Kansas makes final preparations for Sweet 16
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Thousands of Kansas basketball fans welcomed the Jayhawks to Kansas City during open practice in Sprint Center on Wednesday afternoon. Before the open practice to prepare KU for its fifth game inside the building this season, head coach Bill Self, Devonte’ Graham and Landen Lucas met with members of the media to preview Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue (8:40 p.m., CBS).
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Q. Has the last game or recent games done anything to adjust the first big man off the bench rotation?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. A lot of times that just happens to be my feel and also maybe what transpired most recently which obviously Dwight was really good against Michigan State. I thought a lot about it, but it could be based totally on who is in the game at that time. It may be who plays better together.
But this is a game in which certain times we could actually play two bigs, Dwight and Landen could play together some. So a lot depends on who is in the game probably when we make our sub.
Q. Scott Drew, Baylor’s coach seemed fired up that Baylor made it through, you guys made it through and West Virginia made it through. Do you take pride in that, too, Big 12 is flexing its muscles right now?
BILL SELF: I think so. Last year our league was so much better than what we performed in the tournament. I do think it’s nice to see our league having some postseason success that’s consistent with the success that the league had throughout the regular season.
Absolutely I’m happy for Scott and Baylor and certainly happy for Huggs and West Virginia, but I’m a little selfish, I’m happiest for us. It is great to see teams that we compete against on a nightly basis have success.
Q. I guess this works both ways because of who you just beat, but they just beat Iowa State and got up on ’em pretty big. How much of an attention getter, the way they started that game anyway?
BILL SELF: You know what? They had my attention back in January. I was telling somebody earlier, sometimes I think as a coach you look at it and say, okay, what teams out there are a little bit different that could potentially be a contrasting style that you could match-up with, and Purdue was the first one that came to mind for me.
I’ve watched them throughout the year, certainly not studying them but watched them. But seeing what they did to Iowa State even though Iowa State I believe came back and took a 2-point lead, I think. Purdue controlled that game. But Iowa State got on one of their great runs that they can obviously get on because they can score so well from the perimeter.
But it was very impressive what they did and how they closed the game out after they got behind. I didn’t need that game to impress me, though, I was there beforehand.
Q. Bill, the Big Ten was considered down this year and it has three teams also in the Sweet 16. Is it fair or unfair to judge leagues by tournament performance or is that all we have?
BILL SELF: I think it’s — is SEC football down because their Bowl record wasn’t as good this year. To me, here is the reality, the Big Ten is a great league. The Big 12 is a great league, and a lot of times in a small sample size format like the NCAA Tournament doesn’t really project what that league is sometimes.
I think what has happened — anybody that studies ball, you know, we had an opportunity to play Michigan State on Sunday and we had to play really, really well to advance. Michigan State was the fifth seed I think in their conference tournament. So that tells me right there how good the league is.
For Purdue to go through it and win the league the way they did certainly I think speaks volumes, and, you know, definitely gives credit to their league. I think anybody in the know knew that before the tournament even started.
Q. Coach, the 2012 game was kind of a chess match going back and forth, different moves. How much do you anticipate this to be similar in that you really have to have a game of adjustments?
BILL SELF: The roles are reversed. We had Withey and Robinson and they had Robbie Hummel and we couldn’t guard Hummel, if you guys remember right, to start the game. They were wearing us out. I think we put Travis on Hummel to neutralize him a little bit.
It was a game, my memory probably doesn’t serve me very well, but it was a game that they had total control of until the last two minutes and then Tyshawn and Elijah made a couple of plays, if I remember right. The one thing I did know coming out of that game was that Matt can really coach, and he’s hard to beat. They’re sound. They don’t turn it over, shot selection. When you hear that old Larry Brown ad, did you play the right way? I really think Purdue does.
So I became certainly someone that was impressed and a fan from afar, and I have actually followed them fairly closely since that game. But this is a totally different team, totally different make-up. I don’t know that we’ve ever played anybody that does a better job of feeding the post than what Purdue does.
Q. Without giving away game plan, obviously, what factors go into your decision making on whether double Caleb Swanigan, where you’re going to be send help from, and does it deigning whether he’s at the 4 or the 5?
BILL SELF: It could. Maybe! (Laughter.) Maybe not!
Q. What factors go into this then?
BILL SELF: I think that — well, you said not to give away anything. I do think this: A lot of times when you play two bigs, sometimes it’s easier to double. Sometimes when you spread four shooters around one it’s harder, so you’re coming from different places. There’s a lot of things that go into it. So without giving away anything, I think that a lot of how we guard will depend on who is in the game.
Q. Obviously, you have a team that could go on to win the championship and I was wondering if you could describe what the season has been like in terms of dealing with so many off-the-court issues, having to answer so many questions about the issues especially during this tournament, and do you think people should care about the troubles your guys get into off court?
BILL SELF: The thing is, there have been a lot of things documented and my team I’m so proud of them because they’re focused. They know what’s going on. They know what’s going on and certainly they certainly haven’t minimized anything, but the bottom line is they understand bigger picture and they understand that things can be said at times. Certainly it can be reactionary rather than after processes have played out, and I’m real proud of how they have be handled everything, and I think we’re a focused team.
Q. I’m sorry, I asked how you felt about dealing with these off-the-court issues?
BILL SELF: I couldn’t be prouder, and I’m proud of how they’ve handled everything.
Q. Have you ever sent a thank you card to the teacher that gave Frank a failing grade in his senior year in high school? Talk about his maturation process since he arrived at Kansas?
BILL SELF: No, I have not. You know, I know you said that jokingly, Bob, but the reality of it is, Frank didn’t qualify in high school, and he went to prep school to become academically qualified, and in four years here, in three and a half years he basically already has his degree. It’s always been inside of him.
But being around a situation where there’s structure, because obviously individuals come from different situations and backgrounds, it’s remarkable how he’s matured off the court and certainly in the classroom.
As a player, sometimes in recruiting you luck into things. He’s one of those things that we were fortunate that maybe we didn’t get who we had sought out more so because we didn’t know about him. We end up getting the steal of — we got the steal of that draft class nationally! When you really play it out! National Player of the Year! Which I don’t know how many in that particular draft class have been National Player of the Year, but to think about what he’s accomplished in four years is pretty remarkable and how he’s matured in all areas.
Q. Coach, just to jump on that with Frank, what does his veteran leadership mean for this team on the court and if you could juxtaposition that with the athleticism of Josh Jackson, them together, what they’ve accomplished and what does it mean for your team?
BILL SELF: They’ve both been really good, but, you know, sometimes when you talk about Frank you don’t give Devonte’ his due. Same thing when you — probably Purdue you talk about Caleb and an unbelievable year, but it doesn’t give credit to some of those other guys that had great years, too.
Certainly you put Josh and Frank together when they’re both playing well. That’s probably about as good of a twosome as there is in college basketball, I would think. Certainly Frank’s leadership, his presence, his toughness, his makeup, I think everyone draws confidence from and I feel like Josh is much younger, but I think guys feel the same way about Josh. We get confidence from Josh through his competitive spirit.
Q. Can you talk about Swanigan and the give and take and the challenge of teams trying to help on him and yet they have a great three-point shooting team as well?
BILL SELF: It’s a challenge. There is no doubt about it. They do as good of a job at getting the ball to him in different spots. They create great angles to throw the ball into the post. If we can ever get two big guys again, I can certainly look at a lot of their tape to learn how to play, to be honest because Matt and them do a great job of doing that. He is a challenge and now he’s also shooting threes and he’s making over 40% from his threes. I think 43% in conference play and shooting over 80% from the line.
He’s a challenge all the way around no matter how you choose to guard him because if you double him he’s got over 100 assists. He’s a great passer. If they isolate him one-on-one, obviously, he’s probably as good a low post scorer in college basketball. So he’s definitely worthy of all his postseason recognition. He’s had a great year.
Q. Coach, you’ve been to a lot of these. Is there anything these cities can do as host sites that make the experience more enjoyable for you and your team?
BILL SELF: I haven’t thought about that. We’re having a good time and as long as you’re playing I think it’s going to be great time.
I believe the Final Four has done a ton of things to make the player experience better. But as far as — I don’t know that the athletes that are competing in the Regionals, I don’t know if you could do anything to have more fun! What is fun to them is getting a chance to compete and play on the biggest stage and that certainly provides everyone that opportunity.
LANDEN LUCAS AND DEVONTE’ GRAHAM
Q. Landen, how much of an attention getter is it for you that Purdue beat the team that beat you guys in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year and` were up on it pretty big for a chunk of that game?
LANDEN LUCAS: A little bit, but throughout the year we’ve had so many teams that have beat us that got beat by other teams and we don’t look too much into it. We feel like if we go out there and play our game we can match-up with anybody. We’re not too worried about who they just beat.
Q. Landen, you mentioned the other day that you don’t want to think or focus on the fact that — about foul trouble. They obviously have some good size in there. What’s the balance for you in keeping your aggressive nature and avoiding fouls and not thinking about it?
LANDEN LUCAS: It really just depends on how the refs want to call the game. I’m hoping that they kinda let us play just because we will be battling down there. I’m sure it will be equal on both sides. But if they’re calling it tight I’ve got to make sure I adjust early on. I want to go out there not thinking about it too much, but as soon as I get a feel for how they’re calling it start to adjust after that.
Q. Devonte’ not to imply that this has been a factor in the previous two games, but your free throw shooting is way up as a team. Last time we talked to Frank before postseason he said one of the keys to winning was the team shooting 80% free throws, and when we told Coach Self that he said, why not go for 90? While you guys are above that number, did you guys agree on 80% or the importance of that moving forward?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: After every practice we just shoot ten minutes of free throws before we get out and we just really lock in because we know it could be a win or a lose coming down to making free throws.
Everybody has just been focused in on practicing our free throws and practicing as if every one was a game winner.
Q. Landen, what’s the comfort level for this team in this building?
LANDEN LUCAS: I think we’re all very comfortable, even just walking into the locker room right now we’re familiar with everything. We’ve been here so many times. We’re happy to be here in front of our fans, and it’s definitely an advantage that we’re happy about.
Q. Devonte’, you’ve got your shot going here in this tournament. You’ve made multiple three-pointers in both games at a high percentage. Does that give you a little boost? Not that you were shooting it poorly, but maybe down the stretch it wasn’t quite up to your usual standard?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Definitely gave me a little confidence. Like you said, toward the end of the season I wasn’t shooting it well and the coaching staff and my guys always give me confidence, telling me keep shooting the ball and then — so that’s what I do, is just try to knock down shots when I’m open.
Q. You obviously had a little problem with your foot, but you seemed bouncy in the last game. Are you physically feeling better?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Yeah, my foot is fine. I feel 100%. Just happy that everybody is 100% and that we’re out here competing.
Q. Landen, talk about specifically matching up with the Purdue bigs. Obviously there is a National Player of the Year candidate in there and some big post presence.
LANDEN LUCAS: They’re all fantastic players. They’ve got a great big in Swanigan, and I’m definitely looking forward to the match-up.
Q. Devonte’, what’s the toughest part of Purdue’s guards, preparing for them?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: They do a good job of moving without the ball. They can stretch the floor and shoot it. They’re good passers, watching film on them they feed the post really well and move really well without the ball, catch you sleeping and ball watching and stuff like that.
Q. How does it differ from last year, being in the Sweet 16?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I don’t really think it’s a difference, except for we’re in Kansas City, which is the biggest thing. It feels like we’re at home and it’s kinda like playing a home game in the Sprint Center.
LANDEN LUCAS: I would agree. I think most of the other things are about the same. We got the same amount of focus. We’re prepared and ready to go like we were last year, and I think the difference is just that, you know, we’re in a familiar place with our fans here and that’s definitely going to be something that’s helpful for us.
Q. Devonte’, lately with your steals and your ability to knock down threes, you’re playing about as well anyone, but everyone is focused on Frank and the National Player of the Year. Do you like kind of being the understudy? Does that take pressure off, allow you to play more free?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I’ve always been an understudy, like you would say. But Frank is getting the attention he deserves. I think he’s the National Player of the Year, so I feel like I get the attention that I deserve, too, and I just do whatever I can to help the team win. Everything that we do is noticed by the people that we need it to be noticed by, by the coaches, teammates, Landen and everybody. Little things that we do for the team to help us win, we all notice it.
Q. Landen, could you comment on Dwight’s big minutes in the last game? Big game, key time, a lot of productivity? How can that help this team going forward?
LANDEN LUCAS: That was huge. I think the biggest part of that was just he never knows going into the game how much he’s going to play and he was ready for it. He stepped up, took advantage of his opportunity and helped us win. I think that’s good, giving him confidence moving forward, understanding that he’s probably going to be a bigger part of this game plan, coming into this game. I think he knows we’re going to need him and he’s prepared for it. He’s a vet. He’s played at Ole Miss, and this last game will help him out, too, and he will be ready to go once he steps out there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. We will let you go back to the locker room. Good luck tomorrow. We are joined now by the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, Coach Bill Self. Coach, welcome back to Kansas City. Your thoughts on tomorrow’s game?
BILL SELF: I feel really fortunate. Feel great about our team playing the second weekend, of course having the opportunity to stay in the area and play in Kansas City. I think it’s a big bonus for us, at least I hope it plays out to be that way and certainly we get an opportunity to play against the champion of the Big Ten and a team that obviously poses potentially a lot of problems because they’re so well-coached, well-drilled and certainly have terrific players. It will be a great challenge for our team, but one that we’re certainly looking forward to.
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