An All-American during his final college season at the University of Kansas, Devonte’ Graham, like most rookies playing in the world’s premier basketball league, found himself recalibrating during his first season in the NBA as nothing came as easily as he was used to.
A high second-round pick of Charlotte in the 2018 draft, Graham played in 46 games for the Hornets as a rookie. Although the backup point guard was healthy all year, he finished 14th on the roster in minutes played and averaged 14.7 minutes per game.
“I think the biggest adjustment is the physicality,” Graham told KU director of broadcasting and play-by-play voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni during an appearance this week on “Hanni & The ’Hawks.”
It takes immense talent, Graham pointed out, to defend “some of the best guards in the world.”
That was never more clear to Graham, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound rookie than when he got matched up with 6-8, at least 250-pound Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, someone Graham grew up idolizing, on one possession.
“Well, I made him pass the ball, so I think I did my job pretty well,” Graham recalled, joking about his relative success. “And then I didn’t score on him, so I guess he did his job, too.”
When Graham got the chance to suit up and check in for Charlotte, he put up 4.7 points per game and 2.6 assists, with 0.7 turnovers. The rookie from KU shot 34.3% from the floor overall but connected on just 34 of 121 3-pointers (28.1%).
However, his numbers routinely exploded when the Hornets sent the rookie to play for their G-League affiliate, in Greensboro, N.C.
Graham played in 13 games for the Swarm and averaged 23.3 points, 4.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 turnovers in 34 minutes a game. He shot 43.7% from the field in G-League action and knocked down 49 of 128 from 3-point range (38.3%).
For the Hornets, Graham scored a personal high of 13 points in April versus New Orleans, doing so by cashing in a career-best three 3-pointers in just 16 minutes, while also dishing 5 assists.
But Graham didn’t point to that outing — or any other for that matter — when asked to identify the proudest moment of his rookie campaign.
“I have no idea. I can’t say one moment in particular,” Graham replied. “I mean, I feel like the whole season, just being healthy is a blessing and then just being here.”
While Graham said he enjoyed playing in his home state of North Carolina, making it easy for him to see family members who live in Raleigh, he always kept track of what was going on back in his home away from home, in Lawrence.
Graham said he missed the KU basketball program, the people in and around it and “the love.”
“I feel like Kansas might have been one of the — everybody I felt like in general was nice and happy. It’s just a place you can call home forever,” Graham added. “You don’t get anywhere better than that.”
As Graham kept up with the Jayhawks closely from afar, basically becoming a high profile fan in the process, he understood why some passionate members of the fan base considered the 2018-19 season disappointing, what with the program’s Big 12 title streak finally coming to an end.
But Graham said he thought KU “actually had a pretty good year.”
“But Jayhawks fans, we’re so spoiled,” Graham said, “and we expect to win everything. But those guys put their hearts out on the line and played great.”
The former KU point guard stressed fans should trust Bill Self and what he will be able to get out of the Jayhawks next season.
“I think it’s coming up. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens this year,” Graham said, “but I think we’ll be fine.”
One of the most popular Jayhawks in recent memory was back in Lawrence this week, in part to host a youth basketball camp on Saturday at nearby Tonganoxie High.
“I just love kids,” Graham said. “And then when I was at Kansas and doing all the camps and things like that you could just see the smiles and the love that those kids have for Kansas and everything.”
The Hornets guard said it was important to him to give back and he considered himself “blessed” to be in a position to do so.
“As a kid I didn’t go to camps like this growing up, so just to be able to do this is great,” he said.
According to Graham he had hoped to do more camps this summer but with his schedule this weekend worked out best. In the future, he said, he hopes to bring camps to Wichita, Lawrence and the Kansas City area.