FLEMING ISLAND - From the ashes of disaster in his home country Puerto Rico, Fleming Island High School basketball senior Gianfranco Grafals took the final step to realizing an American dream finish …
FLEMING ISLAND - From the ashes of disaster in his home country Puerto Rico, Fleming Island High School basketball senior Gianfranco Grafals took the final step to realizing an American dream finish by signing a basketball scholarship Friday morning in the schools Hall of Champions. Grafals signed to continue play at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, OK.
"I came to Fleming Island after my country was destroyed by a hurricane, " said Grafals, who was joined in the celebration by his parents, Miriam and Carlos Grafals and his brother John Carlos. "We had nothing. My cousin was already here, Sebastian Astor (also a Puerto Rico Junior National team member and Fleming Island High player), and his family took us in."
Grafals, a high-flying point guard for the Puerto Rico Junior National team and, most recently, the Golden Eagles for the past two seasons, culminated his journey to America with a first-time Final Four appearance for Fleming Island after directing a 22-3 overall season record under third year coach Traavis Chandler.
"In Puerto Rico, the game is a little more physical and Gianfranco had to adjust to our game here in Florida," said Chandler. "He had to adjust to that and then he became a great team player. The biggest asset he brought to his team was his work ethic. He's a great teammate."
Grafals played for Puerto Rico's FIBA U-18 team at the U-18 Americas Championship in Canada where Puerto Rico finished fourth bechind the USA, Canada and Argentina. Astor, a year younger, played for Puerto Rico in the FIBA U-17 Basketball World Cup in Argentina where they finished third.
For Chandler, it is his second scholarship athlete since arriving at Fleming Island with forward Joshua Deleon signing last year to Toccoa Falls College in Georgia and recently transferring to Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville.
"I think our game here transitions very well to the college level just because we run so much," said Chandler. "Our kids are in good shape when they leave and that's a good starting point in the college level. He will leave some big shoes to fill next year."
For Grafals, who averaged near 20 points per game with a handful of highlight reel dunks along the way, the choice for Northern Oklahoma as opposed to other schools at higher classifications, was a matter fitting. Northern Oklahoma, the Mavericks, finished at 20-12 last year with a season-ending loss in the NJCAA region 2 semifinals and boasts a seasons of 24-8, 23-10, 26-7 and 19-12 since 2015 with a 27-4 conference title in 2013.
"They have a long list of players that went to Division I and Division II schools after playing there," said Grafals. "They showed me the most love in fitting my family background."
Grafals cited his home game win over Oakleaf in January as his best performance of the season and lamented the district championship loss to the same Knights in February.
"I wish I could get that one back because I was sick all week for that one," said Grafals. "I got 19 points, but it wasn't enough."
After the district tournament, Grafals put Fleming Island High, ranked fourth in 8A, on his shoulders and pushed through two region playoff wins; First Coast (72-63) and Lee (64-60) before earning the school's first region title over Lincoln (67-58).
In the Class 8A semifinal, the surge stopped abruptly 60-38 to Lakewood Ranch High, the eventual 8A runnerup to No. 1-ranked Blanche Ely. Lakewood Ranch finished ranked eighth.
In 2018, Grafals, with a 14.1 points per game average, led Fleming Island to a district semifinal finish, losing to Creekside 57-44 after beating Buchholz in the district quarterfinal. Creekside eventually lost to Blanche Ely in the 8A championship game.