Self Discusses Senior Day in Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the Big 12 Conference regular-season title in hand, No. 8/8 Kansas will welcome Texas Tech to Allen Fieldhouse for one of the team’s most cherished traditions – Senior Day. Head coach Bill Self talked about the senior class, the Oklahoma State game and the upcoming contest with the Red Raiders in his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Q. Can you talk about each of the seniors and what you’re going to remember most about them?
COACH SELF: Well, I think with Tarik (Black), I think I’ll remember him being an unbelievable teammate and a great leader and certainly a guy that has impacted our ability to win. But he’s got something about him that I think every kid yearns for. He’s ultra-positive; his attitude is very, very good; he’s got energy; and he’s always trying to make others better. I’ll remember that.
I’ve known Niko (Roberts) the longest, obviously. I think I even spanked Niko when he was about three or four years old, a couple of times, when we used to babysit him. But he’s awesome; he’s part of our family and has been for a long time. Certainly, (I’m) real proud of him and what he’s done since he’s been here. Not just how much he’s helped us from a scout team standpoint, but he’s really been a great ambassador and certainly a great teammate, as well.
I think Justin (Wesley) is maybe the coolest kid on our team. To go from being the first big off the bench three years ago as a sophomore and playing in the national championship game to not playing much at all since then; his attitude is the same as it was back then. He’s going to get his degree and then, of course, we’ve helped spearhead what could be a very, very wonderful acting career, as well.
I think that all three have played a role in how good we’ve been, and all three have played a role, to be honest, in my personal happiness because I’ve enjoyed being around all of them.
Q. When is the first time you ever had one of your former players actually pay the tuition for one of your current players? Is it kind of cool that Keith (Langford) did that for Justin (Wesley) for a couple years?
COACH SELF: Yeah. If I’m not mistaken I think Justin has been on scholarship a couple of years and Keith paid a couple years. When Justin came (to Kansas), the deal was ‘We don’t have a scholarship, but if you work hard and you do what you’re supposed to do, hopefully we’ll be able to put you on aid before you get out of here’. This last year, he knew without question that that wasn’t going to be a possibility if we signed our guys; (his) mom knew that — everybody was up front — and Keith knew that. I’m real appreciative of what Keith has done, the sacrifices he’s made to do that for Justin. I know Justin is, as well. It’s pretty cool.
Q. Will you meet with Tarik (Black) about his new role, at least for the next week?
COACH SELF: That’s something that we won’t make a big deal of at all. That’s not how we do things. We’ll talk about that we don’t have Joel (Embiid), but the emphasis is not what we don’t have; our emphasis is what we do have. We’re one of the very fortunate teams in the country that can lose a good player and have basically a three-year major-college starter step in and do that (fill that role).
We’re not going to change. We may run a couple of different sets to try to do a different thing or two, but we’re not going to change. Certainly, that’s what we’ve always talked about: when your number is called, be ready. You don’t talk about what you don’t have, you talk about what you do have and certainly, we still have a lot.
Q. How do you approach senior day with a guy who might not be back next year? Is it awkward almost?
COACH SELF: I’ve seen where other schools, when guys are projected to leave, they make them part of their senior night, which I think is fine. I mean, every school should do it the way that they do it. But we’ve been a pretty tradition-rich program for a long time, and there are certain traditions that I think are worth keeping. This is not freshman night, it’s not sophomore night, it’s not junior night; it’s senior night. I think in the past we’ve acknowledged, maybe said something (about a non-senior student-athlete), but the bottom line is this night is about Justin, Niko and Tarik.
Other people may do it differently, but that’s not how we’re going to do it. I think the majority our fan base would be disappointed if we did something that took away from what is one of the great traditions of our basketball season, and that is senior night.
Now, I’m not saying I may not recognize or do something, but certainly, I don’t want the emphasis to ever get away from those kids that have actually exhausted their eligibility here. And in this case all three graduated, obviously.
Q. I was wondering when you do your non-conference scheduling, do you put an eye towards the RPI ranking?
COACH SELF: Well, we put too keen an eye on it this year probably, but absolutely. Larry Keating does a great job with our scheduling. Of course he runs everything by me, ‘Hey, do you want to play them?’ and ‘This is where their RPI is, how many starters (are) back,’ that kind of stuff. Yeah, we try to put together a schedule that would be a strong RPI schedule. And I could be mistaken — I think this year there was one team that we played that wasn’t in the top 200, and I think of the 29 games we’ve played so far, 20 have been in the top 100 or something like that, some ridiculous number.
He (Keating) deserves some credit for us having a good RPI schedule — and Larry, you walked in at the perfect time — but also, a lot of it’s also kind of luck, the way it plays out.
I think our league is plenty good enough that we’d get us enough RPI points, so to speak, that we’d have a good strength of schedule, but this year was certainly one. The only reason we wouldn’t be considered to be a No. 1 seed was seven losses, and I’m not sure we are on the outside or inside or anything like that. We’ve still got a lot to prove and we’ve got to finish strong to even be seriously considered, but the only reason we are is because we played a monster schedule. That’s the reason, and so that is a very positive thing.
Q. What are your thoughts on Texas Tech?
COACH SELF: They play everybody close, and they’ve had some tough losses. Going back to our game, that was a tough loss (for TTU), and it’s a one-possession game in Ames right before we played them, which was a tough loss (for TTU). But certainly Tubby (Smith, TTU head coach) has done a great job. Their front line is probably one of the better front lines in our league, without question. (Jaye) Crockett is a hard match-up, and they guard. They guard, and if you remember right, they milk the clock. They’ll try to score quick if they can, but if not, they’ll shoot it under seven on the shot clock many possessions. We did a poor job of finishing the possessions, so we’ve got to be much better at that. (Texas Tech is a) Great, great offensive rebounding team.
Q. You mentioned other years having to kind of play catch-up for the league crown. Is it any different now that you’ve wrapped it up with two games left to go and still kind of dangling another carrot for the team?
COACH SELF: I would say it’s a little bit different because our goal that we had throughout conference play is complete. We did win the league. We never made it a goal that we wanted to win the league by three games or anything like that. We just wanted to win the league, and so we have completed that. Just to be really, very realistic, now what we’re playing for is basically potential seeding and having momentum playing our best ball.
But the guys should be enjoying playing. I mean, there’s no question about that, and obviously they’ve played with passion and energy for the most part the entire conference season. I don’t see that changing. I don’t see why you have to be geeked up because of a conference race to have enthusiasm to go play. There’s a lot of teams out there that don’t have a chance to win a league race that play their butts off, and certainly I hope that we’re one of those teams that play just as hard moving forward as we ever did looking back.
Q. What do you think you need to do to get that No. 1 seed? Do you have to win out?
COACH SELF: Oh, I don’t know. I was asked that today on ESPN, and if you look at us and you see 22-7, you know, that doesn’t do much for me. You’ve lost seven times, and then you look at the strength of schedule, and you say, ‘Well, there’s a lot of people that would have lost seven times.’ And then you say, ‘Well, how did you do in your league?’ If you’re up three games with two to play in what other people are saying is the best league in America, then you’re saying, ‘You must be pretty good if it’s the best league in America and you’re up three games with two to play.’
I don’t know what we’d have to do because I think our total body of work would be good enough if you really evaluate and study it. I think the initial record look isn’t good enough. To me it’s irrelevant unless you play well from this point forward. If we don’t play well from this point forward, we don’t deserve to be in that conversation.
I think there are three teams that are locks to be No. 1. I think Wichita State obviously is a lock; I think Arizona is a lock; and I think Florida is a lock. You’ve got seven, eight, 10 schools probably fighting for that other No. 1 seed. You may say there’s not that many, but no, there are that many. If you win out and go win your league tournament there’s that many, and it may be more than that.
We’re one of those teams, I think, but how we finish will determine whether or not we’ve got a shot.
Q. Speaking of seeding, I heard whoever suggest that with Joel Embiid not playing these last couple games, that the committee would actually factor that in.
COACH SELF: To help us or hurt us?
Q. To help you; that they wouldn’t look at these next couple of games. They’ve done that for injuries, but do you think they actually would in this case where he’s just out for a few games?
COACH SELF: I have no idea. They talked a lot about the suspension at Oklahoma State, how the committee would view that. I don’t see how a committee would view an injury if it’s temporary, how they’d view it much differently than something like that, if they take that into consideration. Which, I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much they take any of that stuff into consideration. They say they talk about it, but I don’t know.
If that’s the case, then Florida should be overwhelmingly the No. 1 overall seed because they should be undefeated just because one of the games they lost was when they didn’t have their complement of players. I think Scottie Wilbekin and maybe somebody else was hurt. You know, they could easily be undefeated if the committee takes that stuff into account. But I don’t know how much they do take that stuff into account.
But we’re not approaching it like that. We’ve got good enough guys to step in and do the job when he’s out.
Q. Have you guys celebrated at all in private yet?
COACH SELF: Winning the league? No. Well, we high-fived each other after the Oklahoma game, but I told them we shouldn’t celebrate until we win it outright. Of course, we won it outright and then we got our butts handed to us, so nobody was really in a celebratory mood.
The situation is we haven’t, but if we’re successful tomorrow, we’ll definitely do something to celebrate. But it won’t be a net-cutting ceremony. We’ve never been big on stuff like that.
Q. About four or five years ago you made a very prophetic statement at the postseason banquet. Travis Releford had barely scored at that point in time; you said he was going to be a 1,000-point scorer, and he ended up about 50 points short of that, I think . Is there a guy that’s not getting to play much here now that you see that kind of thing happening again?
COACH SELF: Well, I would say there’s one kid on our team that hasn’t had a chance to play a lot. A lot of it is because he’s young, we’ve got a couple of guys maybe in front of him, and a lot of it is maybe he gets in his own way a little bit with me, which a lot of young kids do, and that’s not being a knock at all, but (it’s) just (him) trying to figure it out.
Brannen Greene is going to be an NBA player. I really believe that he could be that. He’s talented.
Now, does he guard anybody yet? Does he do some things that we think are important that he hasn’t quite bought into the same importance level? Probably not, but he is really a talented kid. He’s got a chance to be a really good player. So if I was going to make a bold statement about somebody, he (Greene) would be maybe one that you didn’t think about.
Q. How is Naadir Tharpe doing?
COACH SELF: With his thumb? I saw him this morning. He seemed to be doing a lot better. He didn’t practice yesterday contact, he just shot, but he’ll practice full speed today.
Q. How would you rate Tharpe’s junior season?
COACH SELF: How would I rate Naadir’s junior season? I would say he’s played about as well as I probably would have hoped for. I’m not a professor, but I’d give it a B+ or an A- or something (like that). I still think he can play better in some ways, but I think he’s been really good. I think he’s had some games where he hasn’t been his best, and when he hasn’t been his best, it seems like those are the games we probably struggle the most. I do think how he goes, in large part, probably dictates as much as anything on how we play. That’s the way it should be with a point guard; same with a quarterback. I don’t know very many times you would have a quarterback that goes 13-of-30 and throws three picks. The team probably doesn’t look quite as good. We’ve had some of those type of games, but I would say overall he’s had a really, really solid junior year. He probably is as responsible for us winning the league as any individual.
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