Jayhawks practice, meet with media in Salt Lake City
SALT LAKE CITY – Kansas basketball made its final preparations for the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday with a closed practice in the morning and an open practice in the afternoon at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Prior to the open practice the Jayhawks met with members of the media during an open locker room availability and a press conference featuring Bill Self, Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack.
A complete transcript of the press conference is available below.
No. 4 seed Kansas faces No. 13 seed Northeastern on Thursday at approximately 3 p.m. (CT) on TNT.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Bill Self, please.
Q. Just I wonder what the challenges are, if there are different challenges with the younger team to have them in the right mindset?
BILL SELF: It’s a different challenge for you guys that haven’t had a chance to compete in the tournament before. With us, we have only got two that have competed in it, Marcus and Mitch. So even though we have transfers and some experience, it’s all brand-new to them as well.
I think it’s pretty easy all week-long to be excited, to be enthusiastic, to have your mind in the right spot. But then when you get down to absolute playing, not to have that — feel that extra pressure and tense up. I think there is a balance, and experience does help with that. We are doing all we can to make sure our guys are as loose as they can be and it should be a reward to play in the tournament and to go on and have fun.
Q. Northeastern is really hot from behind the arc and Ochai said Texas Tech and Iowa State can maybe help you in this one. Do you think your players can draw from those for this one?
BILL SELF: I hope we defend Northeastern better than we did the other two. (Laughter.)
I do think it helps. We got lit up pretty good on both occasions. I think it’s — I think from a mindset standpoint, we go from whatever your philosophy is to clogging the lane or making them score over the top, to now you have to make sure you are there on the catch and short closeouts, if any, and certainly your ball screen defense has to be great because they’re very, very good scoring off of that.
It is a challenge. They can shoot. I don’t know if anybody has mentioned, releases are quick. That’s the thing that’s unbelievable. Not very often you see in college basketball where you see kids that don’t have to dip to shoot, and they got guys that don’t dip to shoot so it makes it harder to close out because when you think you’re there, you may not be there in time.
Q. Bill, thank you for your time. What would you attribute to your success late in games, games decided by five points or less?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. Luck. Having a player that can go get his own shot at the end of a clock. You know, that’s a lot of it right there. Many games were decided by five points or less, so we could have easily been up nine with 30 seconds left and not closed the game right.
I think guards that can go get their own is obviously something that’s very, very important in those games. And also having guys, guards that can close games out from a free-throw standpoint. Late-game situations also, having guys that can switch five, things like that, that certainly comes into play that don’t come into play throughout the first 38 minutes of a game usually.
Q. Coach, both of these teams came into the season with high expectations based on where they are in the landscape of things. Both teams dealt with injuries throughout the year. Do you see any similarities between how they have defined both you and Northeastern throughout the season?
BILL SELF: I don’t know all the stuff about Bill’s group from a preseason standpoint. So, obviously, their preseason, peaked high in the league, they finished high, I don’t know whether they were preseason picked.
But, you know, they had dealt with some injuries but they seem to be full strength now. And the injuries with us have been disappointing, or what we’ve dealt with has been disappointing. There has been a finality to it. When the injury occurs, it is over for that year. When this occurs, it is over. It can also mess you up in the interim, you know you are coming back.
So we are going to keep playing the same way we are playing even though we are not as good playing that way and now we are going to get them back. I don’t know if that happened with Northeastern. The finality of the injury with us may have been a blessing the way it did because we knew we can move forward without it.
Q. Obviously everyone gets caught up in name brands and people like yourself that everyone knows. Bill Coen, how good is he and how maybe underappreciated are guys like him at places like Northeastern?
BILL SELF: My first experience of knowing Bill was when he was with Al at BC. Look at the stat they had at BC, that was a strong stat. Also, to me, Bill — I haven’t spent a ton of time with him or anything — but on the road we have been cordial and spoke. I have always been impressed with his thinking about the game. I mean, he would be a guy that would be great to sit on all the boards with the NABC and things like that because he gets it, at least from the way I see it, and he’s accomplished a lot.
But certainly he does take me back to my earlier days when you’re playing four guards and they are all tough as nails and playing around one big and having about as much fun as you can have. You’re probably having as much fun coaching them as they have playing. And that didn’t happen each and every year.
So I don’t know how Bill is, he is younger than me I’m sure. His career path is certainly on an upward tick, you know. I do think he’s thought of to be a very well respected and one of the better coaches in our business.
Q. Bill, I’m curious about the dynamic of having a former head coach on your staff with Norm. What does he bring that is different, better than guys who have never sat in that chair? And also why were you okay with bringing someone in? Some coaches would be hesitant to bring in someone that had that type of experience, might be intimidated by it.
BILL SELF: No, that was not the case. I don’t know if you know this, I helped raise Norm’s two kids. Norm has been with me since 1995 as an assistant, at Illinois as an assistant, at Kansas for one year, and he got a fabulous opportunity in New York City to coach St. John’s and it didn’t work out very well, they went a different direction after six years and we had the opportunity to bring Norm back.
So I personally don’t think that coaches should be in any way, shape or form intimidated by adding something to their staff that makes them better. And Norm is a better assistant now having been a head coach before because he can see it through different lenses than what he could before. A lot of times I think assistant coaches, I know when I was, I saw it through a lens of maybe what’s best for the player or for this situation as opposed to seeing it through a lens if we do it this way, this could affect how we handle something a year from now or something like that. So he brings a maturity to that that is very helpful.
Q. Regarding Northeastern, is it easy for you to think back all the time?
BILL SELF: I don’t think back all the time. (Laughter.)
Q. Is it easy for you to remember being on the other side of the brand label? You have occasions like Tulsa. Is it easy to remember that side of the coin?
BILL SELF: It is easier to remember and certainly I think that so many times — let’s just be totally candid and honest. When teams watch certain teams play on TV, I’m sure if you were at a school, like we were at Tulsa, we got tired of seeing those schools and you could name every player one through eight, even their substitution patterns, you get to know that, but how often do the players that you are coaching at a school that’s more exposed get a chance to see those players?
So you come in, you know, into a situation where obviously there’s mutual respect but there may be a bit more of a chip on somebody else’s shoulder and that is what you have to negate.
It can’t mean more to one than it does to the other. It certainly means a lot. We know that. It has to mean much or more to us but that is how upsets occur.
We have been in a situation where we play somebody and your best player, you know, can’t pronounce a name, other teams talk about it. Even though it had one thing to do with prior to the outcome, it does light a fire more, so to speak.
Q. Northeastern doesn’t have a single freshman on the squad, while you guys play four. Do you see that kind of experience coming into effect?
BILL SELF: It could. Who knows. It could. We’re young. And certainly I think there’s a lot of things that wins the tournament, one could be experience. I also think that there’s a lot of other things that win, too. Whether it be talent or will or a lot of other intangibles.
Certainly, we are not only — our experience, we are less experienced than four freshmen and a junior. Two of our freshmen haven’t played until midway or to the end of the season. It is not like they are playing all the time. So we decided to play David and Ochai since February for the most part. We are probably a less experienced four freshmen and junior starter than what you think it would be. That is a concern, yes.
Q. Given what you have been through and the inexperience, does it make it, like, easier, harder or just different for you coming into this tournament where obviously you’re a well-known program with expectations?
BILL SELF: I think it makes it — you can say whether it makes it — it doesn’t make it easier. What would make it easier is if you got really good seniors and really talented and they have been there before, i.e., Devonte’ and Svi that we had last year.
Has it been harder or less fun? Every team has a different ceiling and coaches know that better than anybody. Our kids have done a pretty good job operating against that ceiling for the most part, not always, obviously. But I think I know what this team is capable of and I think we’re capable of doing some great things in this tournament. That pride makes it more challenging and more fun but it doesn’t make it any easier.
I don’t feel like when you are at Kansas or Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, or whatever, that you go into a deal and say, Okay, you are a lower seed so obviously the pressure is off. I don’t think — there’s always pressure to perform at a place like ours. And certainly I don’t want that to leave, I want our guys to accept that and know that is how it is when you play here.
But it is challenging. But on the flipside, it’s very rewarding and can be very fun, too.
Q. Dedric has been one of the go-to guys. What do you expect out of him for this one?
BILL SELF: I expect him to be our best player. I think something that wins you tournaments, your best players play the best. We expect him to be good tomorrow and expect him to be good as long as we are fortunate enough to stay around. If he is not, we have to certainly, you know, have others step up.
But the reality of it is, our chances to be successful aren’t as high when our best players don’t play well. We expect to play through him and we are going to ride him like we have all year-long.
Q. Bill, Northeastern’s best player came from Serbia, he spent a year at Wichita at Sunrise…
BILL SELF: I have watched a tape on him. We have talked to people in Wichita. He is a fabulous player. He plays with pace, he’s a point guard with size, he’s got great vision and his stroke is pure. He’s a tough match-up. And certainly I don’t want to say that — I do know of him before the selection show came out, I’m not going to say that I didn’t because I did. After watching him, he has to be one of the better unknown talents in America, he is a really good guard.
Q. Coming from a foreign country like he did, do you see any kind of style of play that maybe you wouldn’t see from an American player or not?
BILL SELF: I would say I don’t know. His skill set, he’s got range, he can handle, he’s got size, you can tell probably at a very early age he learned how to be a point guard even though he’s tall because of skill set. We had a kid last year in Svi that I see a lot of similarities in the way they carry themselves on the court.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kansas student-athletes, please.
Q. For both players, growing up watching the NCAA tournament, can you talk about maybe some of your fondest memories of watching the tournament and your thoughts on being here now as freshman? Ochai?
OCHAI AGBAJI: It is really special. I’m excited to play. Like he said, growing up watching this, kind of came fast, but now that I’m here in the moment, it’s surreal.
DAVID McCORMACK: Agreeing with Ochai. A tremendous feeling being here, I have grown up watching it. Always playing basketball, you always want to be in the same footsteps as other players that you are very fond of. Now we are here, I’m taking full advantage of it.
Q. One of Northeastern’s strengths this season has been the three-point shot. What is your guys’ mentality to stifle that defensively? David?
DAVID McCORMACK: Knowing they are a great three-point shooting team, we will have to press up because they like to play four-on-one in. So we will have to make sure we take away all first-thought shots and make sure that we are communicating and switching when we need to and things of those sorts.
OCHAI AGBAJI: Like he said, get to shooters, really pressure them. Obviously, they play four out, one in, and we play that, too. We can match that with their guard play, too, so…
Q. Just for you guys and the freshmen group you have had, how have you developed over the course of the season as you have gotten to this point and maybe together gelled a bit more as you have faced adversity through injuries with your team. Ochai?
OCHAI AGBAJI: We have matured a lot, what we have been through and the games we have been through sort of thing.
DAVID McCORMACK: It doesn’t feel like we are freshmen anymore, expectations change. The more experience you have on the court, the better you have a feel for the game so things become easier and there is a better flow. When we face adversity, it brings us closer together as a team and unites us.
Q. David, Dedric has been a workhorse for you guys. What do you expect out of him in this game?
DAVID McCORMACK: He is a great points scorer, he can shoot. So as long as he knows how to play and has that confidence that he always brings, we are behind him.
Q. Ochai, is there a team that you have faced this year that reminds you of Northeastern with their guard lineup the way they shoot the three?
OCHAI AGBAJI: I’d probably have to say Iowa State. Playing them, all four of their guards can shoot it. They kind of played that. So I think, you know, we’ll be guarding similar to how we did to them and also Texas Tech, too, they play four out-one in, and they can all shoot it, too.
Q. David, for you, playing with a guy like Dedric, how has that helped your development and how have you worked together?
DAVID McCORMACK: It’s helped my game a lot. Watching him play makes my game easier. He slows down the game, it makes it easier as far as passing and opening up shots and opening up lanes. So when a guy can do that, it makes the big man job much easier.
Q. Ochai mentioned Iowa State and Texas Tech games. How are those games going to help you prepare defensively for this one?
OCHAI AGBAJI: Those two games, they shot really well, especially Texas Tech. So I think we can’t give them those open looks, we have to come out way more aggressive than we did in those games and I think we’ll be fine.
Q. Ochai, you go from red shirt to starting in the NCAA tournament all in one season. It’s a whirlwind type of year for you. Can you kind of say what it’s all been like for you?
OCHAI AGBAJI: It’s been crazy and came really fast. I remember when I was a red shirt on the bench, and next thing I’m being called up to play. It’s happened in the space of a month. It happened really fast. I’m enjoying it, though.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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