After a year of waiting and watching and four exhibition games in Italy to whet his appetite, Kansas guard Malik Newman is finally ready to get back to college basketball.
The Mississippi State transfer and Jackson, Miss., native came to Kansas after his freshman season with the Bulldogs during which he averaged 11.3 points per game while playing in all 29 games that season and making 21 starts.
Despite the solid numbers and key role, Newman left MSU in search of a better fit. He found it in Kansas, a program which he strongly considered while being recruited out of high school and has been quietly putting in work and waiting for his big return ever since.
Before moving into what we can expect from Newman during his first season as a Jayhawk, let’s take one last look back at what he accomplished as a freshman at Mississippi State during the 2015-16 season.
• Named SEC freshman of the week in late December.
• Scored a career-high 25 points against Ole Miss in late January.
• During that Ole Miss explosion, Newman hit seven 3-pointers, one shy of tying the MSU single game record.
• Reached double digits in scoring 16 times and topped 20 points twice.
• His 329 points that season marked the 10th most by a freshman in school history and his 61 3-pointers were the second most all-time for an MSU freshman. For some perspective, last season, as a KU junior, Svi Mykhailiuk scored 351 points and dropped in 70 3-pointers.
With all of that in mind, here’s what we can expect from Newman during the 2017-18 season:
He Will: Lead the Jayhawks in scoring, with his averaging finishing between 17-20 points per game.
Quick, tough and hungry. Those are the three words that first come to mind when thinking about KU guard Malik Newman and all three should factor into his ability to put points on the board during the upcoming season.
As his final game in Italy showed, Newman can get red hot in a hurry and score in bunches.
In that one, the third-year sophomore went off for 32 points — 25 in the first half — on 13-of-17 shooting and a 6-of-8 clip from 3-point range.
The competition wasn’t all that impressive, but Newman’s game was. And he did not operate solely as a jump shooter. He scored in transition. He hit the offensive glass. He flashed his pull-up game. And that versatility and his ability to score in a variety of ways is why so many people believe Newman can and will lead Kansas in scoring this year.
Add to his own skills the fact that he will be surrounded and supported by some big time talent, inside and out, and it’s easy to see how and why Newman could be in for a big season during his first year with the Jayhawks.
He Won’t: Be the same type of player as Frank Mason III but that won’t keep Kansas from being in the conversation for the nation’s most dynamic one-two punch in the backcourt.
One of the coolest things about Kansas plugging Newman in to “replace” Mason this season is just how different the two players are.
Sure Newman is capable of picking up the scoring slack that Mason’s graduation has left for this team. But that does not mean he will do it in the same way.
A much more naturally gifted shooter than Mason, with a smoother stroke and quicker release, Newman will catch defenders sleeping and get shots off even if they’re right in his face.
Mason also often had defenders right in his face, but that more often came when he initiated the action and drove right to their chests on his way to the rim. Newman won’t do as much of that, but, alongside senior Devonte’ Graham, should be able to fly up and down the floor, making this Kansas backcourt just as exciting to watch even if it’s for different reasons.
He Might: Leave for the NBA after the 2017-18 season.
Remember when Newman first announced he was coming to Kansas how people said he could come to KU, sit out a year and still leave for the NBA without ever playing a minute for the Jayhawks?
Well, we now know that won’t be the case and, in all reality, it never was on the table.
However, there was plenty of talk when Newman was being recruited out of high school about him being a one-and-done player. Now, here we are three years later and, thanks to his transfer year, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard is set to enter his third season of college basketball.
With the skills, talent, good guard size and athleticism that Newman possesses, there’s no doubt that the NBA scouts already have taken notice.
But if he’s able to add to that a big year at a big program like Kansas, it will almost certainly seal his fate as a player destined to leave early for the NBA.
Like many in his position, the whole thing figures to come down to what Newman is hearing from the NBA. If told he’s a sure-fire first-round pick, he’s probably gone. But if he’s on the fringe, much like Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were last season, he could come back for a second year at Kansas.
Newman seems like a smart dude with a realistic view of the world. And his family looks at things in a similar way. They’ll know if the time is right. And if he leads the Jayhawks in scoring and is a key part of a deep NCAA Tournament run, it absolutely could be right.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
Part III: • Svi Mykhailiuk
With Late Night in the Phog now just five days away, the anticipation and preparation for the annual season tip-off event are beginning to reach new levels.
While the week leading up to Late Night typically drags for Kansas fans who have been counting down the days since the end of the previous season, it also brings with it a flood of memories from Late Nights past.
While those memories include celebrity appearances, on-court highlights and even memorable skits, musical guests and wild entrances, Kansas coach Bill Self said a couple of times this week that what the program has in store for this year’s event could rival anything that has come before it.
“We’ve got something planned this year that’ll have the line as long as it’s been to get in,” Self said during a television interview with Spectrum Sports, before adding on Rock Chalk Sports Talk on KLWN, “We’re gonna have well-known, live entertainment and young people will absolutely love it.”
Who, or perhaps what, that is remains to be seen (Self said he thought an announcement from KU was planned for Tuesday), but there is absolutely no uncertainty about the importance of Late Night to this program, its fans or the Jayhawks themselves.
“Our players love it,” Self told Spectrum. “There’s one thing about this place, and it’s this way at a lot of places, but there’s a lot of times where players, during the grind, they’re going, ‘Why are we doing this?’ We’re going through boot camp now and it ain’t easy. ‘Why are we doing this, why are we doing this?’ And then the second Late Night hits, ‘Ohhh, now I understand why we’re doing it.’ There’s a price to pay to be treated like that. And our guys certainly appreciate that.”
The other major piece of Late Night that goes beyond the current team or fun with the fans is the recruiting aspect, which, for the future of the program, is absolutely as important as any other part of the opening-night extravaganza.
Nearly two dozen prospects from multiple recruiting classes will be at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday — most of them as unofficial visitors — to get a feel for one of the biggest basketball nights in Lawrence each year.
“It’s a great tip-off to our season,” Self said on Rock Chalk Sports Talk. “And then, of course, from a recruiting perspective, it never hurts to have 16,000 in there watching the guys. So I’m excited to get going.”
For those of you who are right there with him and need something to help kill time while you count down the final hours, here’s a quick and brief look back at some of the highlights from every year of Late Night since the beginning with Larry Brown back in 1985.
Stay in touch with KUsports.com throughout the week for much more on this year's Late Night in the Phog.
Despite still being younger than most players on his team, sharp-shooter Svi Mykhailiuk enters his final season as a Jayhawk with a huge opportunity and plenty of motivation.
Leaving his name in the 2017 NBA draft pool until the last possible minute to pull it out, the Ukrainian guard who has improved ever so slightly during each of his three years in Lawrence will be looking to make one final jump this season, one he hopes will both help KU and impress pro scouts.
For the second year in a row, Mykhailiuk spent a good chunk of the summer playing back home with the Ukrainian national team and KU coach Bill Self said he thought the experience was good for his 2016-17 starter in that it allowed him to assert himself more and play a much different role than he has at Kansas.
Whether that carries over to his senior season with KU remains to be seen. Let’s take a look at what we can expect.
He Will: Finally look fully comfortable with his role
This one goes well beyond Mykhailiuk playing a primary role with his national team this summer and speaks more to what we saw from him in Italy.
Despite being away from his teammates and coaches for several weeks, Svi looked cool, calm and collected and like a bona fide leader when he rejoined the team during its exhibition trip to Italy in ealry August.
It’s possible that comfort level came from it being a handful of summer scrimmages on foreign soil. But it sure looked more like Svi was ready to assert himself on this team and take on the leadership role alongside Devonte’ Graham.
If he does, that should only make him more comfortable all over the floor and throughout the season, a fact that would likely lead to his best season as a Jayhawk.
He Won’t: Experience a significant drop-off from 3-point land
One of the things pro scouts said they want to see more from Mykhailiuk is a willingness to be more than just a lights-out spot-up shooter.
While driving the ball to the rim, flashing a strong pull-up game and getting to the free throw line while also improving his defense would all be signs of that, don’t expect Svi’s emphasis on impressing scouts to cut into his importance as a knock-down jump shooter.
With KU’s wide-open, fast-paced, guard-heavy style of play expected to remain for the upcoming season, Mykhailiuk, along with teammates Graham, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman all will have the luxury of spacing the floor and catching kick-outs from driving teammates for wide open jumpers.
It’s possible that Mykhailiuk’s total number 3-pointers made and attempted might take a small dip during the 2017-18 season. But due to the fact that most of those shots figure to be wide open looks, I wouldn’t expect to see Svi’s 3-point percentage fall much, if any.
A career .381 percent 3-point shooter at Kansas, Mykhailiuk has finished each of the past two seasons above that mark, shooting .402 in 2015-16 and .398 a season ago.
He made 70 of 176 3-pointers last season and 37 of 92 the year before.
The guess here is that he’ll fall somewhere in the middle of that this season, perhaps knocking down 55-60 of 145-160 attempts.
He Might: Make himself a first-round draft pick
At the start of the 2017 offseason, just after the NCAA Tournament ended, Mykhailiuk was spotted as a late first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on a couple of mainstream mock drafts.
Today, on ESPN writer Jonathan Givony’s most recently updated mock draft, dated in late August, Svi sits as the 33rd player selected, with the third pick of the second round.
If that’s anywhere close to reality — and Givony’s been doing this a long time and is usually pretty locked in — the idea that Svi could move up four or five spots to crack the first round is not that crazy.
He’ll have to do all of those things scouts told him they’d like to see. He’ll have to do them consistently. And he’ll have to do them without other parts of his game suffering as a result. But if he does, given his size, shooting ability, age and versatility, it’s easy to see Svi as a late first-round pick next summer.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Part II: • Lagerald Vick
As many of you probably know, the Kansas men’s basketball team often breaks down the end of each practice with a simple and strong chant of “Big 12 champs.”
For the past 13 seasons (and counting), that target goal has proven profitable, with the Jayhawks winning a record-tying 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles and currently beginning the early tune-ups to gun for No. 14 and the record all to themselves during the upcoming 2017-18 season.
The theory within the program always has and continues to go something like this: Win the Big 12 and you’ll position yourselves well to achieve all of the goals that follow — No. 1 seed, Final Four, national championship.
Obviously, that last part is always the goal for the Jayhawks. And, at a place like Kansas, it’s often a realistic goal. But it’s not always openly talked about before and during the season. Again, the idea is for the team to take care of the games that are right in front of them and attack the postseason when they get there.
This year, however, things might be a little different.
Speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, after Day 1 of the Jayhawks’ annual boot camp conditioning session, senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk uttered those very words — national championship — on two separate occasions in six minutes.
“The main goal is to win a national championship,” answered Mykhailiuk when asked if he had any goals for the upcoming season. “That’s what we’re trying to do every year, and to win the Big 12.”
When informed that the question was about his own personal goals, the Ukrainian senior obliged and simply said, “Just to improve everything and be a better player and a teammate.”
That was the second reference. The first came when he was asked about Day 1 of boot camp and just how difficult it was this time around, the fourth such boot camp battle for Mykhailiuk.
His answer again pointed to the team first and the gains the group was getting from going through Self’s vicious two-week boot camp.
“It’s getting us better so it doesn’t matter what we’re doing,” he said. “In the long run, it’s going to help us win a national championship, the Big 12, anything we’re gonna win if we want to win.”
While the lofty goal of winning it all and bringing another banner back to Allen Fieldhouse hardly comes as a surprise, it is noteworthy that Mykhailiuk was so open in talking about it. The reason for that seemed simple enough and also was addressed by the senior guard.
“We talk about it,” he said. “The past two years we were pretty close to the Final Four. This year, we just gotta get there. We were one step away (the past two seasons) and we felt like we should’ve been there, but we didn’t make it for some reason.”
Mykhailiuk's brief mentions of a national championship likely do not signify a change in philosophy for the Kansas program. This team, no doubt, will still continue to emphasize taking care of business in the Big 12 and will probably continue to break down the end of practices with that "Big 12 champs" call.
That's just the way the program does things and that's the way the program will continue to do things as long as Bill Self is the man in charge.
But that doesn't mean the seniors and other players who might feel as if the upcoming season is their final shot at the big prize aren't thinking bigger, even if it is for just a few minutes in mid-September. And that, too, makes perfect sense. After all, winning it all is the ultimate goal for every team out there and spending at least some time thinking about it and pursuing it as a goal is human nature.
Whether the Jayhawks make it to the Final Four (and perhaps beyond) this season remains to be seen. But I’m sure more than a few folks out there already have imagined how cool it would be for the 2017-18 Jayhawks to honor the 10-year anniversary of KU’s most recent national championship team by returning to San Antonio, the scene of the 2007-08 squad’s finest achievements, for the 2018 Final Four.
When Lagerald Vick first showed up on the KU campus, he was viewed as a solid pick-up but not a star, a player the Kansas basketball program would be happy to have in three or four years.
Well, Year 3 for Vick has arrived, and I think fans, teammates and coaches would agree that the appreciation for Vick surfaced long before now.
Regarded by Kansas coach Bill Self as the best on this year’s team at turning the corner and driving to the basket, Vick could — and probably should — play by far his biggest role since coming to Lawrence.
Add to that the fact that his confidence continues to grow by the day and you’re looking at a Jayhawk poised for a breakout season.
He Will: Start every game this season as long as he’s healthy
During the 2016-17 season, Vick made just six starts in 36 games. Most of them came early and one of them came when Josh Jackson was suspended during the Big 12 tournament.
Most of the non-Vick starts went to Svi Mykhailiuk and a lot of people believe that Mykhailiuk is poised to keep his starting spot for the 2017-18 season. So how, then, could Vick be in the starting lineup this season? There are two paths, either of which I believe is very possible.
Path 1: Vick starts alongside Svi and the Jayhawks, as they did a season ago, play small and fast with Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi and Vick joining Udoka Azubuike in the starting lineup. This option was solidified — if not born — in Italy, where the Jayhawks used this lineup early and often, both with Azubuike on the floor and during the two games he missed due to illness.
Path 2: Vick supplants Svi as a starter and the two merely switch roles. In order for this to happen, either Billy Preston or Mitch Lightfoot is going to have to make a huge jump between now and the start of the season. Both are bigger bodies and good athletes who would fit naturally in that four position. But neither has the experience, explosiveness or scoring ability of Vick or Svi. If one of them makes the jump, though, and Self finds himself picking between Svi or Vick, I think he goes with the driving ability, length and superior defense of Vick and uses Svi for instant offense off the bench.
The smart money, however, says both start and both play a ton of minutes.
He Won’t: Settle for as many 3-point shots as he did during the 2016-17 season
As mentioned above, Vick is likely the best player on this KU team at getting to the rim. He’s comfortable handling the ball, likes to turn the corner and is not shy when he gets into the paint.
Because of that, I think you’ll see him look to attack a lot more than he did a season ago, when Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III had the green light to go to the rim long before Vick.
Last season, 42 percent of Vick’s shot attempts (92 of 219) were 3-pointers and he hit 37 percent of those. Look for the number of shot attempts to go up, perhaps topping 300, but for the Memphis junior to fire up fewer 3-pointers than he did a season ago, when he benefitted greatly from waiting on the wing for Jackson or Mason to kick it out to him for open jumpers.
If Vick shoots 300 times this season — and, let’s face it, that’s entirely possible given the fact that the Jayhawks will be missing 821 shot attempts by Mason and Jackson and Newman and Graham can’t take them all — then I’d bet that 100 of them (33 percent) come from behind the 3-point line and the rest are transition buckets or drives to the rim.
He Might: Be one of the most underrated players in the country
At 6-foot-5, 175 pounds and bubbling with athleticism, Vick is the kind of athlete who many teams would love to have.
Add to that fact the reality that he actually has some pretty good skills — solid shooter, above-average defender, good handles — and you’re looking at a guy who can flat out play.
The Kansas coaches know that and many in the Big 12 know that, as well. But I’m not yet sure the rest of the country knows that.
When people think Kansas, they think Bill Self, they’re talking about Devonte’ Graham and one-and-dones and, this year, they’re talking about high-profile transfers like Malik Newman and the Lawson brothers waiting in the wings.
Vick is not a focal point for most people and, therefore, he’s flying in the shadows a little bit. That kind of anonymity is a nice place to exceed expectations. And the real answer to this claim will come in the results. Can Vick continue to produce solid numbers and perhaps take his production to another level as a bigger part of the program with more eyes on him?
If the answer is yes, he won’t be underrated or overlooked for much longer.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
With the official start of the 2017-18 Kansas basketball season now just a couple of weeks away — Late Night is set for Sept. 30 and the exhibition opener is slated for Oct. 31 — it’s time to dive into the second year of our He Will, He Won’t, He Might series.
As you might remember — or may have guessed if you don’t — the series takes a quick look at every KU player and takes a stab at three predictions for that player for the upcoming season.
Last year was my first year doing this, and, after looking back at the 2016-17 “He Will, He Won’t, He Might” predictions, I have to admit I was fairly impressed with how I did.
From predicting that Frank Mason III would land on the all-Big 12 first team for the first time and that 3-point shooting would not be a strength of Josh Jackson’s to the fact that Carlton Bragg Jr. would leave Kansas (OK, I may have missed this one and said “He Might” leave KU to become a lottery pick), most of the guesses were either right on or at least in the ballpark.
With a 2017-18 roster that features enough returners mixed with a couple of newcomers, let’s see if this year’s effort can be anywhere close to as good.
Up first: Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham.
He Will: Continue to look to get others involved before looking for his shot.
Although Graham has proven he is more than capable as a scorer, both he and his team often have been at their best when he has thought pass-first and score second.
Part of the reason for that is, when Graham is a threat to do more than just shoot, defenders have to respect that and can not just crowd him on the catch. Beyond that, Graham has great vision, is a naturally unselfish player and likes to see his teammates succeed as much as himself.
That mentality forces defenses to account for every corner of the floor and that often leaves Graham open on the back end of things for good looks from 3-point range that, at least to date, he has knocked down more than 40 percent of the time.
The whole thing falls into the old adage of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and, while Graham will look to emulate former running mate Frank Mason III in some areas, it won’t necessarily be as a scorer.
He Won’t: Have the year that Frank Mason III had in 2016-17.
This one ties into the first one, but it’s not because Graham isn’t talented enough to deliver a big season. He is. And he might. But if he does it won’t look the same as Mason’s national player of the year campaign a season ago. Here’s why.
For starters, Graham is not the same kind of player as Mason. How many times, late in the shot clock, did you see Mason put his head down and drive to the rim, either to get to the free throw line or finish in traffic when the Jayhawks’ offense broke down? A ton. Graham is not as likely to do that and does not have the same physical advantages that allowed Mason to succeed in that area.
So fewer trips to the free throw line and fewer points in the paint means fewer points overall. So don’t expect Graham to approach the 20 points per game average that Mason delivered last season.
He Might: Average more assists than Mason while averaging fewer points at the same time.
Seeing how the first two tied together, we might as well tie the last one to those two, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that it is.
If Graham scores less than Mason but continues to look to set up others for easy buckets at the same time, it only makes sense to think that Graham’s assist total could be higher.
For his career, Graham is averaging 3.4 assists per game in 103 games. I’m not sure if doubling that number during his senior season will happen, but I do think it’s possible. And if he’s able to, Graham would absolutely be in line for a first team, all-Big 12 type of season and possibly a Big 12 player of the year nod.
Just don’t expect him to parlay that into sweeping the national player of the year honors like Mason did and don’t count on Graham delivering Mason’s total of 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
Something like 14 points, 3 rebounds and 6-7 assists seems more likely and would be a solid, albeit completely different, season unto itself.
We’ve known about the marquee games for a while now — KU vs. Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago; KU vs. Syracuse in Miami in early December; a return to Nebraska in mid-December and Arizona State and Washington in Lawrence and Kansas City.
But on Thursday, the Big 12 Conference released the second half of KU’s schedule, with all 18 conference games now with known dates and times.
While a lot can change over the course of a season, and, remembering that things don’t always go as predicted, it’s worth noting that what we perceive to be true today might not wind up being that way as the season plays out.
But, with that in mind, here’s my initial reaction to KU’s Big 12 Conference schedule for the 2017-18 season, which opens Dec. 29 on the road at Texas.
Most exciting game: I think you have to look at Feb. 17, Kansas vs. West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse. The clear-cut Big 12 favorite against the clear-cut top contender. It’s a Saturday evening game and it will mark the first time since KU’s improbable and incredible comeback win over the Mountaineers at home last season that the two schools will hook up at Allen Fieldhouse. The Mountaineers will be looking for revenge from that utter collapse and the Jayhawks, no doubt, will give WVU their full attention. Runner-up: I really like KU opening Big 12 play in Austin, Texas, against a super-talented (on paper) Shaka Smart team in what figures to be a fun environment on a Friday night.
Toughest stretch: There’s a four-game stretch, starting Feb. 6 and ending Feb. 17 that could be a bear. Four games in 11 days against the likes of TCU, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia. The Baylor and Iowa State games are on the road and TCU — which, oh by the way, beat a Josh Jackson-less KU in the Big 12 tournament last year — West Virginia proved to be two of KU’s toughest outs at home last season. Beyond that, the back-to-back road games on Saturday at Baylor and on Tuesday at Iowa State are the only time the entire season that KU will play two true road games in a row. There are two other two-game spurts away from Allen Fieldhouse this season — Dec. 2 against Syracuse in Miami and Dec. 6 against Washington in Kansas City, Mo., and Dec. 21 against Stanford in Sacramento and Dec. 29 at Texas in the Big 12 opener — but only one of those four games is a true road game.
Easiest stretch: Frankly, if anyone in the Big 12 has its eye on ending the Jayhawks’ consecutive Big 12 title streak this season, they better do the heavy lifting early. The way I see it, KU’s easiest stretch on this year’s conference schedule is the four-game run that ends the regular season. Yes, two of the four games are on the road. And, sure, Stillwater, Okla., is always a tough place to win. But at Texas Tech and at OSU aren’t nearly as scary this season as they have been in the past and when you sprinkle in home games against Oklahoma and Texas in there, it’s hard to see the Jayhawks slipping in their final four games. That means, even if the Jayhawks somehow stumble out to a 9-5 record in their first 14 Big 12 games, a 13-5 record is still easily within reach and that should at least win a share of the league yet again.
Toughest game: I don’t think there’s any question that this is Monday, Jan. 15 at West Virginia. Talented team in a Big Monday environment with a hostile crowd in a building where the Jayhawks have lost four in a row. Ending their losing streak in Morgantown will be one of the toughest tasks the Jayhawks face all season.
Easiest game: I’ll go with Saturday, Feb. 3 vs. Oklahoma State. Not only are the Cowboys picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 standings this season, they’re also rebuilding with a new head coach and a bunch of new faces in new roles. Add to that the fact that the Saturday game follows a Big Monday match-up with Kansas State at home — so KU will get a full week of rest, recovery and preparation — and you’re looking at a perfect set up for an easy home win.
Overall takeaway: This schedule is about as good as KU could ask for. Opening on the road is never easy, but the fact that it’s Texas, which fields a ton of impressive talent, should get their attention. After that, when you look at just about every spot on the schedule where a tough game might give KU trouble, trouble is nowhere to be found and those slots are filled either with favorable home games or bottom-half opponents. Consider one more advantage for the boys in crimson and blue. After getting their tougher road games out of the way early on, four of their final five games away from Allen Fieldhouse are against teams projected to finish toward the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Kansas should like this schedule a lot and should definitely feel good about making a run to Big 12 title No. 14 in a row.
With his players free to head home from the time they landed in Newark, New Jersey, after their flight home from Italy on Aug. 8 through Sunday night, when the Jayhawks are expected to report back to campus for the start of another school year, Kansas coach Bill Self expected things to be quiet around Lawrence for those two weeks.
But that was hardly the case, as Self explained Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN radio with former coach and current college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg.
Although there still are expectations when they players head home to be with friends and family — from how and when they workout to what they eat and how they act — the main point that Self emphasized following the team’s trip to Italy was simple, “Just make sure you get back by Sunday evening (Aug. 20),” Self told Greenberg.
That was no problem for senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who returned to Lawrence about a week earlier than required.
“Devonte’ went home for like four days and said I’ve had enough, I’ve gotta get back, just so he could get back in the gym to work,” Self said Wednesday. “He is thirsty right now. He and Malik (Newman) spend about as much time in the gym shooting the ball as anyone we’ve ever had here.”
The reason for that is simple and falls in line with exactly the kind of thing Self likes to see from veteran leaders such as Graham, who carry such a tremendous responsibility of being able to set the tone for an entire team and season with their behavior before things get going.
“I haven’t talked to him about undue pressure,” Self said when asked by Greenberg if he thought the Raleigh, N.C., native was dying to become Frank Mason III 2.0. “But he has said that he’s gonna do everything he can to have a big senior year like Frank did.”
Moving into his senior season with the clear title of team leader, Graham, for the first time since he’s been at Kansas, will have the opportunity to dictate how the Jayhawks go on a day to day basis.
As a freshman, he played in 29 games but averaged just 17.8 minutes per game while averaging 5.7 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting.
In Year 2, with Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden as the team’s clear leaders, Graham jumped into the starting lineup but remained in a supporting role, averaging 11.3 points in 33 minutes per game.
A year ago, as a bona fide running mate with Mason, the 6-foot-2 guard inherited a clear role as one of the most important players on the team, but often still deferred to Mason, who was carving out a national-player-of-the-year campaign, and freshman phenom, Josh Jackson, who, like Mason, proved to be equally unstoppable at times.
In starting all 36 games and seeing his minutes per game average go up by three, Graham poured in 13.4 points per game but pushed his assist total to 4.1 per game.
It’s fair to predict that both numbers will go up again during Graham’s senior season, but, as he showed in Italy, by nearly averaging as many assists per game (7.5) as shots (8.3), Graham will remain fixed on doing whatever needs to be done to help Kansas win.
Although it's unlikely that he’ll be asked to fill Frank Mason III’s shoes in Kansas’ starting lineup, KU freshman Marcus Garrett will be looking to do just that in his chosen jersey.
Garrett, one of nine newcomers on this year’s Kansas basketball team, will wear No. 0 during his first season with the Jayhawks.
KU Athletics last weekend released a short video with the newcomers — six of which will be eligible during the 2017-18 season — revealing their jersey numbers and talking about the experience of wearing a KU uniform for the first time.
“Today we’re taking action shots to put up in our locker and just to feel the Jayhawk uniform,” said Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson, who will wear No. 1, the same number he wore at Memphis.
Added Cal transfer Charlie Moore, who wore No. 13 with the Golden Bears and will wear No. 5 at Kansas: “I’m just excited to put on this uniform and represent.”
The other newcomers featured in the video were William & Mary graduate transfer Jack Whitman, who will wear No. 41, Memphis transfer K.J. Lawson, who has chosen to wear No. 13; freshman Billy Preston, who picked No. 23; and walk-on Chris Teahan, the younger brother of Conner Teahan, who will wear No. 12 during the upcoming season.
Although Garrett did not address wearing the same number as the reigning national player of the year, the group expressed similar thoughts when talking about putting a KU uniform for the first time.
“I’m thrilled to be here and can’t wait to get started,” said Whitman, who will be eligible to play immediately.
Added Preston: “I’m excited to play in front of the crowd, the most crazy fans and the best fans in the country.”
As for Garrett and K.J. Lawson, they seemed most excited about joining the tradition-rich Kansas program.
“This town loves basketball,” K.J. Lawson said. “And I’m just excited to be a part of a great tradition.”
Added Garrett: “I’m very excited for Late Night. Everybody tells me how many people are gonna be there and I just can’t wait.”
Two other newly eligible faces on this year’s roster are guard Malik Newman, who will wear No. 14, and Sam Cunliffe, who will wear No. 3 when he’s eligible to play following the end of the first semester.
Here’s a quick look at the entire numerical roster:
0 – Marcus Garrett, Fr. G
1 – Dedric Lawson, Jr. F
2 – Lagerald Vick, Jr. G
3 – Sam Cunliffe, Soph. G
4 – Devonte’ Graham, Sr. G
5 – Charlie Moore, Soph. G
10 – Svi Mykhailiuk, Sr. G
12 – Chris Teahan, Fr. G
13 – K.J. Lawson, Soph. F
14 – Malik Newman, Jr. G
21 – Clay Young, Sr. G
23 – Billy Preston, Fr. F
35 – Udoka Azubuike, Soph. C
41 – Jack Whitman, Sr. F
44 – Mitch Lightfoot, Soph. F
It’s not a complete rarity just yet, and some very, very good Kansas basketball players recently have stuck around to play all four seasons at KU.
While that often endears them to the hearts and minds of KU fans much more than those phenoms who come and go in a year or two — think recently beloved ballers Frank Mason III, Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas, Devonte’ Graham, Tyshawn Taylor and more — it also gives them quite an advantage in their assault on the record books.
Sticking around for four years gives a player, on average, 35 more games to rack up stats than a player who left after his junior season, 70 more than a two-year player and more than 100 more games to rack up stats than the one-and-done superstars who no doubt would have a much more prominent place in the KU record books if four-year college careers were required or the norm.
Just think about the numbers Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson would’ve put up. (Wiggins, by the way, would have just finished his senior season at KU if that were the case).
Another one in this area that always gets me is Paul Pierce, who played three stellar seasons at KU before turning pro and would no doubt have been the second leading scorer in KU history (behind only Danny Manning) had he stayed for his senior year. As it is, Pierce, in three seasons, climbed all the way to sixth place on KU’s scoring chart and currently sits 10th after Keith Langford, Sherron Collins, Perry Ellis and, of course, Frank Mason III all passed him. All four were four-year players.
And that brings me to my point. With Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham announcing this spring that they would be back for their senior seasons, both have a chance to move up on a handful of KU all-time lists, including total points, 3-point shooting and games played.
Graham, who eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone during his junior season, figures to be in position for a jump in scoring with several other big time scorers who he called teammates now gone.
After a modest, 164-point freshman year, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., has averaged 456 points per season during the past two seasons and sits in 45th place on KU’s all-time scoring list, a few points ahead of Rex Walters.
Assuming Graham at least hits his two-year average during the 2017-18 season, that would move him into the Top 20, just ahead of Drew Gooden, who capped his three-year KU career with 1,526 points.
If Graham is able to even come close to duplicating what Mason did during national-player-of-the-year campaign last season, that would give Graham a shot at cracking the Top 10.
The best guess here is that he’ll land somewhere between his 456 average and that 700-point ceiling, putting him comfortably in the Top 15 by the time he says goodbye to Lawrence.
Now let’s turn our attention to KU’s all-time 3-point shooting records, an area in which both Graham and Mykhailiuk can do some damage before they’re done.
Neither player is going to come anywhere close to catching all-time leader Jeff Boschee, whose 338 career 3-pointers are 69 (a good season) more than second-place Billy Thomas.
But there’s a shot that Graham could catch Thomas for second and Svi could move into the Top 5.
To do so, Graham would need to knock down 84 triples during his senior season. While that’s far from a given, considering the amount of attention Graham figures to get from opposing defenses during his final season as a Jayhawk, it’s certainly possible. As a sophomore, Graham drilled 75 3-pointers and, last season, while playing third fiddle to Mason and Josh Jackson, Graham upped the total to 94.
Given the presence of Malik Newman and the fact that KU coach Bill Self has said next season’s team is likely to play a little more inside out than last year’s team did, it’s certainly possible that Graham could get free enough times to knock down the 84 shots he needs to slide into second place. If not, third place seems all but certain, as he needs just 51 3-point makes to move past Kirk Hinrich.
For what it’s worth, Frank Mason III currently sits in seventh place (185), five 3-point makes ahead of Mario Chalmers.
Graham’s 94 3-point makes as a junior was good for the fourth best single-season mark in KU history. And his .411 career percentage has him on the brink of the Top 10 in all-time 3-point percentage already.
And then there’s Svi, who, after a relatively slow start to his career, stepped up big time with 70 3-point makes during his junior season. Another season like that would put the young Ukrainian on the doorstep of the Top 5, as he needs 84 3-point makes as a senior to pass Brandon Rush (205) for fifth place on KU’s 3-point chart.
Regardless of how it all plays out, both Graham and Mykhailiuk, thanks largely to their status as four-year players, should be mainstays in the KU record books for quite a while.
That’s not a knock on the one-and-done phenomenon or me saying one way is better than the other. The bottom line is this: It’s every player’s goal to make it to the NBA and if you’re ready you should be able to go.
But it’s cool to see that, beyond getting an education and enjoying the college experience, there are a few other perks of staying in school for all four years.
Records are cool anywhere, but at a place like Kansas, with all of its rich history and tradition, being a part of them, can wind up being even more meaningful later in life.
Thanks to their decisions to return for one more go — not to mention one more stab at a national title — Graham and Mykhailiuk now are in position to experience that.