Men's Basketball Works Out in St. Louis on Sweet 16 Media Day

March 22, 2012

032212aaa_640_7603285.jpegKansas head coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks met with the media at the Edward Jones Dome Thursday prior to an afternoon practice session. The events lead up to Kansas’ NCAA Sweet 16 match-up with North Carolina State Friday night. The following is a roughly edited transcript provided by ASAP Sports FastScripts.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Thomas, talk about all season long you’ve had a great season, and you’ve always had to focus on teams doubling you or doing a lot to stop you on the inside. What Purdue was able to do Sunday against you that frustrated you. But still saying that you still had a double-double with 13 rebounds, 11 points, how your game is able to impact when you’re not having such a good game offensively?

Thomas Robinson: Coach always just preached to me throughout the year that part of being a good player, I have to find other ways to be effective in the game. And I knew going into the game that it wasn’t going to be easy for me to score. But I didn’t think it would be that hard either.

But Purdue did a great job on me defensively. So I just had to find other ways to affect the game and that’s where rebounding came in and I tried to get my points the hardest way I could. They made me work for it.

Q. Thomas, there was a lot expected of you before this season. Obviously I think Bill said that you had to play like an All-American for this team to get where it wanted to go. Was there a point this season in a game, in a practice, anything, where you knew, that I’ve got that, can I be that?

Thomas Robinson: No, I wouldn’t say during the season, I felt that coming into the season, I felt like I would be able to play to a high level. I wasn’t really too worried about how it would be if I would struggle or not because of my confidence level coming into the season, by me doing good in the summer camps and playing against all the previous pros that were back on campus. So my confidence was pretty high coming into the season.

Q. Travis, talk about all season long you’ve kind of been the glue guy for this team diving on loose balls, really in your pocket defender, and with Tyshawn and T-Ro kind of being the guys that carry the burden offensively. Talk about how important it is for guys like Elijah going through the stretches in right now and also for you to whatever you can do to help put points on the board and make Kansas successful.

Travis Releford: Coming into the season, we knew who our key guys were going to be and we knew who we was going to look for on the offensive end, Tyshawn and T-Rob. And me, Lij, and Jeff, we knew that there were roles that we had to do, and everybody knew that to be a great team this year, we all played our roles and did those well, that we would be a good team and have a good success.

Q. When you were in the gym this summer what are a couple of the things in particular that you knew you needed to work on and what motivated you to make the improvements that you did?

Thomas Robinson: My whole motivation was me proving to people outside of Kansas program that I am a good player, that I felt like I deserved to be named amongst the top players of the country. And as far as working on my game, I just wanted to get better at everything. So I don’t really try to get great at one thing. It’s something that I just try to work on every single aspect of my game.

Q. Both of you please comment on how does Coach Self’s style, does his style change as you’re getting deeper into the tournament? Is there any difference in the way he goes about his business, the way he coaches you guys, up intensity level, as opposed to a month ago?

Travis Releford: I don’t think nothing’s changed. He just preaches the same thing he’s been preaching from the beginning of the season. We’re going over the same things that we have been doing at the beginning of the season. It’s just getting after it a little more and a little details about other teams that we haven’t seen all year, so…

Thomas Robinson: Same thing he said, Coach Self, he doesn’t change at all. He’s going to stick to what he knows because as we know facts prove what he does works. So we stuck to the same script pretty much the whole year, and now it’s just more detailed because some of the teams we’re facing now we haven’t seen before.

Q. Thomas, I know you didn’t play your high school ball in DC really, but how did growing up in DC shape you as a person, shape you as a basketball player?

Thomas Robinson: Well, actually my nine through 11 year was in DC. And no, I just felt that me growing up in DC made me the player that I am as far as aggression-wise and wanting to be to taker on the court. So I pretty much, I felt like growing up in DC, I got that part of my game from that.

Q. What high school?

Thomas Robinson: I went to Eastern Saint High School for my last 10th grade year and then I transferred Rubido Baptist.

Q. What made you leave the area? Was it just in terms of developing as a player a little more?

Thomas Robinson: No. My mom wanted me to get out of DC. My mom did. And just the way things worked, me staying in the public school in DC wasn’t the best thing for me, so I went away, I went away from home to go to high school.

Q. Thomas, what problems or challenges will C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell bring to you offensively, if any?

Thomas Robinson: Offensively?

Q. Yeah. Like defensively, offensively what do you need to do against them in order to succeed?

Thomas Robinson: I need to be aggressive. I just need to come out and be aggressive. He’s athletic, and so I’m definitely got to use that to my advantage, the fact that he is an athlete. Probably one of the best at least I’m going to face this whole year.

So I just have to be aggressive from the jump ball.

Q. For both you guys, what is the biggest distraction off the court in the NCAA tournament that you guys face that you don’t normally see throughout the regular season?

Travis Releford: I would just have to say our family, maybe. Because they probably the biggest distraction right now, worried about like tickets and telling us to do things that we haven’t been doing like throughout the season. So maybe them and our friends.

So we keep them out the way and stay in our circle, our team, and coaches, and just do what we have been doing to get here. We should be fine.

Thomas Robinson: Yeah, everybody thinks that coach thinks they’re Coach Self this year, so we all kinds of crazy texts and people telling you what to do. So we just try to stay away from it and stay within ourselves and we can put them off for a couple more weeks.

Q. Do you guys do anything differently as a team to help you guys just distract your attention from those other distraction or do you guys kind of go about your off-the-court activities the same way you would during the regular season?

Travis Releford: We do the same thing we do during the regular season. Coach brings it to our attention that during this time of the year, we don’t need many distractions because a big part of the season is here. So, yeah, that’s about it.

Thomas Robinson: We stick to the same thing. We don’t want to change nothing because us being what we are is what got us this far. So we didn’t want to change too much, just didn’t want to make any more distractions as we go.

Q. Travis, what you saw of Thomas this summer in the early part of the season, were you seeing signs that he was going to have the kind of breakout year that he has and what specifically did you see?

Travis Releford: It started last year maybe playing behind the twins, them two versus him. And seeing that, we just knew, the team, the coaches, we all knew that he was going to be a great player. It was just a matter of him waiting his time to be able to show it.

This offseason he was in the gym all the time, getting guys in the gym, getting after each other, and you can just see the improvement. And you guys are able to see the things that he’s been working on the past few years.

Q. Guys, Coach Gottfried of NC State talked about your guys’ ability in close games to close, so to speak. So many of the big games this year have been tight from the Mizzou games to the Duke game to the game against Purdue this past weekend. What about tight games for you guys do you notice things maybe changing as the tempo of the game goes along?

Thomas Robinson: I think simply because in the beginning of the season, we got put in a tough situation. You mentioned that game against Duke, we didn’t close that game as we should have. We learned from that early.

So games like that when you’re playing a big game and you don’t finish them, it’s heartbreaking. So it’s definitely something that you don’t want to do again. So I think that because of stuff like that are why we close games out now late in the season.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We’ll start with an opening statement from coach.

COACH SELF: We’re obviously very excited to be playing this weekend and happy to be in St. Louis, a short drive for many of our fans. And we get an opportunity to play against a team that’s red hot in NC State, that’s peaking at the right time. So we’re looking forward to the challenge.

Q. Congratulations on another Sweet 16. As a coach, when your team’s fortunate enough to win a game like it did against Purdue on Sunday, afterwards are you thankful that your team was able to play a game like that, where you had to grit it out in a game, that things weren’t going your way, and you had to find a way to win? Or are you thinking, man, we’re not playing our best ball, we’re vulnerable to an upset, or is it a little bit of both?

COACH SELF: I don’t think there’s really any upsets this time of year, like a lot of the so-called prognosticators think there is. Once you get to this weekend, all the teams are good. So there may be minor ones, but they’re not major upsets this time of year.

I’ll be honest, we did not play our best. I think Purdue had a lot to do with that, but we played tough. I think sometimes coaches take more pride when their team plays tough than when things aren’t going their way, kind of figures it out, then when they do when, it’s easy. We tell our guys, it’s not hard to have a good attitude and a great outlook if everything’s going perfect for you. The key is when it doesn’t go perfect for you, how are you going to respond, and I thought our guys responded well in that area.

Q. Can you talk about the matchup that Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson will have against Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie?

COACH SELF: Yeah, and also their guy off the bench can score, too. He’s good, too.

It’s more traditional than what we have kind of been used to because they will play two bigs. But their bigs are really, really quick. Really quick. And they can catch the ball at 17 and put it down and drive it or they can make shots. And so it is still a kind of a unique challenge. They’re not traditional bigs, but at least they’re bigs.

And so we can play more traditional than we had to against Purdue when we had Thomas guarding their two guards for the majority of the game.

But they’re good and they’re very, very athletic.

Q. Could you share some thoughts on, as you gained experience and getting this deep into the tournament and the postseason over the years, have you learned lessons about how best to coach at this point, adjustments that you makes as opposed to what happens in the regular season, that sort of thing?

COACH SELF: The one thing that I have learned is that if your kids didn’t care a lot, they probably wouldn’t be playing. So we know they care. Now the question is, I don’t want to come across as soft, but this is a time where you need to love them, to be honest with you. My guys right now would probably not tell you that’s the exact case, but still though it is something that I think is important. And because you’re not going to change who you are right now.

So I want everything to be as positive as possible. And even though this past couple days, it hasn’t been exactly that way for us because we haven’t had our best days, but I do know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they care an awful lot. And the same with Mark’s team or the other teams that are playing here, you don’t get to this point unless you do.

Q. We were down in your locker room and Tyshawn Taylor crowd gathered around him, he has that gift of gab.

COACH SELF: Yeah, he’s a good talker. He can tweet good, too. So…

Q. Oh, maybe he’s talked a little too much at times. But just talk about him and being with him for as long as you have and the relationship that’s developed there.

COACH SELF: I’ve always liked Ty. I’ve always loved him as a player. No question. And I have always liked him as a guy. If I was in college I would want to hang with Ty. He’s a cool kid, I think.

I think Ty’s been a guy that has gotten in his own way some. He has put himself in a position for a large part of his career where he probably didn’t know that I liked him as much as I do. And now without question I think he knows that I really like him. I really like this kid.

I think he’s been about as big a treat to coach as anybody I’ve ever had. And I’ve always been fond of guys that have to go through some stuff to get where they eventually end up and he’s had to go through some stuff.

But he’s been a treat to be around. He’s emerged as one of the better leaders we have had since I’ve been here.

Q. You said a couple weeks ago about your starters that if there was one player who hadn’t had a stretch yet it was Elijah Johnson at the time that you said it. Was that something that behind the scenes in practices or whatever were you challenging him that maybe there would become a time that the team would need him? Talk about the stretch that he’s on right now.

COACH SELF: He’s on a pretty good run. And the thing about it is I’ve been telling him that for four months. So he’s good. He just had to realize he’s good. He’s a deferrer, he’s a pleaser. He wants to have everybody around him to be happy. And he’s done such a good job here of late of being more aggressive and doing things maybe that he wouldn’t have done two months ago or a month ago.

But I just always felt, or I have felt here late that, he’s got another gear and certainly the last two weeks he’s played at, or last three weeks he’s played at a very high level for us.

Q. Thomas Robinson’s another player you seem to have a special relationship with. How do you go about motivating or coaching a kid like Thomas, particularly since because of some unique circumstances he may leave for the NBA?

COACH SELF: Well, you know what, I don’t know if it’s a unique circumstances that he will leave for the NBA if he chooses to do so. I think it’s because of his talent level will allow him to. I don’t think circumstances have as much to do as to why he would leave. I think his talent level has more to do with that. But Thomas is a very unique guy to me in that I don’t know if I’ve ever had anybody that I respected more for how he’s taken an unbelievable situation and somehow spun it in a way that betters his life. Moving forward.

Now you can’t get back what he’s lost, but still he hasn’t been a guy that has used anything as an excuse to keep him from going after it. And to me that’s very difficult to do. He’s unique because he’s emotional, which is one of his greatest strengths, but also he can become emotional when you don’t know why he’s emotional when you’re coaching him sometimes because there could be something that has triggered something just five minutes ago. Walking by a tree planted for his mother or whatever, it would be that could trigger something like that that I think sometimes you kind of, coaching the kid, loves and then you realize you’re doing him no favors if you do that.

But he’s a unique guy and certainly one that everyone in our basketball community respects immensely.

Q. As I’m sure you’ve been pretty busy in the last couple days, I just wanted to get your take on progress and the success that the KU women’s team has had and have you had a chance to talk to the coach at all?

COACH SELF: We have traded texts. Oh, yeah we trade texts. I’m really happy for them. She and her staff and program has been dealt probably about as many bad hands as a team has in the last seven or eight years that she’s been here. I mean you got best players having ACLs. How many times do you have best players on like four or five different teams have ACL’s?

And this year best player has an ACL and somehow they get better through it. And of course when Caroline gets back they will be even better next year. But really happy for her and her staff, because they work hard, good people. And then really excited for Angel, because she’s Robbie Hummel of the women’s game. Robbie, how can you not respect him, everything he’s been through, and he deserved to play good in the NCAA tournament.

Here’s a young lady that’s had two ACL’s and fought through the same thing and she gets 27 the other night, or 28. So I think it’s pretty special what they’re doing.

Q. I’m sorry if you talked about matchups, but my question is, we have talked about how this is a more conventional matchup for Kansas, NC State and yet they have got five double-digit scorers. Just talk about that challenge.

COACH SELF: Well, if you look at Purdue, hard matchup for us. Hard matchup for them. But hard for us because they played five guards a lot, if you count Hummel as a guard, and here we are trying to play two bigs that haven’t having to guarded out on the perimeter, and they run true motion.

But one thing about their game is that we were able to go triangle and to reduce some things because maybe they didn’t stretch it from certain spots consistently. NC State is, they have balance and balance is the hardest thing to guard. But you got to guard everybody.

So I think that creates the matchup situation is you have to guard everybody. And you don’t. You try take certain things away, but most importantly, everybody’s a threat. Everybody’s scoring double figures, everybody is capable of getting 20 in a game, and they have a couple guys that can really take over a game. So even though it’s more conventional, it’s still creating obviously problems because the hardest teams to guard are teams with balance.

Q. I know there was some uncertainty early in the year about ultimately how good this team would be. Can you talk about the growth that you saw from the first practice to now.

COACH SELF: Yeah, we weren’t very good. And we had our coaching clinic, I think it was end of October, and Thomas was hurt and he couldn’t practice, whoa, that wasn’t the best looking team out there.

And we had people tell us, Well, if you can go .500, somehow figure out a way to go .500, and these were people that we paid to come in and speak at the clinic, so you know, I mean, that were experts. But to see how far they have come.

One thing about coaching at my school is even though faces change, expectations don’t. And I think that’s one thing that really helps is these guys expect. And they have great pride and I really think between their ears and their effort and all those things have had as much to do with our team’s success as it has been just raw talent. Talent’s gotten better, but the reason it’s gotten better is because these guys have put pressure on themselves to get better.

Q. Everybody’s been discussing the post matchups, but what about the Releford/Wood matchup on the perimeter, do you see that as a huge key in this game?

COACH SELF: Yeah, we could go different, depending upon who we want to matchup or they could do the same thing with us. But he’s got great size and he can shoot over defense and he doesn’t need much space. I saw a stat on NC State, you know better than me, but in games that they won, he is shooting over 50 from two and like 47 from three or 48 from three, if I’m not mistaken. And in games where they haven’t won, the numbers have dipped quite a bit. So that right there tells you how important he is to try to play him before he catches it and not get him good touches.

Q. The last three games other than Johnson I think Kansas hasn’t shot the ball all that well?

COACH SELF: No, we haven’t.

Q. Is that the opponent? Is it KU? How do you see that?

COACH SELF: Well, I think that some of it is we have been defended pretty well. But some of it is we just haven’t made shots.

I’m a believer, teams can get on momentum rolls and momentum can kind of carry you through good play, but if you’re getting the shots that you want and they don’t go in, I’m not going to get too hung up on that.

So it’s a good or a bad shot when it leaves your hand, not if it goes in or not. And I do think for the most part our shot selection hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been decent. So as long as we take good shots, I have confidence that we’ll knock them down.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports…