KU's Devonte' Graham said decision to return came down to 'unfinished business'

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) watch a free throw during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center.

On a night when Kansas basketball coach Bill Self had to fight back tears while honoring KU senior Frank Mason III, who was given this year’s Danny Manning “Mr. Jayhawk” Award at the team’s annual banquet at the Double Tree Hilton, junior guard Devonte’ Graham was his usual smiley self, decked out in a bow tie and his finest formal attire for the celebration of a 31-5 season that delivered the school’s 13th consecutive Big 12 championship.

But that was far from the case a couple of weeks ago, when Graham struggled with the sour ending to a spectacular season and wrestled with whether he wanted to come back and try to do it all over again during his senior season.

“To be honest, it was really hard,” Graham said of his decision to stay or go. “That first week after we lost (to Oregon in the Elite Eight), it was a real stressful week because I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. But just talking with my mom, and just having a few conversations with some of the coaches, I just decided that I wanted to come back.”

Perhaps it was just a coincidence or maybe the stars aligned. Either way, right about the time that Graham’s thoughts became clear, outgoing senior Frank Mason III checked in with his backcourt mate to see how the process was going.

“Yeah, I talked to him,” said Mason, the 10-time national player of the year who, after winning the Mr. Jayhawk Award on Tuesday night uttered, “Wow. Another award. I really don’t know what to say.” “I just asked him was he gonna stay or leave and he told me his decision.... Like coach said, he could’ve done what I did this year, but he’s just waiting his turn and it’s his turn next year. He’ll be a really special player and he can do some of the same things that I did this year.”

Graham said the conversation was short and sweet and that he never really leaned on Mason to help him make his decision. He talked to his mother “every day” about it and said he felt in his heart that he wanted to leave Kansas on a better note than the one that ended the 2016-17 season.

“I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of and I’m just happy to be here for another year,” Graham said Tuesday of the reason behind the decision which he first made public Sunday afternoon on Twitter.

Self, the featured speaker at Tuesday's banquet who spent about 30 minutes thanking absolutely every single person he could think of who played a role in another spectacular season of Kansas basketball, said he was “somewhat surprised” that Graham did not want to test himself in front of NBA eyes.

“Even if he had tested, there was a good chance he would’ve come back,” said Self, noting that the recent rule change has made that easier for underclassmen to do. “But he didn’t even want to do that. He wanted to get focused for next year.”

Asked if he thought Graham could deliver next season what Mason did this season, Self’s face turned serious.

“Devonte’s capable of getting 18 a game,” Self said. “There’s no question about that. And if you’d have asked me last year, I’d have said, ‘Frank’s capable of getting 16 a game’ and he (got) 21. So if I say Devonte’ can get 18 then he may surprise us and do a little bit better than that.

“I don’t know that anybody will do the same stuff with the same stats,” he continued. “But I expect him to lead us like Frank did this year.”

No news on Jackson

While most of Jayhawk Nation is holding out hope that the delay in freshman Josh Jackson’s expected announcement that he’s turning pro is a sign that the Big 12 freshman of the year and second-team All-American is considering a return, Self made it clear Tuesday that he was not in that group.

“I’m not gonna hold my breath on that one,” Self said. “Josh will decide whenever the time’s right for him. He’ll make some decision in the near future but I don’t know what day or anything like that.”

Svi’s decision?

Despite social media speculation to the contrary, junior Svi Mykhailiuk did not make any big announcements about his return at Tuesday’s banquet.

“I was somewhat surprised that Devonte’ didn’t at least test, and I would certainly be surprised if Svi doesn’t at least test,” Self said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re going. I would think Svi would have an immediate decision (soon) but the long term decision won’t happen for five or six weeks probably. That’s if he declares.”

Bittersweet ending

While Tuesday’s banquet was accompanied by a lot of laughs and smiles, it also carried with it a bittersweet tone.

Just before one final team picture, which did not include former KU forward Carlton Bragg, who did not attend the banquet, Self pointed out that the moment was worth capturing because it could be the last time this group was together for who knows how long.

“I’m really glad tonight is here,” Self told the crowd of roughly 620 supporters. “Obviously, since the end of the season, we haven’t really thought about how great this year was and how special this team was because we’re still down and mad about not winning.... I love this team. And I know you guys did, too. You can see the smiles and how they interact with each other and you could see that they truly cared about each other... That’s always the plan, but this year you could feel it. Sometimes we get lost in the moment of just how much fun and how special our guys were. So I am very, very happy to recognize these guys and to watch that (highlight) video because, in that video, we only missed two shots and we got both offensive rebounds and made baskets. That’s pretty good.”

Comments

Robin Smith

I definitely loved this season's team. It will forever be one of my all-time favorites.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

I'd have loved them a lot more if they hadn't fallen from ahead to lose at home to Iowa State, laid an egg against TCU in the Big 12 tournament, or messed the bed against Oregon in the Elite Eight. As far as I'm concerned, this KU team will be just another in a long line of KU teams that fell short of their full potential.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Glen Miller

And you are another in a long line of KU fans that just doesn't "get it". Teams aren't always defined by Championships. If you can't see that this team this year was different then I have to wonder if you're just a fair weather fan. Lighten up a bit, it's better for your heart and health.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

You're the one who doesn't get it, idiot. When you get 1 or 2 seeds as often as we do, getting past the Elite Eight should not be such a chore that Bill Self has made it - especially when the NCAA Selection Committee practically gift-wraps us a Final Four spot with a Tulsa-to-Kansas City road to the Final Four!

4 months, 1 week ago

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Tony Bandle

Whose to say that the Elite Eight was not indeed their full potential. No true inside presence, complete reliance on the three point shot that can disappear any night at any time, did I mention no inside presence?

Just between you and me, Bryce, I figured KU losing in the semi's...it just happened a game earlier. The odds just caught up with us; my friend.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Brad Farha

Well said Tony.

There was very little margin for error with this team. We could absorb an off night by one player (maybe), but not by two of them.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Mike Greer

Average, all we needed to win that Elite Eight game was an average performance for KU as a team. The best anyone did was average, no stand out performance, not even Frank's 21 points were above his season average of 20.9. And as we all know, not everyone made their individual average, but that's not untypical. To win those games, someone has to play above average, sometimes way above average. Oregon had guys play above their average. That's how Elite Eight and beyond games are won.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Kyle Rohde

While I think we were all disappointed by the loss to Oregon, this was still a fantastic, highly enjoyable season. Frank having one of the best KU seasons ever, Josh being the best freshman KU's had since at least Paul Pierce, etc. etc.

If you, as a fan, can only be happy if your team is winning every game, including the conference and post-season tournaments, then you're almost always miserable as a fan.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

And while you and your ilk are satisfied with just winning the conference every year, we continue to fall behind other elite programs. Roy Williams, since leaving KU for UNC, has led the Tar Heels to three national titles in fourteen years after not being able to do it once in fifteen years at Kansas. Two of those titles came after our most recent title. UConn and Duke have each done it twice since KU did it once. Kentucky has been in the Final Four four times under Calipari and added an eighth national title to their trophy case. KU can do better and should do better and should aim higher than what it does, and those who call themselves KU fans should expect more of KU than what they do.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Dale Rogers

Indiana. 1976. Last time a Division one team went undefeated. Gonzaga only lost two games this season but their conference is full of cupcakes. With a little bit of intelligence it's very easy to realize just how much this team accomplished this season. If winning the national championship is the goal post, and if the teams took turns winning the championship, then any one team would win a championship every 347 years. To be among the top eight teams out of 347..... and to be among the top 64 every season for 28 years in a row... This team and our fans have every reason to hold our heads high.

4 months, 1 week ago

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John Fitzgerald

Boom. Comment of the day.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

I'm not asking for an undefeated season, moron. I'm asking that we win the games we are supposed to win, not lose at home, and be in the Final Four more than twice in fourteen years!

4 months, 1 week ago

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Suzi Marshall

This had to be a rough night for Self. Since day 1 of Mason's freshman year, Self has been committed to him like no other player ever, or so it seemed. Mason's first year regardless of the results in the Bahamas, Florida, etc, Self stuck with Mason like white on rice. It must be incredibly gratifying for him to see Mason become NPOY and to graduate.

Mason needs to make it in the NBA to earn the money to properly house that 10-time NPOY hardware.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Ashwin Rao

I remember during the Villanova game in Florida, when we lost because of some silly mistakes that were made. I came out being impressed with how tenacious Mason was. I am glad that he did what he did... just a perfect person to do so. (I believe it was this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_... in 2013)

4 months, 1 week ago

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Karen Mansfield-Stewart

I'm surprised that JJ hasn't declared yet. It is kinda teasing us just a little. After the season I would have thought the odds of him returning were virtually 0%. Now it might be 1 in 1,000,00, but in the immortal words of Jim Carey, "So you're telling me there's a chance!"

4 months, 1 week ago

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Ben Kane

i've been saying for awhile now how weird it is. makes me hang on to the dream that he might return though we all know he wont.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Robert Brock

The team really achieved - especially considering all the distractions. Hey, what about the 16 year-old? The KC Star needs to get right on it!

4 months, 1 week ago

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Dennis Morrell

I think all KU fans thought this might be the year. However, an honest evaluation of this year's team was that they overachieved. So thin at the 4 and 5, depending on 3 point accuracy, vulnerable to opposing teams with tall, athletic guards ( read Oregon) all lead to the defeat at the Elite Eight Game. So glad Graham is coming back, I am ambivalent on Svi coming back - - if he comes back and finds some better quickness on defense, drive more and play to his height, he will be fine.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Add another voice to the positive comments. I enjoyed this year more than any other under Bill Self except for 2008, and that's only because they won it all then. On every other count, however, this was the year for excellence, hard work, commitment, desire, toughness, etc.,etc., etc.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

Since 2008, the KU team I enjoyed the most was the 2012 team. They played consistent defense, they got to the Final Four, and played for the national title. We've haven't had as consistent a defense since then, and we haven't been that deep in the NCAA Tournament since then.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Carl O'Hair

Matt, I just read in Bleacher Report that Josh has declared and has an agent. Surely Self would have known that last night if BR did this morning. What seems to be going on with that kid?

4 months, 1 week ago

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Jonathan Allison

link?

4 months, 1 week ago

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Suzi Marshall

Although I don't doubt Jackson will make this known soon, perhaps today, I just checked BR and found not mention of it.

4 months, 1 week ago

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Greg Ledom

I'm an eternal optimist and even I don't think Josh pulls a Jacque and takes the road less travelled. Jacque channeling his inner Robert Frost was classic. He was the walking epitome of the term student athlete. But wouldn't that be a delight if he did. Take all the time you need Josh. Rock Chalk

4 months, 1 week ago

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Tony Bandle

I wonder if his legal problems have something to do with the delayed announcement?

4 months, 1 week ago

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