This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
When Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham shared the backcourt last year, they were usually wearing practice jerseys. In games, coach Bill Self chose to play either the 5'11" Mason or the 6'2" Graham alongside big wings like 6'7" Kelly Oubre Jr. (now a Wizards rookie) and 6'5" Wayne Selden Jr., then a sophomore. But the effect of small ball in the team’s workouts was clear. “More good things were happening than bad,” Mason says.
The Jayhawks expect that to continue this year. To accelerate tempo and to get better passers and playmakers on the floor, Self plans to start Mason and Graham and hope they do for Kansas what similarly statured backcourts did for recent NCAA champs Duke and Louisville. “We’re getting back to playing the way we have when we’ve had our better teams,” Self says.
Graham, a sophomore, has a good feel for momentum and game flow as a point guard, and he can shoot (42.5% from three last year). Mason is a natural scorer who despite his size likes to attack the rim, though he also ranked in the 74th percentile nationally in points-per-spot-up (1.032) last year, per Synergy Sports data. They will feed off each other while raising their teammates’ productivity. “When it’s both of us [playing],” says Graham, “it takes the pressure off our wing guys and helps everybody make better decisions on the court.”
Svi Mykhailiuk, a deadeye 6'8" sophomore from Ukraine, added 10 pounds (to reach 205) in hopes of muscling his way into the lineup. “(With Mykhailiuk) you can run bad offense and come away with three points,” coach Bill Self says.
“I’m going into it wanting to play faster. I never thought we played slow by any stretch, but I don’t think we forced the pace as much as I would like. I want to be able to make other teams play poorly. We’ve been so good defensively over the course of time. If we weren’t good, we made sure the other team wasn’t as good. Last two years, I don’t think we’ve done that as well. That’s been an emphasis. I want our best prospects to be our youngest kids—that’s always going to happen. Still, your foundation has to be some guys that have been in the trenches with you before. And we have that this year.” — Bill Self
Projected depth chart