Graham only played one season of college football at the University of Miami, but four seasons of basketball. Gonzalez played football and basketball at California, helping the Bears make the Sweet 16 his junior year.
Gates was a high school basketball star in Detroit, averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds his senior season, before signing with Michigan State. But Nick Saban, who was the football coach at Michigan State at the time, wanted Gates to only play football.
Gates ended up at Kent State his final two years of college, averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds his senior season, when Kent State advanced to the Elite Eight.
So what is it about these guys that enabled them to become successful NFL tight ends after playing college basketball?
“We have really good body control and foot work,” Graham said on John Clayton’s 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. “When the ball’s in the air, it doesn’t matter where it is, we can adjust to it. And now when you come down, you don’t have to worry about a hardwood floor. You have some nice grass to land on.”
Or turf, but it's still softer than hardwood. Graham (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) is huge for an NFL tight end, but not so much for a forward in college basketball.
“A lot of the guys who transitioned from basketball to football were undersized big men, for the most part,’’ Graham said. “You get used to going against guys who are 6-11 or taller. You either have to be real strong or real tough or both.”
Graham said he learned a lot from Gonzalez, a former division rival in the NFC South when Graham played for the New Orleans Saints and Gonzalez was with the Falcons. Gonzalez was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection who retired after the 2013 season. He’s a lock for a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“My first Pro Bowl  I was there with Tony and really picked his brain,” Graham said. “He looked to teach me a lot of things. Even though we were in the same division, he was so generous with giving me information. He would talk about how he preps in the offseason and all the little details.”
Graham said those tips have made a big difference in his career. Graham has made the Pro Bowl in three of the last four years, including the last two seasons. He has 51 career TD receptions, 40 of which came on plays that started in the red zone.