Self Previews Oklahoma State’s Return Trip in Weekly Presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Oklahoma State claimed its first win in Allen Fieldhouse since 1989 last February. Two days before welcoming the Cowboys back, Kansas head coach Bill Self addressed the media Thursday afternoon at his weekly press conference.

Q. Le’Bryan Nash used to shoot threes and now he doesn’t. Has that made Oklahoma State a better team?
COACH SELF: I think he’s taken four this year is all. He’s still shooting perimeter shots, but he’s probably getting into the 16-, 17-foot range more often. He’s so good at putting it down. I don’t know if it makes them a better team that he’s not shooting as many threes. I just think that he’s having a much better year, as far as being efficient, at least from what I can tell. Maybe he just has put more of a focus in trying to score in tight because that’s what the team needs.
But I think he’s obviously having a terrific year.
Q. When you have a great penetrator like a Nash, two great shooters in (Markel) Brown and (Phil) Forte, do you leave the shooters or what do you do?
Do you mean Le’Bryan Nash is a penetrator or Marcus Smart?
Q. Marcus.
You’ve got to guard the ball. You can’t help off of those guys too much at all. We’re going to have to do a good job of showing strong help and basically having Marcus think that no matter which way he goes, he’s got one and a half guys guarding him. But still, you’re not giving up open looks to their shooters.
Markel, what did he make against us, six last year? Five or six in the first half. I think he made five in the first half and maybe six for the game. And then Forte, I think he’s already made like 46, or something like that, on the year. Those are two guys we’ve got to get to. But Marcus is making shots, too; Marcus is shooting a pretty good percentage and has made more threes this year. So there’s a lot of guys you’ve got to guard on the perimeter.
Q. Other guys in Marcus’s situation last year probably wouldn’t have come back. Have you seen progress, and where has that been with him?
I think he’s had a good year. I think he hasn’t hurt himself at all. I heard Jay Bilas say something the other day: When you know that you’re really good like that, then staying another year is not going to hurt you if it helps you mature (in order) to handle the things that go along with having an NBA lifestyle, things like that. It was probably a good decision for him to come back, and I know it’s been great for their program. They’ve been, from start to now, probably the most consistent and best team in our league so far, and of course he’s a huge reason why.
The thing that amazes me about him is that he impacts an entire program from a personality standpoint, and he’s been great in that regard.
Q. Part of Smart’s personality came out when he did the backflip on the court, the Allen Fieldhouse court. Does that bother you at all?
What bothered me is the fact that we played like crap, more so than somebody else doing a backflip. If we would have played better, then that wouldn’t have happened. Things like that don’t bother me. That’s like if a player does something wrong and then he’s mad at the teammate that told on him that he did it wrong.  Well, he should have never done it wrong to begin with.
We had a chance to win that game, and we didn’t do it. He did do a backflip; I watched it on tape and I thought it was beautiful form. I thought he tucked just at the right time and got full extension. I thought it was very impressive.  (Laughter.)
Q. What did that loss to Oklahoma State do for you guys in the short-term?
Last year’s loss here?  Well, people get so hung up on this. I think we’d won like 105 out of 106 or something like that at home —
Q. I think 18 in a row.
Was it only 18 in a row last year? I thought it was 30-something. Oh, there were several streaks.
So yeah, we had won like 18 in a row and we had won like 30-something in a row at home and all this stuff, which people make a big deal out of, but that doesn’t mean anything.
I think, obviously, we didn’t handle it very well because we lost our next two games in a row after that. I think I did a poor job coaching them after we lost; I shouldn’t have made a big deal out of losing that one game, it’s too long of a season. I probably did and it probably hurt our team.
I think the stuff that we went through last year, without question, made us a better team and I’m hopeful that we’ve gone through enough stuff this year that we don’t have to go through a stretch like that. There’s nothing wrong with losing to good teams. That happens in our sport. Fortunately we were able to steal one back when we went to Stillwater last year and got them down there in overtime.
Q. Will things be any different now that Oklahoma State’s Michael Cobbins is out? Have they changed much?
I haven’t studied a ton of tape with Cobbins (playing) because I’ve been studying the most recent games. I would say they’re a little different. Obviously that’s one less big guy they have, and I thought he was a great rim protector and kind of an anchor for them.
But (Kamari) Murphy is good. Murphy is doing a good job, too, so it definitely creates a situation where they have less depth. But I don’t know if it’s really affected them much unless depth becomes a concern.
Q. How much confidence does the 3-0 start in conference play give you?
I think it gives us confidence because we went on the road and won at a couple of tough places, and we got a good home win sandwiched in between them.
I think we needed the confidence because we haven’t really had a chance to get a lot of it yet this year. I think we’re probably as confident as we’ve been at any point in time this year. That doesn’t guarantee we’re going to play good, but I think our guys’ minds are in the right spot right now.
Q. After Andrew Wiggins pulled down 19 rebounds (at Iowa State), is that something you’re looking for more of? 
We’ve said all along he could be as good an offensive rebounder as there was, period. A guy that athletic can get a running start. He should impact it more, and the last two games he’s gotten 10 (rebounds).
I do think that he’s seeing the benefit of being active like that.
Q. Some of Wiggins’ best games have come against ranked teams in high-profile games. Is yours he a guy that just rises to the occasion?
That’s a great point because so many times people get hung up on overall stats and things like that. I think if you were going to ask NBA people, they’d want to see how they played when they played against the best competition and the best teams. With the exception of maybe one game, he’s had really big games in our hardest games. I’m pleased with that; and of course, Saturday would be one of our hardest games without question, so we’re going to need him to be big there, too.
But I do think he’s learning how to impact the game more ways as he’s moving forward. He’s just young. Eric (Prisbell, USA Today) and I talked about this earlier; with all the hype coming in, anything he did was going to be less than what the hype said he should do.
The bottom line is he’s just kind of figuring it out and he’s not playing his natural position. It’s a position that he’s never played before, and he’s learning how to impact the game more and more.
Q. It seems like the last week or two Wiggins has been getting to the rim a lot, but finishing around there has been more difficult.
If he had made more lay-ups this year, the kid would be averaging 20 (points per game). He’s missed a lot of lay-ups, and I think sometimes — I’ve even heard announcers say this, (he’s) kind of avoiding the contact a little bit and not coming away with free throws. That could be a little bit true, but I think he’s doing a much better job of finishing right now than what he was before. I don’t think he’s avoiding any contact at all.
Q. Is Joel Embiid as impressed/surprised by his own growth as everybody else is?
That’s something I don’t say, ‘Hey, are you even surprising yourself?’ I don’t talk to our guys like that.
But I would say the answer is probably no.  Joel is one of the few kids that actually sees things objectively about himself. We can’t be objective about your own children; that’s impossible. But he’s actually objective about himself and where he is.  And I think that he can study himself and be like, ‘You know what? I should be doing this or I should be doing that,’ So I don’t think his play would surprise himself at all. If anything I think he would say, ‘Well, just wait, I can do a lot more.’
Q. I take it that’s a rarity, being objective about yourself?
Oh, I think it’s a real rarity with players. I think every player thinks that they’re the best shooter and the best passer and the best ball handler and the coach definitely has it in for him because he’s not playing 40 minutes a game.  I mean, every player thinks that. But Joel doesn’t.  He’s one of those guys (that says), ‘I can see why you took me out; God, I didn’t even do this or that.’  But few guys see it that way.
Q. Do you worry about Embbid getting a reputation with the couple incidents he has had in the last couple games?
Yeah, I can say that concerns me a little bit, but there weren’t a couple incidents, there was one incident. The deal at Iowa State was nothing. That had to be a technical — I’m learning the rules as we go. I’ve only been doing this for 30 years, but I’m starting to figure rules out. It had to be a technical because it was a contact when the ball was dead. So when the ball goes to the net and before they take it out, the ball is dead even though the clock is running, which I don’t understand — dead, but the clock is running.
So therefore, if there’s a foul, then they had to give him a contact technical if it occurred during that time frame. So that was the only call they could make.
But no, there was nothing blatant or bad about that at all. The kid was falling down; he grabbed a guy and he slung him down with him, which that can happen sometimes. But that’s just a normal foul call any other time of the game.
Q. Where do you see Embiid’s potential ceiling, in six to 10 years? Could he be a perennial NBA All-Star?
Well, six or 10 years from now, Dwight (Howard) will be gone, there will be some guys gone, so I would think that he would have a chance to be. I think that Joel has a chance to be an NBA All-Star, I do. There are a lot of good players that you recruit and they have great careers for you, but you look at them and you say, Can he be one of the best 24 players in the world?’  I would say that five, 10 years from now maybe he (Embiid) could be in that class. I do think he has that potential.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s anywhere close to being that now. He’s just a kid trying it figure it out. That’s the one thing about our two kids, (Embiid and Wiggins) more than anybody else’s maybe in America, is they had that potential tag hung around their neck, which basically means they haven’t done anything yet and so nobody knows how they’re going to react, how hard they’ll continue to work. It’s hard to project 10 years from now based on intangibles. But I would say it’s very possible.
Q. Will you share with both of them what you think is the best path to get there, to be the best player you can be at the end of the year when you talk to them? If you believe that is returning, do you tell them that?
I probably won’t tell them that, no. This is way too early to be talking about this, but I would want them to make a decision that’s best for their life and then give them pros and cons and all that stuff, and then they should move forward and act on that.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was a Kansas fan around here, if the guys keep getting better.
Q. Does Embiid’s competitiveness, or his physical nature, come across in practice?
I don’t know if it’s his physical nature as much as it is he’s competitive.  It’s hard to be real physical against Tarik (Black) every day because no matter what, Tarik always looks like he’s the most physical one, or Landen (Lucas). But Joel has gotten much tougher and much more physical since we started practicing, without question.
I don’t know that he enjoys all the contact, but it doesn’t seem like it bothers him much, and he’s learning how to play through contact. He’s becoming more physical in nature. He’s got to get stronger, but I think you guys can look at him and tell that he’s gotten stronger just since we started playing games.
Q. As a coach, just looking at a freshman, do you almost enjoy some of that stuff? I know it’s not good for you guys if he’s on the bench, but would you prefer that to the alternative?
Oh, I’d much rather calm a guy down than turn him up. If you’ve got to constantly turn guys up, then over time, consistently it’s going to end up a little bit less than what you want. It’s just like anything; you start out hard and then you back off if you need to, but you can’t start off easy and then pick up hard.
You bet I absolutely like it. But if anybody said that Joel Embiid is physical or one of the most physical players around, then that’s not true. He’s not that at all, but he’s getting more physical as he’s getting a little bit more confidence.
Q. Do you think that you’ve already started to reap the rewards of your tough non-conference schedule?
No, I think it’s probably a little early. I don’t really think the non-conference schedule matters right now. I think it may have helped us win a couple of games on the road, but I don’t know if our non-conference schedule will help us winning in Waco or Austin any more than what winning at Norman or Ames did. So I think our non-conference schedule probably prepared us for early conference road games, but from this point forward, our conference will prepare us for our conference. It’s that good.
Q. Do you want Naadir Tharpe to shoot more?
When he’s open, yeah. Na (Tharpe) turned down a couple or three looks against Iowa State when he was definitely on a roll, but I want to see Naadir look to score when he’s open. I want to see him be a better ball mover, too. I think sometimes — I don’t know if you guys notice it — when he gets on a roll, sometimes the ball can stick, stick, stick, and if he’s not going to shoot it, then move it. But he’s still playing at a pretty high level right now. I’ve been real pleased with him.
Q. How has Tharpe done leading the young guys?
I think he’s done great. I think the guys are looking to him as kind of a rock out there, which maybe we weren’t doing early in the season. He’s getting his point across.
Q. When Tharpe plays the way he’s playing now, isn’t it natural that they’re going to look at him more? You can’t lead unless you’re performing, can you?
That’s exactly right. You guys won’t think this – I liked him vs. K-State. The guy doesn’t make a shot and he controls the game.
Those are the things that I like seeing because I don’t think, as a point guard, you can base your performance on whether the ball goes in or not. You’ve still got to figure out a way to help your team win, and I think he’s doing a pretty good job of that.
Q. Do you think Tharpe needed to be built back up after a couple weeks ago?
I think he probably needed to know that I liked him, to be real candid. I love the kid. He knows that. But I got kind of frustrated with him, and he knew that. I think he handled it well, but he went through a period of time which all players go through in the course of a season – they go through a week or 10-day period where they don’t play quite as well, maybe get their confidence shaken a little bit. But he’s got his back now.
Q. Isn’t that the position that’s most likely to get frustrated, the point guard?
Oh, there’s no question. If you have a bad possession late in a game, whose fault is it? It’s the point guard. I’m not going to blame Joel (Embiid). You threw it to him. It’s the point guard’s fault.
But also, coaches know that when you have good possessions late, it’s usually to the point guard’s credit. I think that goes with the territory.
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