Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tom Keegan: Devonte’ Graham makes tough transformation as senior

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas head coach Bill Self walk arm in arm down the hallway to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-72 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at United Supermarkets Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas head coach Bill Self walk arm in arm down the hallway to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-72 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at United Supermarkets Arena.


In watching Texas Tech hammer Kansas on the boards, handle all that comes with playing in a pressure-packed environment and come away with a 12-point victory in Allen Fieldhouse on the second day of January, a thought came to mind.

It was as if I were watching a Bill Self basketball team playing in the visiting uniforms in Allen Fieldhouse.

And on the day Kansas clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title, toughness was cited by the coach of another tough team as the primary reason.

“I have a lot of respect for how tough they are,” Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. “In our program, we pride ourselves on mental toughness. And I’d like to think that people think we’re a pretty tough team, but I don’t think Kansas gets enough credit for how tough they are.”

The two coaches go back to the 1999-2000 season when Beard was in his first assignment as a head coach at Fort Scott Community College and Self was in his second stop as a head coach at Tulsa. Self recruited one of Beard’s players.

“Their identity is their talent and their Hall of Fame coach and their great home court, but they also have a big-time toughness to them,” Beard said. “That’s what coach Self’s teams were known for at Tulsa, and it’s almost like when the players get better, you forget that that’s still Bill Self.”

Any discussion of the team’s toughness starts with Self and quickly shifts to Devonte’ Graham, who has made the shift from riding shotgun beside Frank Mason III to steering better than anyone could have expected — well, almost anyone. If Self didn’t think Graham was capable of doing it, he wouldn’t have pushed him so hard to become a different player.

Graham’s shooting touch and range made him the perfect complement to Mason, who was so skilled at breaking down defenses with exceptional driving ability. When Mason didn’t finish, he knew he had Graham waiting for the ball to drain a 3-pointer. Now, nobody is there to set up Graham.

“He doesn’t get any shots off the catch, hardly,” Self said. “He’s had to go create shots on his own and that really isn’t his game. He’s had to learn to do that. He’s never been a guy who really got to the free-throw line. He’s learned to do that this year. His assists-to-turnovers (2.7-to-1 ratio) is ridiculous, considering how many plays he’s got to make at the end of the clock. I’m really proud of him.”

A coach doesn’t build toughness in a player by telling him he’s tough. He does it by telling him he’s not and making him believe that the only reason he’s not doing something is because he lacks the toughness to do it. By setting the bar so high for his players, Self shows he’s confident in them, even if what he tells them at times is not easy on the ears.

As long as they play aggressively in trying to become the players he believes they can become, Self is more likely to live with their mistakes.

Passive players don’t make as many mistakes as aggressive ones. They also don’t improve as rapidly because they aren’t making as many discoveries. They aren’t trying new things and learning that they can, in fact, excel in areas that used to be considered weaknesses.

“He’s one of the best players in college basketball,” Beard said of Graham. “He’s one of the best shooters. He controls his team, plays intelligent defense, stays out of foul trouble, then makes plays late in the game defensively. He’s a great passer. He’s kind of come up the ranks. ... They've got guys who play 40 and 39 minutes. Their strength coach (Andrea Hudy) must be a magician."

After a full season of playing a new role on a team that has nobody else who can play his position, Graham has developed into a player without weaknesses. And don't let his smile and friendly demeanor fool you. Toughness is his greatest strength.


Dyrk Dugan 3 years, 1 month ago

Devonté Graham; Big 12 Player of the Year. Even if he doesn’t win it, he would win MVP for sure. What an incredible transformation in leadership, toughness, playing style; it’s remarkable. What a legacy he will leave; we will miss him so much. Plenty to play for this season, but to Devonte’; simply, thank you.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

If Graham isn't BIG 12 Player of the Year, then they certainly need to change the criteria.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 1 month ago

I know he will never say it, but I am positive this record was something that Coach Self absolutely wanted because it indicated a consistent, long term flow of excellent team performance for almost a decade and a half.

Not unlike Joe D's 56 game hitting streak, Brook's Robinson's consecutive game streak, Hornsby's ..424 season batting average, 14 consecutive conference titles will never be approached again [unless we make it 15 next season].

Tom Jones 3 years, 1 month ago

And we very likely will. Will be a young team, but (especially if Dok stays) one of the most talented ones Bill has had here. And a lot of the new faces are guys that are already learning the system, so that helps. A lot.

Joe Joseph 3 years, 1 month ago

I'll be shocked of Dok leaves. I mean this genuinely: Where is he going to play if he does leave?

Love Dok - he's been really good for KU this season, but Dok's current game does not translate to the NBA at all. For a 7-footer, who can't shoot (at all) to get any PT in the league, he needs to be a great defender/shot-blocker and/or a great rebounder. For his size, Dok is no better than average at either.

No doubt he could find a team somewhere, but it won't be in the NBA next year. No way. I'd be shocked.

Tom Jones 3 years, 1 month ago

If he continues to improve through the tourney, he would likely get drafted and he could certainly go play in Europe if he wanted.

But even if he's showing up on draft boards at that point, I'd be surprised if he left, too. Not shocked, but surprised. He'd be a lottery pick with another college season and he seems to like college a lot.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

Hope you are correct Tony. When I look at Gonzaga winning 17 of the last 18 conference championships in the West Coast Conference, they might be the ones who could pass us.

Mike Riches 3 years, 1 month ago

Gonzaga is probably the greatest threat out there, but the WCC has definitely improved with the addition of BYU (a school that is definitely capable of winning the conference at least once a decade) and with the recent improvement of St. Mary's. Not to mention of Mark Few ever decides to leave, who knows how dominant they'll continue to be. And honestly, who knows where our steak will stop? We could be at 20+ years before we get dethroned. While I don't disagree with you at all about Gonzaga, I think Tony's right. This record will very likely stand through our lives and our childrens'.

Tom Jones 3 years, 1 month ago

The WAC's not a major conference, though, so even if they did pass us, our record would still be more impressive and mindboggling.

Mike Greer 3 years, 1 month ago

It's difficult to imagine how next seasons team will perform with the anticipated point guard(s), either not eligible this season or still in high school. We had previews of Frank and Devonte, so we knew in advance they could handle, the most important spot in Coach's offense. I know we have good talent waiting in the wings, but just like not everyone is a Frank Mason, you don't just clone a Devonte Graham either. It will be interesting next season to see who stays and the makeup of the team without Devonte and Svi.

Steve Quatrocky 3 years, 1 month ago

Hey, dont forget that Devonte showed all the tools in his Freshman season when he filled in for an injured Frank Mason, showed that he was as good as Frank at running the point. Imagine what his career stats would be if Frank wasnt here and Devonte ran it all four years, and Devonte clearly deferred a lot of scoring to Frank last year.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

I remember hearing comments that perhaps Graham was a better overall player than Frank Mason during Mason's junior year. I've always thought that they complemented each other perfectly.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 1 month ago

I really like Chris Beard, and I know that he and Coach Self are very good friends. Sorry to see TTU struggle a little down the stretch because they are a very good team.

As for Dok, the only thing that would keep him from declaring for the draft is his free throw shooting. A 7 footer with his skills will be an attractive option for a lot of teams, and he will make millions in the process when his time does come.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 1 month ago

Shaquille O'Neal had a successful NBA career, and he didn't exactly light it up at the foul line.

Joe Joseph 3 years, 1 month ago

I get what you're saying, but Shaq was a freak athlete and phenomenal defensive/rebounding presence. Dok is an athlete, but he lacks the quick-twitch muscles that enabled the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard to have immensely successful NBA careers despite being relatively poor shooters.

I'd argue it's far more than Dok's FT shooting ability that's going to keep him out of the league - at least for a while. (Which is good for KU fans!)

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

Well, either did Wilt. It ain't the same thing.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

I don't think free-throw shooting will factor in all that much. I think he should go to the NBA combine and get advice from the top NBA coaches. I'm not sure that Udoka is even a draft pick next year but someone might take a chance on him late in the 2nd.

I would really like to see Udoka have a successful career in basketball. I think playing another year at Kansas will only help him achieve that.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 1 month ago

There seems to be a mistaken notion that players develop in college and NBA teams look for developed players to draft. The NBA still drafts potential and players they feel confident they can develop.

Dok is 7' - 280! That is the epitome of potential but doesn't end there. He dropped a lot of weight when he got here = work ethic = extra development potential.

Dok went from 40% FT and 1-8 to 7-10 in a matter of weeks = we = edp.

Dok is 19 and has been playing a really short time = edp.

He definitely should go to the combine to be evaluated. His great character should shine through there as well. Maybe he's not taken as high as Jojo but I see zero chance he isn't drafted in the 1st round.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

First round in the draft? Being 7 foot in today's NBA isn't nearly enough to get drafted. The NBA hasn't been a center dominated sport for about 2 decades.

I also don't agree that 7 foot 280 pounds is the epitome of potential... Athleticism is today's measure of potential. There is a reason why Cheick Diallo has a seat on the bench with New Orleans. It's also why Vick will get drafted before Udoka.

I originally stated that he should go to the draft combine and talk to top coaches. If those coaches tell him that he is a lottery or even first round pick then, by all means, jump to the NBA.

If he returns to Kansas, Coach Self will have another year to improve his draft pick I think you are underestimating not only Self and the entire staff such as our strength coach if you don't think another year cannot only help his game but also and maybe even more importantly, his maturity.

Brian Leslie 3 years, 1 month ago

Udoka is not a good rebounder for his size. He's not an especially good shot blocker. He has got to be really good to great at both of those things to have a shot at the NBA. The only examples of 7-footers in the league who absolutely cannot shoot (I don't think Dok is quite 7-foot, by the way) are exceptional rebounders and defenders. The only reason DeAndre Jordan would be compared to Udoka is free throw shooting; Jordan is much better at everything else, including being taller and bigger and faster.

Udoka has almost no post moves. His rebounds per minute are more in Jamari Traylor territory. He would be the worst shooter in the entire NBA. He is a really nice college player who is our most improved player, so I'm not down on him by any means, but with his limitations, he has got to have the kind of year where he is a no-brainer 1st-team all-conference kind of player. He needs to have a 17 & 10 season (with emphasis on the 10) before he has a shot at the NBA. I don't see an NBA team wasting a draft pick on him knowing that he is unlikely to be productive in his first 3 years.

In today's NBA, teams would absolutely tear Udoka up by getting him to switch on picks (or worse, try to fight through a pick). He would be fouling every two minutes. He's just not ready yet, and the made-up metric of "EDP" still doesn't leave him productive in the 2-3 seasons of a guaranteed contract. This isn't 1972.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

Brian gets it. Maybe somebody with a late 2nd round pick might pick up Udoka as a project or maybe signing on with a team after the draft is over.

Players do develop in college. Ask the Morris brothers or maybe TRob none of whom would have been drafted after their freshman season anywhere near a lottery pick.

The statement that it is a mistaken notion that players develop in college is patently ridiculous.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree Dirk. For KU's sake, I hope that I am wrong. However, when you weigh the options of instant big money versus coming back and risking an injury, there are very few individuals who have turned down the money.

If he goes to the combine, I am confident that he will get positive reports from the various scouts, and given Bill Self's reputation for helping his players get good information, my bet is that Udoka will enter the draft. Between now and then, everything is simply speculation, which typically doesn't have much value. To be continued.......

Len Shaffer 3 years, 1 month ago

I think you guys are right. So we just have to win the national title this year and wish Dok the best as he embarks on his NBA career ...

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

At this point in time, Udoka might embark on a tour of Europe. There is likely to be an open spot on the Bosnian team after Preston leaves for the NBA.

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