Bill Self, Jayhawks Excited for Blue-Blood Matchup
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Fourth-rankedKansas takes a break from Big 12 play to face No. 20 Kentucky on Saturday night (6 p.m., ESPN) as a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the media on Thursday to preview the matchup between the two winningest college basketball programs of all-time.
Read the complete transcript below or follow the link to watch video of the press conference.
Q. Do you like the break from Big 12 play and kind of jumping out of conference?
BILL SELF: I’d say no. But I don’t know if you guys have followed, we haven’t played particularly well in conference. I don’t know if anybody has noticed the last couple of weeks. So maybe this will be a good energy boost for us. I don’t know how the other coaches feel positively, but I know when we talked about it, we thought it’s not the perfect scenario, you’d much rather do this in December, but certainly the time slots with all the bowl games didn’t allow us to do that. So instead of doing it like we did the Big 12-Pac-12 challenge a few years ago when you play on different dates and it doesn’t get any exposure, we decided it was best for our league, and I’m sure the SEC felt the same way, best for their league, too, to be exposed in this manner, and I don’t know if anybody likes stepping out of league to play games of this magnitude right now. League games are hard enough, and then you throw one like this in there, but the bottom line is I think for us and maybe for Kentucky, too, it’s going to be good, and it’ll be good for us to have to play a game where you have to exert so much energy and hopefully get a little mojo back.
I think it’ll be good.
Q. You used the phrase “energy boost,” and that’s something that you’ve kind of harped on the last couple weeks. Is that an ongoing issue?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think so. I think so. It’s not anything — if you really studied our team — which you guys all have, we have some emotionless-type personalities. I mean, Frank (Mason III) or Wayne (Selden Jr.) or Perry (Ellis), those guys don’t exert energy from an emotion standpoint. It doesn’t mean they don’t play hard. It doesn’t mean any of those things, and I think sometimes those are the things that are so contagious and runs through your team, but when you get a little stale, which we have been, it’s also contagious that we kind of flat line, too.
I think it’s an ongoing issue. I don’t think it’s something that’s fixed overnight. I do think it’s something that can be corrected and guys got to get out of their comfort zone in order to do so, but energy and enthusiasm creates activity, and we haven’t been near as active, I think, in the games in which we haven’t played as well.
But I also look at it this way: Three weeks ago we’re the No. 1 ranked team in the country. This week the sky is falling. I mean, I know that, and we’re ranked third or fourth depending on which poll you look at. And that’ll fall obviously because we lost, but it’s — and last year we won the league, and the three places we lost was Morgantown, Stillwater and Ames. What it does is it puts us in a situation where I think there is less margin for error obviously because you’ve got a couple teams and one in particular is playing at such a high level, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get beat anywhere. I mean, they’re playing so well right now.
But the bottom line is we’re going through what the vast majority of really good teams go through in a year, and we just haven’t been able to respond in the manner in which we need to, at least when we played away from home.
Q. Besides just yelling at somebody or being more vocal on the floor, what do you want to see in terms of emotion —
BILL SELF: Personality. I think that’s probably as much as anything. I’d love to see personality. You know, that’s one thing we’ve always tried to do is we’re a pretty buttoned-down group for the most part, and that’s fine. But one thing that we’ve always encouraged our guys is let their personalities show. You know, don’t try to be something that you’re not. I mean, let your personality show and these kind of things, and I don’t think that we’ve done a great job of that of late.
But I hate to say this, and I’m not making excuses, every team that we have every year goes through ruts. This one just happened a month earlier than when most occur. Most of them happen, I think at least with our teams, happen in February sometime, and this one happened in mid-January. The thing about it is you can get through those ruts, but you need to — a lot of it depends on schedule, a lot depends on injuries, a lot depends on a lot of things that you can maybe be in a rut and still win, and we haven’t been good enough to win away from home when we are in kind of a stale frame.
We’ll get it corrected. We are very open and discuss and have a lot of dialogue on things, but we need energy and enthusiasm that creates activity, and our activity level hasn’t been that good.
Q. Does Kentucky’s Jamal Murray present similar problems as anybody else you’ve faced this year or what makes him different?
BILL SELF: Well, he has good size, and of course he can put it down and get his own shot, and he is really good off the catch, too. But he is a natural scorer. You know, we haven’t played a lot of those that are just natural scorers. (Michigan State’s) Denzel Valentine obviously made us look bad, but I would even say that Murray — Denzel still at times can be a pass-first guy, and not that Murray won’t do that and not that he’s not capable of doing that, but at least from my mindset and from what I’ve watched, he’s a guy that when they’re playing well, he’s putting points on the board.
And so certainly that’ll be a big challenge for us.
Q. You’ve played a lot of veterans at the five, but Hunter Mickelson hasn’t been one of them. Is there something more you want to see from him?
BILL SELF: No, not really. Hunter is hurt right now. He got a high ankle sprain yesterday out there, and having a great day, and so we don’t even know his availability moving forward. He’ll be a day-to-day guy maybe for the next week or so. We don’t know yet. A lot depends on how he reacts to treatment.
But not really. It’s not so much about going with experience as it is just going with guys that in that particular moment or that situation it’s best for the other four guys to play with, and a lot of times that lends itself to experience. But Hunter, he’ll be questionable probably for Saturday.
Q. In the past it seems like Jamari Traylor has been a guy you’ve looked for, even when he was younger, for energy and that kind of thing? Can you still get that from him?
BILL SELF: I thought ‘Mari actually did some good things against Iowa State, but certainly I think he can give us more. I do. We talked about that yesterday, those exact same things. We watched the tape and broke some things down, and talked about those exact things on how each person can give a little more and things like that. You can’t put it all — you can put it on me as much as anyone else, but I think certainly that we need to have players that are coaching each other as opposed to a coach just coaching them all the time, and that’s something that we’ve always struggled with. I mean, leadership from that standpoint and guys got to get out of character and help each other a little bit, and I think ‘Mari is about as good a leader as we have coming off the bench and certainly provides us more energy than what most of the other guys do.
Q. You talked about that five spot fitting in. You’ve gone with that sort of rotation for two games. Have you seen that? Have you seen that spot fitting in with those other guys?
BILL SELF: I actually thing Landen has played pretty well. He’s got 19 rebounds the last two games in about 40 minutes, maybe a little less than 40 minutes, and he’s not a prolific scorer in there, but certainly he can do a lot of things defensively. He did a great job on (Iowa State’s Jameel) McKay. If you watched the individual moves when McKay tried to rip and go and things like that, he did a great job. So he’s done well. But our team hasn’t played particularly well.
We played — against Texas we were pretty good. That was a good Texas team we played, and we played them pretty good the last 30 minutes. I think the point differential was about 30, so that’s pretty good against a quality team. It’s just you just don’t want to spot them 14 before you start playing.
But you know, I don’t think you can put your finger on it, that it’s just one thing. I think a lot of times guys can play well, at least from an individual standpoint. The team did not look very good, and certainly I think that’s been the case some.
Q. What do you think of Kentucky’s shot-blocking ability compared to last year?
BILL SELF: Well, I’ve watched last year’s game, and I don’t know if we ever got a shot up it seems like to me. I actually watched it, and you know what’s sad, I actually thought we played pretty well. They did what — drive it, drive it, drive it, and we drove it, and we just couldn’t score over those guys, and the one thing that we did poorly last year against them obviously was we didn’t drive to pass. We’d drive to score, and you’re much easier to guard when you play that way. We’ve got to do a better job there.
Defensively last year when we played them, if you had told me before the game, hey, they’re going to score 70, I’d say, well, we can live with that. Now we’re just going to figure out a way to score enough points. I didn’t think 40 was the number that we needed to try to score to win. Maybe in a half, but they just totally dominated us. Totally dominated us. We cut it to 10 at halftime, and then we hang 12 the second half, and the harder we tried, the worse it got.
They don’t have all those guys. They don’t have (Willie) Cauley-Stein and Anthony Towns and (Trey) Lyles and some of those guys, but they do have some of the same cast of players obviously with (Alex) Poythress and (Marcus) Lee, and Skal (Labissiere) is obviously making an impact. They’re a good shot-blocking team, and they’re a terrific offensive rebounding team.
Q. Do you think Kentucky head coach John Calipari has navigated the one-and-done era of college basketball about as well as anybody?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I don’t think that we or other schools sell it the same way that he sells it, and that’s a compliment to them and him. I mean, that’s the whole deal. You’re going to come here and you’re going to play and you’re going to get better, and in one year you’re going to leave. And certainly that has been the case with several of their guys. It’s not the case with everybody. It never is. You never bat a thousand. But the whole deal is they have probably done the best job of selling it than what anybody else has as far as getting guys that come in and know before they get to school there that they’re only going to be there for nine months.
Q. For the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, can you take us through the dynamics behind the scenes of how the match-ups are made?
I don’t have any (say in it). I mean, I guess we could say there’s 14 teams or whatever in the SEC, we’ll play these 13 or play these 12 or play these 10, but we didn’t do that. We don’t do that. I assume other schools can maybe do the same thing, but I’m not sure anybody did. I think we left it up to the league and television to determine what were the match-ups that they thought people would want to see.
Q. If they’d tried to have you play Missouri, would that have been an issue?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. I know when I said that, you’re going to ask me a damn question. I really don’t know how we’d react to that. I think that would probably be something that the leagues would probably get with both of them and say, hey, how do you guys feel about this, but I don’t know.
Q. You’ve talked a lot about your guards lately. Do you do anything to try to get them going? Do you show them video?
BILL SELF: Yeah, we’ve done that. We’ve shown them good and we’ve shown them not so good. There’s no question. I don’t want to sound like it’s being remotely negative, but have you guys really studied the point guards in our league? I mean, it’s a point guard league, folks, and so if — when you’re playing somebody and if you’re not quite as good that particular night for whatever reason, it could be anything, okay, could be foul problems, it could be you’ve got a sprained toe, it could be you missed shots that night, whatever it is, there’s a good chance that the guy you’re playing against could get the best of you just because you’re playing against a pro for the most part. I mean, this is a terrific, terrific guard league.
I think when you look, and I’m not talking about just a point guard but the guards in general, I mean, there’s some good players, and I just don’t think that we’ve been quite as good. I don’t think that our margin for error is such that we can show up and still be better, maybe like some teams we’ve had in the past. But a lot of that isn’t because of our talent level, it’s because other people have really good talent level, as well. So you’re not on point and you’re going against OU’s guards or you’re going against Iowa State’s guards, there’s a good chance you’re not going to look great, and on point doesn’t mean anything negative. On point could just be just having an off-night or whatnot, and I think we’ve caught some teams when they’ve played very well, also.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with Kentucky head coach John Calipari?
BILL SELF: You know, John and I know each other. We’ve known each other — I wouldn’t say well. We recruit against each other quite a bit, competed against each other some, not a ton, and he has Kansas ties, obviously, working here. I’m sure that, although he left before I got here, I’m sure he’s much older, but I’m sure that there’s always been a connection because I was with KU with Coach (Larry) Brown and he was with KU with Coach Brown and Coach (Ted) Owens. But I would say it’s very — Cal and I are fine, very cordial and all that stuff. We haven’t broken bread together lately at dinner, but I don’t do that a lot with a lot of coaches. But I would welcome it.
I don’t have any issues with Cal whatsoever. I think he’s done a remarkably great job at a place that is not an easy place to coach.
I think people look at Kansas and Kentucky and (North) Carolina and Duke, and there’s more, there’s more blue-blood schools out there, and you just think, well, you should win, you’re at these places. Well, that is partly true. That is partly true, but there’s a lot of different type waters you’ve got to navigate in order to make it a pretty smooth place, and you know, he’s done an unbelievable job at doing that there in Lexington.
Q. Do you get a sense of the helicopter view of this game, that it’s Kansas-Kentucky, top two winningest teams of all time, and I know there are game issues you and Coach Calipari have to be concerned with, but does it strike you as a pretty big night, might be a different vibe in the fieldhouse because of it?
BILL SELF: I think this: This is what I thought, and I looked at our schedule, and I don’t know how he looked at it, but I looked at our schedule, and I’m like going, good gosh, we’ve got to play Kentucky in the middle of our league schedule? Geez, this isn’t any good. And not because we’re playing Kentucky, because we’re focused on the league. And now that it’s getting close, I think it’s just going to be awesome. I think it’s going to be great for college basketball. I think this place will be jumping like it hasn’t all year long, and we’ve had some unbelievable atmospheres already. I believe it’s a great way to showcase our sport, and of course you have a terrific team with unbelievable history and tradition coming in here, but they’re going against a terrific team with unbelievable history and tradition, too. I think it’s going to be a fabulous night. It will have a different feel.
Q. It’s a good game, Kansas-Kentucky; it’s a big game. Does ESPN College GameDay, having that crew in, does that make it a little bit more?
BILL SELF: You know what, normally I would say yes. In this particular situation I would say no. I think that you could almost remove the 16,300 people and play shirts-and-skins and it’s Kansas and Kentucky and the guys would be fired up to play. I think a lot of times you bring GameDay in or things like that that really add to it, but I’m not sure you can add to it. I mean, I think it’s going to be great, but I’m not sure GameDay makes it any bigger, at least from a player standpoint. They’re going to be jacked — both teams will be jacked sky high regardless of GameDay being here.
The team that kind of is able to manage those emotions and show some poise I think will have a leg up, especially early on in the game, because the game won’t start until probably the 12-minute mark of the first half because everybody is going to be so geeked up the first eight.
Q. You mentioned enthusiasm and just that poise. Are those part of the personality traits that you’re looking for on the floor?
BILL SELF: Well, historically if you look back over time, our guys have done a pretty good job with poise in most situations. You know, we didn’t the other night, obviously. But I think that that’s something that we should always look at and identify with, but I don’t think that you just say that we don’t play with any poise when there’s been so many times when they’ve demonstrated that they did.
But this the other night wasn’t very good, and give Iowa State credit. They outplayed us. They dominated us the last ten minutes or the last nine minutes. I think it was a tie game with 9:46 left to be exact, and then all hell broke loose.
But the whole thing is I do think that there’s a fine line to get yourself to the magic level to play. I mean, you want to be enthused, you want to have high energy, but you also want it to be at the level that gives you the best chance to have the best focus and concentration, too, and sometimes I think you can kind of get out of whack if you’re too geeked up. Maybe you lose focus or concentration. That’s where the poise comes in.
Q. So at home could the fact that you’ve had some flat-lined emotional guys be a good thing because they’ll never get too geeked up?
BILL SELF: Who knows. You know what, I’ve been doing this for a while now. This is 13 years here and 23 years total, and the best shootaround we’ve ever had, ever had before a game was at TCU three years ago (and we went on to lose to them for the first time). Never missed a shot. We were perfect.
So if you expect me to know how we’re going to react based on personalities or based on the locker room feel or things like that, I really don’t know because I think everything is different.
The whole thing is they say — which is true. You play like you practice over time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the next day. You can’t play great when you practice like crap or you can’t play poorly when you practice great, but over time that will win out.
But this is a hard team to judge. For the most part we’ve done a pretty good job, but certainly we haven’t done as good a job lately. But the Iowa State game, you can’t say we weren’t ready to play. You go into a tough place, you’re up seven and a half and could have been more and didn’t do the things you have to do from a toughness and a poise standpoint down the stretch.
Q. Quickness and explosiveness are two qualities you need to be a good rebounder, but Landen Lucas is an excellent rebounder. How does he compensate for not being very —
BILL SELF: I think he’s strong. I think Landen is a lot stronger than what he actually gets credit for or what he looks. He’s by far the strongest guy on our team as far as being able to hold position and sealing and things like that, and then the other thing Landen does, for the most part he rebounds the ball with two hands and goes after it, and per minute and all these things, he’s emerged as, without question, our best rebounder. I still think Carlton Bragg Jr., has a chance to be an unbelievable offensive rebounder, but Landen has really done a really good job in that area.
Q. How is Frank energy-wise and health-wise?
BILL SELF: Oh, he’s fine. He’s fine health-wise, and energy-wise he’ll be fine. I think that — we’ve rode Frank pretty hard. We rode him hard last year, and then based on injuries and things like that, and of course you had to win this summer. That was six weeks of pretty intense ball for the most part. It seems like looking back now, yeah, we were so relaxed and having fun and doing all this stuff, but that’s six more weeks of bodies being pushed when they wouldn’t have been otherwise and could be kind of a rest. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I will say this, without being remotely negative, this is just real: Everyone goes through this. Everyone — all your — you as an employee go through this where some weeks you feel a little bit better than other weeks about being excited to go to work based on — everybody goes through this. The thing about it is and the key to having a great season is when you have positive momentum you extend it and when you have negative momentum you cut it off. But you’re going to have negative momentum in seasons. You’re going to have it. Some people can get by with it because maybe the teams that they played at those times weren’t good enough to beat you with the talent, and certainly in our league that’s not how it works, folks. You’ve got to be good every night in order to win in our league, and we just haven’t been good enough away from home.
But it’s not going to stay like that. We’ll get that back.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports