Three years ago today, Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was released from his scholarship at Appalachian State, which paved the way for him to come to Kansas.
Sunday afternoon, via an enthusiastic message via Twitter, Graham announced that he would maximize his time as a Jayhawk and return for his senior season.
“I would just like to announce to all my family, friends, & fans that I'm coming back to school for my senior Yr,” Graham Tweeted.
Below the Tweet was a meme of Graham’s signature smile with the words, “How I feel about senior yr” laid over the photograph.
KU coach Bill Self said Graham told the coaching staff of his decision last week and elected to announce it on Twitter to keep the whole thing as low-key as possible.
“Devonte’ told us last week that he didn’t want to test and was gonna come back," Self told the Journal-World Sunday afternoon. "Initially, we said, ‘Do you want to announce it at the (Tuesday) banquet?' But he didn’t want the attention and he did it the way he did it and, obviously, we're excited about his decision."
Self said he would address Graham's return at Tuesday night's banquet but added that he would not make a huge fuss about it, per Graham's wishes.
“That’s not how he rolls," Self said. "He and Frank (Mason III) are a lot alike in that area. There’s not gonna be a parade or anything like that.”
As for whether the news caught Self by surprise, the 14-year Kansas coach who said — and always has with all NBA prospects — he would support whatever decision Graham made said he kind of suspected Graham would make this decision.
“He had gotten enough feedback," Self said. “I would’ve been fine either way, but if he feels in his heart that this isn’t the right time for him, then it’s not the right time. “Frank obviously had an unbelievable year, but Devonte’ deferred to Frank quite a bit and to be able to be the face of (our) team next year really excites him.”
And with that, KU’s outlook for the 2017-18 season jumped up substantially, as Graham’s return will give the Jayhawks multiple things they may not have had without him.
For one, he’ll be the face of the program, a four-year player and fan favorite who has been around Lawrence and KU coach Bill Self long enough to know how things are done and what it takes to win big.
For two, he’ll be the unquestioned leader of a team that is losing a lot of leadership from the 2016-17 team with the departures of Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas.
For three, he likely will slide right into the lead guard position and be allowed to run the team much the way Mason did during his monster senior season.
That last factor was significant. Following KU’s season-ending loss to Oregon, Graham admitted that Mason’s monster season and the thought of duplicating it, or at least coming close, during his senior season likely would play a role in his decision to turn pro or return to Kansas.
Many, including Self, believed Graham would at least seek information from NBA teams about his status in this summer’s draft, and he could have done just that, without penalty, as long as he did not hire an agent.
But Graham, through conversations with his family and coaches, evidently learned all he needed to learn about the pros and cons of leaving and staying. On most NBA mock drafts, Graham is listed as a second-round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Returning and having a breakthrough type of season, during which he can showcase more of his all-around game, certainly could elevate Graham to first-round status, where players received guaranteed contracts.
Consider Mason’s rise as a blueprint. After not being listed anywhere near various mock drafts for the past three seasons, Mason’s player of the year campaign has put him on the NBA radar. His goal now is to show scouts, coaches and general managers enough in the coming weeks to become a first-round selection.
With better NBA size and similar skills, Graham enters the offseason before his senior year a step ahead of where Mason was at this time last year. What his future before college holds remains to be seen, but the biggest question surrounding Graham has been answered. He’ll be a Jayhawk for one more season and the real work begins now.
The Jayhawks remain in the running for five-star point guard Trevon Duval, who said a couple of weeks ago that he was waiting to hear what Graham decided before making his decision. Pairing Graham and Duval in the backcourt would give the Jayhawks a similar attack to the one they enjoyed this season with Mason and Graham. Those two, along with transfer guard Malik Newman, who KU's coaches have been high on throughout the season, would give Kansas yet another terrific trio in its backcourt heading into the 2017-18 season.
“I feel like every year coach does a good job of recruiting guys and bringing in guys and we still know that a couple guys are coming back," Graham said in the moments following that loss to Oregon. "The future’s bright for us.”
As for fellow-junior Svi Mykhailiuk, whom Self has said all along also had a decision to make this offseason, the KU coach said he and Mykhailiuk had discussed his options but that the Ukrainian guard had not yet indicated that he was ready to make a decision one way or the other.