Jayhawks talk Clemson at Sweet 16 media day
OMAHA – Kansas head coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks met with the media at the CenturyLink Center Thursday prior to an afternoon practice session. The events lead up to Kansas’ NCAA Sweet 16 match-up with Clemson Friday night.
A complete transcript of the press conference is available below.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH SELF: Well, we’re very excited to be in Omaha. We’ve been up here a few times over the last decade or so. And certainly enjoyed our time here and know that, you know, we, as the other three teams as well, have a tough road to get to San Antonio. And we know it starts out with playing an opponent that’s probably as sound and as good defensively as anybody we’ve played all year long. So we know it will be a tough challenge but looking forward to it.
Q. On Devonte’, was he on your radar before he got to Brewster Academy?
COACH SELF: No, we did not know of Devonte’ until he got with Jason at Brewster Academy. But we had recruited a number of place out of Brewster prior to him getting there. Obviously that’s a school that we recruit, and we became very aware of him after watching Brewster play.
But we could not engage in recruiting him because he had not been released from Appalachian State. So whenever he got his release from Appalachian State is when a scholarship became available, and fortunately for us the time was right.
Q. Were you surprised that you hadn’t seen him prior to that?
COACH SELF: No. Now, maybe one of our staff has seen him. But you usually don’t recruit guys after they sign with another school. So we would have had to have seen him, if I’m not mistaken, before the end of his junior year, because he committed to Appalachian State right after that. So no that happens all the time, unfortunately.
Q. Do you foresee a time when players will be compensated beyond the tuition and stipend they get? And what are your thoughts on the viability of that?
COACH SELF: I don’t have the answers. The model needs to change though. I think everybody would be in agreement with that. There’s something about amateur athletics, I think, that’s still very, very positive. And the way the players are taking care of now is so much different than the way they were taken care of even 10, 15 years ago.
But the reality of it is it’s big, big business. It’s big money and everybody is looking to make something out of it. And whether it be scouting services or AAU programs, shoe companies, universities, you could look at all areas and the reason people are in the business is to try to make money.
And you can make an honest case that the student-athletes obviously are the ones that create the money but really receive very little of it. So I think there will be an adjustment. I don’t know the magnitude of it. But I look forward to seeing some changes, though.
Q. In December you called this team the softest that you had coached. How much of that did you mean literally, how much was emotion, and how much was trying to send a message?
COACH SELF: Probably 100 percent literally. And a lot of it probably was emotional, too. And probably trying to send a message as well.
So, you know, the thing about it is we’re not a soft team. We’re not. But it’s one thing — but we haven’t been a tough team either. And whenever you’re not very big and you’re playing four guards, and guards have to rebound the ball at a level that a four-man would rebound them and things like that you could make a case that you look pretty soft.
We’re still not doing great, but we’re doing a lot better than we did earlier in the season. But I think we have moments where we don’t play very tough. But I also think we have some moments where our experience and our toughness definitely shows.
Q. The standards are high with you here, but now looking back and your body of work, where would this team rank in that area?
COACH SELF: I think when I define tough, obviously it’s mentally tough, a big thing. But tough teams make other teams play bad when you’re not playing well. And I don’t think that we’re great at that. So I don’t know where we rank out, but it would probably be closer to the middle of the pack because there’s no way we could be where we’re at right now unless the guys were tough playing as small as we play.
Q. Coach K talks a lot about Grayson Allen, who is a four-year senior, and the benefits of having a guy like that on the team. For you to have someone like Devonte’ who is essentially a coach on the floor, how big an asset is it to have someone who is so familiar with the program and what it is that you’re hoping to accomplish?
COACH SELF: I think it’s every coach’s dream to have somebody on there that can be an extension of you and an extension of the staff. And Devonte’ is certainly that. It’s hard to lead, be a great leader unless you’ve got talent, too.
And so everybody listens to him. Everybody listens. He has a unique way of getting his message to everybody without talking down to anybody. And it’s always “we.” We need to do this.
And he’s learned how to become a better leader since he’s been there. But he’s also seen some guys, being with Frank and also Landen last year, he’s seen what senior leadership was really all about, and he’s done it better than anybody we’ve ever had here.
He’s a terrific player. But his intangibles is what make him, you know, special. And he certainly has more of those than anybody I’ve been around.
Q. This is the second week in a row being close to home. How much of an advantage is that to your team to be able to play in front of your fans like this?
COACH SELF: I think it’s an advantage. I think Wichita was an advantage for us. I’m not sure it’ll be as big an advantage here as what it was there. At Wichita, if the place seated 16 we had 13. It won’t be like that here.
But we’ll have a great core group of fans here and hopefully it will play out to help us. That’s one of the benefits of being seeded high is you get an opportunity to possibly play close to home.
And I don’t think — I don’t think it will have much to do with the outcome of this weekend, though. I really believe that sometimes playing close to home can actually be a little bit more of a distraction or bring a little bit of pressure. And sometimes playing far away — just us against the world, let’s get away from everybody and really bond.
So I don’t know if there’s a perfect scenario in what’s best this time of year, but I’d rather be close than not close. But I don’t think it’s a huge deal.
Q. I’m writing a piece on the expanding of the coach’s box, and I know you actually got whistled for being outside the coach’s box?
COACH SELF: Not T’ed, just warned.
Q. Right. I was wondering just generally if you were happy about that change, maybe in the first place, and if you felt like the season you had a little more room to operate?
COACH SELF: To be candid with you, I thought it was a pretty insignificant change whenever it happened. And I was, like, going why is this such a big deal? Why is it so hard to stay in the box?
And I stand a lot, but I also sit probably 30, 40, 50 percent of the time. So I’ve always struggled when I thought — everybody else was coaching out on the floor. I never knew why we needed to do that. Then they extend the box and I think it’s been a great rule.
I think it’s been good for me. I think it’s been good for all the coaches. You feel like you can actually have a little bit more communication on the other end of the floor. I do think, now that they’ve expanded it, I do think it should be stressed to stay in it, without question.
And I did get whistled once this year for sticking my toe 2 inches outside of the box. But for the most part I think it’s been a positive rule change that hasn’t impacted the outcome of games, but it’s made it more comfortable for coaches to coach.
Q. Good Big 12 representation in the Sweet 16. K-State specifically, do you guys allow yourselves to root for them at all? Or do you watch those K-State games or Big 12 games in general when they’re played?
COACH SELF: Yes. I would say watch them in general. Now, if we have an opportunity tonight — and I don’t even know what time K-State plays — we will positively watch that game. Even if we’re watching film we’ll have two or three TVs on. So we’ll follow that game.
But we’ll also try to do it with West Virginia obviously and Tech as well. But I’m proud of our league. Our league was terrific. But in order to probably get the recognition that the year deserves from the league you need to perform well in the tournament. And hopefully our four teams have put themselves in a decent position, but hopefully will play well this weekend to kind of solidify what we already know, is that it’s an unbelievable basketball league.
Q. For Devonte’ to play as many minutes as he has all year and specifically in as good a league as the Big 12 was, you played the game, you’ve been around it a long time. Do you still kind of scratch your head that he can function physically anymore?
COACH SELF: You know, we played Frank a lot of minutes last year and a lot of people play a lot of minutes. But a lot of times style dictates why guys can play extended minutes.
And we try to play fast. If you watch us offensively we have a lot of movement, guys cutting side to side. You’ve got to be a really well-conditioned guys to play as many minutes as he has. But what we tell him is, hey, you’re going to go hard twice a week. And we’re going to rest you two days every week for the most part, and we’re going to cut down your reps.
And even though our guys would never say that we practice short, we’ve never practiced an hour, hour and 15 minutes max from February on, like we are now. It’s always been a little bit longer than that. So the guys are getting more rest than what they probably think they’re getting.
And he specifically, when you talk about with the trainers and massages, the cold tubs, all the stuff that he does just to get his body feeling good, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to do what he’s done.
Q. What concerns you more matchup-wise with Clemson, the shooting ability of the guards or the way they’ve defended the last two games?
COACH SELF: Yes. So I would say — they were probably the most impressive team, I felt like, in the first weekend. Had a really nice win against New Mexico State, but against Auburn, that was a different level that, I think, probably anybody played at last weekend.
I certainly — for me personally, you know, being a defensive-minded coach first, how do we not allow those guys to have big nights? It’s not going to shut down. You’re not going to shut them down. And certainly one guy could — he obviously makes six 3s or seven 3s or whatever, but you can’t allow all of them to have big nights.
That would obviously be a concern. And then offensively, I think that’s where probably I’m even more concerned just because you’re going to have to get the ball to the second and third side. You’re not going to be able to attack on the first side against them because they’re so sound defensively and their ball-screen defense is really good.
You’ve got to do some good things and have great ball and body movement to force some bad closeouts and things like that, because if it comes down to a late-clock situation where it’s our player against theirs or theirs against ours, their three guards have all shown they can go get their own.
And we have a couple of guys that are good at that but probably not as good as what theirs are. I think that’s real important that we have great ball and body movement.
Q. You’ve had a couple of critical senior point guards the last couple of years. Do you consider how long you’re going to have players when you recruit them? Do you look at some guys and say, that’s a four-year guy and this is a two-year guy, and therefore we would prefer the four-year guy?
COACH SELF: No, no. We will project how long we think they’ll be in school. But I’ve always been of the opinion, hey, recruit the best guys. Recruit the best guys. But knowing that the foundation of your program’s going to be your upperclassmen.
There’s no way that we would not recruit a guy that we thought would be a one-and-done or a two-and-done kid. If he’s a two-and-done and he’s able to have enough success to be a first-rounder or whatnot, that’s going to help you recruit the next guy, too.
So I’m under the opinion that with us it changes. It changes. When we recruited Devonte’ we thought he would be a four-year guy. When we recruited Brandon Rush we thought he’d be a one-year guy. And then when we recruited Joel Embiid, I’m not sure we thought he would be the third pick in the draft. So it all varies, but I think having a balance of youth and experience is still the best way to go.
Q. Could you update us on Udoka’s status and how he looked in practice this week?
COACH SELF: Yeah, he’s been fine. He’s been fine. He practiced full speed Tuesday, Wednesday. Will practice today. And unless something unforeseen happens he’ll be starting and be full speed tomorrow.
Q. I know you spent some time in South Carolina, specifically Spartanburg Day. What were your impressions on the area and what were your impressions on Coach Brownell and the job he’s done for the Tigers?
COACH SELF: Last first, he’s done a terrific job. They’re so well-coached and well-drilled. I don’t know Brad well personally, but he seems like just a really good guy that can coach ball and certainly stays in his own lane. And I know he’s respected by everybody.
But I liked the area a lot. I obviously didn’t spend enough time in that area to get done what we needed to get done. But certainly the little bit I was there I really liked it.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kansas head coach Bill Self and student-athletes Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman.
Q. Devonte’, you had a long path to Kansas and getting here. In what point in your career did you really start to believe that you were the kind of player that you’ve become now?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I mean, I think it started probably once I got to Brewster. And I think a lot of my confidence went up and Coach Self believing in me once I got here at Kansas, probably towards the end of my freshman year is when I really started to believe that I could do something special here at Kansas.
And him and the coaching staff just believing in me and the guys that I was around at the time when I came in and really just helped me become the player I am today.
Q. What’s the toughest thing matchup with Clemson that you’ve seen on film?
MALIK NEWMAN: I mean, they have three terrific guards. They can go get their own shot. They play good off one another. So we just have to do a good job of containing those guards. And, I mean, they have a really good big in Elijah Thomas. He can block and score on the blocks. We just have to limit transition and keep those three guards contained.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Like what he said, it has a lot to do with their guards, kind of like us. We’ve just got to contain them, try to keep them out of the paint, make them take tough contested jumpers, and keep them off the glass and out of transition.
Q. Devonte’, you tweeted during K-State’s game that you were sort of pulling for them. The Big 12 is well represented. Do you take any time to sort of root for conference affiliation, or more specifically, K-State. It’s a rival most of the time, but you have a chance to watch them tonight how does that work for you guys?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I’ll definitely watch the game, probably root for them. I just want to see the Big 12 do good unless we’re playing against them. So if they’re on TV and in the Sweet 16, you’re definitely rooting for them because we compete against them all year. It’s kind of like a brotherhood at the end of the day.
Q. Devonte’, you’re a fourth-year senior which in this day and age is a rarity. I wonder if you’re taking the time maybe to look around and kind of smell the roses. It’s been a great career for you, maybe take this in a little bit more so than you might have in years past?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Definitely. I’m trying to take it one day at a time. Coach talked to us the other day: We want to keep being together as long as we can, have three or four more film sessions and keep practicing and keep traveling.
So just trying to take it one day at a time and enjoy the guys because I know it’s going to end soon. So just trying to enjoy each moment, each day.
Q. Devonte’, can you talk about, now that Lagerald and Malik are playing at such a high level, how does that change your thinking, actually, during a game, knowing the confidence you have on both those guys and what they can do?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: They’ve been playing unbelievable. So it just makes it easier for me and makes me look good when I get the passes to them and they are knocking down shots and I get the rack-up assist. I just look for them, especially when they’re hot, and just got a lot of confidence that they’ll knocked down shots or make the right plays and just being aggressive.
Q. Devonte’, how is Udoka looking this week?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: He’s been looking great. He’s trying to get back in shape. He’s been doing a good job of staying out on the floor. And his knee looks great. And he looks more explosive than he did last game. So he’s definitely going up.
Q. Malik, throughout the year you would talk to us about, it’s about confidence, being aggressive. But what else has made a difference in changing your game around from the days where there were some inconsistencies and you were struggling a little bit in shooting the ball? What’s really been some more of the things that have been going on on the outside that has affected you and helped you?
MALIK NEWMAN: I mean, besides me just, like I said earlier this week, besides me just doing some soul searching and things, I mean my teammates they kept confidence in me, the coaching staff did. And I mean they played a really big part of it because when I was inconsistent, those guys, like Devonte’ and Svi, they were still coming to me telling me you’ve got to play and go score and be aggressive.
So just those guys keeping faith in me, keeping confidence in me. It just gave me some extra confidence in myself, and I was just able to find myself at a nice time right before the Big 12 Tournament started. And I just haven’t looked back since.
Q. Devonte’, last week Coach Self was asked how he keeps it fresh with a team that constantly wins the conference and is always in the tournament, how he keeps it fresh. And he pointed out there’s not a ton of tournament experience on the team right now in terms of the players who are getting a lot of playing time. Could you just address what the team’s perspective is in terms of getting some of the guys like Malik in and getting comfortable playing in the tournament?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how you get comfortable with it. But I’m pretty comfortable with it and Coach has a ton of experience. So the guys who haven’t been here before, you can just see the excitement on their face just being here.
Growing up it’s our dream to come and play in these games. And once you’re living in the moment you just gotta — it’s a reality check. You gotta just — you’re just happy that you’re here, anxious to play, and so you want to do everything you can for your team to win. And we just are happy to be here as a team. And Coach, he just talked to us about doing little things to win and staying focused and keeping the distractions away.
Q. Devonte’, at this point in the season, after playing 39 or 40 minutes a night, how much does your body scream at you when you go home after a game?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I’m pretty used to it now. So I’ve been doing a lot of recovery, more than I have in the past years, and trying to get my rest and drinking a lot of fluids and things like that. But you just gotta get your rest and recovery, especially when you’re playing as many minutes as I do. It’s all about rest.
Q. Devonte’, can we go back to talking about rest and recovery. Didn’t Frank have some unusual methods for that? Did you pick up any tips from how to recover from games from Frank?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Frank, he liked to get in the cold tub a lot. I’ve been trying to do a little bit of that. I don’t really like the cold. I like to get in the hot tub and roll out and things like that. I’ve actually been doing a lot more cold tubbing and massages and things like that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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