Devonte’ Graham went to the Charlotte Hornets, and in the process, he went home.
Well, sort of.
Speaking to members of the Charlotte media Friday at an introductory news conference, the former Kansas basketball standout and No. 34-overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft expressed his happiness to land with his in-state franchise, who traded for Graham after the guard’s selection by the Atlanta Hawks.
“Everybody was just excited,” Graham said of his family’s reaction, “just ‘cause I’m just up the street.”
“Just up the street” might have been a slight twisting of the truth — Charlotte is 167 miles, a two-and-a-half-hour drive, from his hometown of Raleigh, N.C. — but compared to Graham’s last two stops, Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. (a 805-mile trek from Raleigh) and Lawrence (a 1,108-mile journey), it might as well be a stone’s throw from where he grew up.
It certainly makes it easier for Graham’s uber-tight family to see the outgoing guard play.
“I’ve been far away,” Graham said. “I went from Brewster to Kansas and was just so far away they’d have to take a flight or something like that, but now they get to drive right up the street. It’s just great.”
Among the crowd at the news conference were Graham’s mother, Dewanna King, his sister, Shamaria Massenburg, and his grandmother, Doris King.
“Throughout the whole process, throughout my whole life, them three right there for me has been the key to everything,” Graham said. “Just being from Raleigh and being able to come home and have them two hours away I think is just a blessing.”
Graham said getting drafted by his home-state team “definitely feels full circle,” though he admitted he’d only been to Charlotte a handful of times, all for AAU events.
Sporting a crimson and blue tie with multiple “KU” logos woven into the pattern, Graham said he believed his success at a top-tier program -- and first-round pick Miles Bridges’ success at a similarly storied institution in Michigan State -- would only help with the learning curve of ascending to the professional ranks.
“I just feel like both of us, we come from two historic programs with two great coaches,” Graham said. “You’ve just got to have that competitiveness to be playing at such a high level like that. You want to win so bad that that’s all you know is just getting after it and putting your all into it. I feel like it’ll translate right into the NBA for us.”
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak agreed.
“It makes our job a little bit easier knowing they came from top programs, playing against great, top competition, great coaching and they’ve all played multiple years in college,” Kupchak said. “A lot of times you end up drafting freshmen. ... Devonte’ playing four years, it’s gonna help us get quicker to where we want to go.
“We did not draft them because they have experience at the college level beyond one year. It’s a combination of talent and the upside and also who can help us get to where we need to as quick as possible but at the same time have a high ceiling.”
While Hornets principal owner Michael Jordan wasn’t in attendance Friday, the NBA legend was an elephant in the room of sorts. Bridges said he had an opportunity to meet with Jordan, but Graham indicated he hadn’t gotten the same face time just yet.
“I didn’t get to meet Mike yet,” Graham said wryly, eliciting laughter, “but lookin’ forward to it.”
Asked Thursday night if he anticipated Graham feeling any extra pressure playing for his home-state team and for arguably the greatest basketball player ever, KU coach Bill Self disagreed with the notion.
“I don’t think playing in his home state would do anything other than be a benefit to him,” Self said. “Of course, what a thrill for a guy to be playing for the franchise that obviously Michael Jordan is basically running. I think it’ll be great. I don’t see the extra pressure because Michael chose him. I don’t see that at all.
“I see that as extra motivation, and if you knew Devonte’ and his makeup, I don’t think you’ll see it that way.”
MYKHAILIUK, NEWMAN LAND IN L.A.
When all the dust settled Thursday, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman both ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers, with Mykhailiuk going No. 47 overall and Newman signing a two-way contract as an undrafted free agent.
Self spoke with Mykhailiuk and his agent shortly before the sharp-shooting guard’s selection.
“He wants to go to L.A.,” Self said. “And certainly who knows what’s going to happen, but if the rumors are true I think that’s a nice piece to have, a corner jump shooter, when maybe one of the best players ever has the ball in his hands, if it plays out that way like it’s rumored to be. That could be a great situation for Svi and certainly I really anticipate him making the team.”
Newman, who finished his college career strong as one of the best players in the NCAA Tournament during the Jayhawks’ run to the Final Four, may benefit in the long run from choosing his destination.
“I’m really disappointed for Malik. This isn’t what we expected,” Self said. “But the fit is much more important than the number. ... I think from a pride standpoint everybody wants to hear their name called, and who wouldn’t? But in terms of making the team it’s more important to be in the right fit.”