1-on-1 With Charlotte Hornets’ Devonte’ Graham: ‘I Definitely Felt a Little Disrespect’
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images. Pictured: Devonte Graham.
Devonte’ Graham went from a second-round pick to the G-League to one of the staples of the Charlotte Hornets’ future. Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) sat down with Graham to discuss his path to the NBA and more.
Rob Perez, The Action Network: You were named Big 12 Player of the Year two years in a row and First Team All-America, but your name doesn’t come up in the first round on draft night. Can you take me through the emotion of that evening? Did you feel disrespected at all and have you used it as motivation to get you to the point that you’re at today?
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets: Well, my agent was pretty straightforward with me, telling me, “You could go anywhere from 28 to 45.” And I definitely felt a little disrespect there from some of the people who were picked before me. You just use it as fuel that motivates you, just try to prove people wrong.
RP: Once you make it to the bigs, all that’s waiting in front of you on the depth chart is Tony Parker and Kemba Walker. What did you learn playing alongside them?
DG: I learn from watching, so I would just sit there and during the games, I’m watching Tony, I’m watching Kemba, I’m watching how aggressive they are and how they never lose confidence in their shot, even if they miss it. Tony was such a good leader by talking to guys in the huddle, calling out plays, [being a] floor general and being selfless. I still watch Kemba and what he’s doing in Boston, just how he finishes around the basket and stuff like that. I’ll continue to watch him, too.
RP: Now that he’s in Boston, you’re the man now. I mean it’s just a fact that you’re the guy. You’re the floor general for this team. Do you feel any pressure to be his successor? What’s going through your mind now that you’ve gone from a second-round pick to starting point guard this quickly?
DG: I mean it’s just, you got to perform. You want it. You dream of this opportunity: getting drafted, being able to play, being able to play a lot of minutes, being able to play a lot of games. I kind of had that main primary ball-handling role at Kansas my last year, so that was a lot of pressure, too, but I don’t look at it as pressure. Just go have fun, and I got a good group of guys around me, so we just go out and play.
RP: What was your “Holy shit, I’m in the NBA!” moment?
DG: I would say there were two. Being drafted, one. I just remember that moment. Me and my family were sitting there, surprised. I wasn’t even looking at the screen when they called my name. I was sitting there and talking to one of my friends and I just heard my name. I just remember crying. And then the first time playing LeBron because I grew up a LeBron fan, argued LeBron this, LeBron that. Man, I think that might’ve been the first time I was ever starstruck, seeing him dunk the ball and in layup lines. It was crazy.
RP: You just alluded to growing up. You have such a unique story with your mother who gave birth to you at an early age. I would just love to hear the inspiration she is to you because she’s such a big part of your life and how you’ve taken her strength raising you and applied it to the basketball court. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have similar situations or can relate to you who would be inspired in the story.
DG: I mean, man, she had me when she was 14. Not knowing what she would do, she finished school. She and my grandmother raised me, so I’ve been around women my entire life. Just their strength, their bond, and love for one another. Hardworking. You can never tell if they’re upset, mad, going through something — it’s always smiling and positive. But as always, you got to fight for what you want. Nothing is ever given, so you’ve always had that underdog mentality as a family.
RP: Well you just used a great term there: the underdog mentality. As soon as you get the ball, you play with the attitude of “I’m going to bust this dude’s ass.” Where does that come from?
DG: I mean, yeah, you got to have that. It’s either you’re going to do it to them or they’re going to try and do it to you. You’ve got to have that “I’m the best player on the floor” type of mindset. And I get it from just growing up, going to the park, playing against the older guys at the park. Obviously at Kansas you literally are a top-10 team in the world, or in the nation, so you always got to have that mindset that the other team’s coming to kick your ass, so you got to kick theirs first.
RP: It’s either him or me?
RP: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed coming from Kansas to pro ball?
DG: I mean there’s obviously more spacing on the court. You get to operate more and more ISOs, more 1-on-1s. It’s more physical. Guys are bigger, stronger and they cover ground faster. And then you just have superstars who can take over a game and dominate.
RP: You’re going to have your hat in the ring, whether you like it or not, for NBA Most Improved Player this year. What would that award mean to you? Does it feel like something that you’ve earned?
DG: I mean I haven’t earned yet. It’s definitely something I would want to win, just knowing all the hard work that I put in. The story where I come from, having to go from Appalachian State to Brewster to Kansas to a second-round pick to not playing last year to the G-League to coming back and performing this year. But [I] just keep grinding. If it happens, it’ll happen. And I’d definitely be grateful for that, but I’ve got to keep putting the work in.
RP: You know you’re third in the league right now in 3s, right?
RP: The last thing, because of the recent events in Los Angeles … just want to get your thoughts on what Kobe meant to you growing up, what he currently means to you now, and just your takeaways personally from it, if you’re willing to expand.
DG: Obviously tragic. Condolences to his family and all the other people who were aboard, but he just meant a lot to the game. Whether you were a Kobe fan or not, you love his mentality. Like we were just saying, it’s either you’re going to try to kill me or I’m going to kill you, and 10 times out of 10 he was trying to take your head off. So that aggression and passion that he played with … it made a lot of people love basketball and want to play.
And when the news broke, it felt like time stopped. But man, I never met him or played against him, but it felt like I knew him. And he meant a lot to a lot of people.
RP: If you had to sum up Kobe Bryant’s legacy in one word, what would it be?