KU senior Devonte' Graham admits second-round showdown with hometown team would be a lot of fun
When it comes to talking about their draw in the NCAA Tournament, par for the course with college basketball players this time of year is to be focused only on the opponent in front of them and nothing else.
And while that certainly seemed to ring true with the top-seeded Kansas men's basketball players on Sunday, there also was a very human moment that broke through.
Asked if there were any potential matchups beyond Thursday's first-round game against No. 16 seed Penn — 1 p.m. on TBS at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita — that excited him, KU senior Devonte' Graham pointed to Round 2 and a potential meeting with No. 9 seed North Carolina State.
“Well, if we win the first game, my home, NC State was (one) of the last two teams I picked (between, while being recruited), so playing against them would be fun for me,” said Graham, a native of Raleigh, N.C., who has spent plenty of time around the Wolfpack program throughout his life.
“I know a lot of them,” Graham said. “Played with them in the summer time when I go home and stuff like that, so I've got a lot of friends on that team.”
In order for the matchup to materialize, KU must first get by Penn and NC State must get past No. 8 seed Seton Hall. Because of that, it makes sense that Graham does not plan to get too far ahead of things by reaching out to those guys for a little friendly chatter leading up to the possible showdown.
The same cannot be said for the other side, however.
“Some of them have already text me,” Graham said. “(Guys) that used to play there or that's on the team now. It's just my friends, so it would be a good, fun game for me, personally.”
The Jayhawks own an 11-1 all-time edge over the Wolfpack, with the most recent meeting also coming in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas knocked off NC State, 60-57, in the Sweet 16 back in 2012 in St. Louis before topping North Carolina in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four.
As for the Jayhawks' series with Seton Hall, that series, which is tied at 1-1, has been dormant for even longer. KU's last meeting with the Pirates came at the Maui Invitational in 2001, when the Jayhawks rolled to an 80-62 victory.
As for the series with the team they know they will play, the Jayhawks hold a 3-0 all-time advantage over Penn, with the most recent victory coming via a 105-59 win on Jan. 4, 2000 in Lawrence.
Despite a fun second-round matchup with his hometown team looming, moving KU's edge in the series with Penn to 4-0 was the only thing on Graham's mind after he left the Allen Fieldhouse media room following Sunday's selection show.
"We're focused on Penn,” Graham said. “That's it. We ain't worried about anybody else. ... We just have to take it one game at a time like coach always tells us and treat each weekend like it's a two-game tournament.”
Like I said, par for the course. But seeing that Graham had actually looked at the bracket and was unafraid to talk about that potential meeting with the program he almost picked over Kansas was pretty cool and also speaks to the senior's mindset heading into the tournament.
KU coach Bill Self always talks about the teams with fresh and free minds having the best chances to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. And Graham's willingness to talk about what might happen without hesitation sure sounded like a guy with a free mind to me.