Point guard Devonte Graham signs with KU basketball team

05/02/2014 12:09 PM

05/02/2014 9:35 PM

The timing is the first thing you notice. One day, a starting point guard exits. The next, a possible replacement arrives.

Two moves, two players, and a college coach hoping that his recent point guard issues are a thing of the past. Once day after Naadir Tharpe announced his intentions to transfer, Kansas landed another point guard from Brewster Academy.

Devonte’ Graham signed a letter of intent to play for the Jayhawks on Friday, KU coach Bill Self said. A 6-foot-2 guard, Graham is ranked as the No. 36 overall recruit in the class of 2014, according to Rivals, and could battle for playing time right away at Kansas.

“I think Devonte’ will be an immediate impact guy for us,” Self said in a news release. “We certainly solidified our situation in the backcourt by bringing in a quality guy, and I think Devonte’ is one of the premier point guards in the country.”

Graham chose KU over North Carolina State, his other finalist. A year ago, he was mostly unknown and unranked in recruiting circles. Now, he could be in line to be a starting point guard on a Kansas team that could begin next season in the top-five.

“The opportunity to play and the tradition of winning factored into my decision,” Graham told Rivals.com. “I also feel like I fit in at Kansas.”

Graham originally signed with Appalachian State in his senior year of high school at Broughton High in Raleigh, North Carolina. But he decided to spend a prep year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire — the same prep school that produced Tharpe and former Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson.

“We’re very familiar with that program,” Self said.

Graham immediately began to show that he was capable of playing at a high-major level in college basketball. He averaged 17.2 points and 5.0 assists per game while leading Brewster to the national prep and New England championships.

“We knew he was good,” said Josh Lee, an assistant coach at Brewster. “But he was another kid that was under the radar.”

Graham’s stock was rising. He eventually moved from unranked to No. 36 in Rivals’ final recruiting rankings. He wanted to reopen his recruitment.

The only problem: In order to speak with other college staffs, Graham needed a release from Appalachian State. Former Appalachian State coach Jason Capel held firm, refusing to release Graham. Major college coaches were interested, but the communication lines were closed.

“The hard part for him was nobody could talk to him,” Lee said. “Even if they were interested, they couldn’t say anything to him.”

Smith and Dwayne West, Graham’s AAU coach with Garner Road Basketball Club in Raleigh, both continued telling coaches the same thing: If he’s able to get his release, he’s somebody you’ll want to look at.

“There were a lot of schools that said: ‘If he doesn’t get his release, we’re still interested,’ ” Lee said.

Capel was fired after this past season, and Graham gained his release in April. He took visits to Kansas, North Carolina State and Virginia before zeroing in on Kansas and North Carolina State.

The Jayhawks, of course, could offer the opportunity for immediate playing time at a position that has been a source of inconsistency the last two seasons. The need for stability at the point became even more apparent when Tharpe on Thursday announced his desire to play closer to his daughter in Massachusetts.

Tharpe was coming off an up-and-down junior season — on and off the court — but he was still Kansas’ most experienced guard. Now Graham will battle soon-to-be sophomores Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp for minutes at the point, while Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene return on the wing. Incoming freshman Kelly Oubre is also a potential starter on the wing.

This is the kind of backcourt that Self enjoys coaching, he said, filled with athletic players that could be considered combo guards with point guard skills.

When Graham and his mother, Dewanna King, visited Kansas in April, Self made it clear that there was a need at the point guard spot.

“That’s not to take away from the other guards we have,” Self said on Friday. “But this is a situation that we just got a lot better.”

After the departure of Tharpe and addition of Graham, Kansas still has one open scholarship. Self told The Star on Friday that his staff was continuing to recruit, looking for options for that last spot. Nothing is imminent, but Self said “there’s a chance” he could add one more player to the roster.

For now, though, he had added a point guard, one that Self believes can be pretty good.

“Obviously, I’m biased,” said Lee, the assistant at Brewster. “But he dominated a lot of the guards that we played. Physically, mentally, he’s a tough kid.

“He’s more of a pure point guard; he’s a playmaker. He understands the game of basketball, and obviously that’s very big when you’re going to a place like Kansas.”

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