Bill Self regularly reminds his three Kansas basketball seniors to cherish each remaining moment in Allen Fieldhouse.
“He started counting down at like eight or nine games: ‘You guys only got eight games left, seven games left.’ I said, ‘Are you gonna start this already?’ ’’ Devonté Graham, KU’s senior point guard from Raleigh, N.C., said with a smile. “It’s definitely hit me.”
Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and walk-on Clay Young will play their final game in the fieldhouse Monday against Texas (17-12 overall, 7-9 Big 12). Tipoff is at 8 p.m., and the game will be on ESPN. The three players will be introduced with their parents before the game, then take turns speaking to the fans, giving traditional Senior Night speeches, following the contest.
“I keep saying, ‘You can’t count the days. You’ve got to make the days count.’ That’s all I’m trying to do,” Graham said.
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He’s emerged as a serious candidate — maybe the leading candidate — for Big 12 player of the year as his final regular season concludes with a championship. Kansas (23-6, 12-4) clinched at least a share of its 14th-straight league title Saturday with a 74-72 victory at Texas Tech.
Graham, who took over at the point from 2017 national player of the year Frank Mason, has averaged a team-leading 17.9 points a game with 205 assists (7.1 per game) against 76 turnovers. He’s not only remained a three-point threat in his final campaign by hitting 88 treys in 209 tries (42.1 percent), but has become an effective slasher, as evidenced by his work at the line.
Fouled a lot on drives to the hoop, Graham has cashed 128 of 155 free throws for 82.6 percent.
He’s become a complete player by design.
“Coach talks to me about being aggressive. He always says, ‘Attack downhill, make plays for yourself and others,’ ’’ Graham said of his penchant for driving in his final season at KU. “He wants me to score, wants me to shoot it. He believes in me. It builds confidence. If he believes in me, I have to believe in myself that much more.”
Just like Mason, Graham leads not only on the court, but off the court as a leader as well.
“This is not a knock to our other guys. I don't know if I've ever been around a team where a guy gets less help … from talking, from ownership, from coaching others," Self said. "He is doing it all. He has shown as much leadership this year to me as what anybody we've had here do. He's Aaron Miles, but he's getting 17 (points) a game. That's how I look at it.
“That's not a knock to the other guys' playing ability. But if you look at it, Malik (Newman) doesn’t speak, Svi doesn't speak, Lagerald (Vick) doesn't speak, Doke (Azubuike) doesn’t speak when they're out there. This is Devonté’s personality that's basically getting us through the intangible things. Doesn't mean he's going to play well, but certainly from an intangible standpoint he's as good as we've ever had here.”
Of his leadership skills, Graham said; “I think this is one of the quietest teams I’ve been on, a large part we have a lot of guys who don’t know what Coach is looking for, a lot of first-year guys who have to come in and try to figure out their role and figure out how to figure out Coach and what he likes.
"I understand it from their point. I try to be as vocal as I can, talk, encourage them to do all the little things. They do talk, Coach might not hear them, they definitely might whisper sometimes,” he added, laughing.
Svi Mykhailiuk enters his final home game as a still-young 20-year-old senior from Ukraine.
The 6-8 shooting guard says he’s a lot different from the quiet 16-year-old who arrived at KU in the summer of 2014.
“I grew a lot mentally these last four years,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just adjusted to Coach and the players. My first two years … it was my first time being by myself in a different country. I learned how to communicate with people, live life and I adjusted. The last two years have been really good.”
His English now is excellent.
“English is the No. 1 language in the world. If you know English you can go anywhere,” Mykhailiuk said. “Most of the coaches speak English overseas. Everybody speaks English in the NBA. It’s a great plus in my life.”
Svi has opened up to the point he is now comfortable sharing personal tidbits with the media.
An example? He says he eats five strawberries before every game at Allen Fieldhouse. Not six. Not four. Five.
“Every home game, when coming to the game I eat five strawberries, while I’m on the way. I finish eating them, then shoot. I only do it at home,” he said, smiling. “It’s my favorite fruit.”
On the court, Svi has had by far his most productive season. KU’s second-leading scorer has averaged 15.6 points a game. He’s made a team-leading 92 threes in 206 tries for 44.7 percent and also has 83 assists to 48 turnovers.
By comparison, he had 46 assists a year ago against 40 turnovers; 32 assists, 26 turnovers in his sophomore season; and 17 assists and 15 turnovers in his freshman campaign.
“It’s being confident,” he said. “I value the ball, don’t do touchdown plays — half-court passes and stuff like that. I try to be calm. My freshman year I had a lot of turnovers in practice because I did a lot of dumb plays. I didn’t pass well, was doing the no-look pass. Now I realize I don’t have to do it, just do the right thing.”
He said he’s pleased he removed his name from the 2017 NBA Draft after testing the waters.
“Being here at Kansas has been a blessing,” said Mykhailiuk, whose parents, teachers in Ukraine, will attend Monday’s game. “Playing here four years has been a great opportunity.”
Senior guard/forward Clay Young, an invited walk-on out of Lansing High and Kansas City Kansas Community College, probably is best known for his performance in the Jayhawks’ 76-60 victory over Syracuse on Dec 2 in Miami.
Young, who Self says stands closer to 6 feet 3 than his listed 6-5, played 9 minutes in the first half, 12 minutes total, because of foul trouble for bigs Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot. Young effectively guarded 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu during a 16-4 KU run in the final 6:21 of the first half. That turned a 19-17 lead into a 35-21 halftime advantage.
Young took a charge during his time on the court and also fed Mykhailiuk for a three.
“When I go in the game, as far as what I’m thinking, I’m thinking do whatever I have to do," Young said. "Do enough. It’s a bonus, extra minutes when I’m in the game. You do what you can, to not make mistakes when you are in there.”
Because of a lack of depth inside, Young played 18 minutes against South Dakota State, responding with two points, two assists and a steal in KU’s 98-64 victory. He also played eight minutes in a 74-65 loss to Washington.
“The Syracuse game was probably the best one I had as far as personal highlights go,” Young said. “Senior Night hopefully will top that.”
His playing time dried up following the arrival of Silvio De Sousa. Young has played in just one of KU’s last 18 games. He’ll start on Senior Night next to Graham and Mykhailiuk.
“To be prepared for when Coach called his number is kind of amazing. He does little things to help us win, makes the right plays when he’s in there,” said Graham, who tweeted “Clay for President’’ after the Syracuse game.
“We like to joke around with him. He practices hard every day, giving us his all.”
Of Young’s contributions, Self said: “Clay helped us win a couple of games this year. He helped us against Syracuse. As our 5-man he played 12 minutes. He’s been great for Doke, a voice of maturity and reason around him.”
Young averaged 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds as a senior at Lansing High and 10 points and 5.6 rebounds in his freshman season at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
He tore his ACL in the second game of his sophomore season at KCKCC and saved that year of eligibility as a medical redshirt, which made him eligible to play three seasons at KU.
Young played 19 minutes last season, 20 as a sophomore and 64 so far this season.
“He’ll be a success wherever (life) leads him,” Self said.