LAWRENCE — Kansas point guard Devonte Graham stood near the free-throw line on the north end of James Naismith Court and, with the help of fellow senior shooting guard Svi Mykhailiuk, assisted 120 Special Olympians in a layup drill Sunday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
Judging from the smiles, hugs and amount of selfies taken, Graham and his Jayhawk teammates had a great time serving as volunteer coaches at the 34th-annual Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic.
“He (Graham) does a lot in our community that goes unseen,” KU coach Bill Self said of Graham, a 6-foot-2 native of Raleigh, N.C., who on Sunday morning was chosen Big 12 player of the year in a unanimous vote of the league’s coaches.
Self said that because of Sunday’s honor, Graham would someday have his No. 4 jersey hung in the south rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’m really happy for him for a lot of reasons. One, it guarantees his jersey being hung for the rest of time,” Self said Sunday. “That’ll mean so much to him as it will Frank (Mason, last year’s Big 12 and national player of the year) because they love this place so much.”
Self said the clinic would help the Jayhawks, for a few hours at least, forget about Saturday’s 82-64 season-ending loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.
“Yesterday was definitely a bad day for us. We didn’t play very well. They (Cowboys) controlled it from start to finish,” Self said. “Having this today is perfect timing. We’ve done it before when we lost on a Saturday and did this on a Sunday.
“It’s one of those things when you lose, nobody in the morning thinks, ‘OK we’ve got an event for two-and-a-half hours this afternoon, then got film and everything else.’ I think once they get out here, our players get more out of it than the Olympians do. It’s a win-win deal for everybody. We certainly leave out of here feeling much better after doing this. It’s always one of the days we look forward to doing the most. You can tell today our players do a good job of this.”
Self, who Sunday was chosen co-Big 12 coach of the year with Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, was asked what the Jayhawks need to improve on heading into the postseason. KU (24-7, 13-5), which won the league by two games over Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7) and West Virginia (22-9, 11-7), will meet the winner of Wednesday’s 6 p.m. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game in a Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal around 2 p.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center. Oklahoma is 18-12, 8-10; Oklahoma State is 18-13, 8-10.
“It could be a lot of things,” Self said. “We don’t handle pressure well at all. I wish we could get our perimeter players looking to make plays like they were earlier in the season. The way it looked yesterday if Devonte didn’t make it, it didn’t get made. Marcus (Garrett) was our second-best (guard). We’ve got to have everybody more aggressive and more in attack mode than yesterday.”
He said the fact four teams tied for sixth place (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas) said something about the league’s balance.
“You could make a strong case everybody is going to get in (the NCAA Tournament). The reality of it is everybody else is not,” Self said. “Those (four sixth-place) teams will try to separate themselves from the other teams. I can’t imagine us getting less than seven or eight (in the NCAA), nine may be a reach. It could happen, though, if everybody plays well.
“In my opinion OU is in. I think Oklahoma State should be in. They may feel they need to win another game to solidify it. Certainly the team we played in Stillwater and the team we played here in Oklahoma State (in KU’s 84-79 loss on Feb. 3 at Allen), they controlled both games start to finish. I can’t imagine them not getting their ticket punched.”
KU’s annual Special Olympics clinic was started in 1984 by former coach Larry Brown. It was then renamed for KU legend Chamberlain, who left money from his estate to sustain the program.
Teams from Kansas that participated in Sunday’s event: Douglas County Jayhawks, Topeka Junior Blues, Leavenworth County Jayhawks, Olathe Trailblazers, JCPRD Rangers (Overland Park), Blue Valley Blue Streaks, Midwest Wildfires (Ottawa), Topeka/Shawnee, Haysville Hornets and New Hope Bulldogs (Pittsburg).