Kansas basketball coach Bill Self delivered a welcome, but somewhat startling wake-up call to senior point guard/team leader Devonté Graham on Sunday morning.
“I was shocked at first. I didn’t know what to think,” Graham, KU’s scoring and assist leader said of his reaction to Self’s interrupting Graham’s sleep to say he’d been chosen Big 12 Player of the Year in a unanimous vote of the league coaches.
“Then I was just happy because I get my name put in the rafters like coach has been saying. It just hit me and I called my mom and told her. They (Graham’s mom and grandmother) were excited, so I had to tell her, ‘Don’t post anything because it hasn’t come out yet.’ She likes to post all kind of stuff,” Graham added of his mom, Dewanna.
Graham — who on Monday was chosen first-team All-America by the Sporting News and one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award — said he was humbled to know he’d someday see his jersey No. 4 hung in the south rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s going to be special,” said Graham, a 6-foot-2 Raleigh, N.C. native. “If you look up there, you see all the KU greats, legends. I get to be up there beside them. I get to show my kids and grandkids when I bring them back here for some games.”
Self said Monday at his weekly media luncheon that he was pleased Graham was a unanimous choice for Big 12 Player of the Year, same as Frank Mason a year ago.
“I think that speaks a lot to what opposing coaches think of his value to us,” Self said of Graham. “They saw what I saw all along and I think that’s really neat for him.”
Mason, last year’s consensus national player of the year who is now with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, congratulated Graham on Sunday via social media a few hours after Self’s call.
“It’s just great,” Graham said of following in Mason’s footsteps. “It was great to see him and how he exploded his (senior) year last year. Just to follow that and me getting it … it’s a great achievement for both of us.”
Self said he was impressed that Graham, like the low-key Mason, took his Big 12 player honor honor in stride.
“I told him first-hand, ‘You’ve got to call your mom and be the one to tell her.’ He was able to do that,” Self said. “But he didn't even bat an eye. ‘Oh, Coach, that's great, thanks. Yeah, I'll call mom now.’ It was not a big deal to him, even though I know it will be about five years from now when his name is hung in the rafters.”
Graham has averaged 37.4 minutes a game this season. He’s played all 40 minutes in 12 of the last 14 games.
“I think this is who we are, this is what we've got, and guys are going to have to play minutes. I don't think that's going to change at all,” Self said of minutes of Graham and KU’s other four starters heading into the postseason. KU will play the winner of Wednesday’s 6 p.m. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game in a Big 12 quarterfinal around 2 p.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center.
“We don't have subs. I mean, who are we going to rest and how? When you think about resting guys, there's only two guys that need rest. That would be Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Devonté. Nobody else has played enough minutes to warrant needing the rest.
"We can take Svi out a little bit, but we can't take Devonté out. That's what I'm talking about where if you need to rest Frank you can play Devonté at point (last year). We don't have that luxury this year."
Graham says he’ll make sure to continue to take care of his body during the postseason.
“I feel we’ll do a good job of recovery,” Graham said of handling mega-minutes. “Probably get massages after the game, a cold tub maybe somewhere. You’ve got to eat right and hydrate.”
More on Graham honors
Here’s Sporting News’ first-team All-America squad: Graham, Trae Young (Oklahoma), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Deandre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley (Duke). … Finalists for the Cousy Award: Graham, Young, Brunson, Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Joel Berry (North Carolina).
Self thinks his No. 9-ranked Jayhawks (24-7) could be a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We shouldn't be on the 1-line. We don't deserve that. But if we were to win out and somebody else loses, then yes, you could make a case for that I guess because we've got so many good wins,” Self said. “You could certainly make a case for the 2-line because of so many good wins. And you can make a case for the 3 if we don't do well in the (Big 12) tournament. Somewhere in that range, but a lot depends on what's going to happen, obviously, this weekend.”
Azubuike slumping at line
Udoka Azubuike is 0 for 7 from the free-throw line the last four games. For the year, he’s made 42 of 101 free throws for 41.6 percent.
“We can talk all we want to. He's got to put in some reps, too, but yes, this should be a time where he can get a little bit more comfortable (at practice),” Self said. “So much of it is repetition. We shoot a lot in practice. But his routine is so (darned) long. Have you guys noticed how long his routine is? Even in practice, if he's shooting for 30 minutes, you're going to shoot half as many as what everybody else shoots. So it takes a concerted effort to spend a lot of time on it because he can shoot 25 when everybody else shoots 50.”
Self added: “All we talk about every day is his routine. He needs to do what's most comfortable to him. I'm fine with that, but he's just got to do the same thing every time. If he wants to shoot free throws differently or speed it up, it totally negates practice. Why do something that you're not going to do in a game? So you've got to do it the same way every time, and so it takes some time on his part to be able to put that much time in on it.
“He's tried hard and he was actually getting better. I thought the second one he shot at Oklahoma State (where he was 0 for 2) was really soft and just in and out, but I believe he'll make them. He’s got to stay focused on what his routine is and do it repeatedly for hundreds and hundreds of times as opposed to 50 here, 50 there. I mean, that's not going to get it.”