Jayhawks meet with media, hold open practice Friday
SAN ANTONIO – Head coach Bill Self and the Kansas basketball team met with the media one last time Friday to preview its Final Four matchup with Villanova on Saturday, March 31 inside San Antonio’s Alamodome. After interviews, the Jayhawks held a 50-minute open practice in which thousands of fans turned out to cheer on the team.
The following is a transcript of the press conference portion of the day, which included Self, senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk as well as redshirt-sophomore guard Malik Newman.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kansas head coach Bill Self as well as student-athletes Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman. Coach, an opening statement?
COACH SELF: It’s been a great trip so far. We’ve been — it’s been busy but certainly our team seems focused. They seem energized and we’ve had two good days of workouts down here. I think from a preparation standpoint I think we’re right where we need to be.
Q. Just wanted to get your impressions of the Jalen Brunson/Devonte’ Graham matchup. I know you switch a lot defensively it’s never one-on-one. But what do you think about probably having the two best guards in the country on the floor at the same time and their matchup tomorrow night?
COACH SELF: You know, the thing that makes both, at least in my eyes, that makes both Jalen and Devonte’ so good is they’re terrific players, but their intangibles are even better than their abilities. It will be a chess match with both of them.
Jalen obviously can do a lot more than play point. He can be a lead guard, but he’s also an unbelievable, efficient offensive player. And he may be, probably is, their best post-up player as well. That’s different than what we’re used to. Devonte’ has had to guard Trae and Jevon and Keenan, which are all All-American-type guards, but we’ve never had to guard one as diverse and as skilled in so many areas as what Jalen is.
It will be a great matchup. Even though we switch a lot they do too, I hope they’re matched up against each other quite a bit because I think it will be fun for people to see that and certainly fun to coach to it.
Q. Seems like a lot of people in college sports were cheering yesterday about the decision of the young man, Darius Bazley, skipping one-and-done at Syracuse to go to the G League. I look at a kid like Malik Newman who may have had that opportunity but clearly wouldn’t have been ready to go to the G League. In your mind, is it a mistake at all for college sports to be pushing one-and-done hopefuls out of the game?
COACH SELF: I have pretty strong beliefs on that, and I’m not talking about a specific situation, obviously, with what was announced yesterday. For whatever reason, there’s this stigma that kids that are terrific players don’t really want to go to school. Kids that are highly, highly rated, they’re just using school as a stepping stone to just as — they don’t even unpack their bags to get to where they want to go.
And my personal opinion, I mean there’s a lot of kids out there that go to college and the only reason they go is because their parents force them to go to school. So many things happen from a mind standpoint and from an awareness, from a motivational, from a goals things happen after you get out of high school.
Kids mature, kids change. We’ve recruited one-and-done guys that have stayed for four years. We’ve recruited four-year guys that have been one-and-dones. I don’t understand why we just can’t play it out and let the individuals do what is best for themselves and their families as opposed to everybody else trying to dictate what’s best.
I do believe kids should be able to go out of high school. I don’t believe that they should be able to go to the G League out of high school. To me putting themselves in a situation in the G League where they’re not eligible to be an NBA player, there will be a percentage of kids that make that decision — whether it be academic, whether it be whatever decisions — that will never ever experience being an NBA basketball player. And then what do they have when that’s gone?
Do you go overseas? What degree do you have to fall back on or any education and things like that? So college is good. College has done so much for so many. And you don’t have to look at four-year guys to believe that college is good. Malik Newman is a prime example.
There’s a lot of kids out there that are really talented that aren’t ready, and college provides them an opportunity to mature, to become ready. And to be honest with you, if they can’t mature and become ready in college, then all you have done is put them in a situation where you gave them an opportunity because if they weren’t ready in college, they certainly weren’t ready when they’re 17 or 18 years old.
Q. I wanted to ask you about 3-point shooting in the sense you guys make more than at any point in your tenure. How much is that the evolution of college basketball and the game versus this is what your players can do well, so you tailor to it?
COACH SELF: I’d say it’s a little bit of both. I think the game has gotten smaller. You know, historically we’ve always played two bigs until the last two years and then we played small, but primarily because of personnel. I’ve always thought the hardest offense to guard is when you have a 4 man that can shoot. Now the hardest offense to guard is when you have four guards that can really shoot.
It’s just gotten smaller. And in Villanova’s case they always have five on the floor that can. But it’s also for us a lot out of desperation, too. You’ve got to coach to your personnel and coach to your roster. And with our situation, the only chance that we felt and certainly the best chance for us to have a good year would be to get guards to be tough enough to defend a big. And if you can do that, you can stretch and play around one guy that can score, that’s usually harder to guard.
Q. You’ve talked a lot about what you had to pull out of this team and to make them tougher and play harder. When they weren’t, when you leave the office and you go home or wherever it is, how do you kind of mentally work through that frustration and come back the next day and try to pull it out again?
COACH SELF: You know, that’s — the thing about it is whenever you say anything, two months later it comes back to be a big thing that you said at that moment. But the one thing that I said yesterday — and I really believe this — having very little depth and playing six guys the vast majority of the minutes all year long has eliminated one of the things that creates a situation where there’s a better culture. And that’s the bench.
Because you want to be able to put a guy on the bench if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing or doing it in a way that it gives your team the best chance. In our situation, we had to allow our guys to play through that because we were primarily only playing six guys. So if one guy didn’t do what he was supposed to do or two guys, hey, get it right, play through it.
So when that happens, I think the way that I probably tried to combat that, can’t run them because you can’t wear your guys out, is I probably got after them more verbally than I probably have in a long time. And so it gave the appearance that we are in need of this, this, and this, and there’s frustration, which there was frustration. I think it’s that way with any coach.
But it’s not as prevalent because you can take player 6 and put him in for player 2, and player 2 can sit there until he figures it out. And we just haven’t had that luxury. Our margin for error as far as our skill, our talent, our foul problems, is very small, but it’s also very small from an effort standpoint, too. So that has been frustrating, but I must say whatever personality flaws I think that we had early on, I think they’ve been corrected and the guys are totally bought in.
Q. You’ve had teams that have peaked in the past around this time. This team still looks like it’s got room to grow particularly among your bigs, among your wing guards. How much has that helped you in March?
COACH SELF: Well, you know, we talked about this so many times, when you talk about a team peaking at the right time, it’s probably not a team that’s a 1 seed. It’s probably a team that’s a little bit lower seed that has one or two seed ability.
And with us, this is really the first time in a while, although some teams are tired at the finish line, some teams are fresher, all that stuff. This is the first time in a while where I can actually say, you know what, I think our team is peaking at the right time, because the other times it’s been pretty consistent all the way through.
But you’re right, Udoka, as good as he’s been, he still hasn’t been 100 percent healthy. Silvio, as good as he’s been, he’s still working on playing — he’s really only played one month because we didn’t play him the first month he was here basically because he wasn’t quite ready.
So, I think to your point, as good as Lagerald has been, I think he’s got another gear he can go to. I do think we can play better than what we’ve played even, though I think we’ve been pretty consistently good here the last three weeks or so.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by student-athletes Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham.
Q. You’ve been complimentary about Jay Wright this week and throughout the years, and he the same with you. Are there characteristics about you guys that you see as similar?
COACH SELF: I think our core philosophy is pretty similar — play together, play hard, play tough. I think the things that he thinks are probably most important are probably the things that we think are most important in developing a culture, getting 70 percent of 50/50 balls. I guarantee it, at Villanova they talk about that all the time — stealing extra possessions.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, I don’t know that there’s a ton. Although I think the two teams kind of mirror each other, how they want to play this year. But from a philosophical standpoint, I think they really take a lot of pride in being tougher, being harder, making other teams play poorly, that kind of stuff, which is very similar to us.
Q. Devonte’ and for Coach, Devonte’, can you just explain what these years at Kansas have done for you? How are you different as a player and as a person since you got there? And Bill, why is it that upperclassmen seem to dominate the Final Four? Why are the one-and-dones — why are they not so prevalent here?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: This university and coaching staff have been unbelievable to me. I came in as an unrecruited kind of guy and under the radar. And just the development from the skill set with the coaches and the training with Hudy and all the things we do.
I feel like every year I just get better somehow some way, whether it’s film or running the point guard spot. So, I mean, just over the years I feel like each year I keep getting better and it’s all because of the coaching staff and the position they put me in.
COACH SELF: You know, I think to your point, it’s true. Obviously Kentucky won it in ’12 with a group of young guys and Duke won it, was that ’14, ’15, with a group of young guys. We were a ball that went in and out, in and out and in and out away from having a bunch of one-and-dones here at this tournament at the Final Four with Duke.
So it’s just a — it’s such a fine line still. The teams that have the best chance to advance are the most talented and if you can have talent and experience, that gives you obviously the very best chance. But I do think, when you take — when you take guys like this, even though Malik is just a sophomore, he’s a redshirt sophomore, he’s been in school three years, what not, and Svi and Devonte’ four. When you take a 22-year-old man competing against an 18- or 19-year-old freshman that hasn’t been through it and the body hasn’t quite developed yet and stuff, I do think there’s some advantage to having that.
The best case scenario is to have both. You want your best guys to be — your most talented guy, maybe not the youngest kids, but your rock and foundation to be your older guys. And I do believe for us that’s the best formula for success.
And this year, even though people look at us as being really experienced, we start two seniors and — two seniors, one junior and two sophomores. So, it’s not like we’re the oldest team around. But certainly there’s no substitute with veteran leadership especially at the guard spots.
Q. I know you and Jarrence recruited Malik hard out of high school. Is this what you envisioned when you recruited him? And is this the best version of Malik that we’re seeing right now that he’s ever played?
COACH SELF: I have Facetimed more with Malik than anybody else in the world combined out of high school. And we didn’t even get a visit, I mean, come on, God almighty. But I think this is it. When we recruited Malik out of high school we thought he was the best all-around guard in the country.
When he went to Mississippi State he didn’t have a bad year. He just didn’t have a year that lived up to the expectations. Plus he was nicked up a lot. And he got humbled a little bit. And I’m not talking behind his back. And I think it’s made him hungrier.
Last year he had a great sit-out year. This year he was just OK. He was a good player, but he wasn’t doing the things that he’s been doing recently. And I think so much of that was because he was just kind of deferring or maybe not having that aggressive mindset.
But this is what we — with all three of these guys — you could not say, could Svi be any better, could Devonte’ be better. And now you can’t say could Malik be any better. This is what we envisioned with all these guys this year, because it’s all keyed by their aggressiveness and confidence.
Q. Coach, yesterday I talked to Coach Norm Roberts about your recruitment process about Udoka. Could you talk to me about that process from your point of view?
COACH SELF: Doke has been here since he was a freshman. So even though he’s obviously not from here, by the time that we got to him his English was pretty good. He totally understood English, all those things. He was just young. I don’t know if you guys realize, Doke’s 18. He didn’t turn 19 until September. He’s a really young kid.
But the process was he was raised or lived with a great family there in Jacksonville and we just recruited him like anybody else would, through the coach, a little bit through the pastor, and certainly through the Coxsome family. He was extremely quiet and couldn’t get a read on him. We knew he liked us and felt comfortable with us.
It was just one of those things that sometimes — I can say this with the exception of Malik — Malik, we had to work way too hard to try to get. But the other two you recruit, you sell, and if they buy, it’s done. And Doke was the same way, even though he was recruited by Carolina and a lot of other places. So it was a fun guy to recruit, a fun guy to recruit.
Q. You haven’t hesitated to criticize your team in the past. You called them soft this year after the second loss to Oklahoma State. When you have a senior guard like Devonte’ who you know is the leader of the team, does that make it easier to blast ’em and know that they’re not going to go off the rails?
COACH SELF: You know, I guess our society has changed a little bit. Stating the obvious, I don’t think, is really calling anybody out, because to be honest with you everybody could see what I saw.
But it does help. Devonte’ — I mean, he’s a great player, but his intangibles are so much even better than his playing ability. And he handles problems before they become problems or he handles problems after they become problems.
I’ll bet you there’s countless times — and these guys would know — that he’s handled situations that I’ve thought about that I’ve never talked about with him at all. So that certainly makes it easier when you have leadership like that. And Svi, also being a senior, has been a terrific leader as well.
Q. Malik, sounds like you have a unique relationship with your coach. Could you talk about what was it like when you came to Kansas from Mississippi State and how have you developed your game to get to where you are to this point?
MALIK NEWMAN: It was definitely the best decision that I made. I’ve always said to him, I should have came here straight out of high school. But they did a good job of getting me healthy and making sure that I felt comfortable and I was at home.
And I mean, Coach just stayed on me each and every day, even during my redshirt year, about being a better point guard, a better player, a better leader. Credit to Coach Self and his coaching staff for staying on me, developing me as a Kansas guard, what he wanted me to be. Without that redshirt year, I think I definitely wouldn’t be in this position that I’m in right now.
Q. Svi, addressing the question about Coach’s criticisms earlier in the season, how did the senior leadership respond to that? Did you listen to what he said and feel that it was time for you to step up and take the message from there and not make him have to do that again?
SVI MYKHAILIUK: Yeah, I think we definitely listened. I think it definitely helped, especially after the second loss to Oklahoma State, I think it definitely changed our routine, how we work, how we work in practices and just how we’re overall acting, in life, off the court, on the court.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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