LAWRENCE — In all likelihood, Norm Roberts wishes he could’ve granted Devonte’ Graham’s request.
In a different season, he very well may have.
Graham, the Kansas basketball guard, looked to his bench to request a breather during his team’s game against South Dakota State last Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. Roberts, the longtime KU assistant coach, relayed a rejection of the senior’s request — even in a contest which saw the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks (3-0) run away from the Jackrabbits, 98-64.
“Coach Rob told me he couldn’t sub me out,” Graham said Monday, “because we could only sub one out at a time.”
Such is the reality this KU team is learning to live with and manage every day.
“(I’m) just pushing through it,” Graham said. “I know I can definitely play 40 minutes if I wanted to, though.”
Graham didn’t need to go the full 40 minutes against the overmatched Jackrabbits — just a game-high 32. That number came despite the Jayhawks jumping out to a swift 20-4 advantage and an eventual 29-point halftime edge.
KU, down to just seven scholarship players with forward Billy Preston out indefinitely, slowed the pace against SDSU before the end of the half and at other points until the final buzzer. Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all dealt with cramps in the unseasonably muggy Allen Fieldhouse.
It is for these reasons and more that Bill Self, in his 15th season as KU coach, has found himself in uncharted territory. There’s perhaps no better example of this than the Jayhawks’ approximately 75-minute practice Monday, one day before a 7 p.m. home date with Texas Southern (0-4).
“I would never have done that in November with any other team,” Self said before Monday’s practice got underway. “We’ll get ’em off their feet. We gave ’em off Saturday. We practiced (Sunday) for about an hour and a half.”
The typical KU practice this time of year, Self said, can go upwards of two hours.
“Coach definitely can see us,” Graham said. “We know we’ve got to get more rest. But we just practice hard in that little amount and get ready for the games.”
The team is compensating for the lost time in various ways.
“In practices we just find ourselves in more,” Graham said. “We get less rest, less breaks if we get more reps. But it’s good for us because it’s getting us prepared to play 30-plus minutes a game for some of us.”
In the wake of last week’s cramping issues, Self is even thinking about tweaking his team’s approach to game day.
“We might even cut shootarounds short the day of the game,” Self said. “I think that’s one reason why we were cramping so much. It’s hot in (Allen Fieldhouse) and it’s hot during the day, and we basically practice before our games. We may have to adjust how we do that as well.”
In a bit of a twist, it has been Graham taking on the role Roberts played Friday in these shorter-than-the-norm practices.
Graham, who averaged 35.3 minutes as a junior, has been calling out any teammates looking to get a breather in practices, encouraging them to fight through the fatigue. This has been directed most at the Jayhawks’ 7-foot sophomore center.
“Especially for Udoka (Azubuike), we stay on him about staying in because he’s got to learn how to play when he’s tired without fouling and stuff like that,” Graham said. “So do all of us. But yeah, we’ve definitely just got to start getting more rest and stuff like that because we don’t have as many guys.”
NO PRESTON NEWS — Self said Preston’s status has not changed as of the last update he received Monday morning. The 6-10 former five-star prospect has yet to make his KU debut as the school’s compliance department seeks a clearer financial picture of a vehicle the freshman had been driving on campus.
Asked if he is worried about the situation, Self replied: “Sure.”
“Yeah, I’m concerned,” he continued. “I do think it can work itself out based on what I’ve been told, but I also think it obviously hasn’t happened yet.”