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Devonte' Graham already locked in on senior season

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Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks to throw a pass during an open practice on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The Jayhawks are preparing for four early-August exhibition games in Italy.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks to throw a pass during an open practice on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The Jayhawks are preparing for four early-August exhibition games in Italy. by Nick Krug

With his players free to head home from the time they landed in Newark, New Jersey, after their flight home from Italy on Aug. 8 through Sunday night, when the Jayhawks are expected to report back to campus for the start of another school year, Kansas coach Bill Self expected things to be quiet around Lawrence for those two weeks.

But that was hardly the case, as Self explained Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN radio with former coach and current college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg.

Although there still are expectations when they players head home to be with friends and family — from how and when they workout to what they eat and how they act — the main point that Self emphasized following the team’s trip to Italy was simple, “Just make sure you get back by Sunday evening (Aug. 20),” Self told Greenberg.

That was no problem for senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who returned to Lawrence about a week earlier than required.

“Devonte’ went home for like four days and said I’ve had enough, I’ve gotta get back, just so he could get back in the gym to work,” Self said Wednesday. “He is thirsty right now. He and Malik (Newman) spend about as much time in the gym shooting the ball as anyone we’ve ever had here.”

The reason for that is simple and falls in line with exactly the kind of thing Self likes to see from veteran leaders such as Graham, who carry such a tremendous responsibility of being able to set the tone for an entire team and season with their behavior before things get going.

“I haven’t talked to him about undue pressure,” Self said when asked by Greenberg if he thought the Raleigh, N.C., native was dying to become Frank Mason III 2.0. “But he has said that he’s gonna do everything he can to have a big senior year like Frank did.”

Moving into his senior season with the clear title of team leader, Graham, for the first time since he’s been at Kansas, will have the opportunity to dictate how the Jayhawks go on a day to day basis.

As a freshman, he played in 29 games but averaged just 17.8 minutes per game while averaging 5.7 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting.

In Year 2, with Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden as the team’s clear leaders, Graham jumped into the starting lineup but remained in a supporting role, averaging 11.3 points in 33 minutes per game.

A year ago, as a bona fide running mate with Mason, the 6-foot-2 guard inherited a clear role as one of the most important players on the team, but often still deferred to Mason, who was carving out a national-player-of-the-year campaign, and freshman phenom, Josh Jackson, who, like Mason, proved to be equally unstoppable at times.

In starting all 36 games and seeing his minutes per game average go up by three, Graham poured in 13.4 points per game but pushed his assist total to 4.1 per game.

It’s fair to predict that both numbers will go up again during Graham’s senior season, but, as he showed in Italy, by nearly averaging as many assists per game (7.5) as shots (8.3), Graham will remain fixed on doing whatever needs to be done to help Kansas win.

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