Kansas Previews National Championship Matchup With Kentucky
April 1, 2012
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Less than 24 hours removed from its semifinal victory versus Ohio State, the University of Kansas basketball team met with media to preview its national championship contest with Kentucky on Monday, April 2. KU will be appearing in its ninth national title game when the contest gets underway at 8:23 p.m. from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The following is a transcript of the press conference portion of the day, provided by ASAP Sports FastScripts.
THE MODERATOR: We’re readying to get started with Kansas.
Q. Jeff, give me a highlight reel, four or five of your favorite blocks this season or in the tournament.
Jeff Withey: Oh, man. There’s so many of them. I say against NC State, I got a block kind of at the end of the game that kind of sealed the deal. Against North Carolina, I got another big block, tipped it out to Tyshawn, got a dunk or layup, I forget.
Last night obviously against Buford. I thought that was a pretty big shot block.
Q. Anybody else?
Thomas Robinson: I think mine is against Baylor. He had against Jones. I think he met him right at the rim. They both like stuck in midair.
COACH SELF: He had a pretty big one against Missouri, too. That’s probably one I remember as much as any of them. Of course, Jeff’s block last night on Buford was big-time which led to Elijah’s run-out.
Q. Are you past the point of worry at this point with your team during the game?
COACH SELF: I don’t think I’m past the point of worrying. They tell me quite often, Coach, next play. We’re all right.
But these guys do give coaches confidence because they have done it repeatedly. It seems like when it kind of looks like it’s not going our way the most is when, like, they kind of rise to the challenge and play their best.
Q. Thomas, very few players, teams, have been effective against Anthony Davis. What do you have to do and what does Jeff have to do to be successful?
Thomas Robinson: Nothing. I mean, Anthony Davis is a great player, but he’s not Superman. We just have to be Kansas, do what we do best, keep being aggressive. He is a good player, but we’re not going to change anything we do. Just going to stick to the program.
Jeff Withey: Yeah, what Thomas said. He’s obviously a great player. He runs in transition, gets a lot of easy points. If we cut back on letting him get easy points then we’ll be all right.
Q. Bill, what is the benefit of having a shot-blocker like Jeff?
COACH SELF: The thing about it is, guys like Anthony and guys like Jeff cover up mistakes. Like last night, we actually did an unbelievable job on the defensive glass, and Jared got six offensive rebounds, which doesn’t look good. But several of those were off of Jeff’s blocks.
But certainly having a guy that can erase mistakes is the biggest part of it. Because you can kind of gamble, Ty or Elijah, Travis can gamble on the perimeter sometimes and know that they’re forcing them into a situation that could lead to a run-out for us. That’s a big advantage.
Of course, Anthony does the same thing. He’s probably the best shot-blocker in the country. If he is, and I think we’ve got the second best right here, two great shot-blockers going at each other.
Q. Bill, watching you last night, you looked as amazed at what was going on as anybody on the court. How much are you enjoying the improbabilities of this particular run?
COACH SELF: I’m really enjoying it. Obviously I don’t want it to end. It’s one of the things where the guys somehow find a way. They’re finding a way on the biggest stage. You look at our last four tournament games, Purdue has us down and out, NC State, a one-possession game, Carolina is a one-possession game. Last night Ohio State had us down and out.
It’s remarkable to me to see how much these guys have matured, grown, trust each other. It’s been a blast to watch from the sidelines.
Q. The matchup between Robinson and Davis, is it almost not in either team’s best interest out of fear of possible foul trouble for both players? On that, with Jeff’s game, how much does that help Thomas do what he does on the court?
COACH SELF: I think Thomas would be the first to tell you Jeff takes a lot of pressure off of him. Jeff can guard the other team’s best big man, which allows Thomas to roam anybody. He’s been great for T-Rob.
One of the reasons Thomas has had such a great year is because of Jeff. Obviously Thomas helps Jeff, too, in many situations.
Against us, going into the Ohio State game, everybody was talking about Craft/Taylor matchup, or Buford/Releford. The most attention was Sullinger/Robinson. They didn’t guard each other. You look at a situation with Kentucky on paper, I don’t know how Cal is going to match up, but on paper they’re not going to be matched up a lot against each other unless emergency switches or whatever.
I don’t see it as a matchup between Davis and Robinson. I don’t see that at all.
Thomas Robinson: Just like coach said, without Jeff, my season wouldn’t be half of what it is. Like he takes the pressure off me, he saved my butt a couple times, a lot of times actually. If it wasn’t for the big fella, we wouldn’t be this far.
Q. Bill, could you explain what you thought you had after the Davidson game for this season?
COACH SELF: After the Davidson game, I was a little frustrated because I thought that we were underachieving, underperforming. I thought we were a stale team. I thought we were slow. I thought we didn’t play with great energy. I thought the things we had to do to be successful, we weren’t committing to doing them.
I thought we were a little full of ourself coming off the Ohio State game. Anything else I thought (smiling)?
But I still thought we would have a good team. These guys have spun that moment into something that made us a lot better down the road. Losses, nobody wants them. They’re okay if you learn from them, especially if they’re early enough. They’re not okay now.
Certainly I think through that, we needed that, I think it kind of showed our guys, for us to be real good, we have to commit to playing a certain way. I think we’ve done a much better job of doing that.
Q. How did the last 16 minutes in overtime of the Missouri game define this team as it is now?
COACH SELF: We’ve lost some close games. We had an eight-point game at Mizzou and came up empty. I think on a day when Mizzou is great, we’re down 19, come back to win that game, I think that did give our guys confidence, a great sense of pride.
I also believe this: our league is good, Big 12 is good. Missouri has had a terrific team, Baylor had a terrific team. Winning the league by two games, that was kind of the capper to do so, I think it did give us a lot of confidence.
Q. We’ve heard so much that this is Kentucky’s game to lose. How much does that tick you off?
Tyshawn Taylor: I mean, it doesn’t bother us. They got high expectations, which they had a great year. So the expectations should be high for them.
I think what we think, though, is that we match up with them well. We feel confident going into this game. I think that’s just what it comes down to. We don’t listen to what people say about Kentucky. We just do what we got to do and I think we’ll be fine.
Thomas Robinson: Pretty much what Tyshawn say. If we stick to our script, do what we do best, we’ll be fine. Can’t listen to what people’s predictions are. We have to guard them and play our game, so it’s always going to come back to us.
Q. Bill, you alluded to the fact the closeness of the games with Purdue and North Carolina State, the last four games you pulled away from North Carolina. Do you feel you’re living on the edge with this team or in this tournament?
COACH SELF: I felt that way since November, early on. But that’s what makes it fun, too.
These guys have been a part, even though not all of ’em were in at game point the last couple years, these guys have been a part of huge games. We played as many big games as anybody in the country during these guys’ careers. I think they like the moment. I think they like that.
You know, you’re not always going to play well. You’re not always going to make shots. Sometimes you guard well and they make shots. There could be a variety of reasons of why the game goes the way it does. But the whole thing is how do you perform in the moment when it does go that way? These guys have done a good job for the most part of really performing the way you have to of giving yourself a chance to win the last five minutes.
No team wants to sweat it out for 38 games, no team does. But you got to play a lot of close games, because as you get deep in the season, you know you got to win close games to win it all.
Q. Tyshawn, you always do a great job of breaking down the other team. Your thoughts on the Kentucky personnel, some keys in what Kansas has to do?
Tyshawn Taylor: Well, I mean, I think they’re really talented. From every spot, they have guys that could be really effective, score a lot of points.
They create havoc defensively. When you talk about one through five, they probably got the best five, six, seven guys, on paper anyway. I think they’re really talented.
But I think what we have to do is just, you know, do what we have been doing to get us here. We have to defend, we have to be tough, rebound the ball, and we have to get good shots. I think if we do that, take care of the ball, limit their transition, I think we’re right in the ballgame right there.
Just do what we’ve been doing to get us to this point and I think we’ll be fine.
Q. Bill, a bit about Kentucky. You’ve seen a bit of them. How good is this team?
COACH SELF: They’re terrific. Kentucky’s terrific. They’ve been the best team in the country basically from start to finish with maybe the exception of a week here or a week there. They’ve gotten better. They’re way beyond their years.
Although they’re young in age, they’re certainly not young with experience. I think Darius Miller has been terrific for them.
But they’ve got a terrific team. They’re one of the better teams that we’ve had in college basketball probably from a pure talent standpoint. They got six pros. Three of them probably lottery picks. They’re really, really, really talented.
But, you know, the thing about it is, I like our guys. I think we’re talented, too. We’ve got a guy that has kind of battled Anthony neck and neck for the most part for national Player of the Year. We got guards that can play with anybody, in my opinion. We got a shot-blocker that’s hot right now. We got a wing that can guard. We’ve got a lot of nice pieces, too. It’s just that theirs are a little bit more heralded. From where we started, our path to get here was different than theirs.
They’re good, really good. But the thing about it is, this time of year, one game left, who would you be playing if they weren’t really good, so…
Q. Not asking for a prediction, but on paper, should Kentucky be favored on paper?
COACH SELF: Yeah, they probably should. But I’ve never known a game to be played on paper.
But, yeah, they probably should. You know, like Thomas said, are you guys watching TV? I don’t know if you are or not. I haven’t seen anybody pick us if they are watching. If anybody did pick us, it would probably be Digger, and that would be the kiss of death (laughter).
It’s just one of those things that you don’t play the games on paper. The way that the game is playing out, probably rightfully so from an exposure standpoint, from what people are saying, that’s great for these guys. Just let it go, hang out and see what happens.
Q. Ty, last night, I think it was, Coach Self said the one cool thing about you guys being here is that it happened in a year where not many people expected it. It’s one game, one win. Is that something you maybe welcome a little bit more, knowing not all the pressure is on you guys, you can go out and play freely?
Tyshawn Taylor: Honestly, I think we’ve been going through this whole tournament feeling no pressure. I think every game that we played on paper, the team is better than us and should have won, or people said that. That’s just kind of how it’s been for us.
But I think with one game left, me and the team was talking about it last night, we got one game left, that’s it. We don’t go out and play that exact way, like it’s our last game, I mean, 40 minutes, anybody can get beat.
T-Rob said, there’s no Supermans over there. We can come out and play and we can be a better team for 40 minutes, even though on paper they’re better.
Q. Elijah, addressing the idea about getting through these tight games against good teams, is it at all fair to think maybe this run you guys are on perhaps started with the second Missouri game?
Elijah Johnson: Yeah, that’s possible. I think that was probably the first step, then we went through a smooth little trail where we just was coming together as a team. Then we ran into some more games where we had a chance to get better. Some of those games, like coach said, we lost, and some we won. The ones we won, I think it felt so good to actually to come back and take the game from somebody, like the Missouri game, that felt good. I think we actually do like that feeling.
Whenever we done, our starting five, I hear everybody saying, We been here before, nobody is nervous. We just go out and do what we know how to do.
There’s a lot of teams we run into that haven’t had that many situations like that, where the whole time the winner of the game was predicted, teams usually give up and lay down. There’s been some situations where we’ve been down and had to fight back. At Kansas we don’t lay down and fight back.
I think that’s definitely a big step with us having close games like that.
Q. Elijah, over the past seven games you really stepped it up offensively. Did you feel you had to become more aggressive over the last month or so?
Elijah Johnson: In a way, but not necessarily. I felt like I just had to do whatever my team needed me to do to win the game. I feel like we got the three people standing up, everybody is giving attention to Thomas, Tyshawn and Jeff. That’s something me and Travis didn’t mind. It made us want to do our job even more because we knew we was helping the team roll. If people wanted to overlook us, that was okay with us.
Obviously for me scoring the ball helped us. For Travis, guarding the best player, getting his reps in for the tournament, that was helping him. Give credit to Trav, too, I think that’s something we didn’t mind doing. We didn’t have a problem with doing that.
Q. If I heard you right last night, you said that you hoped the game tomorrow night doesn’t have a lot of rhythm to it. I wonder what you meant by that.
COACH SELF: Well, you know, I think every good team has to have an identity. I think early in the season we didn’t know if we wanted our identity to be to try to outscore people or be a one-and-done, defensive-type team, did we want to play fast. We really didn’t have an identity. What do we hang our hat on. Every team has to have that.
I think we got to the point there’s no question what we hang our hat on, that’s defending rebound, be tough. That’s kind of who we are. If we make other teams not play well, then we have a chance to win. If we allow other teams to be comfortable, play well, we don’t. That’s what I meant by a non-rhythmic game.
If Kentucky plays their best, they’re going to be so, so, so hard to beat by anybody if they play their best. It’s easier said than done. We actually did a pretty good job the first time we played them. It was a muddy game, we defended well, we rebounded the ball pretty well.
But the second half, when they were able to get going and get easy baskets, throw lobs and things like that, they manhandled us pretty good.
I think it just needs to be a game. Not saying it has to be, because if it’s not, we still plan on trying to win, to give us the best chance. It needs to be a game where they’re not totally in rhythm. When they are, like that Iowa State game when they got on that roll in the second half, that’s as good as I’ve seen a team play all year long, and we can’t allow that to happen.
Q. You talked about being an underdog. Are you a significant enough underdog that this would be an NC State/Villanova game or do you think it’s closer than that?
COACH SELF: Did I use ‘underdog’? I don’t know if I said that.
Q. (No microphone.).
COACH SELF: That’s me looking in the paper and seeing those things.
I don’t think so. I don’t think this is one of those games, whether it be the NC State great win, Villanova playing perfect. We’re going to have to play well. If we play like we did last night the first half, it probably won’t be a good deal for us. But we’re going to have to play well and play better than what we have been playing, that kind of stuff.
You should have to play well to have a chance to win it. I think that would be a little bit of a stretch, talking about this being such a difference in teams or overmatched. I don’t feel that at all. I don’t think these guys feel that at all either.
Q. If you need a big shot in the second half when you’re down 63 to 60, who is your Mario Chalmers?
COACH SELF: To be honest, I think it changes. Ty has been the guy. Lately Elijah has been the guy. You can throw it to Thomas, he can get a basket. Travis is our best player offensively yesterday without question. He was the guy. I think who we’d probably go to would be the open man. At least that’s the way I hope we play.
There’s no question we want to put the ball in our guards’ hands, have the ability to make a play. I don’t think there’s a lot of guards out there that do that better than our two guards. I think they’re terrific at it.
Q. Thomas, how did you feel waking up this morning? That was a very physical, intense game last night. Tyshawn, the three-point shooting, do you feel like you’re sort of due at this point?
Thomas Robinson: I’m sore. I can rest come Tuesday morning. Right now I can’t really feel nothing. I can’t complain about how I feel. I got one more game. Any little nicknack injuries, only thing that will stop me from this game is a bullet, and I doubt that stops me (smiling).
Tyshawn Taylor: Three-pointers? I think I’m definitely due, man. I think the basketball gods are with me tomorrow. I got to make one. I can’t leave like this (smiling).
No, I mean, it’s not that big of a deal, man. I think the shots I take are good looks and they feel good coming off. If I get open, I’m going to shoot it confidently. If it goes in, that’s good. If not, we’ve shown we can win without me making threes. Doesn’t make a difference.
Q. Thomas and Tyshawn, you’re one win away from being the best college basketball team in the country. When the Kentucky players were asked when they thought they were the best team in the country, a number of them said, We’ve believed it since the very beginning of the season. When did you start to believe that you might be the best team in the country or do you even still now?
Thomas Robinson: I mean, I’m confident in my team. I think we realized a long time ago that we could play with anybody. We also could lose to anybody, too. That’s the great thing about this team. I mean, we know what we got.
As far as them thinking they’re the best team in the country, that’s good. But, like I said, they got to bleed just like we bleed. Everything will be proved Monday night.
Tyshawn Taylor: I think they deserve to think the way they think. They deserve that. They’ve had a great year. They played well up until this point. You know, uhm, I think I would feel the same way if I was them.
But with us, I felt like we were a couple steps away from being just as good as anybody else through the whole year. I felt like we were missing just a couple different things that we had to tighten up and we could compete with everybody. Coach preached that to us all year. We’re not that far behind. The best guys in the country right now are pretty good, but we’re just as good when we come to play.
So I think of late, we’ve been playing not our best basketball, but the style of basketball we know that we can win, I think that’s how we’ve been playing. We’ve got to continue that into tomorrow. We’ll be fine.
I’m confident going into this game with our coaching staff, with our team’s ability. You know what, I think having one game left, I think, you know, whoever plays the best in that 40 minutes is going to win. Them being the best team in the country all year, that’s good. But, I mean, it comes down to one game. That’s tomorrow.
Q. Bill, can you talk about how gratifying it is as a coach to see where Thomas has come to where he is now?
COACH SELF: He’s improved as much as anybody that we’ve had. When he got here, we had three pretty good post guys in front of him with three lottery picks in Cole, Markieff, and Marcus. He didn’t get a chance to play a lot. We knew he would be an all-league first-teamer. Last year he was better. He fought through so much stuff. Also had a knee surgery last year. Still yet he played his tail off, had a motor.
The question we had all along, not from a talent standpoint, but would he be able to accept a new role where defenses are designed to stop him and his performance was the reason whether we won or lost as opposed to being a bling guy and everything he did was a bonus off the bench.
He’s handled it well. He’s been so consistent. You look up, he doesn’t have one of his better games, he’s got 15-11. He’s a guy you can pencil in numbers. He’s probably matured and improved as much as any kid I’ve ever been around.
Q. Bill was named Naismith Coach of the Year this morning. If you would have had to nominate him, what would you have said?
Tyshawn Taylor: If I had to nominate coach for Coach of the Year, what would I say? Uhm, I mean, I’d say first of all that he’s a great teacher. He helps us all understand the game, understand how he wants us to play for us to be successful.
His system works. I think what made this team so good all year is that most of the time we bought in and we listened and we actually paid attention to what he said, wanted to come out there and play.
I think as far as that’s concerned, I agree with him being the Coach of the Year. I said it all year. So congratulations, coach, good job.
COACH SELF: Thanks (smiling). You’re still going to start tomorrow. I’m still going to take your butt out if you don’t make a shot (laughter).
Q. You’ve lost a lot of guys to the pros, yet you never had a drop-off year despite a lot of roster turnover. How is that possible? Is that what coaching is now, is avoiding that?
COACH SELF: You know, I’ve always thought since I’ve been at KU seems like, kids are leaving earlier and earlier. We only had one one-and-done, we had several two-and-dones, and a lot of three-and-dones, but I thought the most important thing were those transition years.
If you’re like us and you had really good players, you position yourself maybe for a year or two to maybe make a run, and then you retool it, maybe make a run again. We’ve been so fortunate, we’ve been in the game every year.
My assistants are good. We’ve recruited well. But the biggest thing is I think coaching where we coach, the pride that exists there, it doesn’t matter what the rosters or the faces look like, the expectations don’t change. It doesn’t make any difference if Marcus and Markieff are here. Doesn’t make any difference if Rush is not here, Travis thinks he’s just as good. It doesn’t make any difference.
I think that’s one of the great things about playing there. There’s pressure on the guys to perform. These guys, they perform. They understand what it takes to win.
Q. Tyshawn, you’ve been around Coach Self for a while now. What do you notice differently about him this season? What are your observations on how he’s been running things?
Tyshawn Taylor: You know, I think he’s been doing one heck of a job, man. He’s great.
But I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed about coach personally with myself, I think he coached me a little bit different this year, man. He let me go out there. He gave me a lot of freedom this year to just go out there and play, mostly because our bench wasn’t as deep as it’s been the last few years.
I think he actually had a lot of fun coaching us this year, too. He actually enjoyed it for the most part. I think sometime he didn’t enjoy it as much. For the most part I think he had a pretty good time because this is a team that he could kind of start all over with. Like I said earlier, get guys to buy into the system. It’s proven that it works.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed, him enjoying this whole ride. Same with us, we just enjoyed this whole year. We came a long way.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, fellas, you’re dismissed to the breakout rooms.
We’ll continue with questions for Coach Self.
Q. Coach, you’ve crossed paths with John Calipari over the years. What do you think the public perception of him is and does that jibe with the guy that you know?
COACH SELF: I think that Cal is probably the best salesman that our sport knows. He does an unbelievable job of promoting Kentucky basketball through a variety of means. He’s kind of changed recruiting in some ways for the most part through social media, a lot of different ways.
I think the one thing about Cal that goes unnoticed a little bit, although I don’t think it does in coaching circles, is that he recruits good players, but he coaches good players. He gets them to buy in and do it his way. They’re unselfish and they guard. I think that’s a sign of a guy that can coach.
But Cal’s a unique guy. He is a unique guy. I mean that in a favorable way. He’s raised the bar in some ways about how hard you got to get after it because it’s been proven, he’s going to get guys. If you’re going to compete with him, you got to have those same type of guys.
Certainly in the three years he’s been at Kentucky, even before that at Memphis, nobody’s recruited like he has. Nobody’s coached his guys better, too, considering how many young kids he has, how he gets them all to play for one purpose.
Q. Did your life change in any tangible way after you won a title?
COACH SELF: I got a new contract. That was one thing (smiling).
But I hope it hasn’t much. I think from a recognizable, maybe how other people may review you from a respect deal, maybe it has. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s changed much. I think we still coach the same way. I think that after we won it in ’08, the next year I didn’t do a great job coaching them early on because I was trying to validate our championship, to prove that we deserved that. I don’t think I did a great job early on.
I don’t think it’s really changed much, I really don’t.
Q. Calipari said he’s not thinking about whether he needs a championship. Do you believe that? Were you thinking about it? What was going through your head the day before the ’08 game?
COACH SELF: You get this far and of course you dream and you want it to happen and those things. That was four years ago. I can’t remember what I did yesterday, so I don’t know what I was thinking about at that moment.
I think the thing that you have to do is think about what you have to do to win and not worry about what comes after you win. You got to enjoy the process. I’m not thinking anything about what happens after we win, I’m thinking about, How do we win? Your focus isn’t on those things. Your focus is on the task at hand.
Q. How challenging and rewarding has this particular season been for you?
COACH SELF: It’s been great. It’s been challenging because we’ve had to tweak a lot of things, but not change a ton, but tweak. It’s been challenging because we have different personalities. Trying to push the right buttons with our personalities.
It’s been challenging to get Travis, Elijah and Jeff, that they’re as good as they are, because they haven’t been in these situations before. The one thing, they come to work every day, they try, they’re fun to be around, like each other. I think it’s been much more rewarding than challenging.
Seeing these guys grow up together has been really cool. Seeing a team that many thought wouldn’t have the success that we had within our league, going 16-2 in a terrific league, those sort of things, that gives me great pride to see what these kids have been able to pull off.
Q. What were your first impressions of Larry Brown? What kind of impression did you want to leave on him?
COACH SELF: I worked for him in 1985 and ’86. He paid me good. He paid me $4400 a year to work for him. But my first impression was I wanted to be like him. I mean, as a coach, I wanted to be like him. I loved the way he handled players. I loved the way he thought about the game. I loved the way he taught the game. I loved the way how he was always cool under pressure. I wanted to be like him.
I’ve worked for Leonard Hamilton, who is as good as there is, National Coach of the Year, unbelievably successful, NBA coach. Unbelievable to work for. You can’t out-work him. I worked for Eddie Sutton, Hall of Fame coach.
I worked for Coach Brown. In 10 months, I probably learned more in that 10 months because I didn’t know anything. I was a sponge. I said this earlier, I’m amazed at how he’s still trying to find the best way to do things. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. He’s always learning and always trying to get better.
Q. What is he doing with the team now?
COACH SELF: You know, he’s unemployed. He’s got to be around ball. He spends time at Villanova, Maryland, Kentucky. He’s been out to our place three or four weeks. Comes to practice, watches. Doesn’t come to all practices, but he’ll sit around in a film session with us, that kind of stuff.
It’s just kind of cool to have him around. I think the players like seeing him, too. I think the players, that respect factor is always there when Coach Brown is around, as well.
Q. As you get barraged with a lot of questions about Kentucky and how good that team is, does that start to stir the competitive juices inside a little bit? Will you use that as a motivational tool?
COACH SELF: We’ll try to figure something out. But, you know, I really don’t think anything I tell our guys is going to get them more excited to play or whatnot.
But, hey, people should be talking about them. They’re good. But that doesn’t bother me. All I care about is our team. I think somebody asked a question earlier, Do you think Kentucky’s the best team, or Do you think you’re the best team? My reply would be, I truly believe in my heart we can beat anybody. We may not be favored in a series if we’re playing four out of seven, but in my heart I believe we can beat anybody. I believe these guys believe the same way. That other talk didn’t bother me at all.
Q. What is your reaction to winning the Naismith Coach of the Year award? With your win last night, your program has now won more games in a six-year span than anyone in the history of college basketball.
COACH SELF: I didn’t know that.
Q. That can’t be an accident. Can I get an explanation from you on how you’ve done this?
COACH SELF: We play more games now than they used to. UCLA back in the ’70s, they would have won more games, but they didn’t play as many.
I didn’t know that about our team. During that six-year period, we’ve had really three or four different teams, when you had to reload, whatnot. It’s amazing to me the consistency these guys have had.
I don’t know what the secret is. We’ve been fortunate, we’ve been healthy. We’ve gotten good kids that like each other. Guys get better. You know, we don’t have McDonald’s All-American on our roster. We had one last year. Year before I think we just had one, maybe two the year before. Those teams lost 12 games over the last three years.
Getting the pieces to fit has been real important.
Winning the award today, I went over there for breakfast today. It’s a cool award. It was great to win it, all that stuff. But there’s a lot of coaches out there deserving of winning awards. All that is is a reflection of your team playing well.
I appreciate it, but I don’t put a lot of stock into thinking that I’ve done something that others haven’t. There’s been a lot of coaches that coached their teams very, very well.
Q. Just as a basketball fan, did you ever dream of games like this one? The matchup, the bluebloods?
COACH SELF: I dreamed about it as soon as I saw the brackets. You look at the brackets, you look at your region, you say, Okay, first game, who do we have to beat to get to the Sweet 16? Who is a potential matchup? How do we match up? You look at your region.
I did look. I said, How cool would it be to play Kentucky in the finals?
You know, you guys know better than me, but when have the two winningest programs in the history of ball played each other? I don’t know when. From a historic standpoint, I think that’s really cool.
Q. You mentioned earlier that one of the things that might possibly have changed after winning the ’08 title was the perception of you as a coach. Have you ever thought at all how different it would be, especially when you see how that particular game evolved, coming back, how different it would be for you if you were now the coach who had never won a title and Coach Calipari did not have that hanging around his neck?
COACH SELF: Well, you know, I don’t think it would be a ton different for me personally. I guess it would be. I think being able to have our team do something at a school where it means so much, and obviously carries a lot of weight, a lot of respect from those that support our program.
But, you know, I don’t know. I don’t look at it that way. I don’t think I’m a better coach because we won that game. We had some guys make plays and that kind of stuff.
But I do think the fact that since we’ve been there, we’re in the game to play in the game. I mean, we are one of the teams that have a chance. And I take great pride in that.
You know, if you’re in the game, sooner or later things are going to fall your way. Certainly we’ve been very fortunate, blessed, to have players that were good enough to put us in the game.
Q. You talked about your record in the conference, you won 32 games. It seems to me throughout this tournament you had to defend yourself. You’re getting a lot of questions about your basketball team, that it really shouldn’t be here. You’re 30 hours away from playing for the national championship. What does it mean to you inside?
COACH SELF: I got to be honest, I haven’t heard any criticism. I look at it a little bit differently. You know, you make two shots outside of four feet, you still figure out a way to win. To me that’s not criticism. To me that’s, How did they pull that off? That’s a positive.
So, I mean, I really haven’t heard criticism. If I had heard it, who cares. I mean, who cares. We’re playing. That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me at all.
If it’s a pretty game against Carolina, we’re not going to win that game. Our guys understand that. So, you know, we got to find a way to muddy it up a little bit.
But, you know, I believe the tournament, the whole idea of it, is survive and advance. To see where we started, to be playing now, is remarkable to me. Nobody can say anything to me. And it could be harsh, mean, cruel, whatever, and it wouldn’t faze me one bit right now. I’m so proud of our guys for being in this game and I think we’ll play very, very well tomorrow night.
Q. Tyshawn said the basketball gods are with him now. That hasn’t always been the case. Can you recap the four years with him, your relationship with him, the fans relationship with him? Did that steal and the ensuing turnover kind of symbolize his career?
COACH SELF: I said all along Tyshawn can make plays you can’t coach, which was the steal against Buford, and he can make a play that looks like he’s never been coached, which was the pass, two seconds after that.
You know, Ty has had a great career. I believe there’s only been two other guards in the history of the school that put up numbers like he puts on. One of them was Valentine, the other is Hinrich. He’s one of the better guards that has ever played there.
He’s been a little bit up and down, inconsistent. We’ve had a good relationship, but it’s been better this year, there’s no question. But we’ve had a good relationship. It’s been a little combative from time to time. He’s probably as criticized going into this season as any player we’ve had since I’ve been there. He brought a lot of that on his-self. He gets in his own way a little bit. He’s emotional.
But that’s also what makes him good. Now he’s harnessing that emotion in a much better direction to allow him to be a much better player.
Q. Bill, I asked John Calipari the same thing. You went back to New Jersey to speak at Jim Carr’s clinic. There were so many demands on your team to do that sort of stuff. How do you filter it out? More importantly, did you know anything about the affliction that took his son?
COACH SELF: Well, I was asked to do it. I would do anything that I possibly could to help a situation like that. Jim and I still stay in touch. As a matter of fact, he texted me yesterday.
But it was cool to be a part of that. It was a fantastic clinic, as good a clinic you can go to as far as the type of people that spoke there. Coach Hurley spoke, Coach Brown, Cal. It was really good.
But he’s a good man. Through sports, you know, we have a platform sometimes for whatever reason that people want to see you or whatnot. They don’t want to see me with that lineup. But I wanted to be a part of that and help a family out that was struggling, to give them a little joy.
I think that’s done wonders for their families, based on what Jim’s told me.
Q. Coach Calipari said after the ’08 game, said he never watched the game, that they threw it out of the bus on the way to the airport. Have you watched the tape? Have these guys seen it from you?
COACH SELF: We showed them before we played Carolina this year, some defensive clips on how to guard their actions a little bit. That’s it. I don’t think they’ve seen the Memphis game at all.
But I could recite just about every possession if you want to go through it right now because I’ve seen it enough (smiling). I think there for a stretch, I’m not a big workout guy, but doing my little Elliptical every day, I watched the game every day, I worked out 50 straight days or something like that. I could go over a few possessions with you, if you want.
Q. Regarding the one-and-done, Cal had a couple of proposals how the current situation could be dealt with. Realizing that’s an NBA rule, what, if you could, would be the proposal you would put forth, the best situation? In the meantime, how should the NCAA best deal with this?
COACH SELF: You know, I don’t know. I saw an interview with Cal when he was talking about reward the kids if they make certain grades. I don’t know how you can do all that. But that could be a possibility.
But I do like the concept a little bit that basically if a player was projected to go at a certain spot could maybe take out enough money, loan-type deal or whatnot, that would give his family an opportunity to travel or do whatever the immediate needs or necessities would be.
I think college players should be compensated in some way, shape or form. I’ve never been a big believer to think that student-athletes should be paid, but there’s got to be some way to compensate them. I’m a firm believer of that, not like they’re making a salary.
I don’t know what they can do. I wish the NBA would say, They just have to stay two years. I think it would make their league better. I don’t know if that was a big thing on the negotiating table. That was one of the last chips left. Who knows why it fell that way.
Kids right now that are talented are good enough to go get a check, but so many of them aren’t prepared to play. The whole deal was to have a career. There’s a lot of kids out there making bad decisions and they’re not ready to have a career.
Q. Talk about Travis, his value to a team, despite the fact he’s not the guy that gets the attention or questions. Also the free throws that he made last night, as well as his steal.
COACH SELF: Travis played great last night. He made a three, defended Buford well, even though Buford made some hard shots. Then, of course, he stuck the four free throws late that were huge. I think each set gave us a one-point lead, if I’m not mistaken. They were huge.
Travis is the ultimate glue guy. He’s the guy you need on your team to give your team the best chance to be good. He’s got a huge challenge obviously Monday night. He’ll be guarding a guy a majority of the time that’s bigger than him. He’s always found a way to respond for us.
Q. Can you talk about the significance of this game being the two winningest college basketball programs and how special it’s going to be?
COACH SELF: I think it’s going to be cool. I think it’s going to be special. I don’t know about the historic significance of it, what that has, because there’s been a lot of games that have a lot of historic significance.
I do think it’s pretty neat that you have the two winningest programs of all time hooking up. The bluest of the bluebloods getting a chance to play. It should be a great event and one that I’m sure would draw or warrant a lot of national attention coast-to-coast.
Q. In addition to winning your championship, you’ve had a lot of teams loaded with All-Americans that did not get this far. Not having any high school All-Americans, getting this far now, does that change your philosophy or approach into recruiting at all?
COACH SELF: No. You got to go get the best players, period. We haven’t had that many McDonald’s guys. The team that won the championship, I think we had three. I think that would be the high number we had on a roster. Maybe four one year way back when.
That McDonald’s tag is a cool tag. That’s every high school kid’s dream. But that doesn’t guarantee success at the next level. You have to go produce, you got to start from scratch at the next level. We’ve recruited guys that maybe had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, maybe worked a little bit harder, maybe a little bit hungrier, and certainly got better.
Q. One more Larry Brown question. Are there things you look at in Cal’s teams and you see similar to yours that stem from Larry Brown, things that you two learned?
COACH SELF: Yeah, we really don’t play the same way from a scheme standpoint. I mean, they run different things. We set a lot of ball screens. They set some, but not as many.
We kind of run some high-low stuff. Of course, they can do that now. They got different ways to get into it. The one thing that is pretty consistent is, hey, who we are, what our staple is, we guard our man. They play straight man-to-man for the most part, we play straight man-to-man for the most part. That’s something Coach Brown has always done, as well.
Q. You mentioned only having two one-and-dones before. Would you want to coach a team, like Cal has kind of built his program the last couple years, with the majority of kids who are either one-and-done or two-and-done? What is it about his personality that allows him to have success with that type of system?
COACH SELF: I think he probably runs it like an NBA coach would run his team. It’s an NBA environment in college. I don’t know that for a fact, but from the outside looking in, I’m sure it is. The whole deal is preparation to go.
But still, though, that’s smart. I mean, that’s what he should be doing. And, yes, I’d sacrifice if I had to coach Davis and Gilchrist, those guys, for a year or two, that would be a terrible problem to have as a coach (smiling).
Q. Coaches live a very public life. What is it about you that would surprise most of us to find out?
COACH SELF: I’m pretty boring to be honest. I don’t know if there’s too much stuff out there as far as hobbies or whatnot. I like to play golf. That’s about it.
You know, I really don’t do anything. I coach and I work. That’s what I do. That takes up the majority of my time.
Now that you think about it, I’m really a boring dude, to be honest (smiling).
Q. The experience on your team, the way the guys fulfill roles, now this underdog tag has prompted some to compare you to a strong mid-major. Do you buy that comparison?
COACH SELF: A strong mid-major?
Q. Just because of the qualities of your team, if they were to go this far.
COACH SELF: Well, I mean, I guess Butler was a strong mid-major a couple years in a row and got to the championship game.
The thing about us, Anthony Davis, deservedly so, won a majority of the national Player of the Years awards. Our guys finished second. We have another guy that is going to be a first-round draft pick. There’s a lot of teams that would like to start with two pros. I think Elijah and Jeff will be pros.
I don’t look at that at all. But if people want to say that, that’s fine. That’s not remotely accurate.
Q. Coach, Kentucky has a well-known fan base. If they don’t win this game, they’ll jump off a bridge. You have a fan base of your own. Can you describe their nature as you see it to us?
COACH SELF: Well, ours is more like probably a two- or three-story building, but not a tall bridge. There will be enough that would jump.
But I think our fan base is the most realistic/unrealistic group you could ever be around. Our fans’ expectations are totally out of whack. Ours actually appreciate guys trying hard, playing hard, conducting themselves in a good way that you don’t feel like it’s life or death with every game. At least I don’t feel that way from the fans. I do personally, but not from the fans.
I think that is accurate. Probably the most realistic/unrealistic group you could have because they’re certainly not realistic, but probably more realistic than Kentucky fans. I would probably say that.
Q. Bill, I was talking to some of your kids. They all noted you have a knack for saying what they need to hear at halftime. Talk about your approach to your halftime speech.
COACH SELF: I don’t think there’s an art to it. I don’t think there’s an art to telling guys what we need to do better at halftime. I think there may be an inflection in your voice sometimes that maybe gets guys’ attention a little bit more.
Hey, we’ve had a lot of games where we come in, we’re up 12 at halftime, and through my halftime talks, we’re up 3 three minutes in. It doesn’t always work. But, you know, these guys have been really good at making minor adjustments. We don’t change a lot, but we do make minor adjustments and they’ve been good at making those minor adjustments during the second half.
Q. A lot of talk about Davis for obvious reasons. Can you talk about other matchup things Kentucky presents.
COACH SELF: You could go one through five. Teague is explosive as anybody. That would be a great matchup with Taylor, if they match up with each other. I think Lamb and Johnson is a great matchup. They’re similar guys. Both guys can get on a role. Gilchrist and Releford, if they match up together, is a pretty interesting deal. Gilchrist is obviously a better scorer and can post and do some things, but Travis is pretty good, too. He kind of knows his role. He’s strong for his size. He’s good at that.
Of the big guys, Jones and Robinson, that’s a heck of a matchup. You start looking at it like that, you could say, These teams, there’s some great matchups in the game. Withey/Davis is a great matchup.
One difficult matchup is Miller off the bench. He can be their leading scorer. That’s something we probably can’t match. I also think this: Teahan can make shots.
It will be interesting, very interesting. I don’t think it’s about matchups, I think it’s about team concepts more so than matchups.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH SELF: Thanks.