NCAA Tournament: Jayhawks Practice, Interview in Omaha

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OMAHA, Neb. – On the eve of its 26th-straight NCAA Tournament opener, the No. 2-seeded Kansas men’s basketball team held open practice and met with the media in the CenturyLink Center Omaha Thursday afternoon.
Big 12 Conference champion Kansas (26-8, 13-5) will face Western Athletic Conference champion New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1) in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for Friday at 11:15 a.m. CT on CBS.
 Freshman guard Devonte’ Graham all buckets
in his first NCAA Tournament practice.The Jayhawks are the No. 2 seed for the sixth time overall the second-straight season, squaring off against the No. 15-seeded Aggies, who are making their fifth trip to the Big Dance in the last six years. KU and NMSU have played twice previously, with the Jayhawks coming away with victories in each (102-51, Dec. 7, 1965; 100-79, Dec. 3, 2008).
Prior to open practice on Thursday afternoon, Kansas head coach Bill Self, sophomore guard Wayne Selden, Jr. and freshman guard Kelly Oubre, Jr., represented KU at the NCAA press conference.
Q. Kelly, this is your first experience with an NCAA Tournament. What have some of the older players been telling you to get you prepared?
OUBRE: Guys like Wayne, Perry (Ellis), Jamari (Traylor), they’ve pretty much just calmed me down throughout this whole process and told me to take every game, one game at a time, one possession at a time; don’t take anybody for granted and pretty much just play with a free mind. Try to take care of business for the name across your chest.
Q. I’ve read comments maybe during the tournament, maybe at the end of the regular season where there were comments made about you guys maybe being underdogs, some guys on the team saying that. Do you try to approach the NCAA Tournament that way? Do you do it maybe with Kentucky in this bracket?
SELDEN: Not necessarily. I feel like we’re looking at it as one game at a time, focusing on the task at hand and just trying to really focus on one possession at a time. We’re not looking ahead, we’re not looking at ourselves as underdogs or the team that’s supposed to win, but we’re looking at ourselves as the team that wants to go out there and compete.
OUBRE: Every team has made it to the tournament, that’s a big accomplishment. So every team that’s in the tournament can play, no matter what your seed is. You go out and play for your school and the name across your chest. It’s going out every night and doing what we can do. Not looking at underdogs, who is predicted to win or lose, doesn’t matter to us, we’re just playing hard for our school.
Q. Wayne, with the momentum you had coming into this Tournament, starting tomorrow, what have you done with the experience you had last season in St. Louis?
SELDEN: Not taking it for granted. I felt like last year went by way too fast and just like that we were done. This year, trying to take a different approach and focusing in on the little details.
Q. Both of you have such tremendously high ceilings. How close do you think individually you’ve come to reaching those this consistently this season and the team as well?
OUBRE: Nowhere close, actually. We can get better. We get better every day. We have a lot to learn. I learn from the guys on my team every day, and I just try to take it one step at a time and give myself the best chance to reach my full potential, as well as the team. We try to get better every day and give it our all. So pretty much we haven’t come close, but we’re peaking every day and we’re going to get there.
SELDEN: I feel like the longer we have the more time we have to reach our potential, so we’re really trying to just focus in and take it one day at a time and get better day by day.
Q. Question about New Mexico State’s size, can you talk about that and the challenges?
SELDEN: Well, we know we’re going to have to rebound the ball well and defend the post well. Those are the biggest keys. We know we’ve got to gain rebound and the guards are going to have to get in there and get a lot of rebounds.
OUBRE: We have played against big teams throughout the Big 12, like Texas and Baylor, who has a similar zone-style play like New Mexico State. We pretty much have to play physical and play smart and just execute our game plan.
Q. Wayne, could you take us through your personal season this year? I think pretty much everybody on the team, ups and downs. Could you take us through the season, where you feel like you have gone the last couple of weeks and where you feel like your game is headed right now?
SELDEN: It’s been an up-and-down season, but I feel like right now is when it really matters. Trying to win games, trying to advance and to do whatever it takes for your team to do so. That’s what I’m trying to do, just trying to do whatever it takes for us to advance.
Q. We’ve talked about it quite a bit a potential match-up with Wichita State. Have you guys talked about that when hanging out?
SELDEN: No, we’re not looking forward to that. If it happens, it happens, and we will look at it when it happens, but right now we’re just focused on the first game.
expect to win.
Q. Kelly, give us your impressions on your first season at the college level, what you learned? Your development over the course of your freshman year?
OUBRE: I’ve been blessed to play for the University of Kansas, just trying to give it my all, day-in and day-out. I’ve learned from day one that you can’t take the game for granted. You have to carry out every possession like it could be your last. Coach Self has taught us that lesson every day, and just playing for the name across your chest, that’s the most important thing. You can be yourself, but the school, you should have school pride every time you step on the court. That’s just what’s been on my mind this whole season. And just executing, doing the little details that the Coach needs you to do, that’s what keeps you on the court and makes you successful.
COACH SELF: Obviously we’re excited to play in another tournament and it’s something that we definitely do not take for granted, and the guys have worked real hard to put themselves in a position to be here. And, of course, being in Omaha is like a double bonus to us. It’s certainly close for our fans. But even more importantly to us, it’s a great venue, it’s a great setup and a great city, and we have experienced a little bit of success the last couple of times we’ve been here, so we’re very happy to be here in Omaha.
Q. Bill, can you give us a sense for what the expectations of this team have been all year? It seems like it’s gotten a little bit too high or out of control at times.
COACH SELF: You know, we can talk about that and — I think coaches probably know what the ceiling of their ball club is better than anybody else would know from the outside looking in. I would say the way we played this year and the inconsistencies that have occurred even within the same game, I would think, would temper some people’s expectations about us. But you look up and we’re a 2 seed. There has been a lot of times we have had really good teams and not be a 2 seed. I’m real proud of what the team has accomplished, and certainly, you know, we have a saying, “faces change, expectations don’t” and I think that’s a little bit about what has happened with this team. Even though maybe we don’t look at visually pleasing as what some of the teams have in the past, I don’t think our guys, you can tell our guys that. Even though — no matter how the situation goes, they still
Q. What is the ceiling of this basketball team? You say coaches know it better than anyone. How often do you feel like, Bill, that this team has reached or approached that ceiling?
COACH SELF: I think we play close to it quite often, but maybe not for the consistency of entire games. I thought our performance at Texas was pretty close to our ceiling. I thought we were pretty good. There have been many games that — Iowa State at home, first half against Oklahoma, you’re up 21 on a 3 seed. There have been some moments that we have had some really good outings, but in that same Oklahoma game I think we go down 5 in the second half. So it’s been a little frustrating as a coach, because I haven’t been able to figure out the consistency part of it. Also, it’s encouraging to a coach knowing that your guys can play at a really high level when we play the way we’re capable of playing. Certainly my expectations are that we’re going to play our best ball of the season right now in the Tournament.
Q. Bill, I asked Kelly something similar. What do you feel the older guys are telling the freshmen about what it means to play in the NCAA Tournament and how you gear up to play?
COACH SELF: Well, we do have a couple of older guys, Perry and Jamari have been here — this is their third one. Really everybody else has only played in one. Last year, to me, was a little bit of a hard one to gauge because we were a team that was in flux. We had distractions, we had a lot of things going on that really probably kept us from having a real chance to make a run. And that’s not an excuse; that’s because of all the other external factors. So this year hopefully what they told the young guys is, ‘Hey, eliminate those factors, doesn’t matter who is healthy, who is hurt, doesn’t matter. Eliminate those and just focus in on what we need to do as a group to put us in the best position to play well and advance.’ I think last year the talk the whole time was, ‘Is Joel (Embiid) going to play? Is Joel going to do this and do that?’ And when you are playing with the best big man in the country, which he was obviously last year or he wouldn’t have gone so high in the draft, that that was a distraction that probably we leaned on way too much so we have eliminated that. I hope that’s what they told the guys is eliminate stuff you can’t control, only focus in on what you can.
Q. Coach, with the inconsistencies you talked about and player-to-player, position-to-position game, even within the same game, playing in the conference that you did, they still emerged with an outright conference title. If you do the math looking back on it, do you step back and say how did we do that?
COACH SELF: No, I think the reason they did it is because we’ve got good players. I think that sometimes we have enough good players that two could be off and if three is on, we’re still pretty good, and that’s what’s happened a lot. The thing about it is, we can talk about all our shortcomings and — which we have them — but I think most teams do, with the exception of maybe just one or two. We’ve got good players and we played at a pretty high level in the best league all year long. I think that right there speaks for itself. Certainly the NCAA Committee thought we had a good year, too, or we wouldn’t be a 2 seed.
Q. Coach, New Mexico State has four players with four-straight years of NCAA Tournament experience. Can you talk about experience and the role it plays come Tournament time?
COACH SELF: I think everybody wants talent, but experienced talent would be the perfect world, and New Mexico State’s got that. I mean they’ve got good players that have been there, done it; and certainly I think the thing about being there and having it be your last go-round, there is no safety net. If you’re a sophomore, there is always next year; if you’re a junior, there is always next year. If you’re a senior, there is no safety net. I’m sure they will play with an unbelievable sense of urgency. Some of our guys, it may be the same way, too, just not with seniors. We don’t have a senior on our team, at least (a senior) that plays, so I think that the things that they bring to the table from an intangible standpoint are very, very, very positive. The things that we bring to the table from an intangible standpoint is that we’re too young that we may not know, and sometimes that’s the best way to do it, too. You will have a very experienced team playing a pretty young team tomorrow.
Q. Bill, given the things that you have mentioned, shortcomings, maybe the bracket and people where they’re picking you, can you use that to mold yourselves as an underdog for the Tournament; and if so, do you like that?
COACH SELF: We don’t get a chance to be an underdog all that often, so I don’t think that’s all bad. We can sell it however we’re going to sell it. I’m not going to spend a lot of time saying that people don’t predict us to be this or that or people do predict us to be this or that because it really doesn’t matter what people think, it only matters what we think. We certainly may spin it, but we will spin it in a way that I think our guys are pretty confident. They know what we can do whenever we’re playing well, and I think they’re very confident they’re going to play well.
Q. Coach, New Mexico State plays a little bit different of a zone than a lot of people. What do you think is the key to attaching that and scoring against it?
COACH SELF: Their zone is a distorted 3-2 that looks like a 4-1, because they bring their guys up really high, at least initially, so it’s a little bit differently than what we’ve seen, but it’s from the same family that Baylor does, so at least we’ve gone against Baylor three times where we had to attack their zone, but the biggest thing is you have to attack it. I think a lot of times people get content on playing around the perimeter, and when they do that, then they get a little passive, and when it’s time to go and attack, they’ve lost their confidence to do so. I think it’s important we attack, whatever defense they’re in, right from the outset as opposed to kind of waiting to go see how it’s played. I want our guys to be in attack mode, because their zone will change shapes. Don’t worry about what they’re doing, let’s just make sure we get the ball to certain areas of the floor.
Q. Coach, what’s Perry Ellis’ status? Is he 100%?
COACH SELF: I don’t know about a percentage, but he looks a lot better than he did last week. He hasn’t missed any practice time. We gave him off Monday and Sunday; but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (he practiced), and it’s even morning practices, which is a little bit tougher on knees. He’s been terrific. He hasn’t winced once; he hasn’t had to come out, none of that stuff. He probably hasn’t shot the ball consistently as well as what he was before the injury, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the injury.
Q. Back to Perry, he was playing so well. Then to get hurt and to try to figure that out again, is that just a given that he does that? Is that stuff on a player?
COACH SELF: Well, I think in his case it’s a given. I think it is tough on a player, but I thought last week was the best thing that could have happened to him was to go to Kansas City. You knew he wasn’t going to play great; there is no way, and you knew that he wasn’t going to have the same confidence, and you knew he was going get hit, and you knew that he was going to be thinking about getting hit, and that’s all common when you’re dealing with injuries. But he did it and got through it and he realized it wasn’t anything like he thought it would be. So I think what he went through last week allows him to be good this week; I really do, and I think he’s going on play great.
Q. Coach, they play a lot of zone. I think Baylor is a team that you saw play a lot of zone. Talk about trying to match-up against their zone given the three-point struggles you have had.
COACH SELF: That’s a great point. The best zone offense is usually the offense that has the best shooter shooting it, kind of like free-throws, show me a great free-throw-shooting team and I’ll show you a team that has really good shooters. Certainly we have attacked zones great at times and we have looked poor attacking zones at times, and Baylor is probably the best indication of that. We played Baylor three times, beat them three times. And two of the games we won, the game was in the 50s, so obviously our offense wasn’t great. The big thing that I think we have to do is attack the inside of, the middle of, the baseline and you have to have the guys step up and make shots. We have shot it great at times this year and we have shot it very poorly. We’re on a little bit of an uptick shooting the ball. I think we went 3-for-12 last game, so we’re really starting to get in a rhythm there shooting the ball. But I really do think we’re a plenty good enough shooting team to have success shooting the ball against any defense, but against the zone it obviously seems to matter a little bit more, but we got good shooters. They will make them. We just went through about a two-week rub where we didn’t make anything.
The winner of (2) Kansas vs. (15) New Mexico State will advance to play the winner of (10) Indiana and (7) Wichita State on Sunday, March 22. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.