Devonte Graham Week: Holy Toledo + Seeing Orange

By: Chris O’Brien

Danny Manning (’88). Frank Mason III (’17).

Twenty-eight years separated the two Naismith award winners.

Having someone on your team win National Player of the Year is a pretty rare occurrence. Even for the top programs like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky–who have their pick of superstar NBA Lottery prospects every single season–the years still begin to add up. It’s been five years for Kentucky, and over a decade for Duke and North Carolina.

What’s unique about this season for Kansas is we have a legitimate shot at producing back-to-back National Player of the Year winners. Devonte Graham entered the year on the short list, right there with Miles Bridges, Marvin Bagley III, and Bonzie Colson.

But, after the first five games, it felt like those chances were dwindling. Don’t get me wrong, the Jayhawks were playing great, Graham was playing great, but he was orchestrating the offense, setting people up. His 12 points and around eight or nine assists per game were exactly what the team needed, but it was hard to imagine a National Player of the Year being fourth or fifth on his own team in scoring.

Then last week happened.

The week of November 27th was an absolute offensive explosion by Graham against Toledo and then Syracuse. No post-Thanksgiving hangover whatsoever. Devonte` was in the zone.

And now that Graham is fresh off back-to-back 35-point games, it’s time to re-ignite the conversation: could the Jayhawks score back-to-back Naismith winners?

Holy Toledo

Technically, the game was Kansas vs. Toledo, but there was a game within the game. It was like Devonte` pulling up beside the Toledo team bus at a stop light, rolling down his window, “Hey, I’ll race you guys to 35.”

At first, it didn’t look like either Toledo or Graham would be doing much scoring. Three minutes went by before either “team” made a basket.

Then Graham hit a three. Toledo answered a minute later.

With about 12 minutes left in the first half, Toledo was up 14-5 on Devonte`. Then Graham went on a run. 15-7, 15-10, 15-12. He tied the game at 17 with about 4:30 left to go. They continued to go back and forth, 22-19, 25-21, 28-23. Toledo went into halftime with a 30-23 lead over Graham.

Oh, by the way, Kansas was up on Toledo 59-30. 

In the second half, Kansas played stifling defense holding Toledo to just five points in around 12 minutes.

The defense held serve giving Graham a chance to keep up. With 8:22 to go, Toledo up 35-32, Graham pulled up from distance and tied it up. 35-35! 

Devonte’ had a big smile on his face. I think he knew what just happened. He was fully aware of the game within the game.

Bill Self took him out because, well, the actual score was 86-35.

Seeing Orange

How do you top a game where you played even with an entire team for 32 minutes?

First off, this was a bigger team challenge. The Jayhawks were leaving the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse. Syracuse was undefeated and is probably going to be a tournament team. They have a Hall of Fame coach. And a 2-3 zone that can utterly confuse an offense. #2003NationalChampionship #StillHurts

What was interesting about this 35-point performance is just how little time Graham needed to put that many points on the board.

Take a look at this. From 5:16 left in the first half til halftime, here’s a look at Devonte’s scoring:

  • Free throw
  • Made jumper
  • Two made free throws
  • Made three
  • Made three
  • Made three

14 points in five minutes.

Then, second half, from a steal with 18:47 to go to about the 13-minute mark, similar onslaught:

  • Layup
  • Made three
  • Made three
  • Made three

13 points in about six minutes.

Take those two stretches together and that’s 27 points in 11 minutes! 

What I didn’t expect this year was how balanced an attack the Jayhawks would be. Their defense is better than a year ago. Graham can go scoreless for stretches and setup Svi, Vick, Newman, and Doke.

They don’t need Graham to score, but it certainly doesn’t hurt when he chips in these 14 points in five-minute stretches. He’s as much the engine to this team’s success as Frank Mason III was a year ago.

And he’s having fun out there. Pumping up the crowd. Smiling. Laughing. He’s completely relaxed, it feels like he doesn’t have to try nearly as hard as the guy guarding him.

Two games, 70 points. Graham is now leading the Jayhawks in points, assists, and steals.

And, with another week like this one, he may become the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.

The Syracuse game gave me flashbacks of the 2003 National Championship game. I was on my couch almost pleading with ESPN, “Please don’t show the block, please don’t show the block.” It got me reflecting and I’ll have a post this week looking back at that game and how it changed college basketball. 

“Bill Self’s Backup” series will return on Monday, December 11th recapping the Washington and Arizona State games. 

Last but not least, quick shoutout for the art, that awesome sketch of Devonte` was done by: 

Manasi Dayal
She can be reached at:





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