Jayhawks Preview Montana Contest

Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self and senior forwards Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor addressed the media at KU’s weekly press luncheon Dec. 17. Below are the transcipts.

University of Kansas Basketball Media Conference
Thursday, December 17 2015


Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bill Self

Q. Talk about how this has a chance to maybe be one of your better shooting, better scoring teams. Is it sort of fortuitous that this happened this year when there’s a quicker shot clock and maybe more freedom of movement?
BILL SELF: I don’t know, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But we’ve had some other pretty good scoring teams, but I don’t think we’ve had teams that can go get a shot any quicker than this team can. I guess maybe it is good fortune, but to me, whether it happens this year or three years from now or five years from now, we’re not always going to have a team that can score easily like this team does.

Q. Does it feel good that Jamari Traylor gets his degree?
BILL SELF: Yeah, he finishes up this week if I’m not mistaken. I don’t know when it becomes official. I guess grades have to get in. Yeah, to think that he came in a situation where the NCAA obviously didn’t let him play because of a rule, and basically to see him stay after it and finish up I think speaks volumes of his character and his want-to. He’s a terrific young man.

Q. You’ve said Jamari could be one of the great success stories to come through here. Talk about where he’s come from in Chicago to now and how much he’s grown.
BILL SELF: Well, there’s a lot of success stories, but the ones that you probably hold truest to your heart are the ones that the deck is stacked against them a little bit, and this deck was stacked against him. You know, the first time that we saw Jamari was by accident. We go down to IMG to look at somebody else, and Kurtis (Townsend, assistant coach) says, ‘Hey, check him out, he looks pretty athletic.’ He wasn’t a highly-recruited kid by any means. Texas Tech messed with him for a bit and there were a few other schools, but he really didn’t have much of a résumé because he really didn’t play in high school. I think he played one semester maybe, or one year, in high school because he was never really eligible because of his home situations with him being homeless for a while.

Certainly, that put him behind the 8-ball. But he just kind of fought through it. He went down there and did everything he was asked to do to get eligible, and come to find out what he was asked to do did not meet NCAA qualifications. It was not because he got bad information, I just think the person that helped him had no idea that everything he did wouldn’t count because they couldn’t give him those extra two semesters because he was homeless for a year, and I think everybody assumed that that would probably be the case.

We lost the appeal for him to be eligible, but he’s hung in there, and he’s been great since. He’s not the most skilled player that we’ve ever had, and certainly not the biggest. He’s kind of at an in-between size, 6’7″ and having to play against big guys. But he always gives us great effort; he’s very, very bright; he understands how to play; and other guys really enjoy playing with him, so he makes the game easier for others.

Q. His role has sort of changed over the years. How do you see it sort of finishing out this year?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. I mean, one, he has to be a great leader to our younger guys, without question. He’s a better player than he was two years ago, but we also have more players in our program than we did a couple years ago when he was playing quite a few minutes off the bench. I think it still remains to be seen on a couple of the guys on what their role will be as the season moves forward. But certainly, he’s been a great leader and a great mentor to those young kids. He pulls for them as hard as anybody does.

Q. You talk about giving Hunter Mickelson a chance. What have you seen from him after giving him extended minutes the last couple games?
BILL SELF: I think he’s done some good things. The first half I don’t even think he scored. In the second half he makes a couple of jumpers, which was nice, but still, a couple of jumpers doesn’t give us an inside presence. You know, it’s great that you have five guys that can all make jump shots, but we need to have one guy that can make a basket in tight that you can throw it to and can get fouled, too. Even though he’s done some nice things, there are still some other things that he could do that could probably best benefit the team, but I like Hunter. I think he’s done a nice job. I think he’s played well. But a lot of times when you have he and Perry (Ellis) in there together, the way you would think in theory Hunter can shoot it well enough to get a defender off Perry in the post, but Perry really hasn’t played much in the post at all.

Hunter will be more effective if Perry starts posting more. But when we play to just jump shots, I almost feel like we have to do something to try to get a big guy in there to play with his back to the basket.

Q. What does Montana bring to town?
BILL SELF: Well, they’ve been a little bit inconsistent, kind of like us. They’ve obviously had the last shot against Gonzaga at Gonzaga to send it to overtime and had the lead with a minute left, and then Gonzaga had a player, a freshman, make a couple of plays to actually give them the lead back.

They are very good, experienced inside, (they’ve) got a guy that can certainly score on the block and plays well beyond his standing height, and then they’ve got some quick guys on the perimeter. And based on what I’ve been told, I don’t know this to be a fact, but Norm (Roberts, assistant coach) told me this morning they’ve got a guy that could become eligible for our game that we haven’t seen yet, so we’ll get Chris (Theisen, communications contact) to dig and try to find that out. But it was a guy that was a starter for them last year.

You know, this will probably be the most whole they’ve been, if that’s the case, since their season started.

Q. You talked about trying to find a complement for Perry Ellis. Are you still trying to figure out the options with that?
BILL SELF: I know the options. There are five of them. A lot depends on Perry. We need him to play bigger, and I’m not being negative, but the whole thing is that Perry’s strength in a lot of ways is moving away from the basket.

Well, if you move him away from the basket and you put somebody in there that’s not good at playing close to the basket, that doesn’t bode well for our team. We have to get somebody that can score in tight or get Perry to where he’s scoring in tight again.

But I think it varies day-to-day based on how they’re playing and based on scouting reports and who you’re playing against and what the other team’s strengths are and a lot of different things.

No question, going back a few games, nobody could guard the big kid from Harvard (Zena Edosomwan, center) like Landen (Lucas) could. Nobody. Landen is not the best at guarding a pick-and-pop guy, but then we have other guys that can probably do that better.

So I think everybody is about the same. Carlton (Bragg Jr.) and Cheick (Diallo), to me, have the most upside of anybody in our program from a big-man perspective, but we also need to win games now, and so although we want to develop them and I still think they’ll be great options moving forward, I’d like to see a little bit more consistency out of those guys, too.

But everybody is doing fine. It’s just nobody is separating themselves from the others.

Q. Is that what’s made this different element, too, that you have a bunch of bigs that all do different things but aren’t necessarily interchangeable with each other?
BILL SELF: I don’t know that I’d buy the interchangeable part. I think there’s some that play better with others. I think if you were going to ask any of our players on the team who’s the easiest guy to play with out of all our bigs, everyone would say Jamari. Everybody, Frank (Mason III), Devonte’ (Graham), Wayne, they’d probably say Jamari. If that’s the case, then you want to try to do what’s best for your team over time, and certainly there are times where he gives us the best chance. But that’s not consistent. There’s sometimes where others do, as well.

We’re still trying to figure it out. I think we will figure it out sooner rather than later, but it’s not a terrible problem to have. You know, it would be a bad problem if it’s the middle of February and you’re still experimenting, but I don’t think this is a terrible problem to have right now.

Q. Is Bragg a good passer?
BILL SELF: Yeah, Carlton is a good passer. Carlton has good feel to pass the ball. If there’s a high-low, he’s going to throw it — regardless if it’s remotely open or not. I think he’s proven that. But I do think he has good vision and I do think he has good feel. Landen is not a bad passer, but he and Jamari are probably our two best-passing bigs.

Q. Second half of the game the other night against Oregon State, you played the five and then substituted one. When do you kind of arrive at that? Do you arrive at that at halftime and say this is the five that can do it?
BILL SELF: No, I didn’t do that at all. We went into the second half thinking we were going to play everybody. But the guys were playing so well, I didn’t see any reason to sub. You’ve got to win the game. When you’re down 11 at halftime, you don’t go into the second half thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got this game this bag.’ That was not the thought at all. We want to win the game.

So guys are playing well and you get it tied, and then guys keep playing better and you get up five, and guys keep playing better and you get up 10, and I didn’t want to break the momentum we had. I didn’t feel like the first half that the bench — nor the starters, but primarily the bench — did anything to allow us to maintain any little bit of momentum that we had.

I just decided not to, and when guys aren’t tired, I mean, the bench is great and depth is great for foul problems and injuries and certainly when guys become fatigued, but if none of those three conditions exist, play your better guys, and that’s what we did the second half.

Q. You guys are doing it a little bit different on defense this year. It seems like your guards are being pretty disruptive but teams are still shooting a pretty high percentage against you so far. Where do you see some of the breakdowns or how do you get that number down?
BILL SELF: Well, the number is at 40.9 percent, which is a little misleading, and our number will go down. It always does. But a lot of teams’ numbers are lower early because of competition, and a lot of teams’ numbers are higher early because of still figuring it out, and I still think that we’re a higher number because we’re figuring it out, but this is not a locked-down defensive team yet at all, and I think every coach and every player would admit it.

When you score the ball a little bit easier, sometimes your defense suffers, and that’s the way it’s been on every team that we’ve ever had. I think you could ask the coaches around the country and everybody would agree with that.

When you know that you labor to score, you’re not a percentage-shooting team, then you really hunker down and do certain things because you know you have to (in orde) to win. And our guys in the back of their mind, they’re thinking, we’re going to score enough points to win, which so far for the most part has been true, but it’s not the right mentality. We’ve got to change our mentality, and we’ve been talking and working on it trying to get it where if a team gets another good look, that’s bad defense regardless if the ball goes in or not.

We’re better defensively than our stats, but yet, we’re not near the defensive team that you have to be in order to compete at the highest level, in my opinion, but we’re working on it. A lot of it has to do with our bigs, to be real candid with you. We’ve got to figure out a way to put up a little bit more resistance inside and have better shot blockers.

If you think about it, look at some of the weird stats. Devonte’ and Frank have 38 steals combined in 550 minutes. And the rest of the team, in 1,250 minutes, has 36 steals combined. You looked at blocked shots. Although we’re blocking a decent number, you take Hunter and Cheick out of there, there’s nobody blocking any shots. I think our third-leading shot blocker is a guard (Wayne Selden Jr., tied with Jamari Traylor with five blocked shots). So there are a lot of things that guys can do to become more active and create more havoc defensively. Not that you have to be a great shot-blocking team, but if you’re not a shot-blocking team, then you should at least be an active team, and we’ve got some big guys that are really not doing either one. So that’s where we’ve got to get better.

Q. When you were recruiting Wayne Selden Jr., out of high school, was he thought of as a really good shooter or has he developed into a really good shooter?
BILL SELF: I think he was thought of as a really good player. I don’t think anybody ever really labeled him as a terrific three-point shooter. I know that I didn’t. I thought he was a guy that could do a little bit of everything. But he has shot the ball at a ridiculously high level so far, and we hope that continues. But the reality is percentages do balance out over time, but he’s off to as good a start shooting the basketball as probably anybody in the country and it’s fun to watch.

But to me he’s not forcing it. There have been times in the first two years I think when things weren’t going well, the way he made up for it was to go do something that was maybe a low-percentage play to get confidence back, and that’s not the smart thing to do. It would be like being in a baseball slump, but on the first pitch you’ve got to hit a low outside pitch and hit it hard. I mean, you’ve got to pick your spots a little bit, and I don’t think he picked his spots as well in his first couple years.

This year, I could look at him and say, ‘You haven’t made shots, but you still played very well’ because I think he’s become more of a complete player.

Q. You touched on this, but what more do you need from Perry?
BILL SELF: Just activity. I mean, going after the ball. I thought he rebounded the ball great the second half the other day. But this isn’t being negative and this isn’t putting any pressure on anybody because it’s factual. You’re not putting pressure on somebody if you tell somebody you think they’re good. I think Perry Ellis is capable of playing to an All-American-type level. I think he is. So what does an All-American type level play to? Well, he can’t do it at his size unless he’s ultra-aggressive. There were times last year during a three-week stretch where I thought he was a First-Team All-American, playing to that level. It wasn’t because he’s making all his shots or because everything he did was aggressive. He was driving straight lines; he wasn’t driving side to side. He’s so good at driving a straight line and countering off the defense’s reaction as opposed to now he’s not really driving it hard so there’s no counter to be made.

I think that he is a guy that can play at such a high level, and that’s what excites me about our team, is we’ve done okay. We haven’t been great, but we’ve done okay, but I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of what we can do because he’s (Ellis) so important to me, to our team, because he is the one guy that can make something out of nothing when you throw it to him. All good teams have that, and I think that he’ll get that. He’s just been in a little bit of a funk the last couple of weeks.

But he’s more than capable of playing at an All-American-type level. If that’s too much pressure, then that’s too much pressure. That’s why he came back to school. So to downplay that we don’t want him to be that I don’t think is speaking truthfully at all because we want him to be that. We need him to be that.

Q. Do you schedule games still to help you recruit on the West Coast?
BILL SELF: We have, yeah, we have.

Q. Did that help going out there?
BILL SELF: To play San Diego State? I guess it could if there’s guys in the area that we’re recruiting, and with us, we don’t recruit geographically like a lot of schools do. Like a lot of West Coast schools only play on the West Coast, which guarantees you help. We more or less pick and choose. When the schedule was made, this game was probably scheduled five years ago, so you stop and think about it, you have the return game, which we didn’t play last year, so the return game is this year, so it was probably scheduled four or five years ago, and back then those kids were all in eighth grade, so we don’t know who we’re recruiting then.

But I do hope it helps us, but I can’t say that in this particular case that it will help us recruiting at all.

Q. Is that still a hotbed area?
BILL SELF: San Diego?

Q. No, LA.
BILL SELF: Oh, God, yeah. Wherever there’s a lot of people living, there’s a chance that there’s more players in those particular areas. You know, you still think about historically over time, LA, Chicago, even New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, these highly-populated areas have always produced players, and of course LA has produced as many as any city probably in America over the last 30 years. Think about the success that Kansas has had recruiting that area because that was one thing that Roy (Williams) did. Roy made an emphasis on recruiting the West Coast, and we haven’t done that nearly as much as what the previous staff did, and they were great at it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #166 at 2015-12-17 18:41:00 GMT

Senior forward Hunter Mickelson
On his finals schedule:
“I took two tests earlier this week, and got done with those. I have a paper to turn in for one of my communications classes on Friday, but after that I’ll be officially done.”

On this time of the year benefitting the team:
“Just being able to get in the gym and improve on everything. We have a lot more time without classes being in (session). It will definitely be a lot more basketball focused.”

On how it feels to get a couple of starts and more playing time recently:
“It feels good. It’s definitely a lot better, the improvement of getting more playing time than not playing as much. That’s always a positive thing.”
On getting a chance to play and what Coach Self said to him:
“It was more just, ‘Be ready.’ Just be prepared and know the scouting reports. Know what we’re doing on offense just in case that time came. I think I did that pretty well.”

On his “tryout” the last couple of games:
“I’m pretty much willing to do whatever needs to be done; to be a defensive anchor, a rebounder, a shot blocker. I can do that and just kind of help guys out. Like I said, I’ll do pretty much whatever needs to be done.”

On the competition between the bigs for playing time:
“It definitely should and I think it already has some. When you’ve got as many big guys as we have, everybody wants to play. There’s definitely going to be competition, that’s just natural.”

On if the last starting position feels like it’s still up for grabs:
“According to Coach (Self), it’s still up for grabs. That’s pretty much what we’re looking forward to, the competition of playing against each other. Like we’ve said, we’re not going to be in classes (with the semester over), so we’ll be practicing a lot more and get after it.”
On his mid-range jumpers, shot without hesitation, against Oregon State:
“Yeah, it felt good. It was just kind of in the flow of our offense and I took them when I got them. It definitely felt good for them to go down.”
On his three-point attempt:
“Yeah, I kind of knew it was a three, and it felt good, but after I shot it, it was a little long.”

On how the team’s fifth player needs to be able to complement Perry Ellis’ play:
“I think so (we work together well). He’s obviously a great scorer and a great player. So, obviously, if I have any opportunity to move the ball around and get him a shot, then that’s kind of what I’ll want to do. I guess that’s what the offense does naturally. But yeah, I think when we play together, I think we complement each other well. It’s just kind of how we play. Defensively, I can guard the biggest guy; that way, he doesn’t pick up fouls, so he can be in the game longer. I think we complement each other pretty well.”

On what changes for him when he does get playing time:
“Not too much. I’ve been working just about as hard as I (ever) have been, trying to get to play and improve upon everything. If I only play a couple of minutes, that’s kind of how it happens. Then you just keep working hard. Sometimes you get to start and sometimes you don’t. You’ve got to just keep playing the way you’re playing and then hopefully something will happen and you’ll get a chance.”

On if he gets to focus on the tip now that he has that role:
“A little bit. I kind of got quick-jumped the other day but it’s definitely the first part of it so that’s definitely something we focus on.”

On his holiday plans:
“I’ll probably head back to the house and hang out with the family for a little while. We’ll get flights back, so I’ll fly into Memphis.”
Senior forward Jamari Traylor
On his physical health:
“I feel a lot better. (I’m) getting up and down the court a little better. I feel a little more active, am getting to do things that I hadn’t been doing.”

On if the break was good for him physically:
“It was good for me (physically). It’s never good to sit on the sidelines because I was wanting to get out there. But as far as being physically ready, it was good that I could get a couple of games to get a little rest in and get better. I took the first game completely off and the second game I just got a little rest. I just took it as a positive and am ready to get out there for the next game.”

On the shorter bench creating a sense of urgency for the players:
“We always go at it in practice but those guys were rolling in the game so I just wanted to cheer them on. Coach always does stuff like that; when a group is on a run, he just leaves them in. They were making plays and we came back, so I was just on the sideline cheering for them. But the bigs are definitely competing in practice and everybody is really going to compete in order to get playing time.”
On what he said to his teammates coming out of halftime on Saturday vs. Oregon State:
“I just told them that we’ve been here before; down 20, 18 (points) at half and come back and win games. That’s what we do. All the guys, pretty much, are veteran guys and I just told them that we needed to fight back and we could get into this game. Everybody was ready, so I was happy they came back.”

On this basketball-focused time of year:
“We’ve got a lot more time to practice, get a lot better. We can perfect a lot of things, work on a lot of different things since we have more time basketball-wise since we don’t have finals or school or anything. We’re on break and it’s really just all about basketball.”

On the opponents’ shooting percentages being up so far this season:
“Yes, he (Coach Self) definitely wants us to defend a little better. We can. At times, we show what we could, but have had a couple of sloppy breakdowns at times. We’ve got to do better. I think we’re in the low-40s but I think we can get around 38 for defensive field goal shooting percentage. We’ve just got to hunker down and get stops sometimes. They get second-chance points sometimes. But it’s something we can do and it’s something we will get better at. With this break coming up, we’ll get in the gym and practice.”

On the team’s defensive breakdowns:
“We show we can be a good defensive team, but we’ve just got to tighten up some things.”

On if he’s close to getting his degree:
“Actually, yeah. After this finals week, I’ll have my degree.”

On his plans for the second semester:
“I have to talk to Dr. Scott (Ward) about my classes and see what he thinks would be good classes for me to add since I will already have my degree. I don’t really know what I want to do now that I have my degree.”

On if it feels good to wrap up his degree:
“Definitely. I never had a graduation ceremony actually, so this will be my first one in the spring, so I’m excited about that. My degree is in liberal arts and sciences.”

On how having Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason II playing well defensively in the backcourt helps the bigs:
“Definitely. When those guys are out there, pressuring the ball, sometimes in the last game they (the opponent) didn’t even get the ball past half court. So it’s definitely a positive for us. Those guys can do it. They showed it the last game. Devonte’ has turned into a pretty good defensive player – I don’t know if everybody has noticed – but he’s guarding the other teams’ best guards most of the time and he’s doing a pretty good job.”

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