No one knows what to expect from a point guard in his first NCAA Tournament game. Not even his coach.
So it was an encouraging sign for Kansas coach Bill Self when he inserted freshman Devonte’ Graham into the Jayhawks’ opening NCAA Tournament game against New Mexico State and Graham did a little bit of everything in a 75-56 victory.
“He is a good player and probably hasn’t scored the ball consistently like we think he can, but he shot the ball well yesterday,” Self said. “I think we’re a better team in sections of the game when we have our two little ballhandlers in there together, so I certainly think he’s capable of having a good game (Sunday) and however long we last, playing well in the tournament throughout.”
Graham is looking forward to returning to college basketball’s biggest stage against Wichita State on Sunday. He views his NCAA Tournament debut, which featured two three-pointers, four assists and eight points in 25 minutes, as a success.
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He was nervous before the game in the locker room, and he remained that way until he took the floor. Then he found his confidence.
“I played pretty good,” Graham said. “Sometimes just making shots is part of the game. Sometimes you make shots and you play well. I played pretty well. On a stage like this, for your first time, playing well definitely boosts your confidence and boosts your teammates’ confidence as well.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Graham. He has scored as many as 20 points in a game, but he has also been held scoreless six times.
His form appears to be ascending at the right time. He also had seven points and four assists against Iowa State in the final game of the Big 12 Tournament.
“He’s had some good games for us,” Self said. “He was good in the Big 12 Tournament, we went to him against Iowa State and against Baylor and he delivered for us.”
Graham hopes to do the same against Wichita State, but it will not be easy. The Shockers boast one of the nation’s top backcourts with Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton leading the way.
“We played a lot of good backcourts, but VanVleet and those guys are pretty good,” Graham said. “They are real aggressive. There aren’t many times when you have two or three good guards like they do.”
A one-on-one matchup with VanVleet could be particularly challenging.
“He can do it on both ends,” Graham said. “Some guys can defend. Some guys can score. He does it on both ends.”
Graham thinks playing smart basketball will be key.
“They are great on-ball defenders,” Graham said. “You can’t play around with the ball in front of them. If you are going to make a move, you have to be moving past them. You can’t play with the ball in front of their face or they are going to take it from you.”
Graham is ready for the challenge in his second NCAA Tournament game.
After all, he played well in his first.
“You just gotta go out and compete,” Graham said. “You gotta put it all out there and leave it all on the court, because you never know, it might be your last game. You can’t take any possessions off, and you gotta go out and have fun.”
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