Though he’s never coached Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham, Jim Fox knows he will always be linked to him.
Once Fox took over as Appalachian State coach in 2014, one of his first moves was to release Graham from his letter of intent to the school. A month later, Graham signed with KU.
“Our fans remind me all the time. They say, ‘Hey man, look how good he his. Look how good he’s playing.’ He’s dropping 30 a game, 30 in the conference tournament and everything,” Fox said during an interview on our SportsBeat KC podcast Wednesday. “It’s important from our end that him and his people wanted to go, obviously, somewhere else. As a new coach, you want guys that want to be at your university. I’d say it worked out real well for both of us.”
Graham, who had originally signed with Appalachian State before deciding to go elsewhere, was not released from his letter of intent by previous coach Jason Capel; the coach believed other teams might be tampering with Graham after he signed. Instead of honoring his commitment to Appalachian State, Graham attended Brewster Academy prep school in Wolfeboro, N.H., and after that season, Capel was fired.
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Following his hiring, Fox was contacted by friend Dwayne West, who was Graham’s AAU coach with Garner Road Basketball Club in North Carolina.
“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Dwayne, look I know there’s been hard feelings back and forth. I’m looking forward to starting my job here at App and we have a long way to rebuild and to build things. I want to recruit guys who are interested in being here,’ ” Fox said. “It wasn’t anything I was going to do in terms of holding Devonte’ up from going somewhere he wanted to go.”
Graham has since thrived at KU. He started 36 of 38 games a season ago, averaging 11.3 points and 3.7 assists for the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Graham also had his share of personal highlights, which included a 27-point performance and strong defensive effort against Buddy Hield in KU’s 76-72 road victory over Oklahoma. He also was named the Big 12 Tournament MVP.
“Heck, that’s a great story — a guy that wasn’t really recruited coming out of high school and now is playing for one of the top two or three premier programs in college basketball and being very successful doing it,” Fox said. “I really don’t think much about (his earlier commitment) except when you see him play and you joke with your assistants about it. I’m glad it worked out for him.”
Fox, who is entering his third year at Appalachian State, is still working to turn around the program. The Mountaineers went 12-15 in 2014-15 and 9-22 last season, though they won their last two games, including a home victory over Arkansas-Little Rock.
Though he knew a rebuild was imminent, Fox said there was no hesitation when deciding to free Graham of his previous commitment.
“He was never coming here. That’s the way I look at it,” Fox said. “It’s not like if I could have done something different, maybe he’d be playing for Appalachian right now. That was never the case.
“So I really don’t have any regrets, and I don’t think twice about it.”