If that is true, count the dynamic between point guard Graham Safford and coach Jon Furbush of Bates College men’s basketball among the best in the galaxy.

After four years together, the past three with Safford rarely leaving the floor, Furbush doesn’t even require hand signals or eye contact most of the time.

“It’s amazing. There are times when I want to make a call in the game, and he’s bringing the ball up and before I even say it, he calls it,” Furbush said. “We’ve been working together so tight for four years that he knows what I’m thinking. He’s absolutely another coach on the floor.”

Unselfish, fiercely competitive and sternly tested by real life, Safford has steered Bates (21-6) to unprecedented heights.

The Bobcats have reached the third round of the NCAA Division III tournament — the “Sweet 16,” in traditional March parlance. Bates will face Trinity (Conn.) at 5:30 p.m. Friday on the campus of Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.

“It’s awesome. My senior year, it’s cool to be able to get somewhere you always thought you could be, and be given the opportunity to keep going,” Safford said.


Tournament pressure is only new to Safford at the college level. He starred in high school at Camden Hills, where he helped the Windjammers to a Class B championship in 2009, and Hampden Academy.

Basketball provided refuge while Safford’s father, David Hollis, fought a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He succumbed on Christmas 2010. Safford bears a tattoo of a cross and the day of his dad’s death on his left bicep.

During those challenging days, Safford declined a scholarship offer from Division I Longwood University in Farmville, Va., and signed with Bates. The decision came during the Bobcats’ “early decision” period, but there’s no denying it was a last-second decision, as well.

“I didn’t know too much about Bates. I didn’t visit that many times,” Safford said. “I explored all the opportunities it gives academically and athletically, and I thought it was a good fit. I’m glad I’m here.”

On the court, the fit has been like a custom-made pair of sneakers.

Safford has scored 1,232 points, No. 11 on Bates’ all-time list. He leads the New England Small College Athetic Conference in minutes played with 36.6 per game and tops the team in most major statistical categories, averaging 15.7 points, 6.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.


“As good as his stats are, I think what he does from a sheer leadership standpoint is the reason why we’re successful,” Furbush said. “He was a junior captain last year, and the ball was in his hands a lot, and you forget how much different it is being a junior than being a senior. He has that true urgency, and this year what he’s done more than any other year, he’s brought everybody up a level.”

Speaking of good relationships and comfortable fits, Bates has put the ideal pieces in place around Safford.

Junior 6-foot-5 wing Mike Boornazian is the other half of the Bobcats’ one-two scoring punch. He became the 32nd Bates man to eclipse 1,000 points in a second-round overtime victory over Stockton.

Sophomore twins Malcolm and Marcus Delpeche provide two exceptionally skilled, mobile big men at 6-8 and 6-7, respectively. Billy Selmon is the only other senior starter.

“I think I definitely gained more of a leadership role. I’ve always considered myself a leader, even when I wasn’t a captain,” Safford said.

“The more you’re around people, the more you figure out what triggers them to play harder,” Furbush added. “I think some guys are motivated more by one-on-one interaction and positive reinforcement, and some guys you need to challenge them, and he’s walked that line very well this year.”


Safford hadn’t experienced a winning season at Bates before this winter.

He led the Bobcats to a 7-0 start, a 12-0 regular-season record at Alumni Gymnasium and a 9-1 mark against Maine opponents.

The Bobcats overcame a pair of modest two-game losing streaks.

“Early on we really set a high standard for our season,” Safford said. “No matter what, we lost a couple here and there, and we said we still have an opportunity to achieve the goals we set in the beginning.”

Safford is the only starter among six Maine players on the Bates roster, including senior Cam Kaubris of Rumford and sophomore Quin Leary of Auburn.

He played with the homegrown likes of Kyle Philbrook, Reid Christian and Ed Bogdanovich earlier in his career. Furbush, a native of South Portland, recognizes the importance of having a signature, in-state star on the floor.


“The three NESCAC schools in the state, we should be competing for the best Maine kids every year,” Furbush said. “There’s a list of I would say 10 guys in every recruiting class from Maine that if one or two of them end up at a school like Bates, Bowdoin or Colby, we could be pretty good.”

“Once I got here, I quickly realized it’s a competitive conference,” Safford said. “You’re competing against the best.”

Competing is what the religious studies major does, non-stop, whenever the ball is in his grasp.

And sometimes that commitment and those massive minutes take their toll. Safford sat out three games this season against lower-level competition.

Furbush gives him the occasional practice off to ice his wounds, then immediately regrets it. It forces the coach to abandon that economy of words.

“If you sat and watched us practice the days he’s resting, it’s way different for me. It’s not very comfortable,” Furbush said. “I’ll worry about that next year when he’s not here. Right now I’m going to enjoy it for what it is.”

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