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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Keegan

Column: KU guard Graham big key to success

Kansas guard Devonté Graham slides past center Hunter Mickelson during a practice game between current and former KU players Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at a Bill Self Basketball Camp.

Kansas guard Devonté Graham slides past center Hunter Mickelson during a practice game between current and former KU players Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at a Bill Self Basketball Camp.

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Five themes have dominated the offseason for a Kansas University basketball program that has so much experience, balance and talent that expectations run even higher than usual, which says a lot.

No. 1: Jitters surround Cheick Diallo’s eligibility status.

No. 2: Optimism abounds regarding Wayne Selden Jr.’s junior year in the week of his big performance in the World University Games.

No. 3: Frank Mason III just keeps getting better, playing bigger, tougher.

No. 4: Perry Ellis figures to become the Kansas University basketball program’s best senior since Sherron Collins.

No. 5: An additional year of maturity for Svi Mykhailiuk, 18, sends the imagination sprinting over what big things he can contribute.

Meanwhile, just as much a key as anyone to KU’s success, sophomore guard Devonté Graham, flies under the radar. Is this the year that the pass-first point guard blessed with a soft shooting touch takes charge and makes sure the ball ends up in the right hands, even if that means barking at teammates who put the ball elsewhere?

One of coach Bill Self’s stated goals for the upcoming season is for the team to play faster. Another involves doing a better job of feeding the post. Graham can make both happen.

A starting lineup consisting of Graham, Mason, Selden and big sprinters Ellis and Diallo could score a ton of easy buckets on the break and prevent them at the other end in transition. That sort of speed could exhaust most teams trying to keep up. Looking at what’s left on the bench to spell them could downright demoralize opponents.

If those five start, Carlton Bragg, Hunter Mickelson, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor would be available to lend rebounds, fouls and energy in the frontcourt and Svi, Brannen Greene and Lagerald Vick could help on the perimeter.

“You can sub somebody out and the next person can fill that same spot just as good, even better than the starter,” Graham said of the team’s depth.

A faster pace suits a deep team.

“That excites all of us,” Graham said. “We all like to run, get up and down. Nobody really likes to play slow.”

Graham said he has spent a lot of time talking with assistant director of student-athlete development Aaron Miles about how to lead a team and “how to get people certain shots.”

Miles excelled at feeding the post and can educate Graham and Mason on how to do it better.

Playing both small guards together can make KU a more efficient team on the run and in the halfcourt.

“You look at it the last two years, we’ve played with one guard, and that seems kind of weird,” Self said “but Wayne coming was a prototypical two guard, but when he got here, he was really a three. (Andrew Wiggins) was a three. Kelly Oubre was a three, and those guys weren’t natural as far as just being able to feed the post and play the angles and things like that. So I think we’ll be much better at that this year, and I think we’ll be a much better passing team, especially because we’ll play two little guards a lot together.”

Both little guards will be better versions of themselves.

“My knowledge of the game, that’s one big area,” Graham said when asked to explain how he has improved. “There’s a lot more to it than people actually realize. I think I’ve gotten stronger, faster. My knee (which sidelined him from playing in the World University Games) is healthy and feeling good. Also, I think my jump shot has improved.”

Not that it needed to much. Graham, who led KU with 17 points and five steals in a season-ending loss to Wichita State, shot .425 from three last season and Mason shot .429. They have the long shots covered. Now, setting up teammates for more shots closer to the basket becomes an extra challenge.

Ideally, KU would have one more small guard, but that’s a greedy way to look at it. Nobody in the country feels sorry for the Jayhawks as their roster stands now, even less so if Diallo gains eligibility.

Comments

Chris Shaw 6 years ago

I'm sure some will disagree with me, but I think Graham "Staying Healthy" is the #1 Key to success to this upcoming season. Yes, I understand Diallo's eligibility concern, but IMO if Diallo doesn't play...You will still have Bragg, Mickelson, Lucas, and Traylor all helping by committee throughout the season. Not ideal, but it's the "Next Man Up" philosophy since KU is pretty deep in the "Big" department.

With Graham, he is the only ball handling guard that KU has other than Mason. Vick is Raw and I'm still not convinced SVI and Selden being interchangeable in the backcourt is a good thing.

As we saw this past summer...things clicked with Mason and Nic Moore in the backcourt as ball handling guards with ability to pressure out beyond the 3 point line. Now, I'm not saying Nic Moore is the best player, but he gave KU a really good look alongside Mason as ball handling guards to get in those gaps and creases that created opportunities for Selden and the Big's (Something Selden was unable to do the previous two years playing along side Wiggins and Oubre at the 2).

If Graham can stay healthy and be a big bigger, quicker, more efficient scoring option than Nic Moore...I think Graham is the #1 Key to KU's success for the upcoming season.

He has to Stay Healthy! Maybe Vick would surprise us, but honestly I would rather Vick surprise us with great spot minutes and a healthy Graham.

Suzi Marshall 6 years ago

During the WUGs, this site had several comments along the lines you cite. Moore did provide a fuller view of what the faster-play backcourt would look like with Graham.

Mickelson's performance eased a lot of concern many had about our 5 spot. However, as Keegan cites, Diallo runs the floor and the name of the game this year is...like our football team's Air Raid Offense ... play fast.

Chris Shaw 6 years ago

I was one of them! :) I've actually been preaching it for 2 years now since Wayne Selden came in and was playing the 2 along side Wiggins and Oubre. That's why IMO the dynamic in the backcourt was drastically off and I was not a fan of Selden. Fans who kept trying to compare Selden to Marcus Smart were way off. IMO the scouts and their analysis of Wayne Selden coming out of High School were way off. Selden is finally at a position where he is comfortable.

Walter Serafin 6 years ago

Several points:

1- I hope Coach Self changes the way he handles his lineup. He always seems to reduce his number of available players to around eight or nine. This winds up exhausting his players and reducing the experience of his backups. Then he's surprised by guys like Hunter Mickelson who actually is a very talented defender! And with his quick hands does a decent job of rebounding and getting the ball back up into the hoop. I would like to see coach Self do some platooning or at least more frequent subbing this year in order to keep his players fresher.

  1. I get down a bit when I read of all these 3,4, & 5 star rated players going elsewhere without giving serious consideration to Kansas. I mean I'm hopeful that Diallo is cleared by the NCAA but lately it seems that the "Cliff Alexander" questionable eligibility types are mostly what we're attracting. Ben MacLemore, Jamari Traylor, the aforementioned Cliff Alexander and now Cheick Diallo. All great young men and talented players but still the eligibility issues always seem to accompany them.

When the heck are we going to be able to tell some top players "Sorry kid but we're full up with the best of the best!"? I guess in the end that's what makes Bill Self such an awesome coach because he gets the most out of his four-year players.

3- Frank Mason is the heart and soul of the Jayhawks! No doubt about it! I haven't seen a kid that the Jayhawks revolved around this much since Danny Manning. Diminutive in size but gigantic in leadership! Huge shoulders with which to carry his team! If you look up the word "STUD" in the dictionary you'll find a photo of Frank Mason III right next to it.

4- The Jayhawks also have some size as well as quickness this year. Look at our returning 4s and 5s along with our new kids!

I'm all done for today! Rock Chalk and Go Royals! The only thing wrong with the Royals is that they have to play in the armpit of the world; The state of Missouri, ugh!

I didn't want to lower myself by saying that but I happened to hear some dumbbell from Missouri on the radio dogging Jayhawks Football while his football was busy later on losing to Georgia without breaking double digits in scoring. LOL!!! I should exercise better self control.

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