Jayhawks enjoy busy Thursday in San Antonio
SAN ANTONIO – The Kansas Jayhawks worked through a packed schedule of interviews, video shoots, practice and a welcome dinner on their first full day in San Antonio for the 2018 Final Four. Head coach Bill Self met with a large media contingent in the afternoon to discuss his team’s journey to the Final Four and how they are preparing for their national semifinal match-up with the Villanova Wildcats on Saturday night.
The Jayhawks’ day at the Alamodome began with interviews with national radio followed by a 30-minute open locker room session with dozens of media members from both local and national outlets, collecting quotes from the student-athletes.
The team then headed to a video shoot with Turner/CBS and took part in a number of social media and one-on-one interviews with various outlets. The afternoon concluded with an hour-long practice, Kansas’ first, on the court inside the Alamodome.
To close out the day, Kansas and the other three teams attended a Salute Dinner. The event, hosted by CBS’s Jim Nantz, honored the four teams and their coaches for their accomplishments up to this point of the season.
Earlier in the day Self took the dais for the first time this week to talk his Jayhawks and the week ahead. A transcript of Self’s comments is available below.
HEAD COACH BILL SELF
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH SELF: We’re very excited to be back in San Antonio, and certainly we’ve had an unbelievable experience here before and look forward to the weekend and the opportunity to play probably the best team from start to finish this year in college basketball. So we’re very excited to be here looking forward to representing our university.
Q. You’ve known Jerrance Howard a long, long time. Coached him and so forth. His personality obviously is pretty magnetic and his reputation has been as a recruiter. How has he grown as a coach, and what are some of his key contributions to your team, not recruiting-wise?
COACH SELF: You’re exactly right. Jerrance has an unbelievable outgoing personality that people are drawn to. He has personality and he enjoys everything about coaching. He enjoys being on the floor. He enjoys behind the scenes. He loves the recruiting. He loves developing relationships with people, young and old.
But I do think in recent memory and certainly he’s worked with great coaches, with Billy and with Bruce and obviously with Larry and he’s been at KU a while. He’s basically learned how to coach. He is a basketball coach that can recruit, as opposed to so many guys sometimes get labeled as a recruiter.
But we put Jerrance in situations where he’s in charge of many different things and he’s become a terrific scout. And so he’s a young guy, but he’s the complete package.
Q. As Devonte’ Graham prepares to face another challenge in his position, how much has it helped him playing in the Big 12, going up against Keenan Evans and Jevon Carter and Trae Young? And then give me a little scout on Jalen, too.
COACH SELF: I think if you look at our league as a whole, you mentioned — 40 percent of our teams had a point guard that was an All-American. So obviously he’s as prepared as anybody could be playing, I don’t know what it was, nine or ten games and plus Duval last week or whatnot. So he’s played against the best.
But he hasn’t played against the national player of the year more than likely. And Jalen, in my opinion, in all honesty, should win that award. And I think that Jalen is strong. He’s stronger than what those other guards are. Jevon Carter obviously is very strong, but Jalen is very strong. He can stretch it, obviously at a clip that nobody else that we played against can — percentage-wise from 3.
We haven’t played against a point guard that posts and Jalen posts a lot. I do think there’s some unique challenges in guarding someone that’s different even though the others are talented than what the others he’s guarded has been.
Q. With it being 10 years since Mario’s shot, I’m doing something on shop, I wondered if you could share the story of how you guys created that play? And also has it been fun to see it kind of spread throughout college basketball since then?
COACH SELF: You know, that was — we tried to come up with something probably back in ’06 or ’07 that would be a play, we could run late clock, that would give us five to seven options on how to score off of it. It didn’t have to be a 3. It could be a 2. We wanted to have a backdoor opportunity. We wanted to have a dribble hand-off ball screen, make the team switch or not switch. We wanted to pin in. We wanted to have a fade screen, we wanted to have a fade screen down screen.
And over the years we’ve probably scored off of every action with that play. I don’t even know if we’ve even run it this year to the point where we have in the past. But certainly it was good for us.
And that year, in ’08, we totally screwed it up at Texas. And so when we screwed it up we probably practiced it ample times, to the point where, even though we eliminated the ball screen in that play with Mario, it certainly got our guys to believe that if we needed a basket we were going to get a great look running that one way or the other.
Q. Everything turned out pretty nice. But I just wanted to get your thoughts on the whole situation with Billy Preston. It seemed like the system didn’t really seem to serve anybody very well in that whole thing. What were your thoughts about that?
COACH SELF: Well, it was obviously a blow to our team. But I mean, I’ll be candid with you: When there’s an issue it needs to be addressed. And we addressed the issue and Billy and his mother, Nicole, were as good and as patient with trying to get an answer on that deal. And certainly the answer we got was, at that time, is we can’t give an answer.
And then that put them against basically the finish line on whether or not they wanted to try to go make some money in Europe. And I didn’t fault their decision at all doing that, because there was no guarantee he was going to be able to play this year. But there also wasn’t a guarantee that he wasn’t going to be able to play.
So I think they made the percentage play, to be honest with you, because he’s a talented youngster and he needed to be seen by NBA folk in a game setting. And so looking at the benefits of that, in long term, I thought it was actually a smart play by them even though we didn’t like it and we were disappointed. But we understood.
Climate in our game has taken a different turn in the last nine months or so, or eight months, whatever it’s been. And so certainly there was, I don’t know, I don’t want to say the process was slower, but certainly it was more exhaustive. And it was a situation in which we needed to show every avenue on why certain things happened. And although if we think we did a good job, they still weren’t ready to give an answer to it.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Coach Robinson, what he does, what kind of his purview is, specifically for you and how useful it is to have someone with his experience and with his experience working with you?
COACH SELF: With Coach Roberts? Norm has been with us.
COACH SELF: Oh, with Coach Townsend. We’ve got great assistants. Which one do you want?
Q. Kurt Townsend.
COACH SELF: Kurt is an elder statesman on our team. And he’s been around. He’s coached at Eastern Kentucky, but he’s also recruited Jason Kidd and Jamal Crawford or helped recruit those guys. He’s been at Michigan and Miami and USC. And certainly is as good a recruiter as our sport has.
And coaches, other coaches know this. He’s rock solid. I’ve never been around anybody that has more people out there that would like to help him if they get an opportunity to.
But Kurt is a great basketball coach. He’s in charge of our perimeter, and he’s got an innovative mind, and he relates to people and players as well as anybody I’ve been around. We’ve been really fortunate. We talked about Jarrence earlier, but Kurt’s thought of to be as good as there is in our profession. And you’ve got Norm Roberts who is an equal in so many ways, but he’s also been the head coach at St. John’s. So we’ve been really fortunate to have an unbelievable experienced staff.
Q. You’ve had one-and-dones before, but we’re looking at a Final Four without a one-and-done. And the trend since 2015 is diminishing at those at this level. Is that an accident or do you think even the best coaches, like Cal and like Coach K, are finding it very difficult to start over again every year?
COACH SELF: I can’t speak to what they think or everything. But I know personally, with me, I think the best teams are the ones that your most talented kids are your youngest kid but your foundation is always your upperclassmen. Even when we won it in ’08, we had some unbelievable seniors that have been there and done it and gone through some stuff and then our two most talented kids were sophomores.
But Wigs and Joel, Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre, we’ve had some really nice players come through there, but there’s so many good players in college basketball, when you think about an 18-, 19-year-old competing against a 22-, 23-year-old that knows how to play, even though there might be a little discrepancy in talent, a lot of times strength and experience offsets that.
I think what happened with Kentucky, which we lost to them in the final game, they still had Miller and they still had some guys that were a little bit older that probably were a foundation for them. But Duke winning it and with primarily young guys, it will happen again where somebody will do that. But I really think the percentage play is having a balance of both.
Q. Malik’s college career didn’t quite go as he expected coming out of high school. And then just over the past couple of months he’s just blossomed. And kind of a two-parter. I’m curious if you could explain his journey from when he got to you to today? And could you also talk about the conversation that you two had in the middle of Big 12 play that he kind of points at as one of the turning points?
COACH SELF: We had a lot of conversations. So to answer your second one first, I’ve always thought Malik was a really good player. I always thought this past year that he was a really good player that didn’t do enough. He left me wanting more, because I think he could be a better initiator, a better on-the-ball defender, a better defensive rebounder, a lot of things.
And so often I think in Malik’s career — and I could be wrong — I think he’s equated success as to whether or not he scored a lot of points. And he played for a good coach at Mississippi State, and then he went to the combine and probably got humbled a little bit because they said he wasn’t quite ready. And then we got him and he had a great year last year.
But this year I think he deferred to Devonte’ too much. I think he put too much on Devonte’. And I did, I was very adamant about this is, not only is it not fair to you because you’re not realizing your potential, but it’s not fair to others, too. You can do a lot more to make them better.
And he got 20 in the first half against Oklahoma State when we had nothing going on. And ever since that he’s been our most consistent and best player.
Q. I talked to Curtis and he said that you were especially hard on this group this year, maybe harder than any team that he can remember. How do you figure out really like what buttons to push and how far you can push them when you need to push a team like this one?
COACH SELF: I don’t know if I’m harder. I think maybe verbally I was harder. I don’t think physically maybe as demanding as I have been with some other teams. But I told them, you know, if at least when I say what I want to say at least I’ll go home feeling better. Even though they may not.
So this has been an inconsistent and somewhat frustrating team up until about probably three-quarters of the season. But the reality is it’s really not fair to the kids because we’ve had some things in the past that this team did not have the benefit of. We don’t have the benefit of depth.
And in the past you didn’t have to be hard on them, just put a guy on the bench. And now your starters, you know, can’t go to the bench because there’s no depth. And so what do you really hold over them to make sure that they’re giving you everything they want and really the only thing we had was either we run them in the ground, which wasn’t going to help us, or maybe we verbally get after them. So I think I probably had verbally gotten after this team more and been more critical in some ways.
But also with that being said, Dana, I think I’ve also made it real clear in many ways I’m more proud, too, because we have altered our personality traits to the point that it’s given this team the best chance.
Q. You guys have been one of the most consistent teams in Division I over the last 15 years. Villanova, they’ve been doing it for as long, but this last four, five years started playing with that same style and that consistency. What are your thoughts on what they’ve been able to do these last few years and the fact they’ve been so successful, what does that tell you about their program?
COACH SELF: Well, I think that Jay’s always been a terrific coach. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. But in the last five years they’ve lost 21 games. That’s 4.2 a year. I mean, think about that. And think about the league they play in and think about the non-conference schedule. So certainly not only have they recruited well, that also means they have depth. That also means that the culture is great.
There’s so many things that that means. But even with that being said, you still have to find a way to win games that you’re not supposed to win or close games. And Jay and his staff have figured out how to do that.
So I have as much respect — all coaches respect different programs. We all do. It’s hard to say well they’re the best or — everything’s relative based on what your potential is. But certainly I think they have maximized their potential and got as close against their ceiling over time as anybody has.
And I saw Tony back there and congratulated him for being named national coach of the year, he very much deserves that. I think Virginia this year demonstrated that as well. But you look at Villanova they’ve kind of demonstrated that for — look how hard it is to put one year together. They put five years together that are elite and would be considered one of the best five years anybody had in college basketball. He’s respected years later, that’s really hard to do.
Q. Doke talked at length about how emotional it’s going to be for him to have his mom here at this game to see him play for the first time. What was the process like to get his mom here and how do you try and have him at least manage the emotions a little bit?
COACH SELF: That’s a great question, because Doke hasn’t seen his mother in almost six years. And he lost his father, I think, when he was in seventh or eighth grade. So if you can imagine, she loved her son so much that she sent him away when he’s 14 or 13 years old. Because Doke, he just turned 18 years old. So hard would that be?
And we want to win the game, but is winning the game more important than to make sure there’s not a little distraction for Doke? Of course not.
So the NCAA, for all the stuff that they catch, they passed a rule a few years ago that allowed families to get to events. And his wasn’t easy to get here because we had to go through political people to deal with their embassy in Nigeria, for the passport, but also to set up a meeting to get a Visa, and she had to fly I don’t know how many hours just to get to the city where she had the Visa meeting this morning at 9.00 a.m. to get the Visa.
Then try to get her on flights, which will take over 24 hours, to get her here. So it will be worth it. And certainly — can you imagine, you’ve never seen your son play basketball and the first time you do it is in front of 70,000 people at this thing? I can’t even imagine what’s going to be going through her mind.
Q. I was curious the influence of Larry Brown. Saw him in the back of the room. How much do you lean on him and does this run now compare any to ’08 when I also understand he came on board and kind of helped out?
COACH SELF: He’s come around — he comes around most every year unless he’s coaching. But Coach gave me my first opportunity, and I wanted so bad to be like him when I was young. I just idolized everything that he did.
And since I became a head coach, it’s amazing how he’s stayed in touch and wanted to help me. And I’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time with Coach, as we all have. And it’s been a huge blessing for us.
He’s not with us to help us coach this team, he’s with us to hang out be a support and that kind of stuff. But he means an awful lot to me personally, means an awful lot to a lot of coaches in the profession that he gave opportunities to.
He’s also very close with Jay. I don’t know if you knew that. He and Jay are very close. So he’ll be torn. And he won’t cheer, I’m sure, for either team. But it’s awfully nice to have him around.
Q. I think you addressed this the other day, but what kind of relationship do you have with Custer and Richardson from Loyola? Did you look at them? I think you said they went to camps with you.
COACH SELF: Yeah, they played for Ed Fritz and came to our team camps every summer, and they were the best team in team camp every summer. You can certainly understand why now. But the thing about with Clay, I watched him play a lot. I told him after team camp, going into his senior year, I said, “Just so you know, you’re plenty good but we can’t recruit you.”
We had Devonte’ and we had Frank. So the opportunity for him to come in and impact our program probably wouldn’t have been as great because those guys were already in it.
But certainly seeing how he’s developed, he’s a big-time player. They both are. But Clay being Player of the Year in the Valley and playing at such a high level. And I asked him I said, “How good did it feel to play K-State in the Elite Eight?” He hinted to me it wouldn’t feel as good as playing you on Monday night. So it would mean an awful lot to those two kids.
Q. Your son works for the Spurs. Can you share maybe a story or two what he said about working under Coach Popovich and what it means to you to have your son working for the Spurs organization?
COACH SELF: Well, Tyler does work with the Spurs, but he’s not on the basketball side, so he doesn’t really work for Pop, so to speak. Of course he thinks he’s the greatest.
But he works primarily for RC and in the scouting division and stuff like that. So he’s had a great experience down here so far. And how fortunate is he that, if you’re going to get a job to start out and to learn, to learn under the best? And certainly he’s getting an opportunity to do that.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Marcus Garrett being back here in Texas after last year in the Texas State semifinal. His development, what have you seen and how he’s developed in his freshman year, and also how difficult will it be to get Villanova uncomfortable?
COACH SELF: Marcus played in this building in the state tournament. So he’s the only one with any experience in the Dome, I guess, ever. But certainly he was very well drilled in high school.
He’s one of the few high school kids that knew how to make a college team better by not scoring. Most high school kids learn how to score and when they get to college they’re going to be the fifth, sixth, seventh option. So what other things do they do to make somebody better? He fit in perfectly with us because he can do a little bit of everything.
He’s not a prolific scorer, but he can do a little bit of everything. And we all — to slow Villanova down whatever, they’re averaging, whatever, 88 a game, we’ve got to really be able to guard our man and not put ourselves in so many situations where they stretch us out and they can get that ball whipping around and forcing help and rotations, we’ve got to rebound the ball and obviously we have to be able to attack their pressure and their switching man. But they’re a terrific team. But I think we have a terrific team, too. It should be a heck of a basketball game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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