Bill Self Previews No. 23 Baylor, Big 12 Play

Video Link Press Conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head coachBill Self addressed members of the media on New Year’s Eve to preview the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener against No. 23 Baylor (10-2) on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m., CBS) in Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 2 Kansas (11-1), winners of the last 11 Big 12 regular season titles, hopes to extend its 24-game winning streak in conference openers against the Bears with a high-octane offense that ranks seventh in the nation in scoring (87.2 ppg) and fourth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (.450).

Self addressed Baylor’s strengths as a team (including Big 12 rebounding leader Rico Gathers), the significance of winning 11-straight conference titles, and the state of the Jayhawks entering Big 12 play, among other topics. Read the complete transcript below or follow the link to watch video of the press conference.


Bill Self

Q. Do you think Baylor’s Rico Gathers is a Player of the Year candidate?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I think he’s a candidate, there’s no question. Of course, it’s too early. I think when those accolades, postseason accolades, my personal opinion, there’s too much emphasis put on the whole year, as opposed to conference play. Because to me, there’s a big difference in what a guy does playing against the same competition every night and what he does playing against different competition.

Right now, without question, the Player of the Year in our league to date has been Buddy (Hield of Oklahoma). Buddy has been great, and of course Georges (Niang of Iowa State) has had a great start to the season. You know, Rico and (Taurean) Prince both have had excellent years so far.

But to me, Buddy has probably been the best so far. But really, what matters, if you’re going to have a Conference Player of the Year, shouldn’t you be based on the conference, as opposed to based on 13 games outside the conference. So I think he’ll definitely be in the coverings without question.

Q. To guard Baylor, the numbers really have been impressive…
COACH SELF: I have a hard time believing any team can have that many assists per game. You know, it’s unbelievable. Like in the last game against Texas Southern, they had 27 baskets and 23 assists. I mean, the numbers are staggering of what they are doing, and Lester is probably the biggest reason why that is. He’s off to a fabulous start.

We talk about Frank’s (Frank Mason III) assist-to-turnover ratio; Medford the last five games is 42 to six. That’s seven to one, and we talk about Frank being really good at four and a half to one. They haven’t skipped a beat with him playing there, at all.

Q. When they do move the ball like that, does that change the way you prepare your defense?
COACH SELF: No, well — you know, I would say without getting too technical, you do different things to maybe deny the post an easy catch or make them catch it a step further out, so they have to balance it to get in the scoring area.

But for the most part, it’s the same thing that we do with all our opponents, so not really. They are just better at it than most of the people we play.

Q. Have you sensed, after winning 11-straight Big 12 regular season titles, that people take that streak for granted?
COACH SELF: Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that people take the streak for granted. I think our fans do. I think nationally, it has not got the respect in a lot of ways that it deserves. But I also understand that  what gets most of the attention now is what you do in the postseason, as opposed to regular season, and I understand that.

But what these players have done over time, and with so many different combinations and all those things in what is arguably as good a league as there in the country, is pretty remarkable. I’m real proud of it, but the whole thing is, this will be the hardest year probably to defend it probably. That last year was a monster year to defend it. But I really think that this year there’s more good teams our league has ever had, and when I say good team, I mean teams that have chance to be Final Four-type contenders.

Q. Is that why you think it will be the hardest this year?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I just think the competition is different. Last year, our league was great. And there’s been many years where the league is terrific and we’ve started three freshmen and two sophomores or whatever. There’s been many years where something like that has happened.

But the reality is, year-in and year-out, we have had as good of players as anybody. And so when you have as good of players as anybody, you should win games. And certainly this year, though, you can make a case that the teams in our league are every bit as talented – there are five or six teams in our league that are as good as the other team.

And what will be a key in my opinion of winning the league will be holding serve at home, which obviously is no lock, and of course you’ve got to steal some on the road. But it’s not having a bad two-week stretch; it’s not getting the wrong guy hurt two weeks when you’re playing tough games. That, to me, so much of it is scheduling and good fortune on those things.

Like for instance, when you can play your best ball, and if a team loses their best player for two weeks to an ankle injury and you go and play your best ball you’ve ever played, that still may not be enough to beat that team because that’s what you’re going to face in our league. It’s going to be difficult.

And the other thing I think is going to be very important for players to understand and coaches, is it’s a long grind, and I don’t think the highs can be too high or the lows can be too low.

Q. Are there certain aspects of the conference title streak that you get more personal satisfaction out of?
COACH SELF: Faces have changed but expectations and results haven’t. That’s the thing that I probably take the most pride in is that the kids, regardless of who you lost, it’s kind of the next man up, and that mantra, they have delivered. So I take great pride in the consistency, because it’s hard.

I remember, certainly, when we won it in 2008, I thought there would be no way that we would get complacent. There’s no way. But human nature just makes it that way. People are asking to do fun things. Everybody’s patting you on the back. Instead of being in the gym a week after the season, now it’s three weeks after the season because you’re worn out from doing all the other stuff. It’s hard and now you understand why there’s not that many repeats at the professional level and things like that.

And then you have rosters changing. It’s difficult. I remember telling my assistants one time after that, saying, hey, guys, I think I’m letting you down. I hope you guys are working harder than I am because I spend my whole day doing stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with winning, and everybody can do that.

Speaking engagements, appearances, opportunities to do certain things — you’re still getting up and you’re still going to the office for 12 hours a day but you’re not working on things that have anything to do with winning.

So I felt like, and I caught myself saying, you know what, I’m falling into the same thing that I know everybody else says you fall into but nobody ever believes it. But fortunately for us, our players didn’t do it. It would probably have been harder to have a great year after winning the National Championship if all those kids returned.

But all starters are gone and now the new kids come in and now they have got to do what the other guys did, so there was an expectation level and they knew how hard they had to work to do it, so that was probably a blessing, and at the time, we thought it was a curse. But the consistency is probably the thing that I’m most proud of.

Q. You play two ranked teams to open Big 12 play this year, is that a huge challenge?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it’s a challenge. But there are going to be weeks in the league where a lot of teams have weeks where they play two ranked teams. When you have five teams ranked every week or whatever it is, there’s a lot of times they are going to matchup that way.

But yeah, it’s a challenge. And thinking about what has happened in the past is something that you can think about and be happy about, but our focus and my focus is 100 percent what’s going to happen this year, and there’s obviously a ton of things that have to fall right for us to have to put ourselves in position to have another great league season.

Q. Any surprises so far from your team, anything that’s happened that you didn’t expect?
COACH SELF: Probably not. I thought we would be — I mean, I would say we — knock-on-wood, if you’re going to really break it down, we’ve probably taken better care of the ball than maybe what I thought we would. We are not quite as good a rebounding team as I thought we would be. I thought we would be a good shooting team; we’ve been pretty good so far.

One thing that’s been pretty pleasant in my eyes is I think the guys share it. I think we’re pretty unselfish for the most part with our thoughts and our play. But the real season hasn’t even started yet. Whenever you play games that you can play poorly and still win, you sometimes get a false sense of who you are and what’s going on.

From this point forward, you can’t play poorly and win. The NFL is by far the best league, in my opinion, because they have the most parity. It’s set up where everybody should go about 8-8. You stop and think about it: the Panthers started 14-0 but they had three or four games that they had to win on the last possession. That’s one of the things that made them special because they have had so many comebacks in the fourth quarter. Everything is a tight game.

But when you only have ten teams and you play everybody twice, and you could have six or seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, you have to be your best every night, much like I think what you have to be in the NFL. In the NFL, if you don’t play well, you lose. I think it’s going to be that way in our league more so than ever.

Q. Is the team where you thought they would be at heading into conference play or a little ahead or a little behind?
COACH SELF: I’ve said it a thousand times and I’m not being negative at all, but I wish we could throw the ball inside and score more.

But I also know that we get the ball to the paint and get the ball to the rim a lot more driving it than what we ever have in the past. Those kind of off-set each other, but I know in the teeth of a game at crunch time in a big game, you want to be able to get fouled when you throw it inside or come away at the basket. I thought our first shot defense would be a little bit better than what it is, even though it’s not all of. I mean, it’s not bad. But it’s not quite where I thought and I thought that we would rebound it better than what we have.

The stats are skewed a little bit. There’s some teams that are plus-15 a game in rebounding. Well, they are a good rebounding team, there’s no doubt about that, but that plus-15 becomes eight when you get into league play and it’s the same thing. Your field goal percentages come down because everybody guards and your field goal defense goes up because everybody can score.

It’s all a little bit skewed right now, but I think that we’ve done some good things and we’ve put ourselves in a position that we have a chance to build on some things and become pretty good. But right now, I don’t think we’re near there yet. And I bet you, nine other teams in our league feel the same way.

Q. Can you talk about Wayne Selden Jr.? Seems like he’s impacting the game more than he has in the past?
COACH SELF: The first half in the other night, played 12 minutes and didn’t impact the game at all — at all. He had one strong drive and didn’t impact it. We talked at halftime and he comes back out and still doesn’t make any perimeter shots but he was at times the best player on the floor. And he did exactly what you’re talking about. He got seven rebounds.

Well, that was something that was good because he had not really been rebounding the ball. He figured out a way to impact the team to help us win when he wasn’t making shots and I think that’s the thing he’s probably done better this year. Of course, he’s made shots for the most part but that’s the thing that he’s done better this year than anything else is become more of a complete player.

Q. Is Baylor’s Rico Gathers a totally different challenge than UC Irvine’s 7-foot-6 Mamadou N’Diaye?
COACH SELF: One is 6-7 and the other is 7-6. So 11 inches is a little bit different challenge. But Rico, he’s an athlete. He’s a guy you think that would be an NFL tight end. Great hands and is active and can move around and can run. I mean, he’s a real athlete, where Mamadou – not taking anything away from him athletically – can’t move like Rico but certainly handling his height was unread. There’s few guys in college basketball if any that rebound like Rico.

Q. What do you like most about starting the Big 12 at home than being on the road?
COACH SELF: I don’t know that I do. I think it’s better, for fairness, we should play all 16 games here. [Laughs] But the reality is, if you start on the road and you win, you’re a leg up on everybody. You win at home, that’s just — that’s just a push because you’ve got to do that.

I haven’t really — a negative could be the students aren’t here, but I still think we’ll have pretty good crowd support in these games. But it really doesn’t matter much either way.

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