The next step forward in Graham Faulkner’s life would end his basketball career.
The Drovers were playing at Lubbock Christian in late February. With both teams battling for the fourth position in the conference standings, the game was intense and competitive. This was the turning point of Faulkner’s career.
“Obviously, I would like to say we were down by two points; I got the ball in my hands with three seconds left. I take a pull-up dribble from 30 feet, and I let the ball go out of my hands and as soon as I come down I felt my ankle pop,” he said. “I made the three, we win, and everyone goes crazy or whatever dream you could come up with.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the story for this senior guard.
“It was a simple everyday basketball play,” Faulkner explained. “I believe Norris Rumph was on the opposite wing and put up a jump shot. I was getting back on defense when the ball bounced off the top of the rim. I switched all my momentum and when I pushed off my right foot, I felt a boom. It sounded like a shotgun had gone off.”
He fought through the pain and passed the ball to Rumph, a senior guard who had 83 assists and more than 400 points on the season. Faulkner immediately looked to the bench and yelled that he had torn his Achilles tendon.
Despite shooting pain, Faulkner attempted not to “be soft.” During a practice that week while preparing for the game, Faulkner accidently hit Rumph in the face.
“I asked if he was all right and he was like ‘man, don’t ask if I am all right;’ he was like ‘stop being soft,’” Faulkner said.
So during the game at Lubbock Christian, Rumph walked over during a timeout to check up on Faulkner.
“Norris came up to me on the bench and asked if I was OK,” Faulkner said. “I told him to shut up and quit being soft. I told him to go get the ‘W,’ and we would talk after the game.”
Sherrie Faulkner, Graham’s mother, was watching the game on the Internet.
“The announcer was saying how much pain he was in, and that he was really hurt,” Sherrie said. “The camera, of course, was back on the remainder of the game, so I couldn’t see what was going on. I had a pretty good idea he would be out for the rest of the season. All I could do was pray, whine a little bit and wait for more information.“
It was the second to last regular season game for the Drovers, who went on to compete in the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament. Faulkner scored 79 points this season and 457 in his career at USAO. He played in 101 games for the Drovers. As a four-year Drover, his presence on the court was missed in USAO’s post-season games.
A Humbling Experience
Faulkner, a particularly spiritual person with plans to attend seminary, described his injury as a humbling experience that has helped him grow more spiritually.
This hit home to a senior who was averaging 10 minutes a game at the beginning of the season, even after putting a lot of hard work and long hours in the gym over the summer. Without much of an opportunity to prove his abilities on the court, Faulkner began feeling worthless to his team.
“I wasn’t getting the playing time I was hoping for,” he said. “A guy gets injured, and for five to six games, I went from playing 10 minutes a game to 30 to 35 minutes a game. I felt like in a sense God was showing a blessing for my hard work. Then a few days later, I blow my Achilles tendon, and my season is done.”
Through all the pain and heartbreaking early end to his career, he received the Sooner Athletic Conference Co-Sportmanship Award, Academic All-SAC honors and was named an NAIA Champion of Character.
“At first I felt like this award was something that people just kind of chuckle at,” Faulkner said. “It’s not an award for being an incredible basketball player. It is an award that you are a good sport.”
But after thinking about it, he said he was honored to get the award, and his coaches were pleased to have the award on the team.
Even more striking about the award, however, is that it wasn’t something Faulkner ever would have won in high school.
“I felt like it was a testimony to the work that God has done in my life,” he said. “In high school and before high school, I was cocky, arrogant, talked trash, and I was really dirty … But through the last four years, God has changed me, and this was a testimony to who I am on the court.”
Faulkner said he believes God gave him two callings — one being basketball and the other being to teach the gospel.
“God calls teachers to be faithful and in the scripture you see the fruit of faithful teachers,” he said. “To change lives and save souls — I want that to be a mark on my ministry. I feel that God has called me to teach.”
Faulkner’s servant attitude extends both on and of the court.
“As a servant of Christ, basketball is a way for me to worship Jesus,” Faulkner said. “Every minute is to bring honor and glory to him. Even if I don’t play a single minute or succeed on the court, it is about that opportunity to do everything in the glory of God.”
For the past four years, he has tried to train himself to honor Christ during the game. Games get heated, people start to talk trash and some people are harsh. Anyone that watches him in a game can tell that he wants to win just as much as any other player on the floor.
“I want people to be able to look at me and look at the effort I give and the way I treat people on the court,” he said. “I want people to look at me and … to know it’s because of what Christ has done in my life.”
Future Game Plan
In light of Faulkner’s injury, he is now focusing on his future game plan off the court.
Upon graduation, he plans to apply for graduate school to pursue a master’s of divinity in biblical and theological studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
After seminary, he said he plans to go overseas to do mission work.
A lot has happened to him the last four years that has led him to be where he is today, mainly due to the blessing of his friends, family and mentors.
“I began to pray and seek God out,” he said. “He really began to change my heart, giving me a heart to learn and teach the Bible.”
His mother shares joy in his decision to be such a passionate Christian and to advance the kingdom of God.
“I am very proud of Graham, and I don’t mean in an arrogant or boastful way,” Sherrie said. “It is very gratifying as a mom to see your child mature, use their God-given gifts and talents for a greater good and realize their potential.”
She wasn’t surprised by his decision to pursue ministry because it was something he said he wanted to do since he was a young boy. In fact, at 8 years old, Faulkner announced to his mother that he was going to be a preacher.
“I must admit that I didn’t take him seriously back then,” Sherrie said. “Now I see him, with such a passion to know God’s word, to understand it and share it.”
Basketball and Ministry
Through his connection and leadership in USAO’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Faulkner found himself traveling to China to use basketball as a means to connect with college students there.
“Personally, I learned a lot from them and how to respect people,” he said. “Honor and respect. They would come to basketball games and watch us play. They would stay the entire time no matter what. Their culture is about showing respect.”
Faulkner said he plans to continue using basketball as a means to minister to people and is looking forward to the next step in his journey as a Christian.
“God didn’t give me this talent to play basketball just so I can be prideful about myself and boast about the things I can do,” Faulkner said. “I now understand that God has given me these talents in basketball so I can use them to connect and draw these people in, so I can tell them about the most glorious thing that has ever happened, which is Jesus dying to save them and his resurrection completes their salvation.”