Self Preps for Oklahoma State Trip in Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In position to claim its 10th-straight Big 12 Conference regular-season title outright with a win at Oklahoma State, No. 5/6 Kansas will travel to Stillwater for a Saturday night meeting in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Kansas head coach Bill Self took questions regarding this weekend’s ESPN College GameDay contest.
Q. Is it motivating that you could win the undisputed title this week?
COACH SELF: You know, I think that may be a small part of it. I think the motivation is it’s Oklahoma State and we’ve kind of developed a pretty good rivalry with them in recent memory. (The) Last three games have been really close, last-possession-type games. Certainly, the opportunity to win a game away from home, in front of a national audience on (ESPN College) “GameDay”, is plenty of motivation in itself.
Q. Does Oklahoma State look like a different team so far with Marcus Smart coming back from that suspension?
COACH SELF: Yeah, they’re different. I know that I was a guy that probably sang his praises as much as anybody since he’s been at OSU because I got to know him through the recruiting process. He’s good. He can impact the game and not score. He’s one of the few guys out there that can control it. His defensive anticipation is probably as good as anybody that we’ll ever play against, not just this year. He’s a good player, and obviously, he and the OSU team have been through a lot here as of late. He’s spinning it into a positive; they seem to be playing very, very well, and he’s played very well since he’s been back, totally dominated the games.
Q. If Phil Forte is starting, what challenge does he present?
COACH SELF: To me, one reason why they’re playing better is because he’s played well, and he plays better whenever Marcus (Smart) is in the game with him because he does as good a job of finding — he’s like of like the twins, Marcus and Markieff (Morris), looking for each other. I think that he is certainly as good of a sixth man as there is in the country coming off the bench, giving energy and making shots. Whether or not he starts, I don’t know what Travis will do. He hasn’t phoned me and told me exactly how he’s going to play everything out.
I do think that he’s (Forte) tough to guard. He stretches the defense and really allows driving opportunities for some of the other guys because you can’t leave him.
Q. When the schedule came out and you saw Oklahoma State on Saturday night, on “ESPN College GameDay”, did you think ‘That’s a big one. That could be for the league that night?’
COACH SELF: Yeah, the only thing negative I thought of is 10 p.m. (when the game is approximately over), that means it will be late — we won’t get back until about 4 a.m. in the morning. When the game starts at 8 p.m., it’s going to be a long day.
But certainly we thought that this game — or I did, I can’t speak for others — would have conference implications as far as who would have the best shot to win it.
You know, it’s nice being able to go down there knowing that we’ve clinched a tie, but still, a tie doesn’t really mean anything. We’ve got to go finish the job and we’ve got some opportunities to do that. But why wait? Let’s go ahead and take care of business and put ourselves in a favorable position with the committee moving forward into the tournament.
Q. Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor, they’re not twins, but what they provide for you, it’s hard to say one without the other. Could you talk about them?
COACH SELF: Well, there are not too many programs in the country that have as many big guys coming off the bench as we do. Then, in addition to that, have guys that are productive coming off the bench. You could even throw Landen (Lucas) in there. In his limited minutes he’s done very well for us, too.
I really think Tarik (Black) and Jamari (Traylor) have been a big reason why we’ve been better. They’re giving us energy; they’re playing at a high level; they’re efficient, as you pointed out. They don’t take a lot of hard shots. Most of their shots are in tight, but yet, they still do what they do and certainly give us a physical presence and an energy presence, and that’s needed with Joel (Embiid) and with Perry (Ellis), too.
It’s nice to have somebody a little bit different coming in off the bench that can kind of have a different type of impact on the game based on their own skill set. Both of those guys are able to do it.
Q. You mentioned putting yourself in a favorable position. A lot of the talk from the talking heads assume it’s going to be you and Wichita State for that final No. 1 spot. How do you see that?
COACH SELF: Well, first of all, we’re not in competition with Wichita State. They’ve had an unbelievable year. We’ll be in competition with them if we play them, but they’ve had an unbelievable year, and I personally think they deserve the No. 1 line if they’re able to go ahead and take care of business. You hear the so-called pundits say, ‘Well, their schedule this or that.’ Well, it’s hard to win on the road, especially when you’re everybody’s Super Bowl game, and they’ve been able to do that. You have to respect that.
All I want is for us to get better and put us in a more favorable position. People around here will make a big deal about that potentially, and I guess it did happen in 1980 or ’81 where it came down to a one-possession deal and Wichita State beat Kansas in that one game if I’m not mistaken. So it has happened before where they’ve met in the tournament.
But I would say this: If that were to happen and both teams meet in the tournament, that means that both teams have probably done quite well in the tournament to get to that game. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not the least bit concerned or consumed with, ‘Hey, I hope this or I want this’ or we’re in competition with them. All we’re in competition with is ourselves and the teams that are lined up to play in front of us, no one else.
We’re a long ways away from being a serious contender for the No. 1 line. I mean, right now we may be, but we’re still potentially five or six games away, which is a lot of time that you can move a lot of lines in the selection committee’s mind. Yeah, we could be a No. 1, could be a No. 4. A lot of things just depend on how we finish the season.
Q. Since you’ve been at KU, the two highly-ranked teams in the state of Kansas have been KU and K-State. What’s it mean for the state when Wichita State is the other team highly ranked and highly profiled?
COACH SELF: Well, I think it’s great for our state, a state populated as we are and considered so many to be a flyover-type state from a media standpoint. I come from Illinois where I don’t know how many, 11 million people or whatever it is live in the state, and you come here, and what is it, just under two [2.9 million]? I don’t know exactly how many live in the state, and to have three programs that have done as consistently well as they have I think speaks volumes to the ball in our area. People will try to pit things against others, but I’ve said all along, iron sharpens iron, and when others are good in your area, that kind of raises your own level, too. It’s been good for us to have K-State and Wichita State so competitive.
Q. When you go back to Stillwater, do you allow yourself just a little bit of time to walk down memory lane, or do you not?
COACH SELF: I’ve forgotten most of my memories back from age 18 to 22. Probably not. You know, the first time I went back I made a mistake — I can’t remember if it was Big Monday or if it was an (ESPN College) “GameDay” or whatever when we went back the first time or whatever when I came here, but it was a big game and they were loaded. That was the year they went to the Final Four. We ended up losing in the Elite Eight, but they rocked us good. I think I called three timeouts in the first four minutes of the game and got a technical just so that we could stop play a little bit to catch our breath, and they rocked us pretty good.
I kind of did that, I toured every place and went to lunch with old friends and all that, and I realized after that, we’re not going to go down that path again. So this is strictly a business trip, and if I’m able to see some of my buddies, it’ll be after the game in the hallway as we leave, but that’ll be about it.
Q. At what point of the season do you actually look at other teams across the country and where you guys may be seeding-wise?
COACH SELF: I think it’s still a little premature — close to the last week of the regular season, but for sure going into the NCAA Tournament. I think curiosity, obviously, is pretty high at that point in time, so you start thinking about it. But I don’t look at it like who we’ll be seeded with 1 and 2 and that stuff as much, or 1 and 4, 2 and 3. I look at it as, ‘Okay, if we’re a 1 (seed), who’s the 8 and 9s and who’s the 16s? I’ll look at it from the standpoint of just looking at it one week in advance as opposed to looking all the way through it.
Q. Throughout the years, when Kentucky and North Carolina have been to the national championship game, they lose a lot of personnel, then the following year they’ve played in the NIT. Why do you think KU has been able to rebuild what it’s lost and still get into the NCAA Tournament?
COACH SELF: Well, I told Bob (Davis, Jayhawk Radio Network) this the other day; the thing that kind of gets lost in the situation (is that) the players are good, but the assistant coaches are really good. When you think about the players that we’ve had and the turnover we’ve had, those guys (assistant coaches) continue to bring in guys (players) that fit who we are and what we’re trying to get accomplished. It’s been pretty remarkable by that staff. And of course the staff changes, whether it’s Jank (Tim Jankovich) or Danny (Manning) or Joe (Dooley) or whoever, we’ve had turnover.
But there’s been some constants in the job those guys have done. When you recruit well, obviously you lack experience a lot of times. Still, you want experience, but yet talent will win more games than experience will, and hopefully by the end of the season we’ll have both.
Q. I was wondering about the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year race. Obviously you have a couple guys who have been considered; Iowa State’s got a couple. When is the last year, if you’ve thought about it at all, when it was so open with three games still left before the tournament?
COACH SELF: I know Wayne (Simien) won it, I know Marcus (Morris) won it and T-Rob (Thomas Robinson) won it, if I’m not mistaken. Have we had any more than that win Player of the Year in the league? I think that may be it.
This year, I’d like to say Joel (Embiid) is a candidate. I don’t know if that’s as realistic for Joel — just being honest — because numbers are usually what a lot of people vote on, and his numbers aren’t such that that could be the case, even though he can impact the game as much as anybody in our league. I think Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) is definitely in contention to be our conference Player of the Year, but I think there are guys from other programs that are in serious contention, too. (There) may even be some guys that right now would be a leg up on some others, including Andrew.
I still think with three games left, it’s starting to get down to it. But I do think everybody should refrain from drawing any conclusions on what they think until the season is over because there are still a lot of things that can happen between now and then that would definitely tip the scale one way or another.
Q. Back to your staff, you’ve had some turnover just in the last year, with Norm Roberts coming back and Jerrance Howard joining in. What have they brought? Also Fred Quartlebaum, what’s he brought to your staff?
COACH SELF: I thought Barry Hinson was positive. He (Quartlebaum) makes Barry Hinson look like the sky is falling and the sun will never come up. He is the most positive guy ever. He never has a bad day. I think that’s been good for our players, and I think our staff energy is good. When I was a young guy, my staff was pretty young, and I didn’t ever think about needing any energy on our staff. As we get a little bit older, I think hiring a young guy that’s a little bit different, and Jerrance is that. He brings something totally different from an energy standpoint, from a fun standpoint, that I think is really important because none of us are getting any younger. Although Norm (Roberts) is young, Kurtis (Townsend) and I, we’re on the down side of everything.
So I really believe that he (Howard) brings energy. The one thing that you can’t undersell — Doc (Sadler) did it for us and Barry (Hinson) did it for us – is having somebody that’s been in the fire like Norm (Roberts) has. We talk about being the fire; Norm was in New York City as a first-time coach for six years or whatnot. So he’s been there, and to have somebody that can see it through a little bit different eyes from a head coaching perspective has been real good for me, as well.
We’ve got a really nice blend, and we have for a while, from Danny (Manning) the ex-player, to Jank (Tim Jankovich), the intellectual. With Jank the sky was always falling with him, too. But then you have different guys that are so upbeat and positive and we kind of offset each other. I think that’s been really positive.
Q. When you’re putting together a roster, people just look at bringing in the top players, but is it underrated to bring in those guys that are kind of in the 20 to 50 or 20 to 70 range?
COACH SELF: First of all, I don’t know if we understand this, but I want you to think, if you say 20 to 50 range, bring in those guys, those guys are studs. Thomas Robinson couldn’t crack that group; Marcus and Markieff Morris couldn’t crack that group in so-called high school recruiting services experts. Tyshawn Taylor wasn’t in that group, Elijah Johnson wasn’t in that group, neither was Travis (Releford) or (Jeff) Withey. But they were all good players. The key with our guys, and they’ve done a good job, you not only recruit kids but you have to evaluate and then be able to project. Jank was very good at that, projecting, and Norm is very good at it.
So I really feel like that those guys — I don’t look — you can look at guys No. 1 through 5 or No. 1 through 7 that are rated that way yearly, maybe even No. 1 through 10, and you know they’re going to have a huge impact. You know. But there’s not that much difference between No. 11 and 50 — maybe what days they played well and who was watching and stuff like that. I think those recruiting services, although I appreciate them and I know they work hard, I think they’re so overrated in a lot of ways because it’s up to a school to determine who can play and how they fit to make you better. There’s a lot of guys out there that could pick a school that are so, so talented on paper, but they can’t play the way that that system is designed to play with, or play for, and it just never works out. Our guys have done a good job of plugging them into who we are.
Q. Do you feel like in the last couple weeks Wayne Selden, Jr., has started to figure it out?
COACH SELF: Yeah, Wayne is getting it. Whether or not he’s making shots or not, he’s figuring out a way to impact the game. He’s figuring out his role and the impact he can have. Certainly, (he’s) taking a lot of pride on the defensive end. He’s played well.
Joel (Embiid) and Andrew (Wiggins) deserve the majority of the attention; I get that. But it shouldn’t be lost, if we didn’t have those two, then there would be Wayne Selden, Jr., who obviously would be used in a way where he could be strongly considered for Freshman of the Year in our league.
There’s been a lot of years that there’s been a Freshman of the Year in our league that, from a talent standpoint, probably wasn’t superior to what we feel Wayne Selden, Jr., is.
Q. How has Naadir (Tharpe) matured over the year?
COACH SELF: Well, he’s done great. We’ve done fairly well in the league, and in large part because of our point guard play. He’s responsible. If you go back and think about it, he kind of put us on his back at Iowa State, and he’s put us on his back in some different games that you look up and say we wouldn’t have won that game without him. He’s played well. And the same thing with Oklahoma the other night; when we were kind of puttering around a little bit, he made every play down the stretch, so he’s gotten better. The one area I think that he can continue to get better at is on the defensive end, but I think he’s really trying. I’m really pleased with him. I think he’s one of the most improved players around.
Q. Talking about progression, can you discuss what you’ve seen from Andrew (Wiggins) from the attention coming in and actually putting him in position to be considered for Player of the Year in the conference?
COACH SELF: Well, I think that he’s learned how to impact the game more from an athletic ability. (It’s) Still not enough to our liking, but he’s getting better at that, and he’s learned that when he plays, he’s going to get other people’s best shot. People are going to line up to want to get a piece of him; that’s the way it is. That was pretty evident, even in the preseason stuff, because he got a lot of attention and hadn’t really made a basket yet. That’s the case.
I think he respects that and understands that better. But he’s had the best year on our team, and I would say that to this point. That doesn’t mean other guys can’t surpass him or whatnot, but to this point, he’s been the most consistent and the best performer that we’ve had on our team. That’s pretty good when you really don’t have upperclassmen to really teach you how to do it, and you have all this expectation and hype. At least from the outside looking in, to me, it looks like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders to start. Looking back now, he’s handled it exactly the way that he should have handled it based on who he is. He’s been really, really good. He’s been himself. He hasn’t tried to be something he’s not, and he’s not bought into what everybody else is saying about him.
I think considering all the things that go along with it, it’s a lot easier — no disrespect to Joel — when there’s less pressure. Now Joel feels the pressure that Andrew has been feeling the whole time, and I think Andrew has done really well.
Q. Were you concerned that Andrew (Wiggins) might go another way, in particular with Marcus Smart, at Big 12 media day?
COACH SELF: I would say I had my concerns. My concern with him is the fact that sometimes — not sometimes, every day, he may be the most polite kid we’ve ever had here. He is so nice. And he’s nice to everybody, and sometimes you question whether or not we want him to be nice. I mean, nice is okay except for two and a half hours a day. But that’s not it.
I think sometimes the way that we see him in certain situations, it looks like he’s disinterested at times or maybe he’s coasting or what somebody else says should fire him up verbally when he talks to the media, but none of that stuff affects him, none at all.
Looking back over time, he couldn’t have handled it better with all the hype coming in. He just plays. He doesn’t worry about defending himself, he doesn’t worry about talking about anybody else, he doesn’t do anything except just go play. But I know it registers, and I know those things are used to motivate him.
Q. What do you think about Oklahoma State? They’re like seventh or eighth in the conference right now, but are they talent-wise the second-best team in the league?
COACH SELF: Oh, I think they’re good. When (Michael) Cobbins went down, that was obviously a big blow. It would be the equivalent of one of our key players going down, so that was a loss. But they’re capable of beating anybody, and they’re certainly capable of beating anybody at home.
Whether or not their talent level — if you’re going to rate them and I have a hard time doing that because I could look at different teams in our league, and based on how we play, who’s the hardest to guard, this or that — but I do think Oklahoma State is right at the top when talking about raw talent in our league.
Q. With Wichita State, there’s a lot of chatter out there, whether it’s on ESPN, fans on social media or anybody else. Some of that you’re probably not in tune with, but some of it maybe you are. Are you surprised by the level of comparisons? Does it almost make it a rivalry without playing?
COACH SELF: You know what, I don’t know because I don’t follow it. I’ve seen certain things — I saw something this morning. It had the top line, and of course Wichita State was a part of that, and then it had Kansas as a team that could potentially get to a top line, along with teams that I’m sure can, too. Yeah, those are all realistic. But I’m not hung up on it and I am certainly not looking into what other people are saying or comparing things. The scheduling deals come up way too much. There may be an opportunity for us to play them (the Wichita State Shockers) very soon, sooner than what even a regular-season scheduled game would be played. But who knows if that’s the case? I’m certainly not going to spend any time worrying about that.
Q. As long as you brought it up, is there a chance you’ll change your outlook on scheduling games against Wichita State?
COACH SELF: I don’t want to say never, but we’re pretty locked in on what we’re trying to do from a scheduling standpoint. That’s not a knock on anybody. But without getting into it, I would say that’s probably not on the immediate horizon.
Q. Wouldn’t that be a huge TV game at this point?
COACH SELF: (It) Could be. Who knows who it’ll be four years from now? Who knows? Scheduling is — it could be next year, it could be whatever, but we’re going to schedule strictly based on what we feel is best for us. But you know, you bring up a good point. Yeah, it could be a huge TV game, and it could help us recruiting in that area. Could it help as much as if we played in LA or New York or Philly? There’s a lot of things that go into scheduling other than what is the immediate thought amongst fans. I’m going to do what’s best for Kansas; I’m not concerned with what’s best for anybody else or doing something because it would be nice. Who cares about that? You want to do what’s best for your program, and that’s what we’ll always do.
Q. When you schedule Philadelphia or something, what’s the best thing about that recruiting, so the players can come in here —
COACH SELF: Possibly, and the other thing is the attention you get in that area. When you recruit — like for instance, when we schedule in the Big Ten, we had a presence in Indianapolis, we had a presence in Chicago, we had a presence in Ohio, we had a presence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and we had a presence in Minneapolis. We had a lot of presence in a lot of metropolitan, highly-populated places because we were in the league. Those things help.
When you schedule and play a Georgetown and teams like that, trust me, it does not hurt at all for us to be able to go in and dabble in those areas knowing that we can sell that. That’s something that I think all coaches across America look at.
I’ve heard coaches a lot of places say, ‘Well, I only want to play at places that we are going to recruit.’ Well, if that’s true, the only reason they say that is because it helps them recruit. But every coach is different, and I certainly feel what we’ve done here has been fairly beneficial for our program.
Q. Defensively how far off is your team from being a “Bill Self in March” defensive team?
COACH SELF: I thought against Texas we were. I thought against Oklahoma we weren’t. So I think we’re probably consistency away (from becoming that). I still think we struggle with making other teams play bad, and that’s something we’ve always done. If you go back and think about when we had our run a couple years ago and go to the championship game, Purdue had us dead to rights, and we made them play bad the second half. We make two shots or three shots outside of two feet against NC State and we win.
You know, the (North) Carolina game, Ohio State game and you’re down 13, you’re not going to outplay them. You’ve just got to make sure they kind of drop their level a little bit. So there are a lot of things that I think that we can do to get to the point where that’s the case, like getting consecutive stops which lead to an 8-0 run and basically the game can be turned in that two minutes. We don’t do that consistently enough.
Q. After you clinched the share of the Big 12 Conference title, I believe you said it was kind of anti-climactic. How do you regroup your guys and get focused on the next one?
COACH SELF: Well, we talked about that yesterday. The thing, regardless of what happens from this point forward, although we’ll be evaluated on what happens postseason, you can’t say the kids haven’t done well. You can’t say they haven’t had a good year. Whenever you win your respective league, it’s a good year; I don’t care whether it be the Patriots or the Dodgers or the Cardinals. Over a period of time, when you win your league, that’s a good year, but good years aren’t good enough.
So the whole focus now — of course. We want to win it outright — the whole focus is what do we want to give to make this good become great, and what are we going to give to try to make great become special, if we can get to the point where we are really good.
We’ve got a long way to go on that. As you guys know, the difference between being average and good, or average and pretty good, it’s not nearly as hard to get there. It’s really hard to get from good to great and it’s really hard to get from great to special. If we’re not still motivated by that, then we’re not going to motivate our guys.
Q. I assume the “GameDay” experience when you’re the home team is pretty cool, but what about when you’re on the road?
COACH SELF: You know, I think we were at Missouri on “GameDay”. I don’t remember where else we’ve been on “GameDay”; maybe K-State, Manhattan on “GameDay”? But I don’t remember it being a lot different than any other road game except you can’t get in the facility to practice because Digger (Phelps) and those guys are taking the floor over, which will happen at Oklahoma State.
But I really don’t see it being much of a big deal, other than the fact that when the kids are laying around watching TV, they’re going to be focused on “GameDay from Stillwater”. I think that kind of hype is good for us. I think it’ll cause us to get amped up. I also think we’ve played under duress a lot this year because our schedule has been hard, but there are still certain moments when you need to play well — when the stage is pretty bright — and I think (“GameDay”) that’ll give us an opportunity to do that with a bunch of young kids.