 and has continued through the first nine contests of the current campaign. The Vikings, off to a 7-2 start, next play Jan. 3, opening Great Northwest Athletic Conference action at Northwest Nazarene.

“It’s been my focus and the caliber of talent around me,” said Graham of his scoring run. “It’s not necessarily by design, but my teammates have really been looking for me and getting me the ball.”

A 6-foot-1 junior from Fontana, Calif., Graham is averaging a GNAC-leading 20.0 points, scoring a career-high 32 in an 87-75 win over Cal State Monterey Bay on Nov. 19.

“Ira has become more mature with experience and has worked hard to develop his game,” said Western coach Brad Jackson, who is in his 23rd season (416-241). “Last year he had to play a lot at point guard, and this season he’s been at his natural shooting guard position. That’s freed him up and allowed him to relax and play looser.”

Graham has accomplished the scoring streak while also leading the Vikings in assists with a 3.4 average, having an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.38 (31-to-13) that ranks fourth among league leaders.

“Ira is a natural scorer,” Jackson said, “but he’s also very aware of his teammates and is a good team player … and perhaps his biggest improvement has been on defense, especially defense off the ball.”

Graham is shooting 57.9 percent (70-of-121) from the field, nearly 15 percentage points higher than last season when he started all 26 games, averaging 15.3 points on a team that finished 11-15.

This year Graham could become just the eighth player in school history to average 20 points. He already has been named to three all-tournament teams, being the MVP at the WWU/Chuck Randall Thanksgiving Classic as well as all-tourney at the Seattle Pacific Tip-Off Classic and the Great Western Shootout.

“Coach Jackson talked to me during the off-season about becoming a better player and I’ve just tried to do that night in and night out,” Graham said. “He also wanted me to become more consistent, and I really listened to that and have been trying to do that as well.”