Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Devonte’ Graham’s decision to return keeps expectations high for KU’s backcourt

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a late, second-half three-pointer next to Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a late, second-half three-pointer next to Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.


After enjoying the luxury of having one of the best backcourts in college basketball during the 2016-17 season, the Kansas Jayhawks no longer have to worry about a drop-off in 2017-18.

Junior guard Devonte’ Graham’s decision to return to Kansas for his senior season — announced Sunday via Twitter — not only solidified Graham as the face and unquestioned leader of the program next season, but also delivered clarity to the make-up of KU’s backcourt.

“Obviously experience,” said KU coach Bill Self in an interview with the Journal-World when asked what area Graham’s decision impacted the most. “But not having a primary ball-handler would’ve been the biggest thing we would’ve had to tighten up. And we’re still gonna try to sign another guard. But to have two players who we feel are legitimate, all-conference type guards in there already, in Devonte’ and Malik (Newman), is pretty comforting.”

Even if the Jayhawks don’t sign another player — which seems unlikely — they now will enter the offseason with proven talent, experience and depth at the guard position.

With Graham running the point and Mississippi State transfer Newman eligible to join the lineup, the Jayhawks have what Self believes is a solid one-two punch. Add to that the presence of junior-to-be Lagerald Vick, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2016-17 and has room to grow, and you’re looking at a talented trio of tough, athletic, explosive guards.

Svi Mykhailiuk, who started next to Graham for most of the 2016-17 season, also may return, though, according to Self, the Ukrainian guard has not yet made a decision about his future.

If Mykhailiuk returns, he likely again would challenge for a starting spot, leaving either him or Vick to come off the bench.

And that’s to say nothing of KU’s pursuit of five-star point guard Trevon Duval, who is expected to decide between Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Kansas and Seton Hall sometime this month.

Duval, the No. 3-ranked player in the 2017 class according to, certainly would push to start in KU’s backcourt next season, and his addition would add even more depth to the guard position, which also will include Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe (eligible at the end of first semester) and incoming freshman Marcus Garrett, a 6-foot-5, combo guard from Skyline High in Dallas.

Even if the Jayhawks don’t land Duval, Self said he still would like to sign another ball-handling guard in the 2017 class, something he would have done regardless of whether Graham decided to stay or leave.

The fact that Graham is staying brings an added level of excitement and keeps expectations high and Self said he thought Graham’s front-row seat for national player of the year Frank Mason III’s monster senior season had an impact on Graham’s decision.

“I think it did,” Self said. “Devonte’s gonna graduate and he’s got his priorities right. It’s a very guard-heavy draft and putting the ball in his hands more next year and letting him show what he can do can only help his stock.... “As well as he’s done, I think he knows there’s another level he can take his game to and he’s excited to do that.”


Jim Erickson 4 years, 9 months ago

Obviously HCBS knows more than I do, but I'm surprised he is using that last scholarship to pursue another guard. Assuming Svi comes back, the guard spot seems set with established guys like Graham, Newman, and Svi as starters with Vick coming off the bench. In the post, it seems that we have Preston and Azibuke, and after that it's Lightfoot and Coleby. I think Preston and Azibuke have great upside, but neither is an established NCAA big man, nor is Lightfoot or Coleby. REALLY hope I'm wrong, but it seems like a stretch to assume all of those guys will hit the ground running. I still think we could attract a graduate transfer big man or a OAD-type ready to contribute immediately (Knox & Bamba are available).

Mike Greer 4 years, 9 months ago

There is, of course, the off chance that Coach knows or has an inkling about something the rest of us don't. Just sayin. But yes, it would appear we need a big more than anyone else. From what I gather Preston is not a drop in for Azibuke, and Lightfoot certainly isn't, which leaves Coleby as the lone backup.

John Strayer 4 years, 9 months ago

If Self is short on big men, I think he has gotten more comfortable with playing a 4 out 1 in line up after this past season. Everyone seems to be forgetting about the freed up scholly from Evan Maxwell leaving after first semester. I think before the lawson bros transfer, KU had 3 scholly's available...4 if Svi elects to go to NBA. I think Coach Self knows what he's doing.

Jim Erickson 4 years, 9 months ago

Matt-Am I correct in my scholarship count? 1-D Graham, 2-M Newman, 3-L Vick, 4-B Preston, 5-U Azibuke, 6-D Coleby, 7-M Lightfoot, 8-S Cunliffe, 9-MGarrett,10-K Lawson, 11-D Lawson, 12-Svi (assuming he comes back... He's not projected high). 13-TBD.

Matt Tait 4 years, 9 months ago

That's how I have it...

No. 13 will likely go to Jeremiah Tilmon, Shakur Juiston, Trevon Duval, Thomas Allen OR another ball-handling guard.

Not sure how or if they could get it done, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they found a way to get two from the aforementioned list.

Jonathan Allison 4 years, 9 months ago

"Not sure how or if they could get it done, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they found a way to get two from the aforementioned list."

I would like for you to expound on this. Are you suggesting one of the following items is likely:

  1. Svi not returning
  2. Preston not Eligible (likely wouldn't know until too late)
  3. McCarthy Hall investigation eliminates someone.
  4. other unexpected departure, such as 3rd strike against L. Vick?

I can only see KU adding one more player because I would think Svi will return and no other departures. Self has to be looking for someone who will make their mark in 2017-18, be it a quality ball-handling guard or a ready to contribute big man.

Could KU be waiting for Duval to announce before they formally extend a scholarship offer to anyone else?

Matt Tait 4 years, 9 months ago

I wasn't referencing any of the four points you mentioned. I'm just saying that these coaches are sharp and they know how to get things done if they want them to get done. Not always, of course, but they're awfully good about thinking outside of the box.

If that means a player who can pay his own way for school does that so KU can free up another scholarship or something like that, I think you have to consider it if multiple top-tier guys still want to come to KU.

In football, they do it all the time with the blue shirt and gray shirt thing. That's not really that popular in basketball, but I'm sure there are similar methods and loopholes.

I haven't heard anything like that. I'm merely speculating and saying nothing would surprise me.

Buck Bukaty 4 years, 9 months ago

Word has it that Illinois confirmed today that East St. Louis (IL) High senior center Jeremiah Tilmon was granted his release to reopen his recruitment as a result of their coach being fired.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 9 months ago

Pursuing another g could be about realizing we are 2 deep along the front court but not the back combined with the realization that the NCAA is becoming more and more guard oriented. That and the fact that we don't have any true ball handling guard vs lots of combos which has also shown itself to be very important at this level.

Waylon Cook 4 years, 9 months ago

Seems something is up sleeve on big man front and Bill is showing no cards.

Jonathan Allison 4 years, 9 months ago

Should we expect announcements from Svi and Jackson tonight at the awards banquet?

Jackson I think should announce it tonight. Svi may still be weighing his options. I think that he would benefit from declaring and then returning. Would he be invited to the combine? I would hope so.

It was stated on the Devonte decision that Self had asked him if he wanted to announce it at the banquet and he preferred to make the announcement on twitter. Self plans to comment briefly on it tonight. So maybe we'll hear from Svi and Josh tonight.

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