Self Talks Tournament at Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with the No. 1 seed for the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship for the seventh-consecutive year, No. 9/10 Kansas begins postseason play on Thursday inside Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Hours after head coach Bill Self was named the Associated Press Big 12 Coach of the Year, he took to the podium and addressed the media regarding the upcoming conference championship, injury reports and how basketball is just different in March.
Kansas (24-7, 13-5) will play its first game on Thursday, March 12 at 1:30 p.m., on ESPN2. KU will play the winner of the No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 TCU contest to be played March 11. Kansas has won 13 conference postseason tournament titles, including nine in the Big 12.
Q. Talk about being named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press (AP).
BILL SELF: I didn’t know that until I was driving in and I was told that. That’s nice, but it is a reflection that you’ve got good players and good teams. I think there were several coaches that would deserve to be named that and nobody would have a problem with it because the league was so good and teams probably played to a higher level than what they were projected to early on. It’s a nice honor, and for the first time I actually think the media knows what they’re talking about. (I) Never have thought that before [laughter].
Q. Do you ever address the honors won with the team?
BILL SELF: No, never. I’ll congratulate our players (who earned accolades), but no, I’ll never talk about that (his own honors) with the guys.
Q. What are your concerns after Saturday’s game in Norman?
BILL SELF: I thought it was pretty positive. I told our guys as soon as I walked in the locker room, ‘Get your heads up. You guys fought hard, played hard, (you) just got beat.’ Obviously, the way that we lost, on the last-second play for the second time — a similar-type deal, it makes it harder to stomach because the game should have gone to overtime if we’d done what we’re supposed to do. But we didn’t; we’ll work on that today, on that situation again.
I thought we played well. We didn’t make shots, obviously, the first half. Then the lid came off and we were very efficient, offensively, the second half. But you go down there, I don’t want to say play “shorthanded” because our guys are plenty good enough to play well, but to only have 11 turnovers and battling even on the boards, you’d think you’d have a pretty good shot and we did. We made our free throws for the most part and put ourselves in a position (to win), which is all you can do on the road against a good team like that; we just came up short.
I thought it was positive, though. I thought we actually played better than we had the week prior.
Q. What is the plan for Perry Ellis this week, regarding his knee injury?
BILL SELF: Just what’s been said every day; that he’ll be evaluated tomorrow (Tuesday, March 10). He’s doing different things now, but they aren’t requiring game-type movement. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow; (we’ll) see if we can put him out there, do some basketball-related things and see if he can practice full speed by Wednesday. If he can’t go full speed by Wednesday, we’re not going to play him Thursday. He’s got to go full speed before we’ll play him. A lot of it, from a medical standpoint, certain things have to happen. But his attitude is such where if those things can happen and he can test out positive, then I don’t think there’s anything holding him out mentally right now.
Q. Will Ellis wear a brace?
BILL SELF: Yeah, he’ll wear a brace the rest of the season regardless, for precautionary measures.
Q. How important is it to win the Big 12 tournament knowing you’ve got the NCAA Tournament right around the corner?
BILL SELF: I’ve never thought it was that important. I think it’s important to win any time you play, but I don’t think it’s important that you have to win the tournament or it’s a disappointment. I never have thought that at all. We want to go over there Big 12 Championship at Sprint Center in Kansas City) and win just like every other team does. The whole deal is as soon as that game is over, it’s the only time that you can lose a game and then immediately after you’re automatically looking forward to something else and guys’ batteries are recharged. Usually (if you lose) it takes time to unravel and sky is falling and everything else.
The (NCAA Tournament) selection show that Sunday eliminates everything that’s happened prior to that. Winning it isn’t the greatest feeling ever because as soon as you win it (the Big 12 tournament), you turn around and your whole focus is something else. You don’t get a chance to relish in winning it because there’s the next move. Certainly, it’s the same way if you don’t win it.
I think, obviously, you want to win it for confidence, you want to win it because you’re competitive, you want to win it because it’s against your peers. There are so many reasons why you want to play to win it, but it’s not the end of the earth if you don’t because the bigger prize is coming up shortly after that.
Q. Do you anticipate one of the more competitive Big 12 tournaments coming up this week?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I really believe that you could make a case that there are seven or eight teams that could win the tournament if they get hot. Then you could make a case that if those seven or eight teams don’t play well, us included on Thursday, that they’ll lose. I don’t think there are probably any other tournaments in America with that type of competitive balance. It should be a fun tournament. The team that just gets hot for the weekend will be the team that probably has the best chance to move forward.
Q. Between your last game (at Norman Saturday) and your next game (Thursday at Big 12 Championship vs. winner of TCU/K-State game), will you watch many other games? Or are you solely focused on the Big 12 tournament?
BILL SELF: You mean other games nationally? No, I won’t watch them. [Changes his mind] I mean, I’ll watch them if they’re on TV, but I won’t study them or anything like that. By the time we get back on Saturday night, Friday night, Thursday night, whenever that night is that we get back (from the Big 12 Championship), I’ll have an idea in my mind of who are the potential four teams, who are the potential fifth teams, because we record every game. But it doesn’t usually do any good to do that because you’re going to basically probably study wrong and then you’re going to find out the very next day anyway.
I’ll watch TV and follow it, but I won’t study it at all.
Q. Over the years, have you looked at the ideal way to get ready for the NCAA Tournament over the couple weeks prior to it? Has that changed at all for you in terms of how you handle the lead-up to it?
BILL SELF: I’d say we probably haven’t done a lot of things differently, but I will do something different than what I did last year. Last year we were under the impression, based on all the people getting together and talking, that we would probably get Joel (Embiid) to play from a health standpoint. (It was) No fault of his, no fault of doctors, no fault of anybody, that (him playing) didn’t happen. So we prepared with the idea of Joel coming back and I think that was a mistake. I think we should have prepared with the idea that we wouldn’t have Joel, and therefore we’re going to play this way, and then if he comes back, it’ll be a bonus. The way it kind of unraveled last year with his injury, I think that we spent way too much energy talking about him potentially coming back, and what we should have said was, ‘Hey, our focus is with the guys that are healthy and when he comes back, if he comes back, then that’ll just be a bonus to what we have.’ I’ll definitely handle it that way in Cliff’s (Alexander’s) situation.
I’m not counting on Cliff coming back. I’m not saying he’s not coming back, but I’m saying we’re not going to count on it saying, ‘Okay, when Cliff comes back, these are the sets we want to run or this or that.’ No, the whole deal is let’s get our team ready and then if Cliff comes back, we’ll somehow plug him in, as opposed to him being a focal point.
That would be a little bit different strategy than what we used last year, but for the most part, we’ll prepare the same way and try to get our guys off their feet as much as possible.
Q. Do you think the problem is that they haven’t met with the NCAA?
BILL SELF: Based on the limited information I have — who knows if it’s true, but I learned as much from the Yahoo! report as I did from anything else. I would say that based on what I read, it seems to me like this could be easily handled if everybody gets together. But it hasn’t (happened yet) — who knows if that’s going to happen or not.
You know, there are attorneys involved, obviously, so everybody is talking through their attorneys. I really don’t know where it is. It’s frustrating because you don’t know what your team is, but I’ve decided that we do know what our team is and getting him back would just be a big bonus if we’re able to do so.
Q. How is Cliff handling the situation?
BILL SELF: He’s a stud. He’s down, he’s sad. But his attitude has been great. You know, he’s probably practiced better than he ever has, dammit, here of late. But actually his attitude is terrific. He’s a great kid.
Q. So you probably were not aware of his financial advisor report?
BILL SELF: I’ve never heard of a financial advisor. I’ve never heard of an agent. And to my knowledge has anybody else heard of one? Has there been any specifics on anything? I haven’t heard anything on anything. I definitely know what’s been reported, but as far as names or anything like that, I would have no idea.
The thing that’s a little misleading for people is in all sports — and baseball may be the biggest guilty party because a lot of times kids in high school — they meet with agents to try to determine different things. There’s not one thing remotely wrong with talking to agents. There’s not one thing remotely wrong thing with meeting them, or financial advisors, and you’ve got to understand families don’t seek this (assistance) out, they seek families out the majority of the time. There’s nothing wrong with that. People make a big deal that they met with so-and-so. Every good player in the country has had somebody meet with somebody. That’s just the way it goes. There’s not any illegalities at all about meeting or talking or taking a phone call or any of that stuff. It would become illegal if there’s things beyond that.
But certainly, in this situation, I don’t have enough information to comment exactly on what’s going on because I honestly don’t know.
Q. Are you confident that your players are able to avoid Cliff’s situation becoming a distraction?
BILL SELF: Yeah.
Q. He’s practicing with all the guys. Are they nervous about his situation?
BILL SELF: I don’t think so. Now, if it would have happened two or four hours before the NCAA Tournament game started, when he was a starter, then you would say yes, kind of with what happened against Texas. But I would say no, there’s been enough time. We were straight with our guys. We told them what’s going on. They all feel bad for Cliff. But I think it’ll be nothing but positive if we get him back. But (it’s also) not a negative now if we don’t, because the guys have adjusted pretty well.
Q. You’re always good at projecting where players will be at the time they graduate. Can you talk about where you see Landen Lucas and has it increased by the way he’s played recently?
BILL SELF: I’ve always thought Landen was a good player. I said not too long ago that Landen was good enough to be a starter at Kansas eventually, and that’s true. Tarik (Black) was good enough to start here last year, too, but he didn’t. We’ve had a lot of guys that are good enough (to be starters here) but they haven’t because of recruiting. So who knows, I’m not going to make any bold statements that he’s ‘for sure this’ or he’s’ for sure that.’ But I do know that he’s for sure a good player, has improved a lot and is certainly part of our future moving forward.
Q. What about Brannen Greene?
BILL SELF: I’m hopeful Brannen plays on Thursday. He should. There would have to be a setback for him not to. I would say he’s handled his business. He’s been good since I told him (he was suspended). But he certainly needs to keep handling his business.
Q. Is there any update on Wayne Selden Jr.’s ankle?
BILL SELF: I haven’t talked to Wayne since the game (Saturday in Norman). We were off yesterday. The reports that I got back from Bill (Cowgill), our trainer, is that he’s doing fine. Wayne keeps complaining the flu is bothering him as much as his ankle, but I think that he should be 100 percent by Thursday.
Q. Do you think it’s the same flu Perry had? Is it spreading through the team?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. It could have been or it just could have been some bad chicken we ate somewhere. Who knows what it was? I think our guys will be fine. We’ve actually checked everybody’s schedule and there’s absolutely no time for anybody to get sick from this point forward, so we should be okay.
Q. What do you remember of the games against TCU and K-State?
BILL SELF: What do I remember about the games? Well, at TCU, (we had a) nine-point lead with two minutes left and almost let it get away from us there. Here, (we had a) 16-point lead and they cut it to six.
Against K-State, we played pretty well here, and then over there I think we may have been up — I don’t know what we were up against K-State. I think we may have gotten up 10 (points) if I’m not mistaken and then didn’t finish the game the way we had hoped. K-State guarded us. TCU guarded us, too, but K-State really guarded us and made it difficult to score. We didn’t play that poorly over there, and I thought they played great, and of course Nigel Johnson was terrific.
Q. The play that you set up that makes Frank Mason III get fouled for three free throws, was that a copy of the Valpo play?
BILL SELF: (It) May have been, something like that. Everybody runs something like that with no time left. I think the thing that was a little different about that particular play was we did it with so much time left because we knew that they were going to foul. That was the only way – Lon (Kruger, Oklahoma head coach) fouled us with nine-and-a-half or 10 (seconds) left to make sure we didn’t shoot a three, so he knew he was going to foul us with six (seconds) left. We just tried to set something up early and we got lucky there. Landen (Lucas) wasn’t fouled when he caught it, which that’s what we were hoping for, and then obviously we did everything right after that except guard the last 94 feet. It worked out well.
We call it home run. I bet you every team in America runs something similar to that. But it was kind of a take off of Valpo’s play.
Q. Can you describe the feeling of basketball in March?
BILL SELF: Yeah, to me it’s the best month of the year. I think anybody that is involved in our game would agree with that. You can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a span of minutes. You know, ESPN and CBS and everybody does such a great job hyping the tournament, and so much emphasis is put on that tournament as opposed to your regular season. That three weeks obviously means a ton more than the three or four months before that, at least in people’s minds. I mean, you have to deliver, and you can’t have great seasons unless you perform well in March. You can have good seasons, but nobody can take away from us. We’ve had a good season. But to make it great, you’ve got to do well in March.
It’s a little bit different from our shoes than it is from the fans’ shoes because in our shoes, you know that the difference between a No. 2 (seed) and a No. 7 (seed) or a No. 2 (seed) and a No. 10 (seed) or a No. 3 (seed) and No. 11 (seed) or whatever is this big [made hand gesture, pinching thumb and pointer finger together, indicating miniscule amount], whereas in other people’s minds they view it as monumental type upsets. Unless you’re a (clear) favorite like Kentucky is, or somebody like that, there is no monumental upsets. Everybody is good, so that’s how you can have a No. 7 (seed) and a No. 8 seed playing in the national championship game, because everybody can beat everybody.
Q. Speaking of Kentucky, after playing them the second game of the season, are you at all surprised they were able to run the table?
BILL SELF: No, not at all. They’re really good. You know, the thing that makes their run impressive is because they won games where they didn’t play well. Obviously they were taken to overtime a couple times, and at home even and things like that, but they’re going to be the favorite every time they run out the tunnel. Every time they run out the tunnel.
But if something happens and they don’t win it, it won’t be monumental. It would be an upset obviously because they’re going to have the best team every night. But the bottom line is you don’t play a series, you play a one-game shot, and it’s been proven over time, and we have countless examples to echo the point that the best team doesn’t always win. The best team on that night wins. That’s why in the NBA you very rarely have upsets, but in college basketball you have them every day.
Q. So if you were 31-0 going into a conference tournament, would you almost hope you take a loss before the NCAA Tournament?
BILL SELF: No, I wouldn’t think so, but we’ve never been 31-0. If that ever happens, then I could probably address it, but I think what you do, you coach the same way you have all year long, and if you win it, great, if you don’t win it, ‘All right, guys, monkey is off our back.’ If you win it, this is exactly what we want, so you’ll spin it however you need to spin it to get your guys fired up.
I don’t think you coach any differently than what they have. I don’t see why you’d ever hope for a loss.
Q. Last year Jamari Traylor was really good in the kind of role he had. This year it’s been a little bit more up and down. How have you seen his season? Do you think he may be playing a little better?
BILL SELF: I think it has been up and down, but I also think the last two games he’s been really good. Jamari’s gone through different things. First of all, he’s not big enough to do what he does. So last year I think the role for him was easier because we had Joel (Embiid) or Tarik (Black), and then he could back up Perry (Ellis) so he was our fourth big guy and anything he gave us was a bonus. This year, like at OU, he was our first big guy, he was our best big guy, at least on paper going into the game, and he played pretty well. He’s gotten better offensively. I still wish he’d defensively rebound the ball a little better, which he needs to. I think Jamari has had a good year, it’s been an inconsistent year, but he’s on an uptick right now.
Q. With the other big guys you had out, was it almost nice to play without Perry because Landen and Jamari had to almost be ‘the guy’?
BILL SELF: I don’t think anything that happened Saturday hurt us. If anything, it can help us. The only thing that could possibly hurt us out of where we’re at right now is if we don’t have our full complement of players able to practice and stuff like that before we’re able to play in the NCAA Tournament. But I don’t see that being the case, at least with Perry and Wayne and Brannen.
Q. I’m sure you’ve practiced them all year, but at this time of the year do you have to practice more of the end-of-game, one-possession-type scenarios?
BILL SELF: I don’t know if we’ll do it more because there’s not time now. The reality of it is you don’t want your guys practicing more now than an hour and 10 minutes. If you really think about it, if you spend 15 minutes shooting and you spend time on some other things, that hour comes up pretty quickly. You’ve got to go up and down, you’ve got to work some against the zone, you’ve got to maybe tinker with your zone that we may use (once a year), and then you work on that stuff, and you look up, and it doesn’t take long to get to that hour, hour and 10 minutes. Maybe work on a couple of things every day, reminders and refreshers, but I don’t think you spend a ton of time out there.
Q. Do you like the fact the Big 12 tournament seems to have a home in Kansas City?
BILL SELF: Oh, yeah, the Big 12 tournament should stay in Kansas City. You can make a case for moving the football around, but I don’t know if the football championship will move from the Dallas area because you’ve got the Oklahoma schools that are probably happy with that and the Texas schools that are happy with that, but the basketball, I don’t see how you can make a play where it’s a better situation than what we have here, and that’s not because we’re 50 minutes from there. It’s because it’s the best — I thought Oklahoma City did a nice job when it was down there a couple times, but I think all coaches would agree that you’re guaranteed sellouts every game (in Kansas City). It’s unbelievable. You look at conference tournaments across America, the first-round games, like the Thursday games for us, could be Friday games for somebody else, half the seats will be empty or two-thirds of them will be empty. It won’t be like that in our situation. It may hurt a little bit that us and K-State are on the same side, but you’ve got Iowa State on the other side and they draw as well as anybody. It’s great, and I don’t think there’s any coach that would disagree with it being great. Fred (Hoiberg, ISU) would rather it be in Des Moines and Lon (Kruger, OU) would rather it be in Oklahoma City, but this is probably the best place for it, I would think.
Q. You guys have had tough schedules in the past. Are you happy with what you got out of this season’s schedule to prepare you guys?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think the schedule was probably too hard because we didn’t get a chance to play as many young kids early on because you’ve got to win the games. I think the lowest-rated RPI team we played this year was like 150. Is that about right? So there was no “gimme” games. But it was good. I mean, we have a chance to be a high seed in the tournament. If we were 24-7 and hadn’t played that schedule, our chances to be a high seed wouldn’t be as good. Obviously, the schedule will help us from that standpoint. But it was probably a little bit tougher than what we thought going into it. But I think we played the toughest schedule, like three of the last four years, and I think we did back in my second year. We’re used to playing hard schedules.
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