Potomac Falls senior center Greg Graves has led the Panthers back to the state tournament after the departure of 10 seniors last season. “My team expects me to do more this year. I have to try to keep them up a little bit more at times,” said Graves, who has committed to play at Mount St. Mary’s next season. (Richard A. Lipski/For The Washington Post)

Greg Graves calls it his “turnaround game” — 15-point, 12-rebound, 10-block explosion that propelled Potomac Falls into its first state final at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

Still only a sophomore, the dominant performance in the 2010 semifinal win over Spotswood provided a preview of what was to come.

“That’s when I realized the type of player I could be,” the 6-foot-7 senior center said this week. “And I think other people started realizing it as well.”

Over an impressive four-year career, Graves has realized that potential, helping the Panthers to consecutive Virginia AA Division 4 state championships. And after a mass exodus of seniors last spring, Graves is the biggest reason why Potomac Falls is one win away from a third straight trip to Richmond for the state semifinals. The Panthers (20-8) will face Region I runner-up Tabb on Saturday in a state quarterfinal matchup at Robinson.

But this season has been a tumultuous one for Graves and a team that lost 10 seniors and eight of its top nine scorers from last year’s title team.

Graves is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game this season. (Richard A. Lipski/For The Washington Post)

One month ago, the Panthers were in free fall. A rare home loss to Heritage dropped their record to 11-7 and all but eliminated them from district title contention. At a team meeting the following day, Graves stood before his team and apologized for not producing to his potential. The rest of the team followed suit.

Three days later, Potomac Falls beat one-loss Osbourn – and the Panthers have lost only once in nine games since.

“My team expects me to do more this year. I have to try to keep them up a little bit more at times. I’ve got to be more of a leader than I have in the past,” said Graves, who averages nearly 22 points and 11 rebounds per game. “It’s been very difficult, but I always had a feeling that we would find a way to get it done, and we have.”

Playing alongside a prolific senior class, Graves went from role player to one of the region’s top post players – a transition that took patience, hard work and the watchful eye of last year’s senior class. Earlier this season, he posted 44 points, 31 rebounds and eight blocks in a double-overtime win at Park View. Graves went on to earn Dulles District and Region II player of the year honors. He will play for Division I Mount St. Mary’s next season.

“It really is amazing to think about his maturation,” said Lukas Mihailovich, the 2010-11 state player of the year. “When I first met him going into eighth grade, it felt like he could barely catch the ball when you threw it to him. But then he got used to his body and every year he’s added something to his game. He’s an incredible competitor, and that competitiveness fuels him.”

The tables turned this season, with Graves now working to help groom a talented group of underclassmen. Many were members of the Panthers’ undefeated junior varsity team last winter, but it’s freshman forward Wanya Allen whose production helped spark the team’s postseason run.

From providing post move tips to offering rides to practice and help with homework, Graves has taken Allen under his wing. Graves sees some of himself in Allen – a talented youngster with boatloads of potential but plenty to learn.

“Greg has been pushing me the whole season, and I’ve learned so much from him,” said Allen, who has 33 points and 20 rebounds in his last two games. “He’s helped me become a better team player and stay humble, too.”

For Graves, looking out for Allen is a way to pass on the legacy he inherited from last year’s prolific senior class, and it’s all part of Coach Jeff Hawes’s focus on the ‘Panther family.’

“I feel I should give back to a program that’s been so good to me,” Graves said. “I know Wanya is going to do great things here. He and the rest of these guys are the future of Potomac Falls.”

But right now, Graves and the Panthers are focused on the present: a Saturday matchup with Region I runner-up Tabb. The two teams have met in state quarterfinal each of the last two seasons, including last year’s buzzer-beating win. And if Saturday’s game goes down to the wire, expect the ball to be in Graves’ hands.

“He’s a man inside that lane, and very few players in the state can stop him when he gets in that frame of mind,” Hawes said. “Let’s hope he can keep that switch on for about two more weeks.”

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