The first time Devonte’ Graham saw Allen Fieldhouse lined with Kansas fans in crimson and blue was not on a recruiting visit or in Kansas’ first exhibition game. As a nontraditional recruit who signed with Appalachian State then later backed out of his letter of intent, he never saw Allen Fieldhouse full on a visit.
When he was a baby-faced freshman with a short haircut and bubbling nerves jogging onto a foggy court for the Late Night in the Phog scrimmage — that was the first time he saw Allen Fieldhouse (mostly) full. Back then, in 2014, he was a reserve guard, nervous for the dancing, his first shot, his first impression on Kansas fans.
Now, he’ll be a guide for the recruits coming to campus this weekend, aiming to show them that Lawrence is the best place to play college basketball in the nation. Now it’s freshmen Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike who are the nervous ones — or at least they should be, Graham said.
“I think Udoka might be the one who’s a little bit more nervous than everybody right now,” Graham said. “I think Josh Jackson and Malik [Newman] might be two of the worst (dancers) on the team right now.”
The first time Graham saw the Fieldhouse, though, it wasn’t quite full. That was the year the Royals made it to the American League Championship Series, and eventually would make it to the World Series. So, naturally, some corners of the Fieldhouse were bare, unlike the year before, when thousands were turned away to see Andrew Wiggins in his first appearance at the Fieldhouse.
“It wasn’t as packed as it usually was,” Graham said. “I think coach was a little upset about that. … Seeing Allen [Fieldhouse] packed is different than just walking in and seeing it empty. You can’t imagine it.”
But in the two years since, Graham has learned plenty about the importance of the event, both from a recruiting and a fan stand-point.
Last Sunday, when Graham was watching the Chiefs top the Jets at Arrowhead Stadium, several Kansas fans approached him and started talking about Late Night. For Graham, it’ll start around 6:30 p.m., when the men’s basketball team is expected to take the floor.
But for those fans, it’ll start at 12 p.m., five hours before the doors are even open to students. It was one time in a myriad of others that Graham has come to realize just how important of an event Late Night is.
“It’s a big thing,” Graham said. “It’s huge.”
And in that time, Graham has become used to showing the recruits around when they come to Lawrence. This year, there are 11 recruits confirmed as taking visits to Late Night — five official and six unofficial, including ESPN’s No. 11 and No. 20 ranked recruits.
When it’s over, he’ll go to coaches and tell them how he thinks players would fit in at Kansas. He’ll push harder for some than for others, if he likes their “vibe” or the way they play. But to the recruits, when they’re at the $12 million basketball apartment facility or the team’s locker room, Graham’s pitch is subtle.
“I’m not too pushy as a recruiter, but they’re around me,” Graham said. “You know, it’s not easy, it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to come in here and work.”
But one thing he tells every recruit is the same, and it’s a glowing endorsement of Bill Self’s program and the tradition of basketball at Kansas alike.
“There’s nothing like being here,” Graham said. “That’s one thing I always say. No matter where you come from, it’s one of the best places to be. That’s really what I tell them.”