When Devonté Graham was chosen to the preseason all-Big 12 team a few weeks ago, he learned about it via text message.
His mother, Dewanna King, always seems to find those articles before he does.
“She loves the preseason stuff,” Graham said with a laugh. “I let her focus on all of that.”
Graham says the phone conversations with his proud mama have been entertaining since then. She’ll talk about how the honor is a big deal, only for Graham to tell her he hasn’t done anything yet. She’ll say it’s great that people are noticing him, while her son responds by saying it’ll probably be tougher to score now that he’s going to be at the top of opponents’ scouting reports.
Graham likes to give that final line as a joke, but he also says this much when it comes to his own preseason expectations this year.
“I don’t like it,” Graham said.
It’s easy to understand why.
This is new territory for Graham, as his entire life, he’s been doubted while having to constantly fall back on a belief in himself. After originally signing with Appalachian State, he says he didn’t even dream about going to the NBA following high school.
“I’ve just always been the quiet guy who has just floated under the radar, not really noticed,” Graham said. “I think that was one of the reasons I played as well as I did last year.”
The narrative has changed this season. Big 12 coaches believe he’s one of the best players in the conference. KU coach Bill Self is expecting Graham to be a primary leader.
And others are starting to take note of him too. Graham was notified quickly by King when his name popped up as a potential first-round pick in an article on DraftExpress.com.
“She definitely saw that one,” Graham said with a smile.
Graham, who is projected as the 28th pick in the latest draft projection on the site (he’s also listed as the second-best junior behind Duke’s Grayson Allen) should be a candidate to leave after this season if all goes right. One reason is his age, as he’s a year older than others in his class after spending a year in prep school.
“It’s something I don’t really try to think about too much,” Graham said of his potential NBA future. “It messes guys up, and their performances and gets in their heads.
“When the time is right, it’ll happen for me. I’m in no rush to go anywhere yet.”
There’s still plenty to prove in his third season at KU.
For one, Graham has worked on his outside shot, taking assistant coach Kurtis Townsend’s advice in the summer while making 250 NBA-range three-pointers per day. Graham’s record, he said, was when he made 250 out of 320 (78 percent), while his average hovered closer to 340 attempts.
After adding five pounds in the offseason — hoping the increased muscle will help him finish better in traffic — Graham also developed right- and left-handed floaters for use in the mid-range.
KU coach Bill Self also has lauded Graham for an increased willingness to take ownership with this year’s team. Following the departures of Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, Graham and teammate Frank Mason have tried to be the ones to set the example for how practice should go.
Graham has noticed when he and Mason compete hard while guarding each other in practice, freshman Josh Jackson often follows by increasing his intensity against Lagerald Vick. Soon after that, freshman Udoka Azubuike will start challenging Landen Lucas in the post.
“These guys, they don’t know what coach is really expecting,” Graham said. “It’s just preseason. Once the season gets here, then it goes up another level. Then when the Big 12 gets here, it goes up, like, three more levels. I’ve just got to prepare the guys for that.”
Graham also has been a resource off the court. Jackson has often gone to Graham’s room after practices, asking for his help while learning KU’s playbook.
In short, Graham is trying hard to keep his edge, knowing the potential danger that complacency could bring.
“It’s been a long journey,” Graham said. “Every year, I just keep trying to work, keep trying to get better and never forget where I came from.
“Because where I came from got me to where I am today.”
Jesse Newell: @jessenewell