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TULSA, Okla. – Kansas basketball made its final preparations for the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday with a closed practice in the morning and an open practice in the afternoon at BOK Center.
Prior to the open practice in front of an estimated 3,000 fans, the Jayhawks met with members of the media during an open locker room availability and a press conference featuring Bill Self, Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham.
A complete transcript of the press conference is available below.
No. 1 seed Kansas faces No. 16 seed UC Davis on Friday at 5:50 p.m. on TNT.
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
HEAD COACH BILL SELF
FRANK MASON III, SENIOR GUARD
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, JUNIOR GUARD
Q. Devonte’, last season you were the Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player, but kind of struggled to start the NCAAs. How important is it for you to get going early this year?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think it’s real important for all of us to get going. We all have to come out, be aggressive, especially on the defensive end. Starting out early to get the jitters out and stuff like that. Yeah, everybody just needs to be aggressive.
Q. After that game against Villanova last year, you fouled out at the end of it. How long did that stick with you?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: For a couple of weeks. It was tough to get rid of that feeling but that was last year and it’s a new year now.
Q. Would each of you guys describe what the journey for this year’s team in particular has been to this point. All the close games you’ve been able to play in and win and things like that and the things you’ve had to overcome?
FRANK MASON, III: Yeah, we’ve been down a lot throughout the year. Sometimes it’s been double figures, and I think it just helped us really grow as a team for whenever we get behind. And we showed toughness and showed leadership, and I think we need those things starting out for this tournament.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Kind of like what Frank said, we’ve been down numerous times and fought and came back, played in tough environments, you know, and won games late. Just finding a way to win, whether it’s me, Frank, Josh, Carlton, whoever it is that gotta step up at that time, and I think we done a good job of that.
Q. Frank, this has been an unusual extended break for you guys at this point in the year. Has it been productive for you? Do you think the time has been well spent?
FRANK MASON, III: Yeah, definitely. Once we got back from last game, we got a little bit of rest. And the next day we had practice. We practiced really hard. I think we got better as a team. And just a few days after the game, we practiced really hard and we’re really prepared for this tournament.
Q. Frank, have you talked at all with Josh about the lingering legal issues he’s had or the fallout from the suspension and how do you think he’s handled how that’s gone down?
FRANK MASON, III: I think he’s handled it great. Josh is a great kid. We all love him. We all know he has great experience and things like that. So we just tell him to focus on the things that he can take care of and that’s exactly what he does. And we’re just proud of how far he came so far throughout his year, and we’re just focused on today and we’re not really worried about anything off the court.
Q. Obviously, your opponent you just found out about last night. So how have you guys been able to prepare for UC Davis and what do you know about the Aggies?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Well, after the game we met as a team, watched film, walked over a lot of the stuff that they like to run. Had a good practice this morning and then also went over the stuff again.
So, you know, preparation is definitely key to this tournament, and we got our scouting reports and just looked over it just trying to get familiar with the personnel.
FRANK MASON, III: Yeah, I agree with Devonte’. We watched the game. And I think the guys did a good job of focusing in on, you know, their actions that they run. And the coaches do a great job of preparing them, good coaching staff. And they have a lot of good players on their team and they like to get the ball inside, and the bigs are really good at finishing and I think they’re a good first side defensive team, too.
Q. Devonte’, just wonder how the ankle is and how many days did it take you to kind of get over the lingering effect of the sprained ankle in the Big 12 tournament?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I feel great. It took me like two or three days. The first couple of days it was real sore. But I got treatment, and yeah, I feel fine.
Q. Frank, could you offer a comment on Coach Self running basically a four-guard lineup much of this year. Totally unusual for him. What’s it been like playing in that scheme this year and how do you think it might play out in the tournament?
FRANK MASON, III: It’s been great for us this year. I think that’s been our best lineup, playing four guards, spread the floor, drive the ball downhill. We have a lot of guys that can create for each other. And I think it’s been real effective for us as a team. And even though we used to play inside-out, I think that’s our best ball this year is with four guards spreading the floor and creating a lot of different mismatches on the offensive end. And I think that just opens up for us for open shots and easy baskets, so I think it’s great for us.
Q. In so many of your games this year, they have been those close finishes where you’ve had to really show your toughness and your relentlessness to get the win. Give us a sense of some of the things you players all are saying to one another during those late-game timeouts.
FRANK MASON, III: Well, I just tell the guys, you know, just stay aggressive, keep believing in each other, just believe in the system. We all gotta be coachable because coach has been through so many games where he been down and he had great coaching strategies to come back. So I just tell them we gotta be coachable and really lock in on that. But just one possession at a time, you know, just play every possession like it’s our last and like it’s game point. And just give your best effort.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think just what he said, a lot of the times we’re just locked in when we’re in the huddle or something. You know, we gotta focus. So it’s either if we’re up two with ten seconds left, we gotta lock in and get one stop, or if we’re down two and we got the ball, we gotta lock in and execute the play that Coach designed. So I think lock in is definitely something that we used a lot.
Q. This whole narrative about Player of the Year has been going on for a long time now, a couple of months. Has it been fun to hear people talk about you as a Player of the Year candidate, frontrunner? Has it been distracting or a dream come true? Can you kind of describe that? And Devonte’, same question from your perspective on that.
FRANK MASON, III: Well, I think it’s great. It’s a great accomplishment for me just to be mentioned as one of the top candidates for Player of the Year. But it’s not something I focus on or really think about. It just happens to have a lot of people mention and say things about it. But other than that, I don’t really think about that.
I just think about ways we can get better as a team and things I can do to make sure my team is successful, and that’s really what I focus on.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I’ve been, you know, everybody’s been seeing it. I think he does a great job of handling it, not letting it distract him or, you know, give him the big head or anything like that. He’s so humble with it. And from my perspective, I think it’s a great honor for him, just playing with him these three years and watching him develop as a player and a brother, and so it’s definitely a big thing for him.
Q. Devonte’, continuing on Frank, how does his personality and his attitude shape this team, guide you guys in how to become basketball players?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: He has a great personality. A lot of people think he doesn’t smile and stuff like that, but in the locker room all he does is laugh and smile and joke with us. But he’s just got that pit bull mentality as a lot of people would say that he leads us on and off the Court. We really rally behind him with his energy on the court, defensive stuff, offensive, especially in transition when he gets on a run. We just kind of — you know, we run as he run, and the engine goes as he goes.
Q. Frank, if Devonte’ chooses to come back next year, what things do you think he can accomplish as you did this year? Where do you see him next year taking your place and where do you see his ceiling and the role that he could fulfill trying to take over for you and some of the things you’ve done?
FRANK MASON, III: Well, Devonte’ is a great player, great leader and just a great person. So I know next year — well, over the summer he’ll put in the work, and you know, I think he’ll do a lot of great things for this team next year if he decides to come back. And I think he can do some of the same things that I did as a senior this year.
And I’m really excited for the future for him and to see what he does for the team.
Q. Guys, what is Coach saying to you or any of the coaching staff saying to you guys that you might do differently this year? I don’t know if anybody’s superstitious, but to get over this hump and get back to the Final Four?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Well, we just gotta take it one game at a time. I remember he said something the other day like the teams who look past a team are usually the teams that go home. So we can’t be looking past any teams. Everybody is here for a reason. It’s the best 64 teams left. So we gotta take each game and each opponent seriously and just lock in and try to get the job done.
FRANK MASON, III: Coach break it down to as like a two-game tournament every weekend. So we just take it one weekend at a time and one game at a time. We just focus on our opponent. We know that they’re here for a reason. They’re a good team and have a great coaching staff and things like that. So just want to respect the game, respect our opponents and play really hard and come out and compete.
COACH SELF: Well, obviously, we’re thrilled to be playing in the tournament again and do not take that for granted. And happy to be in Tulsa, a place that I spent seven years of my adult life and had a great experience, great experiences here. And certainly looking forward to playing a very good UC Davis team that certainly had a historical win for their program last night, and it’ll be a great challenge for us.
Q. Your time here in Tulsa, you referenced it, seven years. When you look back — and you’ve been asked this question before, but when you look back being here now, what are some of your fondest memories? Obviously that 2000 team was pretty special.
COACH SELF: There were a lot of fond memories. I loved my time at Oral Roberts. We lost 18 in a row to win 31 of our last 38. And two of the players that we coached were at practice today, and that was great to see them.
And then we had Rod Thompson come to practice also this morning, so it was great to see Rocket Rod. But they were both tremendous experiences, and not too often — I guess Ken Hayes did it as well, but not too often do you get a chance to coach at two different universities within the same city. And I was very fortunate to be able to do that. But both places were great for us.
Q. Coach, is there anything that you’d like to — or you need to see from your team to reestablish some of the momentum that maybe was halted with the early exit in Kansas City?
COACH SELF: I think that’s a great question. I think that there towards the end of the season, I thought we played at a pretty consistently high level. And in the Big 12 tournament, I didn’t think we played to that level. I think TCU had a lot to do with that, but I also thought that the things we take great pride in we got away from a little bit.
And I’d like for us to get back to playing with a free and easy mind, which I think we’ve done for the most part offensively but with a sense of urgency defensively that we have to make others play poorly. And I didn’t think we did that at all in Kansas City.
Q. Devonte’ was a little inconsistent in the tournament last year. Obviously he’s struggled with his shot a little bit the last couple of games. How important is it for him to get off to a quick start in the NCAA tournament?
COACH SELF: I think it’s important for everybody to get off to a quick start, but, you know, a lot of times the way that we look at things as coaches, we may tell our team that we have to do this to be successful. What happens if we don’t do that? Does that mean we can’t be successful?
And so, you know, I don’t get hung up on shooting. I don’t. It’s nice if the ball goes in the hole and all that stuff. But worry about the right things and you’ll shoot a better percentage and the shots will fall easier.
He’s proven himself as a player. He doesn’t have to prove himself as a player. He’s been a little streaky. I think that’s being fair, but the reality of it is I don’t want anybody else shooting it, and he knows that.
Q. You’ve been a No. 1 seed seven times in 11 years, but I think this is the first time you’ve played the play-in winner. Now that you’ve been through it, what are your thoughts on it? Should there be a play-in game? Does that change your thinking in that at all?
COACH SELF: I don’t think it changes my thinking. I think that it’s nice to know all week who you’re going to play, though. I think every coach would prepare this week like he’s preparing for a two-game tournament. But usually when you play a two-game tournament, you know who your first opponent’s going to be. And I do think that makes it a little bit more difficult, so to speak, you know, to prepare for four teams as opposed to preparing for three.
But I love the tournament. I love the format, and seeing those games in Dayton on both nights, watching them, it certainly adds to the tournament because they were all four great games.
Q. You and Tim Jankovich go back a little bit. What’s your relationship like with him and what do you remember most about being on the staff with him?
COACH SELF: Tim and I were on staff together at Oklahoma State. We played against each other in college. He’s quite a bit older. But he was a heck of a player. And certainly had a chance to work with Coach Sutton at Oklahoma State for a year before he was able to get the North Texas job. And then we were together, obviously, at Illinois for a year and then Kansas for several.
So he’s a terrific coach. He’s a great offensive mind. I think he’s one of the brightest minds that our game has. I learned a lot by coaching with Tim, and I hope he can say the same, but I know I did. And certainly he’s helped make me a better coach.
Q. Coach, I know you said the other day that Josh would play tomorrow, but I’m curious if his playing time or role would be affected at all, and then also I guess what your concern is about his focus moving forward what he’s been through.
COACH SELF: I think Josh is focused. I do. He’s a tough-minded individual. I think he’s focused. And certainly his role or playing time or whatnot, whatever will only be dictated by what happens between the lines. It won’t be dictated by anything else. And I think he’s ready to go.
Q. Coach, what can you tell us about the UC Davis Aggies as you’ve looked at them and prepared for them?
COACH SELF: Well, you know, we had the opportunity to play Coach Les’ team when he was at Bradley, when they had Patrick O’Brien, Marcellus Sommerville, and we had a bunch of young kids and we were a four seed and they were a 13 and they beat us. I think that game — was it in Detroit? You’ve tried to forget (laughs).
So I’m familiar with Jim. I know Jim. And I think he’s a terrific coach. What he’s done in that program — and even here their players talk post game about how much they’ve improved defensively and the pride they’re taking. I mean, they guard right. They don’t just help. They help the helper. They help the helper’s helper. I mean, they are pretty much one unit playing together defensively. And they make it hard to score.
And you know, certainly offensively they’ve got enough weapons that, you know, they can stretch it from behind the arc and then they can throw it inside. And they’ve got a four man obviously that’s a hard matchup because he’s explosive enough to score over one guy and if he draws a lot of attention. He’s a pretty good passer, at least he’s showed that here late to get guys easy baskets.
So I like their team. I really do. I think they’ve obviously had a great year, but they’ve had a tremendous last month.
Q. Bill, you mentioned earlier free and easy offensively, and I think your phrasing was on defense, intensity?
COACH SELF: Sense of urgency.
Q. Thank you. Can you describe, does that basically tell who you guys are, why you’ve been able to win so many close games and crunch time and that rally and all that stuff that happened this year?
COACH SELF: I don’t know. I think the biggest reason why we won a lot of close games is because we’ve got pretty good guards. It’s nice to have Frank and Devonte’ and Josh and ^ Lagerald out there in guards positions. And even though Landen is obviously a center, he thinks like a guard as far as making plays for others. So I think that’s had a lot to do with it.
I think we got a pretty unselfish group, a very unselfish group. And I think they’re fairly battle tested, and they like the moment. And we’ve been really good in the moment, with the exception of the last game against TCU. But I think they just have a lot of confidence, because these guys are pretty battle tested. They’ve been through a lot of wars together. And that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to play well, but they like it when it gets kind of tough.
Q. Coach, you’ve always been such a champion of the inside-out. Has this year been fun for you? And how different is it in terms of drawing up your schemes?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it’s been a fun year. It’s been a fun year primarily because they’ve been fun kids to coach. Regardless of what your — you know, our philosophy hasn’t changed. We still have the same offensive and defensive philosophy. Just how we go about it, we just kind of tinkered with to get a different — hopefully get the same result. But we don’t throw it inside near as much. But we probably still touch the paint as much as we ever have because we were better driving it. And I thought we played big all year long.
And when we got about three weeks in, we realized that probably wasn’t going to be the best way to play. But it’s new and fun and certainly been challenging and interesting. And I’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s one reason why it’s been so enjoyable for me was coaching a way that I haven’t coached this way ever. And at least offensively, and defensively, about what we’re trying to do. But that’s been fun because I’ve learned a lot.
Q. Coach, you mentioned your players liking the moment, and that’s just one of those intangibles that you can’t always predict. What are some of the things that your guys say to one another late in those close games, in those timeouts, when you’re down? How do they react?
COACH SELF: I don’t know if it’s any one thing they say. But I think there’s a sense that they kinda look at each other and say, okay, we’ve kind of screwed this up. We don’t have any time. We gotta make it happen now. And now everybody — we’re all on the same page. This is when we play. This is when we’re at our best. This is when we enjoy it the most, obviously when it gets a little hard.
And some of the wins we’ve had where we’ve come back, there’s also been a lot of good fortune that’s taken place, too. And of course, that’s obviously an element of it. But I think there’s something about our guys that when it gets tight or late-game situations, they just think that someone in this group if we stick to what we do will make a play. And I don’t think they think it has to be Frank. And it hasn’t always been Frank. It’s been Devonte’, Josh, Landen. It’s been Svee. But I just think they have confidence that somebody is going to step up and make a play because that’s what players should do when the game is on the line.
Q. Different topic here. What’s been your approach with your players in acknowledging some of the off-court issues and handling them appropriately and yet balancing that with not letting it disrupt the team?
COACH SELF: I think, you know, when you have a family, obviously you go through stuff. And a lot of times you go through stuff, but nobody on the outside knows you’re going through it. But we go through it. And this has been a situation with us that’s been very public about some of the things that we’ve been going through. And you know, it’s probably affected one of our players far more than anyone else.
And the thing about it is — and I believe this, and I think our players totally buy into this. First thing you do, you accept responsibility for what’s transpired. You can’t run from it. If it happened, it happened. But then, you know, how do you handle it from that point, I think, is a lot of times is as important as what actually transpired. And our guys have rallied around this. Our guys have rallied around Josh.
It’s not easy to have your name across the ticker each and every day about something when somebody keeps bringing up an additional thing or two when we already know this took place a long — quite a while ago. So I think that they’ve handled it well. I don’t know that they’ve used it as motivation because I don’t think it should be motivation, but I also don’t think it should be an excuse and a distraction. I think it’s just sometimes families you go through stuff and you just gotta put blinders on and go at the job at hand, and I think they’ve kind of found their basketball court as their safe haven.
LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
LAGERALD VICK, SOPHOMORE GUARD
On rebounding from the TCU loss in the Big 12 Tournament…
“We have been practicing hard every day after the loss. We have made each practice feel like it’s a championship game. We just need to be able to defend and rebound and stay together as a team.”
On UC Davis…
“They have good inside pressure. (Brynton) Lamar can score the ball. They have a good point guard in (Darius) Graham. They are a good, aggressive team. It should be a pretty good matchup.”
On what the team needs to do to have postseason success…
“We have to stay focused and keep our energy going. We can win comfortably by staying together to get to the level that we are at right now.”
On Coach Self’s points of emphasis for team…
“He wants us to do better about the intangibles and doing things right all the time. It’s a little different (coaching) approach for the NCAA Tournament. Whatever it is, it works.”
LANDEN LUCAS, SENIOR CENTER
On rebounding from the TCU loss in the Big 12 Tournament…
“Of course, we would have rather won the game but we learned a lot about ourselves from the loss. We have to come out and have a good game. We have to take every possession seriously. We have to take every opponent seriously.”
On the team’s chances for postseason success…
“We have a lot of (tournament) experience returning from last year and we have gained a lot of experience this year. We have been successful with our wins and that gives you confidence.”
On his decision to attend University of Kansas…
“The biggest thing when I started this journey was being committed to something with no regrets. I am happy with my decision. I am happy to be in this situation.”
On being a No. 1 seed (Kansas) playing a No. 16 seed (UC Davis)…
“You are aware of it and it makes you take them more seriously. But we need to worry about ourselves and not worry about it being a No. 16 vs. a No. 1. We have to play our game.”
SVIATOSLAV MYKHAILIUK, JUNIOR GUARD
On being here before and what it feels like to be back…
“It feels great because every team here, I would say it is the best time of the season because it is the best teams playing at the same time and we are just going to see who is the best team in the nation.”
On being here as a leader and upperclassman and what he says to his teammates…
“Just relax, just let it go because if you are nervous then you will make mistakes. Just be loose and just play like how you have been playing and just have fun.”
On what he thinks of this year’s tournament…
“It is always exciting every year and we are just trying to win every year. We have worked so hard to get to this point and it is time to show who we are.”
JOSH JACKSON, FRESHMAN GUARD
On how important it is for him to be back and playing after time off…
“It is pretty important. I bring a lot of things to the team and I feel like I am a great rebounder, I run and transition and half of the time when I am out there and not doing anything I just draw attention from the other team so it really opens it up for a lot of the guys.”
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