Kansas basketball coach Bill Self never has talked much about a love of comic books, but he dropped a doozy of a comic reference earlier this week when describing the play of junior Devonte’ Graham.
Self called Graham’s season thus far, “rock solid,” and discussed him settling into a supporting role behind national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III and ferocious freshman Josh Jackson.
“I think he's played well,” said Self of Graham, KU’s third-leading scorer (13.3 points per game), who also ranks in KU’s Top 3 in 3-point percentage (.392), free-throw percentage (.725), assists (106) and steals (36). “He probably hasn't stood out in large part because Frank has probably had the ball more, but he's been solid. He's been rock solid. He's shooting a pretty decent percentage beyond the arc. He's had some great defensive moments for us and (been) solid, kind of the Robin as opposed to Batman.”
Anyone familiar with Self’s DC Comics reference knows there were times when it was Robin, not the Caped Crusader, who came through and saved the day for the dynamic duo. And that also has been the case for Graham and the Jayhawks plenty of times this season.
Although he enters today’s 1 p.m. game at Texas Tech having led the Jayhawks in scoring just once (Jan. 21 vs. Texas), Graham also has led Kansas in assists nine times, steals eight times and once each in rebounding and blocked shots.
“I think he's had a really good year, but probably not the year that you would maybe think after the way he finished last year,” Self said. “He was the best player in the (2016) Big 12 tournament and then he played well in the NCAA Tournament, so there may be the appearance that he may go to a whole other level, and I think he has really improved, I just think that the way the ball is being distributed now, he probably hasn't had as many chances.”
Chances were not tough to come by for Graham in the Jayhawks’ first meeting with the Red Raiders. He made 8 of 14 shots, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range, and added four assists, 3 rebounds and a steal while playing a game-high 37 minutes.
Graham repeatedly has said that his concerns about this year’s team go beyond individual numbers. Like all of his teammates, he only wants to win and is willing to play whatever role puts Kansas in the best position to come out on top. He proved that by discussing KU’s late 16-2 run that knocked out Tech in the first meeting without so much as mentioning his strong individual performance.
“It was a real good game here until late,” Graham recalled. “They’re long and athletic, they’ve got some good guards and it’s gonna be hard to win down there in Lubbock. It always is.”
With Mason leading the Big 12 in scoring, that, more often than not, has made Graham more of a distributor, picking timely spots to shoot and score and deferring to Mason, Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk and even Landen Lucas the rest of the time.
Regardless of the numbers — his or those of his teammates — Graham has been pleased with his play through the season’s first 24 games, in large part because Kansas has won 21 of those.
“I feel like we do have a really good team, we gel really well on and off the court,” he said. “We like being around each other, like any other team, but everybody wants to see each other do good and we’ve just got a lot of competitors who really want to win and love being here, love playing for the university.”