Jayhawks Spend Saturday Meeting With The Media And Practicing

March 29, 2008

Kansas vs. Davidson Game Notes

THE MODERATOR: We will have head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks, along with five players. We’ll start with questions for the student-athletes. <?xml:namespace prefix=”o” ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office”?>

Q. Brandon, Stephen Curry, in the games he’s been off, it usually has been because of a defender who is taller than he is. Do you think you can exploit your height against him?

Brandon Rush: Yeah, I think I can ’cause I’ll try to use my length. We probably will switch off on guarding him some. Russell will probably guard him some. Mario try to guard him some. Switch it up a little bit.

Q. Russell, each year since you’ve been here, obviously the goal is always the Final Four. Now that you’re one step shy of it, can you talk about how the team has evolved over the last few years and why you think this team might be the best suited to make that run.

Russell Robinson: Well, this team has been through a lot over the past four years. We have some ups and downs. We have some high times and some low times.

You go through everything to make you a better person. Now I feel like we’re a very mature team and is ready for any challenge in front of us.

Q. Russell, we talked the other day about your defense. When you defend a guy, go about defending a guy, how much is instinct, how much do you study film, try to get a feel for what the guy does, and what have you seen in Curry?

Russell Robinson: You know, half of it’s instincts, half of it’s scouting report. The main thing is to adjust to get refs, how the refs are calling the game. The main thing is to go out there, a guy like Stephen Curry is going to get his shots off. Make sure he’s working each possession, don’t give him anything easy.

Q. Darnell, can you talk about last year and the end of the season, that last game, what was your feeling going into the game? Did you feel maybe it was a home court for them and that was part of the deal?

Darnell Jackson: A lot of guys felt like it was a home court for them, but we couldn’t worry about that. We just had to go out there and play. There was a lot of things that weren’t going right for us. We lost that game. It was a bad feeling for everybody.

Now we’re back here again. Everybody’s feeling confident and comfortable that we can go out there and accomplish something great.

Q. Russell, when it comes to Curry, why aren’t there more guys in the college game that can shoot like he does?

Russell Robinson: Well, part of it is having a green light. Coach gives him the green light to knock down shots. His teammates are behind him. Once you get those two things down pat, anybody can knock it down.

But he’s playing really well right now. It’s going to take a team effort for us to guard him.

Q. Russell, how much of this is Richards? Pretty good point guard. How much is cutting him off, the passes, to help control Curry?

Russell Robinson: Well, you know, Richards, he runs the team. He gets a lot of assists. So you take him out, then half the job on Curry is done.

Main thing is pressure. Put our principles, stick to what we’ve been doing all year.

Q. Considering the stage, considering how hot Curry has been, is it safe to say this is the biggest defensive challenge you faced?

Russell Robinson: Oh, yes, this is definitely the biggest defensive challenge I faced in my career thus far because it’s the biggest game I played in my career thus far.

I’m up for the challenge. My teammates are up for the challenge. It’s going to take a team effort. Main thing is to have more points than them at the end of the game.

Q. Mario, pretend coach isn’t there. Tell me what the best part about playing for him is, maybe what’s the most challenging part.

Mario Chalmers: I think the best part of playing for Coach Self is he lets us do what we want to do. He don’t have no restrictions on us. As long as we’re out there playing, giving our all, he’s fine with it.

COACH SELF: “Everything you want to do,” that’s kind of strong (smiling).

Q. Russell and Mario, you are No. 1 seed, trying to get to a Final Four for the first time in a while. Davidson is a 10 seed. Maybe some of your fans think you’re already in the Final Four. How do you deal with the pressure of being expected to win in advance?

Russell Robinson: Well, we prepared all year for this. Now the time has come. So you just got to make the most of your opportunities, just focus in on what you can control, and that’s going out there and playing hard.

Mario Chalmers: Yeah, I agree with Russell. I think we just got to go out there and play our game, don’t worry about what our fans are saying right now. Just keep our heads straight and keep focused.

Q. Darnell, Arthur, how much of your role is in defending Curry, the screens and so forth?

Darnell Jackson: Our role is real big in this game. ‘Cause Curry, he runs off a lot of screens and staggers. We have to make sure we have a lot of contacts, showing our bigs, doesn’t slip to the baskets and get easy baskets.

Darrell Arthur: Yeah, I agree. We got to do a lot of showing and a lot of covering. Make sure we try to keep him out the paint, keep him from getting good looks, just try to contest his threes when he out there.

Q. Russell, Mario, is there anyone similar in the Big 12 to Stephen Curry?

Mario Chalmers: I mean, there’s a couple people. D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams. A.J. runs a lot of screens. D.J. has a green light. He can shoot whenever he wants to. I think those two players compare to him a little bit.

Russell Robinson: I agree with Mario. Those two players resemble Curry’s game really well.

Q. You said last night that you were watching a little bit of the Davidson game and Curry was impressive. What else about Davidson jumped out at you that made you think this is something we have to pay attention to?

Darrell Arthur: Like I said, those guys run an awful lot of screens and they do a lot of actions. Last game we had to go off players. This time we have to go off a lot of actions. Just try to cut off the head of this team, which is Stephen Curry. He’s a good player. We just got to try to stop him, limit his points.

Mario Chalmers: Yeah, I agree with Shady. This is a very good team. They beat Georgetown, they beat Wisconsin. They held opponents, North Carolina and other teams, like that. They’re a pretty good team. We just got to go out there, execute ourself, not let them get comfortable.

Darnell Jackson: Yeah, we have to worry about other guys than Curry. They got Richards and Sanders and all the other post guys that come off the bench. They can come out there and hurt us. They got a 17-foot range jump shot, can drive to the basket either way. As long as we move our feet and block out and rebound, everything will be fine.

Russell Robinson: Yeah, I’ve noticed that they’re a real physical team. Stephen Curry is playing really well. The rest of the players are playing really well. Main thing is to go out there and be aggressive.

Brandon Rush: Yeah, I agree with the rest of team. They run a lot of sets, so we gonna have to guard their plays, guard a couple of their players, Curry and Richardson, keep them out of the lane.

Q. Darnell and Russell, obviously there’s a lot of pressure to win this game because of the magnitude of it. Compared to heading into the UCLA game last year, is there a more relaxed feeling with the team this year?

Russell Robinson: Well, I think we’re more focused this year. A lot more mature. A little bit more experienced. We prepared all year for this. We just got to enjoy the moment. Just go out there and play hard. Leave everything out there on the court.

Q. Brandon, you have earned your seed. You’ve had a good season. It must be a little bit scary to play a team that sort of came out of nowhere to a lot of people. Would it be easier to focus on a highly seeded national power? Does this worry you a little bit, a team on a roll?

Brandon Rush: Yeah, it does kind of worry me a little bit because they really hot right now. They got great players that are making plays.

And Stephen Curry is probably the best player in the tournament right now. We’re going to have our hands full tomorrow with that team.

Q. Brandon, I guess looking back now on the surgery and the knee injury last spring, how did you get through that process? Talk about how that injury sort of matured you a lot more in terms of your game and maturity level.

Brandon Rush: I think it just taught me discipline, just work hard. You know you can do whatever you want to do with the knee, with my knee injury and everything.

Then just having a great season this year, being back with these guys, try to make it to the Final Four.

Q. Brandon, I saw a quote that after you first got injured, your mother told you that it was a blessing in disguise. Do you feel it was? In which way was it?

Brandon Rush: I say that — I agree with my mom there a little bit because you never get to experience things like this in the Final Four, going to a Final Four. Being back with my teammates, being back with my family, I think it was a blessing in disguise.

Q. Brandon, both you and Stephen bring that NBA pedigree to the game. Talk about the expectation that comes with being in that type of situation.

Brandon Rush: I think it’s real big for us, for Stephen Curry playing really great right now, and I’m playing probably the best basketball I played all year. It just comes along with being with my teammates. They telling me to stay aggressive, make plays.

Q. Brandon, with all these guys like you mentioned coming back this year, practically the entire team from last year, it would have been easy to do the same thing you’ve done in the past. What defines this year’s team as opposed to last year’s team? What has been the main difference?

Brandon Rush: I think just being more experienced than what we was two years ago, our freshman year, our sophomore year. We went through this process again. We went through this process last year with UCLA. But this year we trying to make it past that point.

THE MODERATOR: Guys, you can head straight to the right and wait out there for the break-outs. We will continue with Coach Self.

COACH SELF: Well, we’re excited to be here after a short night. Really, really fired up, like I said last night, to play an excellent Davidson team that’s playing as well as anybody in the tournament. We know it will be a very, very stiff challenge, one I know we’re looking forward to, see it as a great opportunity.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. To be a great defender takes desire probably more than anything. What do you see in Russell in addition to desire that makes him a good defender?

COACH SELF: I think desire, if you don’t have that, you’re not going to be able to guard no matter how talented you are. But he’s got some things you can’t coach, too. He’s got unbelievable instincts. He slides very well. He’s one of the few guys out there — I mean, there’s several out there, but not a ton that can gamble and miss and not get beat, which I think is a real important quality, especially when you’re a perimeter defender.

But the biggest thing, like you said, he’s got desire, he’s got heart, and he’s also got brains. Because scouting report, understanding actions, things like that are so important going in and guarding a guy, especially off the ball.

Q. Looked like last night, Wisconsin, Flowers was pretty much head up on Curry. How much is it going to be important for your big guys to get involved in the process of trying to guard Curry?

COACH SELF: I think it’s going to be important, but I also think this: we can’t change who we are in a 30-minute practice today. In the way we’ve defended, for the most part, all year long has been pretty effective. You know, we’ll still play to our principles. I heard Russell allude to earlier, and try to help as much as we can, but within what we do.

The biggest thing is, whoever’s guarding Curry at that time, and I’m sure we’ll switch defenders, has to be locked in ’cause you can’t relax, because as soon as you relax, he makes you pay.

Q. Everybody obviously knows about Curry, but what else scares you most or concerns you most about Davidson?

COACH SELF: Well, there’s a lot of things that concern us. I think Russell said this, too. They are very physical. They’re a physical team. They do a great job setting very physical, legal screens. They’re a very good screening team. They do a great job defensively of not letting you go where you want to go, riding you off cuts, things like that. They are very weak-side conscious on passes to the post, quick traps and rotations. I mean, they do a lot of good things.

Then they score in transition. You know, if they’re able to control the defensive glass, they’ll run it right down your throat. And a lot of times they run hard after makes, too.

They’ve got a lot of pieces. As a matter of fact, if you — we do not have a dominant scorer like they have, but the teams play pretty similar. I mean, it’s get up and down the floor. It’s a game of pressure on both ends. They run much more motion than we do.

But still yet, the teams are very similar in that they do a great job of finding the open man and making the extra pass.

Q. How does Curry do what he does? Obviously everybody knows it’s coming, but hardly anyone has been able to stop it.

COACH SELF: I don’t think that’s totally accurate. I don’t think everybody knows what’s coming. When you run motion and you really run it well, it’s hard to scout. It’s the hardest thing to scout. Maybe the easiest to prepare for, hardest to play against, because everything is a read. You play him a certain way, then something else is coming.

They do a great, subtle job of changing the angles of their screens, make it look like a back screen that turns into a down screen. If you’re not really, really alert and really tuned in, he can create separation. And separation either creates shots or it forces help. Now they’re playing behind the help.

I think it’s far more complicated than just seeing a guy out there running around and getting open. I think there’s some serious thought and cerebral play that goes along with it.

Q. You watched Curry and just the absolute shooting terror he’s been on. At times it looks like it’s effortless for him. Why aren’t more kids out there mastering that kind of skill, when, obviously, shooting it easy to work on?

COACH SELF: There’s not a lot of guys out there playing that’s got somebody that eats at the same dinner table every night that’s probably scored 15,000 points in his NBA career and been one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. There’s some things you can teach, but it’s hard to teach feel, and he’s got feel. I mean, the stroke is beautiful. And I’m sure he’s learned that at an early age. But he’s got feel.

I mean, the feet, the shoulders, you know, everything, he puts himself in a position to shoot it before he ever catches it. There’s a lot of things he does very, very well. I know Bob has a lot to do with his individual improvement. No doubt about that.

But as far as that stroke, I’m sure he learned that at a very early age.

Q. Given the effort that everyone puts into recruiting, we’re always a little surprised if someone appears to have slipped through the screen. As you’ve come to study Curry more and more, are you surprised a couple years ago he slipped through so many recruiting screens?

COACH SELF: Yeah, I asked my guys if they knew about him (smiling). We’d be pretty good if we had him.

It is amazing. But recruiting is such an unknown science. I mean, there’s nothing definitive about it. You know, you don’t know how much guys are going to grow after they leave high school, and you don’t know sometimes what they got inside of ’em or the maturation process. There’s so many unknowns.

I know that we, in large part due to me, have missed on a lot of guys over time. But that happens. Guys are paid to see these things, but sometimes they’re not very detectable.

There’s always room for somebody with a great stroke, though, somebody that can really shoot and stretch the defense. I don’t know of very many programs who can’t make great use of that. He’s obviously evolved into being a terrific player, as well.

Q. When you hear or read “best coach to not coach in the Final Four,” what is your reaction to that?

COACH SELF: Well, if they’re saying that, at least it’s got “best,” part of it that says “best.”

I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed personally we haven’t been there yet. I was asked this earlier. I’m sure I’ll be asked some more. It’s something that I think about all the time. I mean, I think about it every day in some form or fashion. And a lot of times many times a day.

But, you know, to me as a coach, all you can do is prepare your team to be as good as it can possibly be when it counts the most. You know, we put ourself in position to play in some big games and we obviously haven’t finished the job.

You know, I would like to eliminate that tag, so to speak, but not for me as much as I’d love to have these players who have won so many games since they’ve been at Kansas, so many championships. The seniors have won seven out of eight Big 12 championship opportunities, and the juniors are six for six. I would love for them to add this to their resum√© because it will be incomplete without it.

Q. How do you deal with the pressure of expectations from your fans and how do you keep your kids from feeling that heat from the outside?

COACH SELF: You know, I’m sure our players feel it, but I don’t know if they feel it that much. Unless somebody’s texting them or playing PlayStation with them, talking about it, I don’t know how they feel it. I don’t think they’re rushing out and buying newspapers or jumping on talk radio very often.

I think sometimes when you operate within the eye of the storm, you really don’t feel what’s going on around you. And even as a coach, I feel that way some. I’m sure that there’s a ton, a ton of expectations. And I do feel that to an extent. But I probably don’t feel it to the extent that you think exists with me because we kind of live in our own little world, are totally oblivious to a lot of things.

And certainly, I want our fans to be happy, but that’s not why we coach, to make our fans happy. We coach to try to do the best we can with our players. And that will be our 100% focus.

Q. You talked about the pain of not getting to the Final Four, thinking about it a lot. Of the previous four regional finals, any particular one that stands out over the others or not?

COACH SELF: Probably not. They all hurt. You know, I’ve had the opportunity to play in this game and be unsuccessful four times, and had the opportunity to play in the tournament several times, and we lost two first-round games when we were not supposed to lose. And they both hurt a tremendous amount.

But I don’t know, other than losing a championship game, if one could hurt as much as losing in the Elite 8, because all season long there’s a buildup in your players’ minds and everything: “The Road to the Final Four.” And this is obviously the last step.

Yeah, that’s something that is certainly, you know, doesn’t set well with us. But, you know, and I’ve told our guys this in the past, I’d much rather be in the game than not in the game.

Q. You say you think about this all the time. What are some of the main changes you made either, in the off-season or as the season has gone on, to try to make sure this team did get over that hump?

COACH SELF: There hasn’t been changes. The last loss of a season should always be motivation for you and for your team. But that would be the case regardless of when you lose.

We’re not going to change how we play or who we are. We may tweak some things. But our philosophical approach isn’t changing.

I don’t think because you lose a game or lose multiple games, you know — I didn’t think the Bills were totally, totally out of sync with what was going on because they didn’t win the Super Bowl four times. They still had great years to get there.

But just, you know, from a tweaking standpoint, sure, we’ll do some things. But from a philosophical changing standpoint, it won’t change.

Q. You mentioned last night maybe you’ve worked teams a little too hard going into the Elite 8 game. Can you elaborate on that? How have you changed up on that this year?

COACH SELF: Last year wasn’t the case. But I know when I first got started doing this, we would practice every day. I started thinking about it after I said that, since I’ve been at Kansas, that really hasn’t been the approach. When I was at Tulsa and Illinois, we probably did practice too much the day before, today. You know, when I say “practice,” I mean too intently with taxing our guys’ legs a little bit because that’s who we were, that’s what we did. We never passed up an opportunity to practice. When I say “practice,” I mean get after it.

I think I’ve relaxed a little bit in that regard in trying to understand the importance of the game, keeping your minds fresh and your legs fresh. Because if guys didn’t care a lot already, they wouldn’t be in this game, all eight teams left, they wouldn’t be in this game unless they cared. You know they think about it. You know it consumes every thought all day long for an extended period of time. And that does burn energy. So you got to be smart not to burn too much.

Q. Of all the teams you’ve taken to Sweet 16s, Elite 8s in your career, how does this one stack up in terms of having whatever is needed to take that final step?

COACH SELF: Well, I’ve said this before. I thought last year’s team was a really good team. You add a lottery pick to this year’s team basically, Julian, with the same main core of players, that’s a pretty talented group.

But from an experience standpoint, from the pieces fitting standpoint, the balance of big guys and perimeter play, depth, I think this is the best team that we’ve had.

I’ve said I would reserve judgment to say that until after this weekend’s games. But if we play like I think we’re capable of playing, then this is the best team we’ve had.

Q. Last night’s crowd was pretty empty, pretty quiet. Obviously tomorrow it will fill up a lot more. Probably a lot of people pulling for Davidson with their story-of-the-year thing. Even outside the arena, a lot of people gunning for Davidson to pull off the upset. How is that for your team?

COACH SELF: You know, we would like for everybody to be pulling for us. But we played in places before where that was not the case. And Davidson is a great story. They’re not a 10 seed, though. The appearance of being the Cinderella is obviously a great story. But in our mind they’re not a Cinderella.

You know, I don’t think that we’re going to go into this thinking that we have to deal with Davidson plus the crowd. We’re going to go in it thinking we have to deal with Davidson. The crowd will probably be better than it was last night. Last night, it wasn’t a very boisterous atmosphere. I’m sure it will be louder tomorrow. But the fans are so far from you that on the court you don’t really sense them being as involved as what they would be if it was a more intimate setting.

Q. A lot of people in this area are familiar with what you did in the Big-10 at Illinois. You helped set a high standard there, recruited great players. You showed up for the first practice in Army fatigues, I read. What did those kind of experiences do to help you at this current job?

COACH SELF: That wasn’t 100% accurate, but it’s a good story, so go with it (smiling).

Well, I think everywhere I’ve been has helped prepare me for what we’re doing now. Illinois was a fabulous job. It’s a great job. We had a great time there. Certainly, you know, we won a few games there and everything. It was great preparation for the Kansas job.

But I will tell you this, I see, you know, from an expectation standpoint and everything, Illinois fans are out there, too. I mean, there’s expectations everywhere. So I didn’t see it as changing levels, going from Illinois to Kansas. I saw it as an opportunity to be a coach at a place that was a little more tradition rich.

But as far as expectations and everything, I think Illinois had high hopes, just like the Kansas fans do.

Q. Is there any part of you that envies Coach McKillop being here with this team and the expectations maybe not as high, he’s got this great story? How do you quantify greatness in coaching beyond numbers? In your mind, what makes a coach great?

COACH SELF: Well, I think every coach in America would be envious of Bob, you know, knowing that he’s got Curry on his team (smiling). I think that’s one reason to be envious.

But he’s a fabulous coach. In the coaching circles, he’s been thought of as being as good a coach as there was around for a long time. Going back to Illinois, Dee Brown and Deron Williams actually played for Bob during a USA basketball tour in which Ernie Kent was the head coach, if I’m not mistaken, and Bob was one of the assistants. They came back and just raved about him. They just thought he was fabulous.

So I’ve kind of known him in that way, you know, as far as the respect that the players had for him. But he’s a terrific coach. When I was at Tulsa, we were a 7 seed playing in this game. Maybe you don’t feel the same pressures being the higher seed, but I don’t know if that’s really the case.

I don’t know what the definition of “greatness” would be. People will say winning games, obviously, winning championships. And that’s what he’ll be measured to in other people’s standards. But in coaching circles, I really feel like, you know, giving your team the best chance, maximizing their abilities and playing as close to their ceiling as possible. I think coaches know better than anybody if you, in fact, accomplish that.

So that to me would be whether or not a coach has done a good job or not.

Q. You mentioned your hunger to go to the Final Four. I suspect you would feel that way no matter where you coached.

COACH SELF: Absolutely.

Q. When you work at a place like Kansas that has the long line of Final Four teams and coaches, do you feel that history? Is it part of that urge you feel?

COACH SELF: I feel the history every day walking in my office. Every day I walk through my office, you know, it starts with Dr. Naismith, goes to Phog Allen, goes to Dick Harp, and Wilt, you know, Ted Owens, Larry Brown, Roy Williams, all the great players. That’s the pictures that line my hallway going into my office.

I feel it every day. I feel it every day. I don’t think as a coach, though, you can put so much pressure on yourself, it’s Final Four, national championship, or bust. That’s not the way it is. That’s the way so many people view it. Certainly I know when you put yourself in this position you have to finish the job.

But still yet, there’s a lot of good teams in college basketball. There’s a lot of parity out there. There’s a lot of intangibles that go into winning that nobody on the outside knows even exist. That’s part of life.

But certainly I don’t feel because I coach at Kansas there’s more pressure to do this. I would feel pressure to do it whenever I coached.

Q. Obviously you’ve been around Brandon for a long time. What sort of things have you learned about him over the past 12 months you may not have known before?

COACH SELF: Brandon’s made unbelievable progress from a maturity standpoint since he’s been at KU. He came in — whether it’s right or wrong, he came in with a reputation as a guy not caring about school, a guy that didn’t work hard. He’s done very well with school and he works his butt off. I mean, he was a great offensive player that wouldn’t guard anybody. Now he’s our best defender, or many times our best defender, he and Russell, and Mario, too. You can throw Mario in there, too.

I think through the injury, there’s brought out an element of discipline. I think he had 130 rehab treatments in the summer months, opportunities. He was late, when I say “late” minutes late, three times. So that, to me, is making progress. And certainly he never complains. He’s worked his butt off. I mean, he had a major surgery, you know, 10 months ago or nine months ago, I guess it was nine, and now he’s playing at this level. Five months into it, he was, you know, chasing Chase Budinger around Arizona for 36 minutes, which just doesn’t happen very often, because it usually takes a year to come back from that. I think it speaks volumes to his work ethic and also his discipline level.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach.

COACH SELF: Thank you.

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