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Sunday, February 25, 2018

KU seniors Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk set to say goodbye together

Kansas guards Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) and Devonte' Graham (4) make conversation during the second half, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guards Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) and Devonte' Graham (4) make conversation during the second half, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Four years of maturation and memorable moments, big wins and heartbreaking losses, growing hair on their heads and faces, have come down to this.

It's Senior Night for Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk.

And thanks to Kansas' thrilling, two-point road win over Texas Tech on Saturday, which clinched the Jayhawks at least a share of an NCAA-record 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, almost all of tonight's festivities can be about properly saying goodbye to two fan favorites and best friends who have combined to deliver 114 victories and counting and, of course, four Big 12 titles.

“Senior Nights are always special,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the victory in Lubbock. “But this win today and the level that they played to all year long and how loved they are by everybody, I think will make this one of our more special Senior Nights we've had.”

Graham and Mykhailiuk followed vastly different paths to get to this point in their careers.

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Kansas guards Devonte' Graham, left, Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk can't contain themselves as they sit for a group interview during Big 12 Media Day, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

One was a 16-year-old phenom from halfway around the world who spoke little English and was projected to be gone long before now when he signed with the Jayhawks.

The other took a small detour to prep school before serendipitously joining the Jayhawks and becoming a key piece of the championship-contender puzzle for all four years of his career.

Along the way, the two became roommates and best friends, taught each other lessons about life and basketball and slowly and steadily climbed their way into KU's record books and the hearts of Kansas fans everywhere. It's only fitting that they go out together, starting alongside each other one more time at Allen Fieldhouse, and that very fact played at least a small part in both of them returning to KU for their senior seasons.

“I remember we were just joking about, 'We come together, we leave together,'” Mykhailiuk recalled on Sunday. “And it's been great to be here together and be a part of history.”

Graham's decision to come back to Kansas for what has turned out to be a monster senior season — he's currently averaging 17.6 points, 7.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game — took next to no time to contemplate. Two weeks after his junior season ended with a gut-wrenching loss to Oregon in the Elite Eight in Kansas City, Mo., Graham quietly announced on Twitter that he would be back.

Mykhailiuk, however, elected to test the NBA waters and waited until the final day he could pull his name out of the 2017 NBA Draft to announce his return.

Although the best buds gave each other plenty of space to make the decision that was best for them, Graham said it reached a point where he began to remind Mykhailiuk about their bond, hoping to entice the sharpshooting Ukrainian into a return.

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Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gives a chest bump to Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) after a three pointer late in the second half, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33).

“We definitely text about it,” Graham said with a smile. “When he was testing the waters, I was like, 'Come on, you might as well come back,' just messing with him. But it might have had a little bit to do with it.”

The fact that they both did return and, as seniors, helped keep KU's Big 12 title streak alive and are on the doorstep of one more run at the Final Four, has validated both of their careers. But the ideas of playing together all season and going out together on a night like tonight carry with them different emotions.

“He's one of my best friends on the team and we came in together,” Graham said. “I kind of taught him how to speak English and all the lingo and it's been a great four years for us two, too.”

The impact that Graham and Mykhailiuk had on the storied Kansas basketball program goes well beyond their bond as brothers.

Fellow senior Clay Young, a walk-on from nearby Lansing, who will be making his first start and giving his own senior speech tonight, called it “an honor to be in the same sentence with those guys,” because “they get it. They really do understand what it means and I think you can see that in the way they play.”

Sophomore guard Malik Newman, who sat and watched Graham and Mykhailiuk work a season ago and has had the pleasure of going to battle with them throughout the current season, called Graham and Mykhailiuk “big brothers.”

“That's the only way I can explain those guys,” Newman said. “When I'm at my highs, when I'm at my lows, those guys were always there to comfort me to make sure that I'm good. When you have two leaders like that, that care about the team and care about winning more than themselves, it's easier to play.”

And then there was Self's description of his two veterans, who he said are “so cool that they don't even have to act cool.”

“These guys are unbelievable,” Self continued. “They're unbelievable. And we don't need to think about that it's over or whatever. But for a goal to be to win 14 (Big 12 titles) in a row and all that stuff, these guys should really be recognized for reaching that at this point.”

And they will be. Before, during and even after KU's battle with Texas, Graham and Mykhailiuk will be showered with love and gratitude for the four years they gave to the program.

The culmination of it all, of course, will be those senior speeches, and it's clear that both players are looking forward to finally giving theirs.

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Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas juniors Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk arrive to Allen Fieldhouse to support the women's basketball team on Wednesday against Texas.

Mykhailiuk admitted to being nervous.

“I'm not really a great speaker, especially in front of a lot of people,” he said, noting that he would deliver his speech fully in English despite his parents' limited comprehension of the language. “Sometimes in class I have a hard time getting up and talking, but it's going to be fun. Last game in the Fieldhouse; we've got to make it memorable.”

Graham said he had not written a single thing down yet and probably was going to “freestyle it” and speak from the heart.

Newman guaranteed that all three KU seniors would cry during their speeches and Graham had no problem conceding that Newman was right.

“I'm going to cry,” Graham said. “I'm definitely going to cry. I don't know about Svi and Clay. Nah. They're going to cry. We're all going to cry. I haven't cried about it yet. I've had dreams of me crying about it during the speech, but it's definitely going to hit me (Monday).”

As for when the magnitude of all that he has accomplished at Kansas during the past four years would sink in, Graham said that has been an ongoing process and one for which he will be eternally grateful.

“Since I stepped foot on campus, I've been able to travel the world, see a lot of different places, play in a lot of big time games, meet a lot of good people, good teammates and friends,” Graham said. “It's been a great journey.”

Comments

Andy Godwin 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you to a wonderful senior class who proudly represented our University. Rock Chalk. Jayhawks for every.

Craig Alexander 3 months, 3 weeks ago

These are great seniors. I hope Svi and Devonte do well in the league. Keep working hard!

Bill Kackley 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Personal note. I took my 8 year old grade son to a KU women’s game Devonte’s freshman year and he was there watching it. I saw him siting below us and told my grandson he should go ask to have his picture taken with him and De Vonte graciously accepted. He has been my grandson’s hero every since. Problem is he can’t tell his mother as she is a Mizzou fan.

Kent Richardson 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Svi will not be 20 years old until June. He has grown this season into a better all around player, He doesn't back down from anybody and I am so proud to be a fan.

DeVonte, he is our POY and should be first or second team AA. To step up and take control is a high level accomplishment and he made it look much easier than it was. His easy manner and killer smile are infectious but make no doubt he is an assassin who gives no quarter.

Mike Kendall 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I will definitely be emotional--I am always emotional for Senior Night. This Senior Night will be special. I don't ever remember a season where I felt like I was riding a "bad ass" roller coster. I am happy that these Jayhawks secured a 14th straight Big 12 Championship. Put the Horns upside down tonight, guys--ROCK CHALK!

Allan Olson 3 months, 3 weeks ago

KU has not been blessed with one-and-done players leading the team to the Final Four. Ben McLemore, a technical redshirt one-and-done, was the last in 2012. None of the expected/projected ones' since,.i.e. Wiggins, Embid, Alexander, Oubre, Diallo, Jackson, Preston, have accomplished the feat. The NCAA tournament history tends to favor veteran teams. Thus the magnitude of this year's team's accomplishments are simply unbelievable. A thin, still learning to play together rotation, led by these seniors. Thanks Devonte and Svi for showing us and the world that college basketball is not all about hyped "future" pros. Best wishes in life after basketball, and thanks for all the memories.

Joe Joseph 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Not to nitpick, but McLemore didn't play until the 2012-2013 season (a loss to Michigan in the sweet 16, if I recall correctly).

2012 was led by senior TT and junior TR!

So your theory remains true! Bill Self's best tournament teams definitely tend to be ones led by juniors and seniors!

Bryce Landon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

And both of KU's Final Four teams in the Bill Self era were devoid of one-and-doners.

RJ King 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Joe - plus Withey and Releford - RS Juniors, the near equivalent of seniors, and juniors EJ and Kevin Young (who had the maturity of an assistant coach out there).

Humpy Helsel 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Dang. Leave it to me to be the "party pooper." Duh! There is a game tonight with a team coming in fighting for a spot in the dance with a coach who has beaten us before in a big game, and who is probably telling his team they don't make the dance unless they win tonight. Want to spoil this party, lose tonight and and the shine comes right off of those senior speeches. Then, well, crap. We would have to go to Stillwater (I saw the O8 team lose there and haven't been back because of the reoccurring episodes of PTSD) to win outright. Believe me, we don't want to have to do that. Come on, guys. Sober up. Texas has something to prove tonight and if one thing we know about this year's team is their margin of error is much smaller at home than in the past 13 years. Take care of business and then we celebrate.

Tom Jones 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Tech has two extremely difficult games left, too, Humpy. Including one of the (if not the) longest trip you can make in the conference to play WV tonight.

Marius Rowlanski 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Self has never lost on senior night. I'm sure winning the BIG 12 out right on senior night is more than enough motivation. Plus, that's not all we are playing for. If we finish this season right, a #1 seed is still a possibility.

Richard Duran 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Shaka Smart will never beat Bill Self again.

Bryce Landon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=22584940

The story behind the "Beware of the Phog" banner in Allen Fieldhouse.

Clarence Haynes 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Great character story! One from Cherkasy and the other from Raleigh meet in kansas to become a force!

Harlan Hobbs 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice story, Mr. Kackley. Thanks for sharing the personal moment.

Also, nice summation Clarence and thanks to Bryce for the link to the "Beware of the Phog" story. As much as I have followed KU basketball over the years, this is the first time that I learned the true origin of it.

Have a great Senior Night to all of the team, but especially Devonte, Svi, and Clay Young.

Tony Bandle 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Questions of the day, besides the seniors, who are indeed leaving, who else is leaving [Malik?, Sam?] and who is staying [Vicktory?, Dok?].

2] Wasn't Teddy Roosevelt the President the last time Kansas lost on Senior Night??

3] Regarding Bryce's Phog Sign origin, do you think if I brought in a bed sheet that read "MISSOURI SUCKS" they'd hang it next to the Phog banner??

4] Didn't Wayne Simeon's senior speech last longer than John Glenn's orbits around the Earth?

5] I thought Svi was going to be 21 but whose counting.

6] Wiggins, Embiid, Oubre, J.Jackson, Preston....that actually would be a pretty damn good team!

7] Fearless Forecast......KU in a closer than expected game 79 - 74.

Thomas Green 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I can’t help but think this team has had a lot of pressure on it this season. The pressure created by not having Preston was plenty enough, but the pressure of 14 had to be a big weight! They have dealt with and conquered that in magnificent fashion. We know now they are mentally and physically tough beyhold belief! My hope is now that the pressure is off, they can seriously let it hang out and play loose! That combined with the confidence and toughness they know they have seems to be to be a great recipe for success moving into March! No fear and nothing to loose. Sometimes the least likely group of players in sports can do the most amazing things! A big congratulations to the seniors! You have played and carried yourselves with great class! Let’s go Jayhawks! big concradulations to the seniors!

Thomas Green 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Oops, I of course meant congratulations...not what came out!

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