Kansas Men's Basketball Holds Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The 11-time defending Big 12 champion Kansas men’s basketball team met with members of the media Thursday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse to preview the upcoming 2015-16 campaign.
KU student-athletes gathered for photos with local and regional websites and newspapers then the writers and videographers interviewed the 16-member squad on the floor of Allen Fieldhouse. Entering his 13th season at Kansas, head coach Bill Self then previewed the team with the media in the Allen Fieldhouse Media Room.
Kansas enters 2015-16 ranked in the top five nationally in most preseason polls. Under Self the Jayhawks return four starters and 11 letterwinners from last season’s team which went 27-9 and won its 11th-straight, 15th Big 12 and NCAA-leading 58th overall conference regular-season championship. Included is senior forward Perry Ellis who was an All-Big 12 First Team selection last year as well as junior all-conference guards Frank Mason III (second team) and Wayne Selden Jr. (third team). Senior forward Jamari Traylor started 18 games last season for the Jayhawks. Traylor, Ellis, forward Hunter Mickelson and guard Evan Manning round out the four seniors on the 2015-16 roster.
Q. Do you like the new dorms or the new facility you’ve got in there, and what’s that going to be like?
BILL SELF: I’ve actually been in the new dormitories or apartments probably a minimum of 100 times in the last year since they’ve broken ground. They’re fantastic. You know, so there’s a lot going on on our campus with DeBruce Center, obviously with the business school, and with McCarthy Hall right here on Naismith Drive that’s going to change the look of this side of campus.
I don’t know if you guys know the other student housing projects that they’ve done on campus. It’s a pretty exciting time with all the growth that’s going on. It’s a great time to be a student here and our players are certainly going to benefit from the efforts of many that went before them to generate the interest level to do something like what we’ve been able to do.
It’s fabulous, and we should move in the middle of next week. We’re very excited about it.
Q. What do you expect of Perry this year?
BILL SELF: I expect him to be as good as or better than any player in the league. I expect him to play at an all-American-type level. I think he’s capable of doing that. I thought last year before he got hurt, there was about a six-game stretch where I think he was playing to an All-American level.
He seems to be in the best shape of his life. He’s stronger. I don’t mean from a weight standpoint, but you can just tell the way he carries himself, he’s stronger and more confident. I expect him to have a big year, and when I say that, I expect other players to have comparable type years to Perry.
Even Wayne (Selden Jr.) has teased us and shown us what he could do because he was by far the best player in the tournament in South Korea, in the entire tournament this past summer, and then Frank (Mason) to me has shown that he’s very capable of taking the next step.
And we’ve got other guys, too, but those three I hope all play to an all-league type level.
Q. Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) came over here at 17, but now a year later a lot of that has changed. What are your expectations for him this year?
BILL SELF: Well, you know, we’ve kind of got a crowded house back there. We’ve got some good players. But Svi potentially, I think from what NBA people think, they think he’s probably as good a prospect as we have in the backcourt, and I do think he can be that, too. You’re hitting it on the head. He’s so much stronger. He’s a different guy from a maturity and from a confidence standpoint, so I expect him — it’s hard to say you expect certain guys to do certain things if, in fact, they may not be starters, but I expect Svi to challenge for a starting position and be, without question, if he doesn’t start, be as good as any reserve in the country.
He was pretty good when he got here, and then didn’t have an unbelievable year. I think a lot of that was just maturity, strength. He’s a really good player now, and he’s going to be a better player moving forward. Few guys have a bigger upside than what Svi does.
Q. I know there are limitations on what (Assistant Director of Player Development) Aaron Miles can coach on the court, but just in terms of talking with Devonte’ Graham, would you expect that to be a good thing?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think so. You know, Aaron’s presence, even from not a basketball standpoint, just from a leadership standpoint, is going to be good for Devonte’, and it’s going to be really good for Frank. You know, we hated it when Aaron got hurt (playing overseas), but certainly I’ve said all along that when he was done that I would want to bring him back in some capacity, and this may be just a short-term deal. If he gets healthy, he should go play as long as he can.
But for this year it’s going to be great to have him and Mikki and their family part of our family, and I know that our players certainly respect him, and he’ll be nothing but a huge asset for us.
Q. Wayne’s extremes have been like quite a variance there. Do you see that leveling out maybe some, and especially after the way he played in Korea?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think so. You know, the thing about it is with Wayne, Wayne to me — I even looked at our Korean stats this year, this summer, and he played really, really well, and he actually shot the ball no better from three than what he did last year. But what he did was he drove the ball. He got fouled. He forced help, and he played to his athletic ability and his strength. That’s what I think.
It mainly lies on being a jump shooter who plays — he’s going to be inconsistent. Most players are. But if he relies on his athletic ability and is aggressive enough to play to his athletic ability, I think consistency will come, but I think he can impact us in a much bigger way than what he has the first two years.
Q. We’ve asked you a lot about Cheick (Diallo) in the off-season, but how can he make you guys better just on the floor?
BILL SELF: Well, he’s an athlete. I don’t know if you guys — I don’t know if you took any pictures of him, but from a length standpoint, he’s 7’5″ with length, and there’s not too many guys out there +8 (inches) from height to his length, and he’s an athlete. He has good twitch. He’s got a motor. But he doesn’t know how to play yet. He’ll give us things from an intangible standpoint. He’ll change the culture of practice because he’ll play so hard. He’ll keep balls alive that maybe we didn’t keep balls alive in past years. He’ll do things that won’t show up in the stats sheet that we think, ‘why did we just have a great possession there?’ and it’s basically because he kept two balls alive or he ran so hard that it forced help, or he sprinted to a ball screen and it was a loose hedge. There’s going to be so many things that he can do from an energy standpoint that will make us better, and he should be a good rim guy. I haven’t seen it yet because he hasn’t been out there. He was just cleared to practice yesterday, but I haven’t seen it yet, but hopefully he’ll be a great rim protector.
And the other thing that he can do that has been surprisingly good for us is that he’s a good shooter. The knock on him is that he wasn’t really skilled, and he’s much more skilled than what a lot of people give him credit for. So that’s exciting for us moving forward.
Q. Last year you guys sort of struggled with the interior scoring. Are there solutions there, internal improvement, or just personnel?
BILL SELF: You know, I think it’s a combination. I think that I’ve got to do a better job of making our guys and teaching our guys how to do positioning, and the other thing is we’ve got to do a much better job on the perimeter of being able to feed our folks. You know, you look at it the last two years, we’ve played with more guard, and that seems kind of weird, but Wayne (Selden Jr.) coming in was a — he’s a prototypical 2-guard, but when he got here, he was really a 3-guard; Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) was a 3-guard; Kelly Oubre was a 3-guard, and these guys weren’t natural as far as just being able to feed the post and play the angles and things like that. So I think we’ll be much better at that this year, and I think we’ll be a much better passing team, especially because we’ll play two little guards a lot together.
Q. It seems like Carlton (Bragg Jr.), true freshman coming in, he might be a big change right now; do you almost feel like he’s older because of what he does for you?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think so. I think him and Lagerald (Vick) are definitely a lot better off having made the trip and worked out with us over the summer, not that we put in a ton of stuff and not that that’s the tell-all by any means, but just from a culture standpoint, I think that they’re much more equipped to be able to contribute their freshman year because they know what we expect, and Carlton is one of the most talented big guys we’ve had since I’ve been here. Offensively, obviously a Marcus Morris type guy; he’s one of those guys that has that type of skill, and it’s going to take time, but certainly I think he has a chance to be a special guy.
Q. Is there anything to be said for the intangibles of learning how to finish off tournaments, how to win it, after the grueling grind you went through in Korea against some good teams and they actually not only just played well but won the gold medal?
BILL SELF: Yeah, that’s one thing that we’ve actually done a great job of is over the years we’ve won — we’ve really won a lot of close games. You know, last year the way our season ended, it didn’t have anything to do with us not knowing how. It was something to do with the other team being better than us on that particular day, without question. If you look at Korea and you count the games in the Sprint Center, of the 10 games we played, there were eight of them that were decided in the last couple minutes. So learning how to win close games is good, but I don’t know if it’s so much the tactical stuff of learning how to win close games as having the mental toughness knowing you’re going to make plays when you have to in close games.
Q. You’ve had a lot of complementary teams. Does this one have an opportunity to do that, size, shooting? Seems like there’s a lot of different parts.
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think we’re deeper than what we have been. You know, you can look at teams and say, well, they look really deep, and then as you get into the season, they may only play seven or eight and you’re really not quite as deep as what you thought originally you would be. It’s going to be hard this year figuring out who to play, and that’s what I tried to explain to our players yesterday.
You know, we’ve got — obviously Dwight (Coleby) is not part of it this year with his injuries, he wouldn’t be anyway (since he transferred). We’ve got 12 pretty good guys, and all 12 are not going to play; 10 may not play. I do think that we have some nice pieces, but the thing I like about it as much as anything is if somebody is not doing what they can do to help our team win, it’s not going to be that difficult to try to give somebody else an opportunity to do that.
With that being said, hopefully we’ll be much better defensively and we’ll play a style that will give us a better chance to be more complete, a little tougher, things like that, because it’s okay to put Brannen (Greene) in. It’s okay to put Svi (Mykhailiuk) in. It’s okay to put Hunter (Mickelson) in or Jamari (Traylor) in or Landen (Lucas) in. That’s okay to do that. Those are good players that’s proven that they can do good things when they’re in there.
So I think it’s pretty exciting, and the guys know that there’s going to be more competition in the gym during our practice sessions than what we’ve had in a while.
Q. I asked Mickelson what he did to earn more playing time in Korea, and he said he had better energy. What’s the difference between energy and hustle? Does it mean the same thing?
BILL SELF: Well, I think it’s kind of the same thing. A lot of people think they compete if they try real hard. Trying hard does not mean you compete. Trying hard is the baseline; everybody should do that. But having — competing is playing each possession to win. Obviously thinking is a huge part of competing, and whether it be — it could be anything from a screen angle to carrying out assignments. You can play hard and not do those things, but when you’re competing you’re focusing on doing those things, and I think Hunter has learned how to compete more, and also energy is contagious. It’s one thing to play hard, but it’s another thing to play hard in a manner which uplifts your teammates, and I think — like to me Frank can do that, but sometimes Frank doesn’t always do that.
But you can really tell somebody that’s valuable to a team if they’re an energy giver, and I do think that we have some guys, and every team does, that try real hard that really aren’t energy givers. But guys that are real energy givers, it’s amazing, just everybody seems to be loud and on their feet when they’re around, and I think Hunter is learning how to do that.
Q. What does (Lagerald) Vick do well, and what are the chances that he would redshirt?
BILL SELF: Oh, I don’t even know. We haven’t even talked about that as of now. He can make his shots without question, but he’s a slasher, an athlete, quick-twitch kid. He’s going to be really good, but he’s got a lot of stuff to learn. He’s got some experience ahead of him. But in general he could be a great defender if he can figure it out. He could be as good a defender as we have.
Q. What are you looking forward to about Late Night? I understand there’s going to be a big check?
BILL SELF: Yeah, can’t wait. So we’re doing that ($10,000 giveaway), and if you’re picked, you know, everybody is going to get a chance at — every guy and lady will get a chance. If you’re picked, you can pick anybody in the gym or yourself to shoot two half-court shots with the exception of our present team and our recruits; so Brennan Bechard could shoot it for you or Aaron Miles could shoot it for you or whatever.
Whoever could shoot it, and whether you make one or two, we’re going to scribble off a $10,000 check to both the guy or the gal. So they will have a chance. That should be fun, and certainly — but the biggest thing is for us is obviously our guys have gotten to the point where it’s something they look forward to each and every year, and it’s a great way to kick off our season, and also from a fan standpoint, and there’s a chance I’m sure we’ll have a recruit in the audience, it’s a fun night for them to get a feel what Kansas basketball can actually be like.
Q. Since Cheick has been cleared to practice, does that mean he’s been cleared to play Late Night, as well?
BILL SELF: Yeah, Late Night is practice, so yeah, that’s absolutely no problem. I’m sure you guys have asked Cheick, but Cheick’s situation is — it’s really not complicated. He’s been cleared to practice pending the — whatever they decide and whatever we present to the NCAA, whatever the decision is on that. So it doesn’t mean that it’s permanent, it doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that we still have to do our job and they have to give a ruling on where they stand on the situation, and that hasn’t happened yet. We’re excited that he’s not going to be behind from a practice standpoint because he is going to be allowed to go, and he obviously needs that because he missed the summer, and then he’s missed the last three weeks, as well.
[…] But everybody is on top of it. Everybody is doing exactly what they should do. We understand it takes time, and nobody is complaining about that.
Q. When you do have Late Night, are you kind of making an appeal to the fans telling them that they’re going to be able to get —
BILL SELF: Well, I think it’s always been good, but you guys know two years ago when Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) was a freshman, we turned away about 5,000. […] But everything has been rectified. It’s basically back to the way it used to be, and going to have better security to make sure that there’s not cutting in line and things like that that there was a couple years ago. Yeah, I would appeal to everyone just to say don’t assume that you can’t get in, assume that you can and you will because you will be able to, and it should be a very fun night.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Senior Forward Perry Ellis
His thoughts about going into his final year at Kansas:
“It went by so fast. I’m excited about it though. I’ve been getting better each season and having more and more fun, so I’m excited.”
On if it feels like the team has an advantage after going to the World University Games this summer:
“Going to South Korea really helped us as a team – getting reps in, playing games – it was great for us. It really gave us a head start. Everyone understands the flow of the offense, more of what Coach (Bill Self) is expecting in games; that’s going to help the freshmen and everybody.”
On what he wants to leave with at the end of this season:
“I have a goal to go to the Final Four. That’s a goal of mine. It takes a lot of hard work. It starts from the first game. We have to take it game-by-game.”
On if he has talked to his fellow seniors about what they have to do in their final year:
“Definitely. We’ve been in the system and we know what the coaches are expecting now. We feel really confident and I can see it. We’re very confident right now and that’s a plus.”
On why this could be the best team he has played on:
“We’ve been playing together for a long time now. We have a lot of pieces back and we’ve been through tough times. We’ve faced adversity together, played a lot of tough games and we know what to do.”
On how he has improved his game in the offseason:
“Continuing to improve my ball-handling, shooting, a lot of little tweaks like that.”
On looking forward to Late Night in the Phog and if there will be any surprises:
“I’m definitely looking forward to it. About surprises, we’re still working on some stuff. It’ll be good. I think it’ll be the best one, especially since it’s my last one. I’ll go out there and have a good time with it. I haven’t really been working on my dance moves; I’m not a big dancer. I have to bring it out during Late Night though, so I’ll try something and see what happens.”
On if this year will be a breakout year for him:
“Absolutely. I’ve been working hard and progressing every season has always been my goal. Like I said, I’ve kept improving and my mental game is getting stronger, gaining confidence as I get older, so I’m excited.”
Senior Forward Hunter Mickelson
On the expectations based on preseason rankings:
“My expectations, personally, are to get better and help everyone out and just be a bigger part of the team to help us get to where we want to get. I think everyone, as a whole, wants to live up to that preseason ranking but like I said, we’re going to have to play well and play hard. We have a bunch of good teams coming in here, so that’ll definitely be hard to do. With the team that we have, I think that we’ll be able to do it, it’s just that we have to prove it by going out there and doing the work.”
On what needs to be done to make sure KU advances past the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament:
“I think we just need to focus in and play a little harder and get our mindset to where it needs to be. We have left a little early the past couple of years, but I think with the guys that we have – the seniors that we have and the new guys coming in – I think if we come together and click like we are supposed to, then hopefully depending on how the season goes we will be able to get past that first weekend and keep going.”
On the impact he believes he can make:
“I hope I can build off what I did this summer, that would be great and I’m going to work as hard as I can to make that happen. Other than that, I just want to help everyone out and build on that. Wherever that takes me, then I’ll be fine.”
Senior Forward Jamari Traylor
On Boot Camp:
“We just finished Boot Camp. That’s a major part of being hungry, being focused and being mentally tough.”
On the differences between past teams and the current team:
“We are a completely different team, but we are just as good.”
On confidence in this team’s long-term success:
“We are a deep team; we have guys at every position. We a have juniors, we have seniors. We’re an old team. We are a force to be reckoned with. We are going to do great things.”
On helping the new players:
“I want to help the younger guys out. There’s a lot thrown at you when you first come in. I remember my first practice I didn’t know a thing. Thomas (Robinson) helped me out and I want to do that for these guys.”
On his goals for this season:
“I just want to win. We want to win the Big 12 (Conference title) again. I know it’s early to be talking about it, but we should be a championship contender. If we work hard—why not?”
On freshman forward Cheick Diallo:
“He’s definitely a hard worker. He’s going to go out there and work hard every time. That’s the first thing you’d say about him. He gets out there and goes hard. We had to tell him to calm down a little. But it’s easier to tell someone to turn it down a notch than to turn it up a notch.”
On being a senior:
“I feel like I’ve been here a long time. I know what Coach (Bill Self) expects of me. I want to help everybody out.”
On how the summer months helped the team:
“We got to play overseas. The style of play over there is a little different; it’s a lot more physical. I feel like that helped us out a lot. We’ll be ready for anything. The shot clock was little shorter so we played faster. That definitely helped us out a lot.”
Junior Guard Frank Mason III
On how he is feeling with season coming up:
“I feel great, excited. We just got done with Boot Camp and have practice coming up soon. Everyone is excited.”
On preparations for Late Night in the Phog:
“We haven’t started, but I think we should start that next week and get a good feel for what we are going to do. Whatever they want us to do, we will do.”
On the team’s talent at the point guard position and his role:
“It’s pretty much the same plan as last year – have the ball in my hands late in the game and throughout the game. Devonté (Graham) has gotten better, he worked hard this summer so we will compete in practice and it gives us a great chance to be a better team.”
On the advantages of this being the most experienced team he has played on:
“We know what Coach (Self) wants from us; everyone knows the offense except for the younger guys, but they are getting used to it. From the older guys, everyone knows what to do and what Coach expects.”
His thoughts on the preseason polls:
“We want to be No. 1, but we have to work hard to get there and buy into what Coach wants from us. He has been through these things and these situations so he knows what to expect.”
On the adjustments he has made to his game since last year:
“I’m just trying to get better all-around. I’m a huge part of the team, but it’s not all about me; it’s about me and my teammates. Everyone is key to the team. I just try to work hard on my jump shot, shooting off of the dribble, pump faking once I get into the lane and creating open shots for the team.”
Junior Guard Wayne Selden Jr.
On if playing in the World University Games gives the team an advantage heading into the season:
“I think so, a little. A lot of teams went overseas this year, so everybody got a little bit of a kick start. But I feel like we can use it to our advantage because the young guys – the freshmen – that went over there aren’t really freshmen anymore. They already had their first experience and already have their foot in the door.”
On the stress of not advancing past the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament the last two years:
“We were disappointed on the outcomes the past two years, but the past is the past and we are looking forward to the start of this year.”
On what he needs to do and work on to have a better year:
“I think just working on my overall game, playing aggressive and guarding the ball – those are the two biggest things. I feel like playing aggressive and with confidence will help a lot.”
On how much his play in South Korea boosted his overall confidence:
“It was a pretty good time for me. I was playing pretty well going into the tournament and it’s just staying aggressive and playing basketball at the end of the day, not thinking too much and not listening to all of the outside stuff.”
On his reason for coming back this year and not leaving for the NBA:
“There are a lot of things that go into a decision like that and the factors that wanted me to stay outweighed the factors that wanted me to leave. I’m not mentally ready to take that jump yet.”