Kansas Meets With Media, Holds Open Practice
March 30, 2012
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Head coach Bill Self and the Kansas basketball team met with the media one last time Friday to preview its Final Four matchup with Ohio State on Saturday, March 31 in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After interviews, the Jayhawks held a 40-minute open practice in which thousands of fans turned out for to cheer on the team.
The following is a transcript of the press conference portion of the day, provided by ASAP Sports FastScripts.
Head Coach Bill Self
Q. When you were in Vegas talking about Elijah after that game, you talked about his need to mature, buy in. It seems like he has. Can you talk about that maturation process with him from then to now.
COACH SELF: I think Elijah is probably as talented or right up there as talented as any guard we’ve recruited here when you talk about explosiveness, touch, vision, being able to slide. I mean, he has all the physical attributes, plus he’s got a great skill set.
He’s really, really talented, but he hadn’t put it all together yet. He didn’t put it all together in high school. He was close. I thought it was just a matter of time before we actually saw what he could become. I still think he’s just scratching the surface of what it is.
He’s played great the last month for us, probably been as good a performer as we’ve had in the tournament. But, again, I think he’s still got another big step to take.
Q. Has Thomas (Robinson) done anything that surprised you this year? Did you expect him to have this Player of the Year type of season?
COACH SELF: I expected him to maybe have a shot at winning conference Player of the Year, I really did. If you’re the best player in our league, you’re going to be one of the better players around. But the national Player of the Year attention that he’s getting certainly would have been a dream, and I would have never anticipated that.
The thing that amazes me from a production standpoint is how consistent he’s been. This kid has 26 or 27 double-doubles for the year. I know that’s not the most important stat, but still, it’s a sign that you can pencil in 15 and 11 on a bad night. That’s what has amazed me as much as anything, just how consistent he’s been.
Q. Did you bring anything from San Antonio during the championship year as far as preparation, getting your kids ready, this week?
COACH SELF: Well, I sought out a lot of advice before San Antonio. I talked to several coaches, including Coach (Bob) Knight, guys that have been there, asked them to give a guy that doesn’t know some advice on how to handle things. I thought I had a pretty good manual going into it as far as the things that you wouldn’t think mattered that do matter.
We try to follow that as closely as possible this time. I’ve said this many times. The thing about this week is I’m tired, so I guarantee the players are tired. It’s an adrenaline rush where you get fired up, then you drop down, then you get pumped up again, it goes down. You have to somehow make it be as even keel as much as possible. You got to keep your guys off their feet, you have to keep their minds fresh, and you can’t let them have any fun. That’s a tough combination to do.
We basically try to do that in a way where they think they’re having a good time but we’re controlling everything that’s going on.
Q. Everyone talks about the parity. How often have you thought about maybe they would have called that foul that wasn’t called before Chalmers hit the shot?
COACH SELF: I don’t know what you’re talking about (smiling).
Isn’t that the way it is in every game? Every game has five plays that could have gone one way or another. Every game does. That’s basketball. There’s always those judgment plays that could go one way or the other. A guy will get a second foul in the first half, which was it really a second foul? Still that impacts the whole rest of the half on how you play. That’s just part of the game.
Q. I imagine you prepared the first game as if Sullinger was going to play. You didn’t go against him. What do you think he can bring tomorrow that you didn’t see in December?
COACH SELF: What do I think he can bring? He’s as good a low-post scorer as there is in the country. He brings a lot to the table. We caught a huge break when he didn’t play the first time. He’s a terrific player.
They’re not the same team that we played because they’ve improved a lot. I don’t think we’re the same team they played because we’ve gotten a little bit better.
Certainly I don’t know if the first game has one thing to do with the outcome tomorrow. I don’t think it will. It was like two seasons ago. I can barely remember the game without watching the tape. I’m sure Thad feels the same way. I’m not sure that game is going to have any impact on what happens tomorrow.
Q. What are you having your kids do that you know that they’re not having fun but they actually think they are having fun?
COACH SELF: I don’t know. I was joking.
We don’t let them go to the lobby, you know. Family members have a time slot where they can actually see their kids up on their floor in a room, basically a kind of a suite area that our guys go gather and hang out in.
It’s just one of those things that we’re busy enough. We got up this morning at 10. We ate breakfast at 10:15. We have been on the go and will be on the go till six tonight. Tonight what we’ll probably do is we’ll have a walk-through, a last walk-through, film session, let them get a movie, that’s it.
It also amazes me, it doesn’t take a lot for kids to have fun these days if they have a phone. There’s plenty of things for them to do on that.
Q. Thomas was telling us a few minutes ago that he came back because even though people thought highly of him, he wanted to have his chance to go out and show everybody. I’m asking you, why do you think he came back? What kind of conversations did you have with him about that?
COACH SELF: I don’t even remember if we had a conversation. You know, here’s the thing. This is just one guy’s opinion. Guys can be prepared to get a check, but I’m not sure they’re all prepared to make a living. Thomas wasn’t prepared to make a living. I mean, let’s call it like it is. He’s never had to carry the water. How many guys in the NBA that are ultra-successful have ever had to be in the game at the end of the game to determine the outcome?
To me, it wasn’t a hard decision. He needed to show everybody and himself that he was a guy that could make plays to impact a game, and he would have been drafted probably late first round. He could have got a check for three-quarters of the year after this lockout situation. That would have been a good deal. But he would have passed up a chance to prepare himself to make a living.
I think that’s a mistake that a lot of kids make because when they are told that they’re prepared to get a check, they go, when many times they’re not prepared to play.
I still think college is the best proving ground to show that you’re prepared to go play.
Q. How has your team dealt with being the underdog the whole season, especially coming here to New Orleans?
COACH SELF: Well, I think that’s fine. I kind of like it, to be honest. We’ve been the hunted, it seems like, for a while. It’s nice to kind of be able to flip that a little bit. Even though the hunter still has to be hungrier than anybody else, it’s nice sometimes to flip that.
We have a nice team. I don’t know if you’re a serious underdog when you have won 31 games, you win your league by two games in a good league. But I do know with what you’re saying, from the start to now. I don’t think that many people would have envisioned us being in this position.
We have kind of flown under the radar, by Kansas standards, of late, which I think has been very healthy for a team that’s just trying to find themselves.
Q. Can you comment on making your first visit to New Orleans since the hurricane, what you have seen, what your guys have seen?
COACH SELF: Well, I was mistaken when I said that. My assistant reminded me that I’ve been to New Orleans, we tried to recruit Greg Monroe. We’ve been here a few times unsuccessfully trying to recruit Greg.
I think this is a great city. It’s a great venue. I really feel like Bourbon Street, whatever, the fans will enjoy that. We won’t get an opportunity to. To me that’s very similar to The Riverwalk (in San Antonio). It’s a place for all people to go and enjoy it, those sorts of things. It probably does a lot to boost the economy in this area, which probably needs it still, coming off such a catastrophe.
But I think it’s great to be here. The weather’s fantastic, warm weather. I’m sure all the fans from all the schools are enjoying it.
Q. Everybody knows the starting five at Kansas, probably follows who the first four guys are off the bench. This is a question about the three guys after that. You have Niko Roberts on your team. Can you describe how a guy like that adds value to a program and whether he’s done something from this season that you’ll always remember?
COACH SELF: Well, you’re right. Everybody talks about your so-called rotation guys or your main guys that have something to do with production or play the majority of the minutes. But everybody has a role. Everybody does.
Leading scorer has a role. Your best rebounder has a role. Everybody’s got a role. Guys that don’t get an opportunity to play much, their role is to make sure that those guys play better. Their role is to make sure that they’re good in the locker room. Their role is to be a great teammate. Their role is to hold guys accountable. Their role is to make sure they lighten the mood, a lot of things.
We’re fortunate. We have a great team of a couple of guys, a great team of guys like that, and one of them is Niko. Niko, he wanted to come to school at Kansas. Of course, I’ve known him since he was a year old probably, maybe two, because his father Norm, we worked together for I guess eight or nine years, he went on and has been a head coach, now is an assistant at Florida.
He wanted to be at KU. He’s a little different because he’s a coach’s son. Sometimes they add extra value because they are a coach in the locker room, which I think he’s done a great job with.
Q. Coaches always look back on the games they lost, want to correct things so they don’t occur again. Is there a common denominator in the games that you lost that popped up every time that you’re concerned about going into this game?
COACH SELF: Well, you know, I think for us, if we don’t defend and we don’t rebound, that’s not a good formula for success. If we don’t play with great energy, it’s not a good formula because then we won’t defend or rebound.
To me, it’s as much energy as anything else. We could play a great game tomorrow, a great game, and Ohio State could play better. They could get open shots and miss them, we could get open shots and miss them. We could just not convert.
There’s a lot of things that have to do with winning and losing, and you say, `You know what, we were better than the outcome today.’ You could also say, `We were worse than the outcome today, because we got away with things, guarded shots,’ or whatever it is.
The common denominator with our teams is primarily energy. We’re not real deep. With only playing, you know, really six guys a lot of minutes, you’ve got to have five of those six playing well or you’re not going to look very good, getting consistent play. You don’t always get that, but you should be consistent with your energy, how you guard and rebound.
Q. Thomas, in the first game in December, how disappointed were you that you couldn’t go against Jared (Sullinger) in the first game?
Thomas Robinson: I was disappointed but it didn’t really bother me that much. I wanted to go against him. He’s a great player. Every time you get a challenge like that, you want to take it on. I knew I would get my chance Saturday.
Q. Elijah, when you came back a year or so ago, you were getting used to Kansas, being at that stage, maturing as a player. Compare yourself then to now.
Elijah Johnson: I think that I’ve become much more mature. I think I’ve understood how the college system works. I understand how college basketball is supposed to be played. I think it shows in my game.
Q. Thomas, Jared Sullinger said others have their opinions, but he called you the national Player of the Year this year. What is your relationship with him like?
Thomas Robinson: You know, me and Jared built a relationship all through the summer. We were at every camp together. He’s a real cool guy off the court. So, you know, me and him, we are semi-close off the court. Like he said, everybody has their opinion. I agree with him.
Q. Elijah, in St. Louis you made a comment about the one-game-at-a-time idea being that you don’t know what the Final Four is, clearly your mindset had been squared away. I read that all the players got fitted for rings last night. Did that unsettle your mindset a little bit coming in here, what you have to take care of?
Elijah Johnson: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t even know you get a ring for getting to the Final Four. I had an idea, but it dawned on me once we were getting fitted for it. I think that’s one of the points where it set in and I realized there were only four teams left and we were all standing next to each other.
Last weekend was last weekend. We are here now.
Q. Thomas, Jared plays very well off of Deshaun (Thomas). Can you talk about how you and Jeff (Withey) have helped each other and what he’s meant to this team down the stretch in getting here to the Final Four?
Thomas Robinson: For Jeff, his importance to the team, he’s very important. For me he’s meant everything. Without Jeff, I probably wouldn’t have anything close to as good of a season as I’m having. He changed the game by deflecting the shots and being in the way. He’s a 7-footer, athletic, can move. He’s definitely a big part of this team, a big part of why we got this far.
Q. Tyshawn, a lot of guys here in the Final Four are in their first year. Might be their only year in college. For you as a four-year player, how much more does that make you enjoy getting to this place here?
Tyshawn Taylor: I was just talking to the guys a little bit earlier when we finished our practice about how we really only have a couple days left together. We can stretch it out, but it’s only four or five days. We just have to enjoy this time.
I want to take full advantage of this opportunity because it’s my last year. I’m happy to be here. I’ll really excited about being here. I feel like we deserve to be here. Why not enjoy it and have fun in the process, just take advantage of this because, like you said, this is not something that everybody gets to see in their career. I’ve been lucky enough to get a chance to see it so I’m going to take full advantage and enjoy it.
Q. Thomas, you started this season, we all expected you to have a good year, but have you exceeded expectations this year for yourself?
Thomas Robinson: For myself, I would say no. Coming into the season, I tried to set my expectations higher than everybody else around me. That way I won’t let anybody down if my expectations are set higher than anybody’s anyway. I think I had a great year. I think I did a pretty good job by living up to what anybody held me accountable for for the season.
Q. The court feels like you’re up on a stage. Could you talk about the court.
Elijah Johnson: I actually did feel like I stepped onto a stage. I felt like I was about to rap (smiling). The floor felt good. I don’t know, it felt like a make-believe court. I don’t know if it was because it was elevated or what, but the court just seemed longer. But I like it so far. I plan on having fun up there.
Thomas Robinson: Yeah, like Elijah say, I felt like somebody just dropped us in like a box or something. I’m even scared to see what it looks like when it’s filled up. I’m excited. This is definitely the biggest stage I have played on in my career.
Tyshawn Taylor: The court out there is similar to the one I played on in the Sweet 16 my freshman year against Michigan State. It was a little bit elevated. It was in a big stadium, the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It was similar. But I think this court, with it being in the Superdome, it seems a little bit bigger, the lights seem a little bit brighter.
The court seems a little bit springy, too. Like you said, it’s a stage. I’m excited. For us, it’s our biggest stage. It’s a good feeling to be here and playing on a court where it feels like you’re at center stage and everybody’s watching you.
Q. Thomas, I know you played behind the Morris twins, but I think everybody would agree if you had wanted to come out for the draft, you would have been picked. Was it just an economic decision that you needed to have a big year to raise your stock or were there other factors involved?
Thomas Robinson: Like I said, I felt comfortable with my draft stock last year. It was a prior issue. I didn’t want people to guess and be like, `I think you can play. We’ve seen glimpses.’ I wanted to come back and prove to everybody that I’m a good player.
Q. Tyshawn, could you comment on the perspective of the game being here in New Orleans, in this building that has so much recent history, a city making a comeback?
Tyshawn Taylor: You know, we were talking about, us three together last night, how historical this city is already because of some past history it’s been through. To have events like this, to help the city, do things like this for the city, I think it’s great.
We were talking about it because, you know, it’s a city that has seen some really hard times. To be here and to actually get to drive through some of the places that we’ve seen so much on TV and things like that. We learned so much about when the situation (Hurrican Katrina) was occurring, it’s good for us just to see that side of it, to be part of something that is in this city is a good feeling.
Q. Tyshawn, is it a big advantage having gone against (Aaron) Craft once already this year? Having played him, how much do you think that’s going to help you?
Tyshawn Taylor: I think it helps a little because I think I’m prepared and I understand when my coach is telling me, `He’s going to pressures, he’s going to do this, he’s going to do that.’ They’re not just saying it, it’s true. I think it helps a little bit.
Like I said, I think I’m kind of a different player than I was in December when I played against him. I think that’s going to help me more because I’m a more confident player and I’m looking forward to this challenge even more so than I was when we played the first time.
I think he’s a terrific on-ball defender, a terrific guard, and I think it’s going to be a really good matchup.
Q. Tyshawn, that first game, in terms of your individual performance, you had a ton of assists, but you also had turnovers. Did you consider that a successful performance?
Tyshawn Taylor: It’s always successful when you get a win. So, yes, I do consider it a successful performance. Individually I think I could have did a lot of things differently. I could have played better. I think a lot of people forget that I was hurt when we played the first time. I was playing with a big brace on my knee, which is really uncomfortable, I wasn’t 100 percent.
Like I said before, from December 10th until now, I think I’m a completely different player. I’m looking forward to this challenge even more so than I was before and I still feel like I played a pretty solid game. I had a lot of turnovers, but during that time of the season, that was a regular-game basis for me at that time. It was nothing new.
But like I said, I feel like I’m a different player now and excited about this game.
Q. Was it the injury itself, the brace? What was the hardest thing to deal with during that time?
Tyshawn Taylor: I don’t think it was as much the injury as it was the brace. I think the brace was uncomfortable. Because I had to wear it, in my head, I didn’t know what cuts I could make, what plays I could make. If I landed on it, would it do something different? Would it hurt?
I was really nervous. Of course, I didn’t let my teammates or my coaches or anybody know. I was just nervous because that’s the worst injury I’ve ever had. I didn’t know how to handle it. But that was my second game playing on it, too. It was a little bit uncomfortable, but I understood I had to go to surgery that next morning. I was a little bit nervous but I think it was just more uncomfortable than anything.
Q. Elijah, can you quantify how much this team has improved this year? Has it improved more than any team you’ve been on?
Elijah Johnson: I think we improved a lot. For example, the first time we played Kentucky at the Garden, I felt like we weren’t a team. That was the beginning. I feel like if we were to watch that game, we would say that we didn’t even look like a team.
It doesn’t feel now like how it felt back then. Even being in the huddles, the quick timeouts and everything, it’s a totally different team. I think we progressed in that way. I think our senior took us under his wing, put us through some tough situations. We’ve had to play without some people, we’ve had to work through foul trouble. We’ve had to do a lot of stuff. Over the course of the year we learned a lot. I think we’ve been in more tough games this year than Kansas has in a while in one year. I think that definitely made us tougher.
Just listening to coach, willing to grow, I think that definitely brought us a long ways with our progress.
Q. You hear occasionally Jeff (Withey) is kind of laid-back and you need to nudge him, do something to get his motor going. Can you comment on what you’ve done with Jeff to get him riled up for a game?
Tyshawn Taylor: I think early in the season it took a lot for us to get Jeff to get hyped and excited, maybe a great play to get a dunk or a block, he could get excited, besides jumping on him and pushing his chest.
I think Jeff gets a lot of energy. I think he gets more fired up than some of us sometimes. He’s come a long way. He understands he’s a much better player. He can do so much more when he’s turned up, excited, ready to play.
I think individually we’ve all progressed with the team. As a team, we’ve progressed, but individually we have, too, in our own ways. I think that’s one of the ways Jeff progressed this year, being fired up, being excited to play, not seeming so laid-back. He’s more out there. He’s a lot more talkative than I’ve ever heard him. He’s cracking jokes now. He’s laughing a lot more than I have ever heard him. He’s having fun and enjoying himself. I think it shows with his play.