NCAA Tournament: Kansas Holds St. Louis Practice Day

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Complete with fans, good luck signs and back flips from freshman guard Frank Mason, No. 2-seeded Kansas held its open practice inside the Scottrade Center as the Jayhawks prepare to take on Eastern Kentucky in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament South Regional Thursday afternoon.
Big 12 Conference regular-season champion Kansas (24-9) will take on the winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Eastern Kentucky (24-9) at 3:10 p.m. CT on TBS.
Head coach Bill Self along with senior forward Tarik Black and sophomore forward Jamari Traylor met with the media at the official practice day press conference before the team took to the court for practice.  
Q.  For both players, please.  Obviously your coach has said Joel Embiid is out this weekend.  You’ve already experienced that.  Can you just tell us how you adjusted and how you are a different team without him?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  We are definitely a different team.  He affects the game in a different way than we can.
And like Coach says, and everybody says, we have to go out there and play without him.  We are a pretty good team without him either way.  We have a lot of depth still.  And we have guys that can make plays.  We all have to do it without him.
TARIK BLACK:  Yeah, we’ve been practicing some different things and different rotations.  Like I said, he is our best shot blocker,   but at the same time we have to move our feet better on the ground.  We have to play better ground defense.  And me and Mari (Traylor) and Perry (Ellis), we have to step up to the plate and contest shots at the rim.
Like Mari said, we have a lot of playmakers.  So on offense, we will be fine on offense rotating the ball and getting easy shots.
Q.  For both of you, please.  What did the loss of the Big 12 Tournament do for your focus on what kind of direction does that provide for you at this point?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  It was definitely a letdown.  We wanted to win it all.  But it gave us another day to practice, figure out what we had to do to get better coming into the tournament.  We have a lot more focus now because we know now that any game can be our last game.
So we really have to play our hearts out every time we step on that court.  So that’s pretty much what it did for our mindset.
TARIK BLACK:  A loss isn’t all bad if you learn from it, and that’s what we did.  We learned from that loss.  And we would rather lose in the Big 12 Tournament.  Like Jamari said, we wanted to win it all, but we would rather lose then than come here when it’s lose and go home. We’d rather learn our lesson earlier than later.
Q.  Eastern Kentucky is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.  What challenge will that pose offensively?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  They have a lot of guys that can stretch the floor and guys that will be their 4-men and can be 3-men.  So everybody can stretch the floor, everybody can shoot it.
It is crazy. Their big man can pass the ball really well and do a lot of different things.  And it can create difficult match-ups for us. We have been working on it.  We have a good game plan going in to play these guys and we should be able to go out there and do our job.
Q.  I am wondering, do you guys pay attention to the seeding in that every year there’s always a 15 against a 2, upsets happen.  Do you spend time thinking about that at all or are you just focused on them on the court?
TARIK BLACK:  We come into the tournament worrying about playing basketball first.  Seeding dictates the route you take towards the championship, but at the same time there are 64 teams in this tournament.  We are all headed for one goal, and that’s to win a National Championship. So it is all about going out and playing basketball.  No matter what happens, you have to go out there and play your hardest and try to get a win.
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  Like he said, it really doesn’t matter who’s in front of you, you have to play to win.  So you’ve got what? Six games?  It doesn’t matter who is in front of you, you have to play them out, either way it goes. So seeding is the route to get there, but it definitely shouldn’t matter who you have in front of you to play.
Q.  Jamari, you were close obviously with Ben (McLemore) the last couple of years.  Can you compare what he went through, what you saw from Ben with the attention that he got with what Andrew (Wiggins) is going through and how he has dealt with it?  And second part of that question, what’s it been like for you guys on this team who are working just as hard, with a couple of superstars, emerging superstars that get so much attention.  Do you guys want to, when you get your chance to shine, ‘give me my shot’ kind of thing?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  As far as Ben and Andrew, it is a little bit different.  Andrew is on this level, on this platform for a long time.  And I think me and Ben, our freshman year he wasn’t really looked at like that.  He was still a top-100 player, top-50 player, but he still wasn’t looked at in the same limelight as Andrew is right now.  But he had a great season, and he put himself on that stage.  Andrew, he’s always had the attention.
And as far as us going out there and playing, getting attention like you said, we don’t really try to go out there and think like that.  We just have to step up and make plays.  And if your number is called, and you have a good day that day, then you’re the guy. Either way I just try to go out and play. I don’t even think about stuff like that.
Q.  Eastern Kentucky’s strategy to win is to turn the ball over.  How much of a focus will it be for you on offense not to make mistakes and give them opportunities?
TARIK BLACK:  That’s the biggest focus when you come in any game – you don’t want to commit turnovers.  That’s been a big focus for us throughout the season, handling the ball, making smart plays with the ball.
Honestly, the turnovers and 50-50 balls and rebounds, that’s what wins games, they are all hustle plays.  It has been a big focus of ours for awhile and we are definitely focusing on it because those are the type of plays that get you put out of this tournament.
Q.  You two have always complimented each other very well when you played together and now you are sporting the same little hair down here on your chin.  Can you give us a story behind that?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  It just grew to become this way, I don’t know.  We don’t plan it. We don’t go to the barber shop.  I don’t know.  I think I look pretty good with this.
Q.  Who did it first?
TARIK BLACK:  Yeah, I definitely did it first.  I guess he saw me come in the locker room and was like ‘Hmm, that looks, kind of spiffy,’ so started doing it himself.
TARIK BLACK:  All jokes aside, we have a great bond on-and-off the court.  That’s why we play so well together because of our chemistry off the court.  We are good friends.  We relate to each other very well.  And we’re similar players, too.  When we get on the court we understand each other’s game very well.  So that’s what helps us compliment each other so well.
Q.  This question is for Tarik.  I am unfamiliar with your NCAA Tournament experience while in Memphis.  Do you anticipate it will be a little bit different with Kansas and maybe you can review a little bit?  Also, your role as a senior and how this all plays out?
TARIK BLACK:  I think I am expecting it to be different because one of my main reasons for coming here was to experience something that I never experienced before.  And in the past I’ve gotten one NCAA win and I want to win more this year with this team.
Being a senior, somebody who has been on this stage before, been out here before — I’ve been talking to the guys about one of the main things, one of the key components about winning this tournament is keeping your composure.  Anything can happen in this tournament.  I have seen some crazy things watching TV.  I’ve had some crazy things happen towards my teams.
I understand how unpredictable the situation is.  And throughout it all you have to keep your composure and stay composed and play basketball the way you know how to.  The tournament can take you out of your comfort zone.  It is one of the main focuses for a team like ours is just stay composed.
Q.  This is for Tarik.  You said you have seen some crazy things.  Can you give me any examples in particular of things that really shocked you in the tournament?
TARIK BLACK:  Well, my freshman year we went against Arizona that year.  And I think they were a No. 2 seed I think, that’s when Derrick Williams was playing for them, they had that great team.  Coming into the tournament everybody was like, ‘This is going to be a 20-point blowout, an easy win, easy win.’  When they barely won by two because we missed a lay-up at the end of the game.  Everybody was like, ‘wow, we didn’t know their team was going to be that good.’
And then we had everybody came back next year.  And going into their tournament, everybody was like, ‘Okay, this Memphis team is deadly.’  We saw them last year and lost by two to Arizona, and we came out and dropped the ball against St. Louis the next year. Like I said, this tournament is unpredictable. People try to make their predictions, but they are only assumptions, that’s it.  That’s all there is to it, just assumptions.
Q.  Jamari, your time around the program, how does Coach Self work this time of year, this week?  Does he change at all?  Intensity up?  Keeping it the same?  How do things work?
JAMARI TRAYLOR:  He just coaches the same. As far as intensity, he shouldn’t have to coach us for intensity this time of year because everybody wants it and everybody wants to come out and give it their best shot.  If you are coaching, you don’t have to coach intensity this time of year.  I don’t think that is a good look on your team if you have to coach that right now.
So just the same thing.  Give everybody confidence and tell us what we’re doing wrong at times, and that’s about it.
Head coach Bill Self Opening Statement             
COACH SELF:  We are happy to be playing in St. Louis.  Been over here a couple of times in the tournament, and certainly happy that it’s relatively close to our home.  So, hopefully we’ll get a good turnout from our Jayhawk faithful.
We’re excited to be in the tournament once again and certainly don’t take for granted the great opportunity that we have and all our players have playing in a tournament that, you know, will be a lifetime memory for all.
Q.  Bill, EKU’s guard play was good in the OVC Tournament.  What about them concerns you?
COACH SELF:  There are a lot of things that concern me.  Offensively, they don’t turn it over.  They shoot a ton of threes and shoot it very, very well.  It’s not like you can key on one or two or three guys that shoot the threes.  They have eight guys that can shoot threes.  Their bench can all shoot it as well.
So, offensively they spread you.  And then their 5-man (Eric Stutz) is obviously one of the better passing big men in the country. So they’re good.  They are very, very good.  Defensively, they play a little different, because they play very, very high on the floor, probably higher on the floor than anybody we played in recent memory.  And, certainly, they turn you over with their quickness.
Those are two areas that we haven’t been great at, defending the line and taking care of the basketball and that’s probably the two things they do the best.  So, obviously, that’s reason for us to be concerned and know those are areas we need to be good at.
Q.  All three Division I schools are over here from the state of Kansas.  Does that carry any special historical significance for you?  And what does it say about basketball in Kansas?
COACH SELF:  We knew going in that all three (Kansas) schools would be in the tournament.  So I don’t know if it carries any historical significance for me.
But I think as a state, all of the Jayhawk, Shocker, Wildcat faithful, should all be very proud in a state that’s not populated by many, can have the three Division I institutions all represented here, and certainly have done so well throughout the entire year.  Especially Wichita State with their remarkable run.
I do think it speaks volumes for the quality of ball in our state, but I don’t know if I would go as far as historical significance for any of the coaches personally being in the same region.  Because I think it’s significant if we were each in different regions, to be honest with you.
Q.  Because Eastern Kentucky does play aggressive and up high, how do you look to combat that?  Is it on the back end?
COACH SELF:  Well, you know, it has been our experience that usually when teams pressure like that, that there’s, you know, reason why they are playing to their strengths or, you know, their skill set or whatever it is.
But, we’re a team that likes to play through our bigs, so somehow we need to negate the pressure so we don’t forget about playing through our bigs.  That’s easier said than done.
Hopefully when teams pressure like that, we have some things we can do to try to make them pay for pressuring like that.  Just like if teams play soft, you have things you can do to try to, you know, maybe shoot the ball behind the arc or things like that. So, we’ll hopefully be prepared to combat how they play.
Q.  We know Joel Embiid is out, but can you tell me how your defense changes without him?  And also, is there any chance he could get back for the third round if you get that far?
COACH SELF:  We said all along he would be the longest of long shots for this weekend, but that hasn’t, you know, by any stretch ruled out next weekend.  And he’s making progress in rehab.
We’re going slow, though.  We’re not pushing him out there at all.  And that could possibly be the case, but that wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interests.
But we are very optimistic we can get him on the practice court the next week.  If that is the case, there would be a chance he can play if we are fortunate enough to win two games.
It does change, because we can make mistakes before and mistakes can be wiped away.  And now mistakes turn into lay-ups.  And so that’s obviously a big difference. And you can tell in the games we played since then, I think we are 3-2 without him.  But in the games in which we lost, you know, teams shot a lot of easy baskets, in large part because we made a lot of the same mistakes we have been making, but he wasn’t there to clean them up.  So we have to be much sounder out on the perimeter.
Q.  Andrew Wiggins was saying that he’s taking on a more aggressive mentality since the beginning of the season.  How much of that did you have to pull out of him?  How much of it just came naturally?
COACH SELF:  I think we have been trying to pull for awhile.  But looking back now, I think it’s gone at exactly the perfect pace.  You know, there’s no way he could have lived up to the hype, so if he would have put pressure on himself that I have to score, ‘I have to do this, or I have to do that,’ in order to live up to the hype it would not have been good for him nor good for us. Instead, he’s kept a very even keel approach.  Emotionally he’s been, you know, solid.  Not too high, not too low the whole year.
But I do think he has a flare for the moment.  And I think that goes way back.  That doesn’t guarantee playing great or anything like that tomorrow, but it gives me a lot of confidence that he will be very aggressive.  Certainly that’s been the case.
You know, he’s been solid.  Any time you average 17.4 as a freshman at Kansas, when historically my kids don’t average 17.4 because we usually have pretty good balance, you know you’ve had a pretty good freshman year.  And he’s had a great freshman year.
But I do think he knows that for us to have a chance to fair well and make a run, a good run, then he has to be much more aggressive and impact more possessions.  If he impacts more possessions, then he will naturally score more.
Q.  I’m wondering given your personal experience coaching in this building over the years if that plays any role in your preparation for the younger players?  And unrelated to that, will it take the NCAA Tournament to have you, Kansas, playing Missouri?
COACH SELF:  In the short-term, I’d say yes.  Who knows what the future will hold.  I have never said that Kansas will never play Missouri.  I said it probably won’t happen while I’m there.  But I’m not going to be there forever, so there will be somebody there that can make that decision long after I’m gone, and administrators and chancellors and things like that.
A lot of people put it on the coaches, and most of it should fall on the coaches, but a lot of people put it on the coaches that they control everything.
There’s a lot of people that would have probably thought on if that should be done right now.  So that’s not all on me.  But for right now I can’t see it happening in the near future.  And I don’t see how this building — I think I have only been here four times.  I think three with Illinois and I think we came over here and played Memphis a few years ago.  I like the building, there is no question about that, but I don’t know how that will play a factor one way or another with our players.
Q.  Getting back to Andrew just a little bit, Kentucky was preseason No. 1, you were preseason No. 5, and both teams lost a bunch of starters from last year.  How fair is it to recognize a team in the preseason based on recruiting classes?
COACH SELF:  Well, I think that in our situation we lost five starters and I do think the preseason poll, if you look at it, is pretty accurate.  In a preseason poll, this is one thing I never understood.  Do you pick it based on what you are when the season starts or do you pick it on where you should be when the season is over?
If you pick it on where it should be when the season is over, then I think it was a fair prediction for us.  I don’t think it was fair to start, but I think it was fair for us because young kids would get better.
When you have two guys that when healthy can impact the game like those two can, you can make a case.  There may not be another team in the country that would have two guys when they’re playing well that can impact the game as much as those two could from their respective positions.  And there are others, but you can certainly make a case for my two.
I think it was probably fair, but I don’t think it was fair initially.  I think people take for granted sometimes that just because they come with hype that automatically in November they should be better than 21- and 22-year-old men.  That doesn’t happen that often.  It does some, but not often.
If you have one or two experienced guys to help lead, you can say we’ll kind of drag them along.  But in our case we really don’t have that.  We are playing with a bunch of really young kids.
Q.  Much will be made in the state of Kansas about the Wiggins brothers playing in the same place, not only the Kansas – Kansas State – Wichita State.  In the recruiting process when you were talking to the Wiggins parents about being able to see both of their sons, if the reason it came up the reason they are close and you obviously assured them they would be in the NCAA Tournament the same place?
COACH SELF:  We did that.  That is definitely something we did try to sell.  [Laughter.]
But we did talk about it.  That was something we talked about, and Nick (Wiggins) was actually great with us through the recruiting process.  I mean, I haven’t been around Nick a lot, but from a personality standpoint he seems very similar to Andrew.  And he was helpful in the process, not telling Andrew where to go, but you think your parents would appreciate you make one trip instead of two and that kind of stuff.  And so that was maybe the smallest of factors.  But I don’t think Andrew made his decision based on that.
You know, we almost caught a break.  His family almost caught a serious break because Mitchell was playing in Branson, Missouri, to go to Kansas City for the NAI National Tournament and they got beat the last game.  But they would have been able to see all three sons play this weekend if that were the case, and just missed out on that.
I think it is very cool the year Wichita had, and for Nick and his family.  I think it is cool for the year that Andrew had for the family.  And to have them in the same building, we can watch an afternoon and evening I think would be very cool.
And the fact that they’re not playing each other will probably be better for them.  It will be something that everybody in our state would probably think would be a dream match-up.  For that family it probably played out perfect for them, I would think.
Q.  Coach, if you could describe Andrew Wiggins from the first time you got him at the beginning of the season to how he’s matured now, and keep in mind the last three games that he has had, how would you do that?
COACH SELF:  Well, I think he has matured in that he’s become a little bit more of an alpha dog or assassin-type guy here of late than he was before.  Because Andrew, he wants to fit in.  He wants to be part of a team.
He is one of those guys, you look at his stats, this is interesting about him – in the games in which we lost, he scored the most points.  In the games in which we won, and we won easily, he scored his least points.  But that’s his mindset.  His mindset would be I’m getting a lot of attention and I don’t have to do this for us to be successful in this game.  Let these other guys do it.  And that’s a very, very good attitude.  But not if you’re trying to make First-Team All-American.
If you were to look in our hardest games, his stats aren’t 17.5, his stats are 20-plus, more than likely.  So I think that he’s matured in a lot of ways.  I think he’s comfortable that he knows that everybody wants him to be the guy.  But I don’t think he’s changed much.  I don’t think you can change this kid much, I think he is just right here.
Q.  And a follow-up on that.  Does he have an opportunity to prove people right or prove his critics wrong in the biggest stage in this tournament?
COACH SELF:  He does based on his team winning.  You stop and talk about the guys that have proven themselves or whatever on this stage, it’s the guys whose teams advance.  So that’s the most important thing.  But for us to advance, he has to play a huge, huge role.
Q.  Coach, this is maybe of an inside baseball question.  I am curious to know in the few minutes after a game when you look at a stat sheet what are you looking for?  What are you trying to pull out of a stat sheet?  Are you looking to have your impression from the game confirmed or denied?  Does it depend on a game or particular team?  And then along with that, what are the challenges if you are fortunate enough to win in terms of processing and presenting information?  Are you risking trying to do too much if you have a quick turnaround on a game?
COACH SELF:  You mean our players?  Well, from this point forward if we are fortunate to play the second game of the weekend, then the chances of them seeing more than one or two minutes of edit tape of the previous game would be very, very slim.  Your focus is the next game.  So we may show hey, when we ran this, this didn’t quite look right.  Think about it, if we do it this way it may improve it, but that’s it.  Our focus will be on the next team.
And, you know, for me from a statistical standpoint, obviously my whole deal is, you don’t give up easy baskets and you get as many easy baskets as possible.  And you give your opponents one or less shots every possession and you try to get one or more shots every possession.  So it’s not that complicated.
So, rebounding obviously plays a key to that. Turnovers play a key to that and shooting percentage is probably the biggest key to that.
Q.  Going back to Andrew Wiggins.  He had tremendous hype before the “Sports Illustrated” cover story.  What was your reaction to the cover story, the lacing up the shoes like Wilt.  Did you ever regret that or second-guess it?
COACH SELF:  To be honest, I didn’t play a role in that at all.  Nobody ever from SI consulted with me saying would this be okay.  But I actually thought it was very cool.  The reason I thought it was cool was I thought it was a great pic and that kind of stuff.  I thought it was totally unfair to Andrew, but not unfair from anybody trying to hurt him, just there is no way you can be that.
But I did think this — I thought it would help prepare him for the pressures that’s going to be before him because if he didn’t get hit between the eyes early on, he wouldn’t have been prepared over the course of the season.
And you stop and think about it, this guy was going into the Duke game and the games after that, everybody is wanting to give him their very best shot. “Super Bowl” may be the wrong term, but for individuals that was their chance to show.  And I didn’t think he would be prepared to handle that unless he went through some stuff. Those type of things helped him realize the stuff that he was going to go through.
So I do, I think it was good for him overall.  I think it was good for our program.  At that time I thought ahh, geez, this is too much for him.  But looking back now, he can handle it.  So I didn’t think it was bad at all.
When I went to Oklahoma State there wasn’t quite the hype surrounding my enrollment there, so I really had a hard time identifying with everything he was going through.
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