Some around the NBA may have found themselves caught a little off guard the past couple of weeks by the summer success of Los Angels Lakers second-round pick Svi Mykhailiuk.
L.A. assistant coach Miles Simon is not one of those people.
After Mykhailiuk scored 15 points and the Lakers improved to 4-0 at the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night, Simon, the team’s summer head coach, said “nothing” the rookie out of Kansas does falls within the realm of unexpected for him.
“I worked in TV nine or 10 years. The last four or five I worked in the Big 12 Conference. I’ve seen Svi since he was a freshman — seen him in practice, seen him in games,” Simon said of the 21-year-old Mykhailiuk, while speaking with reporters. “It’s not a surprise that he puts the ball on the floor. He’s a smooth athlete. He moves up and down really fluidly on the offensive end. He has a good handle, he can create his own shot. I’ve been seeing those things before he got to the pros and now he’s just going to show everybody else what he can do.”
The Ukrainian guard’s offensive versatility became a popular topic following the Lakers’ win over the Clippers, which included a third-quarter step-back jumper he drained after twice crossing over his defender, Thomas Wimbush.
A video of the smooth highlight posted on the Lakers’ Instagram account garnered a like from Mykhailiuk’s most influential teammate, LeBron James, and the following assessment from a Laker who witnessed it in person, Josh Hart.
“Oh it was nasty,” said Hart, a second-year guard with L.A. “He had a lot of sauce on that one. I was out there on the wing, like, ‘What the hell? OK!’”
As those who followed Mykhailiuk closely at KU might have guessed, he didn’t sound even a smidge braggadocious while describing his highlight.
“I handled the ball and the guy just started pushing me, so I had to put on a couple moves and just score,” Mykhailiuk plainly stated, a couple days after signing his rookie contract, reportedly for three years and $4.6 million.
Hart (22.5 points per game) and Mykhailiuk (14.0 points) have carried the Lakers’ offense in Las Vegas. The rookie from Kansas, again predictably, downplayed his recent showings and any personal expectations he had for the summer league stage.
“Just play basketball and whatever happens happens. I never thought about anything,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just come on the court and play.”
The No. 47 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mykhailiuk hasn’t been flawless in Las Vegas, but he is making people notice his potential to stick in the NBA. Thus far he has scored at least 15 points in three of his team’s four games:
• July 7 vs. Philadelphia: 17 points, 6 of 11 FGs, 4 of 8 3-pointers, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 0 turnovers in 23 minutes
• July 8 vs. Chicago: 15 points, 6 of 12 FGs, 2 of 6 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover in 22 minutes
• July 10 vs. New York: 9 points, 3 of 12 FGs, 3 of 9 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 turnover in 25 minutes
• July 12 vs. L.A. Clippers: 15 points, 5 of 7 FGs, 1 of 3 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers in 24 minutes
Simon said he doesn’t even know why Mykhailiuk was still available so late in the second round, especially after what the four-year Jayhawk showed the Lakers during the pre-draft process.
“Svi just came out and impressed in the draft workouts and he positioned himself,” Simon said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
It’s difficult to foresee at this point just how significant a role Mykhailiuk will play for the Lakers when the regular season arrives. The team loaded up on veterans upon winning the NBA summer with its signing of James, and L.A. already had talented young guards in place. More roster moves could come, but right now Mykhailiuk would likely play behind shooting guards Kyle Kuzma and Hart, and perhaps Lance Stephenson, too.
Asked what type of impact he envisions for his first year, Mykhailiuk didn’t seem particularly worried about his status.
“It’s far from now. I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “I’m just thinking bout summer league right now.”
By the time the actual season opens in October, Mykhailiuk said he wants to improve at “literally everything” as a basketball player.
“Just try to become a better all-around player, improve my handles, shot, creating,” he shared. “Just everything.”
The Lakers and Mykhailiuk will play in the Vegas quarterfinals Sunday.
Svi Mykhailiuk arrived at the NBA Summer League ready to score.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ second-round draft pick from Kansas put up 15 points and knocked down three of his 6 3-point attempts in his exhibition debut Monday night at the California Classic, in Sacramento, Calif.
The smooth shots from beyond the arc couldn’t have surprised anyone, but the flashes of athleticism from the 6-foot-8 guard likely opened the eyes of those who didn’t follow him closely with the Jayhawks.
Mykhailiuk finished strong above the rim on a couple of occasions during L.A.’s 98-93 loss to Sacramento at Golden 1 Center. One of his dunks came in transition, but another materialized in the half court.
The Kings’ Justin Jackson flew at Mykhailiuk when the Lakers rookie caught a pass on the wing, and the 21-year-old Ukrainian blew past his defender and rose up for a powerful two-handed jam before No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III could think about contesting it.
“That I can shoot real well gives me more opportunities to go to the rim,” Mykhailiuk told reporters afterward, “because people are going to close out on me hard, and I think I have good enough handles to go to the rim.”
It seemed the early-summer scouting report on Mykhailiuk might not have accounted for his agility and bounce — even though Sacramento guard and former KU teammate Frank Mason III (16 points, nine assists) could’ve warned the Kings.
“I think they might change later,” a grinning Mykhailiuk said of opponents’ expectations for defending him. “But it is what it is.”
Like fellow rookie Moe Wagner, Mykhailiuk, according to Lakers summer coach Miles Simon, showed some positive signs and played relaxed.
“Svi knocks down those 3s. In the fourth quarter he looked really good,” Simon added. “Defensively, moving his feet really well.”
His comfort level wasn’t inhibited by the NBA 3-point line extending a little more than a foot farther back than the college arc.
“Yeah, it’s not that far,” Mykhailiuk said. “But it’s just a little bit of an adjustment, and I think I’ll be fine.”
Wagner, who has known his new Laker teammate since their days of matching up in Europe, expected Mykhailiuk’s shooting display.
“That dude doesn’t miss,” Wagner said. “I’m not surprised. It’s fun to be on the court with him.”
A Mason 3-pointer (he made two of three in the win) ended the Lakers’ chances in the final minute.
“We lost — that’s not a good thing — but I think we competed hard,” Mykhailiuk said. “They made tough shots in the end and I think we’re gonna be better tomorrow.”
L.A. takes on Miami Tuesday night at 9, on ESPN2.
The Lakers’ other KU rookie, Malik Newman, missed the opener due to a left foot sprain.
Early one morning this past March, Rob Pelinka’s phone rang. The Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager knew whose voice to expect when he accepted the call.
As usual, it was Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. His thoughts on a player the organization had monitored closely since the previous year’s NBA Draft Combine couldn’t wait.
Both Johnson and Pelinka knew of University of Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk’s 3-point stroke. But Johnson needed to revisit the 2018 draft prospect with his colleague again, upon seeing the job Mykhailiuk did defending ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Duke.
“At five in the morning, he called me and said, ‘That showed me a lot about him — his toughness, his mentality,’” Pelinka recalled Tuesday, as Johnson fist-bumped Mykhailiuk during the Lakers’ introductory press conference for the Ukrainian guard and Moe Wagner, first-round pick out of Michigan.
Bagley went on to become the No. 2 overall pick in last week’s draft. And although the Lakers were able to wait until the 47th pick to snag Mykhailiuk, it became clear the four-year guard from KU solidified himself as a draftee in the Lakers’ eyes with his overall efforts against Duke — a game in which Mykhailiuk also hit a 3 that sent it to overtime.
“We have some core principles of how we want to build this team,” Pelinka said. “And it’s guys that are tough, guys that have a high basketball IQ, love the game, love to compete, that can shoot, that are skilled. (Johnson) saw that in that game with Svi, and our scouting department saw that, as well.”
Now a 21-year-old rookie with the Lakers, Mykhailiuk sat in between Johnson and Wagner wearing a gray suit and black tie as one of the most famous and successful basketball players in history described his potential.
Johnson revealed that L.A. interviewed both Mykhailiuk and Wagner (the 25th overall pick) at the 2017 combine, before both players decided to return to college for another year.
“We felt both of them got better, got stronger,” Johnson said, adding selecting each was a “no-brainer.”
The Lakers finished next-to-last in the NBA in 3-point shooting (34.5 percent) and worst in free-throw shooting (71.4 percent) during this past season, stats referenced by Johnson while lauding the value of the organization’s newest players.
“But today is a big upgrade. We set out to get shooters in this draft and guys that could stretch the floor, guys who have high basketball IQ, guys that were competitors and tough-minded. Both of them come from extremely successful programs in college,” Johnson added, crediting KU’s Bill Self and Michigan’s John Beilein for molding the incoming rookies. “We felt when we looked at both of them, they could add to our team what was missing.”
As his parents, Inna and Iurri watched, Mykhailiuk told reporters in L.A. why he decided to leave Ukraine as a 16-year-old. He remembered watching a college basketball game on TV and thinking it looked “fun.”
“Also, I was trying to go to the NBA, and for me it was going to be better to go through college,” he explained, adding he picked KU because it’s “one of the greatest schools, and I think it was a good choice for me.”
Plenty of obstacles await the 6-foot-8 rookie guard now that he has achieved his childhood goal. Mykhailiuk said, though, playing within L.A.’s switching defensive scheme should not be as challenging, because he spent his final season at KU defending spots one through four on the floor.
“We had a lot of good guards and kind of short on bigs, so I had to switch a lot,” Mykhailuk said, with his new, gold No. 19 Lakers jersey sitting on the table in front of him. “So for me, I think it’s going to be pretty easy, because I used to play it a lot.”
A new Laker and L.A. resident, Mykhailiuk still is learning the ins and outs of his first job as a college graduate. Before concluding the press conference by posing for photos, including one with his parents, Mykhailiuk said he knows the coming days, weeks and months will be filled with adjustments.
“I would say just figuring out my routine,” he predicted of his adaptation process. “How to be a pro. Just figure out our lifestyle.”
If NBA prospects carried business cards with them to pre-draft workouts, Svi Mykhailiuk’s would include the phrase “not just a shooter” somewhere adjacent to his unique name.
That’s the message the … well, how should we put this … 3-point shooter from Kansas is pushing as he meets with organizations.
Since Mykhailiuk began touring the country to meet with various NBA coaches and front office members, he hasn’t abandoned the skill that makes him a draft-able prospect. The 6-foot-7.75 Ukrainian guard just doesn’t want any potential employer thinking his long-range accuracy is all he has to offer.
Asked earlier this week following a workout in El Segundo, Calif., what he wanted to show the Los Angeles Lakers, Mykhailiuk turned to his go-to pitch.
“That I can do more than shoot, because everybody knows I’m a shooter,” said Mykhailiuk, who connected on 44.4% of his 3-pointers, making 2.9 a game as a KU senior this past season. “I think I can do way more than shoot and I think I showed it today.”
The 20-year-old Ukrainian prospect said he envisions himself as a combo guard once he gets to the NBA.
“I think I can handle the ball. Nobody really knew I can handle the ball,” Mykhailiuk identified as one attribute that might surprise evaluators. “Sometimes I used to play point guard (for Ukraine’s national program), so I think I have ball-handling skills.”
After testing the draft waters without an agent in 2017, Mykhailiuk worked on his defensive approach upon returning to Kansas for his final season of college basketball.
“I just had to step up,” he told ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony. “I think I had a bigger role and I needed to embrace it.”
As a shooting guard asked to defend opposing power forwards in KU’s four-guard lineup this past season, Mykhailiuk described how head coach Bill Self basically forced him to take his defensive responsibilities personally and play with more toughness while often trying to stop larger, stronger players.
“Defense is not about physical ability. It’s all about thinking,” Mykhailiuk said. “If you start in the right position it’s going to be easier to defend.”
He’s certain playing four years at KU made him a more complete player entering the professional ranks and Mykhailiuk expects to continue that development in the years to come.
“I’m still 20 years old, and I think I have a lot of room to grow,” he said, while also telling Givony whichever franchise takes him will get “way more than a shooter.”
In the upside-obsessed NBA, Mykhailiuk’s potential to be molded into a more effective player should help his stock. In a new mock draft published by Givony at ESPN.com on Thursday, Mykhailiuk is slotted at No. 56 in the 60-pick draft. The Ringer’s mock draft doesn’t include him, but SI.com predicts Mykhailiuk will go 58th.
“Nobody knows, man.” the former KU guard told reporters in El Segundo, when asked if he had heard about where he might land. “There’s no way to really tell where you’re gonna go, so I guess we’re gonna see.”
The projected late second-rounder experienced his eighth pre-draft workout Wednesday, with Sacramento.
Although he admitted to feeling “a little” worn out by all the traveling, Mykhailiuk asserted he found the process enjoyable, because there are “no distractions.” Right now, his life is just about basketball and not much else.
That focus helped him at his previous stop, with the Lakers. Near the end of a workout, prospects are put through what L.A. calls its “mentality drill.” A player is asked to dribble up and down the floor and make as many shots as possible in 90 seconds. You get one point for a layup, two for a jumper and three for a shot from beyond the arc.
The Lakers told the soon-to-be 21-year-old after the fact he finished one point shy of the best performance they had seen.
“I didn’t know the record so I kept shooting 3’s,” Mykhailiuk said, grinning. “I should’ve got two layups.”
The truest and most effective 3-point shooters don’t allow recent misses to turn into second-guesses.
It’s a quality sharpened over time and one Svi Mykhailiuk brings with him into every pre-draft workout.
During his four seasons playing at the University of Kansas, Mykhailiuk drained 237 shots from beyond the arc. But none of the other makes will be remembered as fondly or clearly as the 3 the 6-foot-7 guard hit in the 2018 Elite Eight, tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and paving the way for KU to defeat Duke in overtime en route to the Final Four.
Mykhailiuk delivered that crucial basket on a day when many of his 3-pointers weren’t falling. But the NBA prospect from Ukraine displayed no hesitation — only confidence — on his game-tying release.
Appearing on “Off The Bench,” a podcast for the Wizards’ website, following his workout with Washington this past week, Mykhailiuk, who shot 3-for-9 against Duke this past March, explained what enabled him to connect on the biggest shot of his college career.
“I know I’m a pretty good shooter and I know my teammates believe in me. That’s why they wanted me to shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “At that time, I didn’t really know what time was on the clock and (Devonte’ Graham) passed me the ball and I felt confident in my shot. I just stepped to it and just shot it. I got lucky it went in,” he added, with a self-deprecating laugh.
A 44.4% 3-point shooter as a 20-year-old senior at KU, Mykhailiuk possesses a defining, if not elite-level, skill — a claim many draft hopefuls can’t make. He’s attempting to model his game after one of the NBA’s greatest shooters, Klay Thompson, as he embarks on his professional career. But he also aims to prove to coaches and executives in the coming weeks he has more to offer.
“I’m a very versatile guy, can guard from 1 to 4 and I just know my role and know how to do the little things,” Mykhailiuk said of what he tries to display during workouts.
In Washington, he shared court time with, among others, Michigan’s Mo Wagner, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. But Mykhailiuk was far more pleased to see good friend and fellow Jayhawk Graham at the workout. It marked the second time the KU duo ended up at the same evaluation session for a team (Chicago being the other).
“It’s definitely cool coming to the same workout with a guy who was with you for four years, best friends,” Mykhailiuk said. “Just kind of makes you relaxed and do better during the workout. We help each other, which is great.”
At times during their trip to D.C., the prospects from Kansas had to square off. Mykhailiuk said neither minded, though, because it wasn’t their first time battling.
“We like to have fun and go one-on-one and it usually gets competitive. We know each other, we know our strong and weak sides and each other’s moves,” he shared, “so it’s kind of hard for us to score against each other.”
Mykhailiuk worked out for Phoenix on Monday.
ESPN’s current mock draft projects the Ukrainian shooting guard as the No. 51 choice in the 60-pick draft. Sports Illustrated’s predictions have Mykhailiuk going 60th, while The Ringer currently expects him to go undrafted.
The NBA Draft is June 21, in Brooklyn.
If you call yourself a shooter, there’s no reason to aim for average. You might as well go ahead and model yourself after one of the best.
That’s the approach four-year Kansas marksman Svi Mykhailiuk carries with him as he prepares for the NBA Draft.
This past week at the league’s combine for potential incoming rookies, Mykhailiuk, of course, showed off his 3-point precision. But the 20-year-old from Ukraine also made it clear he’s holding himself to a high standard while attempting to prove himself worthy of some team’s draft pick.
Mykhailiuk’s eyes lit up during a media interview at the combine when asked what part of his game translates best to the NBA level.
“Definitely shooting,” KU’s all-time leader for 3-point makes in a season (115) replied. “In the NBA everybody needs shooting. Everybody needs to stretch the floor. And everybody needs a guy who can create. So I think I’m one of them guys.”
At this juncture at least, Mykhailiuk isn’t considered a lock to hear his name called over the course of the two-round draft on June 21, in Brooklyn. ESPN’s mock draft lists him at No. 51, Sports Illustrated slots the 6-foot-7 shooter as the 60th and final pick of the draft and The Ringer projects him as undrafted.
Undaunted, Mykhailiuk didn’t think twice when asked whether he tries to model his game after any current NBA players.
“Definitely. I watch a lot of Klay Thompson,” Mykhailiuk said of the Golden State shooting guard, already a a four-time all-star. “I think we’re similar. We have the same height. And I think I can play at that level.”
Since the Warriors made Thompson their late-lottery selection (11th overall) in 2011, the 6-7 guard from Washington State has drilled 1,557 3-pointers, hitting 42.2% of his attempts over the course of seven regular seasons. Thompson already ranks 24th all-time in career NBA 3-pointers made and has finished in the top 10 in 3-point percentage in five different seasons.
So Mykhailiuk wasn’t fooling around when he chose a 3-point shooting role model.
No one expects the Jayhawks’ most recent long-range specialist to go down as one of the NBA’s all-time sharpshooters, which is the trajectory for Thompson. Still, it’s worth noting they experienced similar success at the college level.
Thompson — who turned 21 in February of his final collegiate season — shot 39.8% from 3-point range as a junior before leaving WSU early to enter the draft. That’s the same percentage Mykhailiuk — who will turn 21 in June — put up his junior season, before nailing 44.4% from beyond the arc as a senior.
Obviously Svi’s shooting spirit animal had much more to offer as a prospect in 2011. The son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay averaged 21.6 points as a WSU junior and attacked his way to the free-throw line for 5.4 attempts a game. Mykhailiuk, as a senior, averaged 14.6 points and attempted 1.4 free throws while playing alongside All-American point guard Devonte’ Graham at KU.
While Thompson then — like Mykhailiuk now — navigated the pre-draft process facing questions about his defense and athleticism, he did have a 6-9 wingspan and 8-7.5 standing reach working in his favor. A starter with the Warriors as a rookie, Thompson eventually proved skeptics wrong.
Mykhailiuk’s wingspan measured at 6-4.75 with a standing reach of 8-4 at this year’s combine. Who knows if any team will ever see him as a rotation player, let alone a starter.
Regardless of where his professional career begins or ends up, Mykhailiuk is appreciative to have teams considering him for the draft. And he’s trying to prove there’s more to him than his specialty.
Asked what area of his game improved the most during his senior year, Mykhailiuk responded with “literally everything.”
“Dribbling, penetration, shooting, passing,” he added. “I’m trying to show everything.”
If an organization does draft Mykhailiuk, though, it will be primarily for his 3-point shooting, and because he demands so much of himself in that category.
Both Mykhailiuk and Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday, and the KU duo will again be on the same practice court Wednesday, when they put their games on display for Washington.
As the NBA Draft Combine gets underway in Chicago, it’s important to remember that not all analysts are as high on this year’s crop of Kansas prospects as others.
While ESPN long has included Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk among its list of projected second-rounders for 2018, the newly unveiled mock draft at The Ringer only expects two Jayhawks to earn selections.
A little more than a month ahead of the draft, The Ringer’s guide forecasts Newman as the first Kansas player off the board, with the 21-year-old guard going 44th overall (14th in the second round).
Unlike ESPN’s mock, which currently values Graham as the best player from KU, The Ringer slotted the 23-year-old point guard at No. 53 in the 60-pick draft.
Graham’s four-year year teammate and on-and-off-the-court running mate, Mykhailiuk, didn’t appear on the list.
Ringer draft pundit Kevin O’Connor, who provided scouting reports on the likely draftees, touted Newman for his “spark-plug scoring,” describing the redshirt sophomore guard who helped KU reach the Final Four as “a pure bucket-getter who can generate offense off the bench, though his defense limits his upside.”
And because it’s officially player comp season, The Ringer’s comprehensive guide includes a handy profile of each draft hopeful. Likely in order to tone down any basketball-internet backlash against the analysis, instead of straight comparisons — which typically are unfair anyway — each profile includes names of past or current NBA players who one might see “shades of” while watching a prospect.
When inspecting video of Newman, O’Connor noticed some similarities to Monta Ellis, Dion Waiters and Seth Curry.
As far as Graham’s potential is concerned, his main selling point was described as “gritty defense.”
O’Connor’s scouting report described the KU All-American as “a high-energy, hard-nosed defender who improved his point guard skills as a senior.”
In Graham’s footage, he saw “shades of” a “lean” Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Wilbekin.
O’Connor lists Newman as the No. 41 prospect in the draft class, and Graham at No. 48. Ringer staffers Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks also provided their own big boards. Chau placed Newman 48th, with Graham 50th. Tjarks gauged Newman as the 42nd-best player, and had Graham 44th.
The good news for Newman and Graham, as well as Mykhailiuk, and former KU teammates Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike is the pre-draft process is just beginning. The days and weeks ahead — and how they perform in workouts, scrimmages and interviews — will ultimately determine their draft stock. Now it’s up to them to prove themselves to NBA coaches and executives.
Nearly four years ago, at the age of 16, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a life-altering decision to make.
Already an accomplished youth basketball player within Ukraine’s national team program, as well as the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, it was time for Mykhailiuk to pick:
• Stick with the established protocol for promising young European talents, and sign to play professionally.
• Or head to the U.S. and take a crack at college basketball.
Upon seriously contemplating his options, it came down to relocating to Spain to join Real Madrid or migrating even farther west to play at the University of Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, now known as “Svi” by anybody associated with the KU basketball program, of course, opted for a decision that may have seemed odd to his contemporaries at the time.
“Most of them try to stay there and make money,” he related this past week, during the last days of his four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Reflecting on his unique basketball path now, is the 6-foot-8 guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine, glad he chose Lawrence, Kansas, and college over Madrid, Spain, and a contract?
“Yeah, for sure,” Mykhailiuk replied, without hesitation. “I met a lot of new people. I’ll be able to get a degree from Kansas and just be a part of a program like Kansas and make it to the Final Four.”
KU and 15th-year head coach Bill Self couldn’t have reached college basketball’s ultimate weekend for the first time since 2012 without Mykhailiuk. The senior guard’s 236th 3-pointer as a Jayhawk tied an Elite Eight matchup against Duke with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, allowing Kansas to reach overtime and eventually emerge victorious.
Further memorable baskets wouldn’t follow in a national semifinal loss to Villanova, in San Antonio. Mykhailiuk completed his KU journey with 10 points and three assists, in defeat.
He shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior and leaves the program with the current record for 3-point makes in a season (115). The final “Svi for 3,” in his 136th game and 70th start, moved him to fourth place all-time at KU for 3-pointers in a career, with 237.
Even more important to Mykhailiuk, he can now proceed to the professional ranks confident his experience at Kansas shaped him into a better player.
“Being here four years, being coached by Coach Self, and he’s a hall of famer,” Mykhailiuk said, “so I think if I hadn’t got here I wouldn’t have played for a hall of famer.”
Self thought so highly of his Ukrainian recruit that he even tried the freshman out as a starter at the age of 17. Although that move didn’t stick past a six-game stretch of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule, Mykhailiuk said his relationship with Self only improved from that point. By his sophomore and junior years, Mykhailiuk noticed Self pulling him aside during practices for more and more conversations.
“If I’m open, he always wants me shooting the ball, no matter what,” Mykhailiuk shared of how Self boosted his confidence. “He’s always telling me, ‘Just be a player.’”
The shooting, passing, rebounding and defensive reps could have come anywhere. Mykhailiuk feels grateful his took place at Kansas these past four years, because he learned more about how to be an impactful player as a result.
“It’s all about the mental part. It’s not about physicality and stuff,” he said of some of his biggest lessons. “It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you’re ready.”
After testing the NBA’s draft waters a year ago, Mykhailiuk determined he wasn’t yet prepared to leave college basketball behind. Attending the league’s combine and receiving feedback from scouts, coaches and general managers proved beneficial in his development, too.
“I think it just helped me mentally, knowing I can play against other people. And it helped me know what I’ve got to do to go to the next level and be a better player,” he said.
Mykhailiuk took all the information from Self and NBA decision-makers and turned it into a second-team All-Big 12 season. He averaged career-highs with 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 3-point makes per game.
“Just be more aggressive,” Mykhailiuk said of the most significant piece of advice he carried with him into his final season, “and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Still just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in June), Mykhailiuk projects as a mid-second-round pick in the 2018 draft, four years after he could have become a young pro in Europe. Other than Ukrainian teammate Ilya Tyrtyshnik, who played at Ole Miss this past season, most of his peers chose a more typical basketball path.
What made Mykhailiuk different?
“That’s just me,” he said. “Every person’s different. I just wanted to play NCAA.”
Omaha, Neb. — As top-seeded Kansas enters its Sweet 16 matchup with Clemson, a board on a wall inside the Jayhawks’ locker room back home feels more relevant than ever.
Sometimes it is referenced, other times just thought of but unmentioned. Either way, it has been on the minds of KU’s players this week.
The essence of the board inside Allen Fieldhouse traveled easily to CenturyLink Center. KU coach Bill Self mentioned its message on the eve of his players’ next NCAA Tournament game: the Jayhawks could have one day left in their season, or they could keep playing for 11 more.
“It’s pretty simple,” sophomore Mitch Lightfoot related. “We go out here and compete and we can win and keep this team together. I think that’s what we all want. It’s a pretty close, tight-knit team. We’re looking to go out there and play for each other.”
The board displays various other significant countdowns, too, for easy referral as the Jayhawks grind their way through the season.
“It shows how many days left ’til the Final Four, how many days left ’til this, left ’til that,” Lightfoot shared on Thursday. “Everything else is erased. There’s no days left ’til the Big 12 tournament, there’s no days left ’til the NCAA Tournament. It’s here. The Final Four’s up there, and I think we all understand that it’s either one day left of 11 days left with this team, and we all take that to heart. I think we go out there and play that much harder for each other.”
While Self has brought up the dwindling number of days left on the college basketball calendar, Lightfoot said it hasn’t necessarily become a talking point from KU’s seniors, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Clay Young.
If he were in their adidas, Lightfoot probably wouldn’t want to make it a constant topic of discussion either.
“I just think they love this place so much. Svi, Clay, D’tae, they’ve given so much to this organization, and I think it’s gonna be hard for them to leave,” Lightfoot said. “I think we’re going to go out there and play for them and send them out right.”
Mykhailiuk said the seniors are keenly aware of both how close they are to their ultimate goal of cutting down nets in San Antonio and just how quickly their careers could come to an abrupt, undesired conclusion.
“It’s one or 11, so we’ve just got to leave it on the court and on the practice court,” Mykhailiuk said. “It might be one day we could be with each other or it might be 11 left. We don’t know. We’ve got to take it as a last practice or last game. We’ve got to leave it on the court and compete as hard as we can.”
Because Mykhailiuk and Graham have played on the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight stages each of the past two seasons, they know better than any of their teammates what type of efforts the Jayhawks will need to get past Clemson. But the senior from Ukraine wasn’t worried those of his teammates who will be asked to perform on this stage for the first time. He trusts they grasp the gravity of the situation.
“I think everybody knows. Coach has been talking about this to us and I think everybody realizes how important it is,” Mykhailiuk said, “and how important it is to come prepared and know what you’re doing and compete as hard as we can to get a win.”
The offensive lifeblood of a four-guard lineup, 3-pointers — sometimes just the mere threat of them — space the floor for Kansas, give 7-footer Udoka Azubuike space to dominate on touches in the paint and have helped make a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 possible.
Of their 81.4 points per game this year, the Jayhawks average 30.1 from behind the arc (22nd in Division I). In other words, their opponents know KU’s guards would like nothing more than to drown them in a deluge of 3-pointers.
With foes doing everything within their powers to limit one of this Kansas team’s most effective weapons, timing and precision are vital for getting the best look at the basket possible while rising up from long range. Within an offense that revolves around ball screens, dribble hand-offs and drive-and-kicks it sure helps to have senior point guard Devonte’ Graham penetrating and distributing.
Among the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament, Graham’s 7.5 assists per game on the season lead all players. While plenty of those dimes come on fast breaks or alley-oops for KU bigs, the guards who play alongside Graham are thankful his kick-out passes allow them to consistently catch and shoot in one fluid motion.
So what percentage of Graham’s deliveries to 3-point shooters are perfect?
Junior Lagerald Vick briefly paused to calculate before responding, with a grin: “I would say about 99.7 of those are right on the money. I definitely think he’s a good passer, especially off penetration and kick.”
A more generous grader, senior Svi Mykhailiuk went ahead and gave Graham a 100.
“I think every time,” Mykhailiuk said. “He knows where I’m going to be and he just passes to me and I’m gonna make a shot.”
In KU’s second-round victory over Seton Hall, Graham didn’t have his typical shooting touch, but he assisted on 4 of his team’s 9 successful 3-pointers.
Two days earlier, the Jayhawks only made 7 from deep while defeating Penn. Graham assisted on three and made two 3-pointers.
Per Synergy Sports, Kansas has averaged 17.76 points in its first two NCAA Tournament victories off Graham assists alone — 2.4 points for every dish that sets up a basket.
Playing to his roster’s strengths, coach Bill Self has the Jayhawks (29-7) run a lot of ball-screen offense. While Graham is a strong 3-point shooter (his 40.4% accuracy ranks 60th in the country), it often falls on the lead guard to make sure senior Mykhailiuk (45.5%, 10th nationally), sophomore Malik Newman (40.9%) and Vick (37.8%) get the ball in advantageous situations once he begins attacking off the dribble.
“You’ve got to make the defense commit to you and I’ve got to find my guys for open shots,” Graham said.
Occasionally, every step of the process comes easily. On one possession against Penn, Graham turned the corner off a Mitch Lightfoot ball screen, drove to the paint and hit Vick, spotting up nearby in the right corner, for a perfect look.
Other times, Graham has to get more crafty.
In one second-half sequence versus Seton Hall, Graham dribbled left off a pick from Azubuike, drawing the attention of four Pirates defenders as he made his way into the paint. Their resulting rotation accounted for Vick in the right corner, which is where his opponents assumed Graham would look.
Instead he bounced a pass through a gap in the defense, all the way out to the right wing for a wide-open Newman 3-pointer.
Of course, Graham knows how to set up teammates for 3-pointers in every way imaginable.
While facing Penn, Graham misfired on a floater he released in the paint. When the ball rimmed out and found its way back to his hands for an offensive rebound, a little court awareness and quick improvisation paid off.
Graham knew where Vick was when he released his shot, so he easily kicked the ball out to his teammate near the left corner upon securing the rebound. Making the best of his circumstances, the point guard’s hustle set up an easy 3-pointer.
“He’s been a pretty good passer since I’ve known him, even when I came my freshman year when he was at the 2,” Vick said, referring to Graham’s days playing with Frank Mason III. “He’s a good passer.”
Graham’s recognition and vision prove valuable in transition, as well. Off a defensive rebound against Seton Hall, with nine players in front of him on the court, Graham knew KU had the spacing on the break for Newman to get an open 3-pointer on the left wing.
The senior point guard also trusted the shot would drop, raising his hands into the air to signal a successful 3 as Newman went into his shooting motion.
Graham’s familiarity with his fellow guards leads to such trust — as well as to so many accurate passes.
“Just playing with them, game experience, knowing where they like the ball at,” Graham said of how his passes so often generate 3-pointers, “and just tying to get it to them where they can just catch and shoot it before the defense goes out.”
Ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown with Clemson, in Omaha, Neb. (6:07 p.m., CBS), Vick, Mykhailiuk and Newman have combined to make 13 of 26 3-pointers in the tournament. Vick said their confidence as shooters is growing as a result, “especially with the big fella (Azubuike) back.”
Although Graham missed all four of his 3-point tries against Seton Hall after making 3 of 8 in the first round, his fellow guards have him to thank for much of their offensive impact.
“I would just say he knows how to play,” Mykhailiuk said, “and knows how to pass. He’s been doing this his whole life, so I guess he’s pretty good at it.”