Jayhawks Hold Court with Media in Des Moines

Link Game Notes / Preview

DES MOINES, Iowa – Kansas held court with members of the media on Friday afternoon to preview the NCAA Championship Second Round game against Connecticut on Saturday at approximately 6:45 p.m. CDT, televised on CBS.


Kansas head coach Bill Self

Opening Statement:
We’re happy to spend a couple more days in Des Moines and certainly know that we got our hands full moving forward in playing a talented and well-coached UConn team, but excited about it.

Q. Coach, as one coach watching, another what are the things that impress you or that are unique about Kevin Ollie and the way he coaches his team?
SELF: Well, obviously he’s got great poise on the sideline or they wouldn’t experience the success that they’ve already experienced in his short tenure there. Seems like to me that his players really care about each other and he has a good relationship with his players, I think that’s pretty evident. But not one in which — friendly, I think he does a great job of getting after them and drilling them and really pushing them.

You know, most teams that are successful, you know, the foundation is they guard and I think they’re really good defensively and he gives his players a lot of freedom offensively.

Q. Bill, I think yesterday you alluded to this that you’ve been making a conscious effort to try to just loosen up a little bit with the guys and if I understood that correctly, is that how you see it? If so, what might you be doing that reflects that?
SELF: I don’t think that I’m doing anything consciously. I just think I’m always loose. No, I’m joking. I said this yesterday, I don’t know who it was to, but I think it’s said a lot that teams take on the personality of the head coach. I think sometimes the coach can take on the personality of the team, and in our particular situation these guys over an extended period of time have played a certain way and they have given us all confidence on how they played.

So I don’t think it’s anything that I’m consciously trying to do different. I think these guys have kinda brought that out in me as much as me doing anything to try to be different.

Q. Coach, couple of your players talked about how losing in the second round the last couple of years has motivated them. Is that something you have used to remind them or motivate them?
SELF: No, no. We’re not going to run from it. We have lost in the second round the last two years. But certainly I’m not going to use that as motivation, dwelling on the negative. I do think that, you know, when you get to the second round everybody is capable of beating everybody without question.

But last two years we haven’t been whole going into the tournament, obviously and when you’re losing starters and things like that, after you played a certain way all year long, a lot of times you’re not the same team that you were the vast majority of the season. And I really think that was the case with us. Not an excuse, but it’s the reality of it. This year, I mean, knock on wood, we’ve been healthier. We’re more whole. Roles are defined. When you got a guy hurt going into the tournament, roles are changed. So I think the guys are more confident the way we’ve been doing it this year in large part because we haven’t had to change midstream.

Q. Can you put into words what Perry has meant to your team, and a lot of times it seems like he might get overshadowed by your younger players. But can you imagine where you would be without him?
SELF: Oh, yeah, we couldn’t be anywhere close. Perry is maybe as consistent of a performer that we have ever had since I’ve been coaching there. Sometimes with consistency comes boredom, though, you know, because at least with what expectations are. You can just pencil Perry in for this. Sometimes Perry hasn’t had a 33 against Kentucky or some of the other big games that some of our other players have had.

But if you look at it over time he’s probably about as efficient as anybody that we’ve had there, at least since I’ve been there. He’s a rock. He is a guy that we look to score when we’re struggling. He certainly plays a much bigger role than what I think a lot of people give him credit for nationally. I think within our league he’s very well respected, but I think nationally he probably doesn’t get the recognition that he’s deserved over time.

Q. You have seen UConn yesterday and in the last few games that ratcheted the pressure up as the game went along maybe because they got behind a little bit. How does their pressure compare with others that you have seen, say like West Virginia?
SELF: I think it’s different than West Virginia’s pressure. I think with West Virginia they go trap a rebound. I think that UConn does it differently. But I also think that they do it soundly, too. I don’t think they give up a lot of easy baskets by their pressure. So not that West Virginia did, but it was just a totally different mind-set.

I think UConn’s half court defense is really good and their stats back it up, their field goal percentage defense and everything backs it up. But they’ve got some guys and especially Daniel Hamilton, his arms are so long and, you know, as far as seems like to me they pick somebody every game.

Yesterday, you know, in that game, I don’t want to say Colorado had control but, you know, it turned on a dime when the pressure was ratcheted up. So we certainly have to be prepared for that.

Q. Bill, when you face a team that shoots free throws as good as Connecticut does, does that change your defensive philosophy at all? Or not?
SELF: Well, based on how we fouled yesterday, that wouldn’t bode well tomorrow for success. We fouled 27 times yesterday, and certainly when you foul a team that shoots — I could be off a little bit. But I think they have six guys out of their top seven scorers that all shoot above 80% and some of them are well above 80%. We gotta play good defensive. We gotta play aggressive, but we’ve got to play with our head and our feet and keep ’em off the free throw line.

Certainly we know that’s a big part of their offense because they do drive it as well as anybody probably we played against all year. West Virginia would probably be a comparable type team to look at when you look at their perimeter players and how well they drove it, and I think UConn’s players does the same thing.

Q. Seems like Carlton has played his best basketball these last couple weeks. How encouraging is it for you to see that when a freshman turns it on this time of year?
SELF: I think it bodes well for the future but certainly you’re right, Carlton had a really, really good Big 12 Tournament, and yesterday I didn’t think he was quite as good, he wasn’t as active defensively.

But he’s confident right now, scoring the ball and I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player. You know, to me, he’s just strength away and a little bit of experience away from being one of the better big guys that we’ve had at Kansas.

Q. Coach, as a guy who’s always trying to convince his players that they can give more, how is vi’s performance yesterday a teachable example of that for your guys?
SELF: Well, you know, we’ve had different guys step up at different moments. But I think in his case yesterday, the guys know how hard he prepares in practice. They know how hard he works, and they all have so much respect for him, knowing that it’s just a smart of time when things do click for him.

I think as much as anything, it’s a prime example of keep grinding. You keep grinding, you don’t know when your number will be called, and although his number is called every game, but that could have been a totally different feeling game if he hadn’t played like he played.

So I think if there is a lesson to be learned, it’s stay positive, keep grinding and when the opportunity knocks you gotta be ready to take advantage of it.

Q. Bill, can you talk about Aaron (Miles), kinda when he’s contributed to you guys being on the staff this year? Does it seem like sometimes you have to restrain him from going on the court?
SELF: I haven’t noticed that, maybe I should start noticing. I know he gets excited, but Aaron, if you guys don’t know was one of the best guards that played at Kansas, I think he’s 9th all time in the NCAA history in assists and big-time winner and he tore his labrum in his hip this past year, and we brought him on to let him do rehab and to kinda learn what coaching is all about.

He’s great. He’s strictly in an administrative role, but certainly I think having him around has been good with our players just from an approach standpoint. He’s not a coach, but certainly from an approach standpoint and things of that nature, I think that he’s been really, really good with helping guys kinda understand, you know, from a mind-set what it takes to be a really good player at this level.

Q. Coach, back to Svi, could you offer insight into how he’s done these last few years, so far from home, whole new culture, his English sounded excellent last night. Talk about how he’s doing at the personal level?
SELF: We think he’s doing great. We think he loves it here. He tells us he does. All indications are that he’s very, very happy. I think frustration does set in when you don’t play as much as you want to or play as well as you know you can, when you get opportunities.

For the most part, I think he’s — he’s the youngest player on our team and I think he’s the second youngest player in the Big 12 and he’s a sophomore. So when you evaluate him, you should evaluate him as a freshman out there. He came when he was 16 years old, so you should evaluate him as a freshman and if you’re able to do that, then you say, wow!

At times he can look a certain way and look great, but he’s been a little bit inconsistent. I think that’s pretty apparent, but I think a lot that’s just youth.

Q. I’m going to ask you to go way back, so I hope you don’t mind your time at Illinois. Obviously that program has had struggles maintaining success, you had great success there, you might have a unique perspective on this. What were your keys to finding success there? What’s the potential of the program and maybe even the challenges there?
SELF: Well, I’m not an expert on anybody else’s program, so not claiming to be. I know when I was there, maybe times are different, it was so important that we were able to develop, maintain relationships in the city area and certainly be able to recruit, whether there is six high major guys in the state to be able to get two or three of those guys every year. We didn’t always get the blue chip, blue chip guys, but we got a lot of guys that turned out to be blue chip players. I don’t think it’s a good job. I think it’s a great job.

I’m sure moving forward, they will get back to the level that they’re accustom to. I’m a fan of John, so I don’t want to say anything remotely negative or hint that at all. But I don’t think they’ve caught many breaks in the last couple years as well.

Q. The rule change that’s allowing under classmen to declare for the draft and pull their names back after the scouting combine, do you like that rule? Do you think that’s good for the players, and how do you think that’s going to impact hurting and not knowing if and when you’re not going to get guys back?
SELF: I was actually part of the talks with the NBA with that, and it’s not perfect. We were told it was a really good first step, to getting to an end result that would be one in which everybody, NBA and college would be more pleased.

I’m going to hold my opinion until after this year, because we may be a team that’s affected by that as much as anybody in the country. We have a lot of good players, but we don’t have the high lottery picks, the lottery picks are going to go anyway, 19 out of 20 or 9 out of 10. It’s the ones that are mid-second round or maybe projected not to get drafted. We put our name in and then how do we approach it after we put our name in?

I think in theory it’s good because it gives the players and family more accurate information to make a decision based on what they’re hearing from NBA people as opposed to what they’re hearing from people that maybe aren’t connected to the NBA, whether it be agents or whoever, or third parties. I think in theory it’s good. I think it remains to be seen how it plays out, the effectiveness of it. I hope it is good for our game. This is a weird year to have that be the first year because everybody is saying the draft isn’t as strong this year.

So there will be more kids that make an attempt to probably look into it and when you look — the key is it’s okay to look, but when you look, do you jeopardize your amateurism? And if kids are smart and families are smart enough to stay on campus and be not jeopardize your amateurism, then I think it could be a good rule.

But if you have all these kids that apply for the draft thinking they’re going to be one in the combine or one of the 60 that are going to be drafted or whatnot and they give up their chance to come back to school. In theory great, I just hope as it plays out. I hope that people use the rule to their advantage as opposed to using the rule as an opportunity to let’s investigate more with really no solid game plan, in that it’s just an investigation, and by the investigation we’ll determine what we do. I’m just nervous kids are going to eliminate the opportunity to come back if they’re not smart.

Q. There is probably a tendency to overestimate the impact of meetings and there is probably a lot of meetings that we don’t hear about that are ineffective, but I wonder if you look back at your season how significant, how pivotal it might have been that when you sort of pushed Devonte’ to become the personality of the team more, if — what the emphasis was for that the way you guys were playing at the time?
SELF: I mean, I get a kick out of every time something goes bad we had a closed door, private team meeting, players only. They could be talking about, who knows? But in this particular situation it was a meeting that I called with just our four leading scorers and because, you know, when you’re playing a situation when everybody deserves to play, there is not one guy on our team that doesn’t deserve opportunity.

But we have six big guys, and Perry is the one big guy that’s gotta be out there 30 minutes. So there is fifty minutes you’re splitting up between five guys and it’s not fair to them and it’s certainly not fair to the guys that play with them because you get in a rhythm in playing with certain guys so depth is great.

But in this situation we needed to cut it back. I just asked for input from them on what they thought gave us the best chance to win. Didn’t have anything to do with raw talent. Doesn’t have anything to do with where you project them out, but what gives our team the best chance to win and certainly since that meeting it may be coincidental or not, we’ve gotten quite a bit better.

Junior guard Devonte’ Graham and senior forward Perry Ellis

Q. Guys, this is a game the last two seasons you guys have lost. Is there anything that you’ve learned from it or does it motivate you that it’s something you haven’t had success in?
PERRY ELLIS: I would say it’s motivation. You know, it’s something that a lot of us experienced that feeling after the loss and it’s something that we don’t want to happen again so I would say there is a lot of motivation for us. We really just have a lot of confidence as a team right now and we want to continue to play hard and go from there.

DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I agree with what Perry said, you know, we looking at it as motivation, this team definitely has a lot of confidence in our ability individually and as a team and we’re playing right we know that we can beat anybody. So we’re just going to use it as motivation and come out and be aggressive.

Q. Perry, to follow up on that, knowing that this is your last chance to not go out the way you have the last couple years, how much does that play in your mind and has that driven you at all these last couple games when you’ve had really good performances?
ELLIS: Definitely, definitely it’s a drive in my game. Just knowing this is my last go-round I’m willing to do whatever it takes to try to win, and that’s kinda my mind-set.

Q. What specifically do you guys remember from those last two years, losing those second-round games?
GRAHAM: Well, just last year I just know we didn’t come ready to play. We were playing on our heels the whole game, we weren’t being aggressive, we weren’t attacking. We kinda let Wichita State get into a comfort zone, and they had the momentum the whole game basically. Like I said, we just gotta be the one who keeps attacking and be the aggressor.

Q. Devonte’ or Perry, when you’re playing a team like UConn that’s such a good free throw-shooting team, does that make you maybe not play as aggressive on defense so you’re not putting them at the line as much?
ELLIS: You know, we still have to be aggressive. We just have to be a lot smarter. We have to see how the refs are calling the game and be able to adjust to that. We still want to play aggressive.

GRAHAM: Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. We gotta adjust to the way the refs are calling it. Last game we didn’t do a good job of it. We fouled too many times. We know their guards are going to try to get into the lane and we have to slide our feet and contain the dribble drive.

Q. Devonte’, did your game in Norman change things for you as much as it looks — looking at it from the outside it looks like that was a key moment for you. Was it as much as it looked like from our perspective?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: You could say that, yeah. I think it kind of boosted my confidence a lot. I’ve always had confidence in myself, my teammates, and the coaching staff has always had confidence in me. But that game definitely helped me out and moving forward with my confidence.

Q. Devonte’, can you describe what Perry means to your team and what has he done from you in terms of your development as a player? How has he helped you develop as a player?
GRAHAM: He’s the key to the team. You know, sometimes we forget about him sometimes. He can’t believe that, but sometimes we start jacking up threes and stuff like that and then we get a false sense of that’s what Coach tells us. We get a false sense of when we are making shots we forget about Perry. So we always gotta play through P, on any given day.

As far as developing me and helping me out, you know, he’s — I can’t even put it into words. Since I came in here he’s been a great guy. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s fun to be around, and, you know, he’s helped me out with my game so much from shooting with him and practicing and all that kind of stuff, helping me, telling me where to be on offense and helping me develop into the person I am today.

Q. Perry, what’s the secret of being a good free throw shooter? You’re shooting around 78%, but UConn as a team is shooting around 79%. Can you talk about your free throw shooting and what are the keys to being a good free throw shooter?
ELLIS: You know, it’s all mental, really. It’s something that really — at times, you know, when you miss free throws you’re thinking about it too much, and it’s just all rhythm and it’s all mental. You’ve just got to have confidence and step up there, same routine, and knock it down.

Q. Perry, you don’t have to spend a lot of time around college basketball to recognize the prestige of the four teams that are still playing here. I know you’re only worried about UConn but does it mean anything extra to you in your last ride through this tournament to be in this environment this weekend?
ELLIS: It’s just going to be a great experience and it’s been so far, you know, just seeing all these great programs around you. It’s just an honor to be here and it’s just a great opportunity for us.

Q. Perry, Devonte’ had some nice things to say. Can we turn that around? How much has Devonte’ meant to this team in the last five weeks?
ELLIS: He’s meant so much. He’s our energy guy, vocal guy and just watching him out there on the floor with all the energy he brings, you know, it just really gets me excited and gets all of us as a team pumped up. Just the things that he does from a vocal standpoint is just great.

Q. Perry, so many of the best players in college leave after a year or two, and I guess being a senior, almost like a dying breed in some respect. Do you take pride in that?
ELLIS: I definitely do, yeah. You know, like I said, these four years definitely helped me so much. I’ve grown so much each year, and it’s definitely benefited me and I’m glad I did this, I chose to do this.

Q. Question for both of you: Coach Ollie mentioned what they do at practice when they shoot free throws, if they make 11 if a row, the first 11, the coaches have to run. Do you think that you guys could make 11 in a row if the reward was watching Coach Self and the others run?
GRAHAM: Yeah, that’s a pretty unique thing to do. I think that kinda helps them out with their free throws. They probably concentrate on making it more, but I definitely think we could make 11 in a row if we had to watch the coaches run.

ELLIS: I agree, that would be cool to do, just a motivation factor, try too knock those down just to see them do that.

Q. Devonte’, Perry had already played his freshman and sophomore years when you got here and was a pretty polished sophomore, but how have you seen him grow as a basketball player, basketball-wise?
GRAHAM: I think one of the biggest things that I’ve seen from him is just how more aggressive he’s gotten. It might seem like he’s always been aggressive to you guys from scoring the ball, but a lot of times the coach tells him you gotta be more aggressive, don’t be so hesitant; and especially lately he hasn’t been hesitating with his jump shot or attacking the basket or attacking bigs off the balance, so I think he’s grown in the aggressive category a lot more.

Q. Devonte’, Aaron Miles is someone who was in this program all-time assist leader and now he’s on the staff helping. What has he done to help with your game this year and does he still have the energy where it looks like he wants to get on the court sometimes?
GRAHAM: He’s helped me out a lot, you know. He’s one of the guys that just comes and talks to me, just about life, other than basketball, you know. He texts me all the time, just about the game, how I feel. During the game he talks to me. What am I seeing on the court? Is there anything, you know, he asks me questions. Is there anything you think we can run that will get us a bucket? Just trying to help me out. Noticing things on the court. Putting guys in position to where they can score and try to figure stuff out like that. I think he had a little hip problem, so he’s been out there a little bit.

Q. Perry, you’re very close to cracking the top-10 to scoring in Kansas. What would that mean to do it tomorrow against UConn and on this big stage?
ELLIS: It would be an honor. It’s something I’m not worried about, you know. I just want to go out there and win. If it comes while winning, then it happens. But my main focus is just winning.

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