Kansas previews Duke at Elite Eight media day
OMAHA, Neb. – Kansas head coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks met with the media at the CenturyLink Center Saturday following an afternoon practice session. The events lead up to Kansas’ Elite Eight match-up with Duke Sunday afternoon.
A complete transcript of the press conference is available below.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kansas head coach Bill Self and student-athletes Malik Newman, Udoka Azubuike, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH SELF: We’re very proud and excited to be part of this game tomorrow. We’ve had an opportunity to play in a few of them and obviously the last two years. And certainly look forward to playing a terrific Duke basketball team and it should be a fun game for a lot of reasons, especially with the history of both ball clubs.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Devonte’ and Svi, I think this is your third trip, your last trip. How do you go about breaking down the door and getting to the next step?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: We’ve just got to prepare. We had a good practice just now. And we’re going to go back and go over a scouting report and watch more film. And guys gotta come out and play their hearts out and just put it all on the line.
SVI MYKHAILIUK: Just come prepared, get ready to compete. It’s going to be a hard game, but we’ve just got to do our best.
Q. I know Coach called you guys soft quite a bit before the season. Does he still? Who did he pick on the most? When did he stop, if he stopped calling you guys soft?
MALIK NEWMAN: He probably just stopped calling us soft not too long ago. But I’m pretty sure he want to say it every now and then. But he probably picked on me and Udoka probably the most. What did you think about it, big fella?
UDOKA AZUBUIKE: Yep.
Q. Bill, the question about one guy who is not here. I know you’ve documented Silvio’s progress as the year has gone on from January on up through this. But looking back at it now a couple months in reverse, when do you feel like the light kind of came on for him? And how do you see him now in comparison to a short time ago? And then the same thing for one of the guys, maybe Udoka, if you’re best positioned to gauge his progress, too?
UDOKA AZUBUIKE: I think he came during the Big 12 Tournament, he made a big step, a huge step in the games at the Big 12 Tournament. And I think that really stepped his confidence up a lot. And just seeing him and seeing the way he played right now, I think his confidence is on the high rise, and I think he’s on the right path.
COACH SELF: I agree with Doke. He really hadn’t had many opportunities to play, in large part because just trying to fit in and he’s thinking instead of reacting and all that stuff. And we thought probably around February 1 would probably be the time after he’d been here about four weeks that we’d start seeing some progress. And it probably didn’t happen quite that quick.
And he had a couple of good regular season games, but when Doke got hurt he knew his number was going to be called. And one thing we found out with Silvio, if he can stay in there extended minutes he gets a lot better. When he’s in there for short spurts he’s not near as effective.
But the Big 12 Tournament is when he really, I think, when everybody, players, everybody started getting a lot of confidence in him.
Q. For any of the players, the Big 12 now has three teams in the Elite Eight. I wanted your guys’ thoughts on the league as a whole how it’s prepared you for this stage.
LAGERALD VICK: It just feels good just to see all the teams in the conference playing for a national championship. We at Kansas, we prepared. So I don’t know what else to say, but that’s all I’ve got to say.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: The league definitely prepares us to play in games like this. The conference, from top to bottom, any night you can go and you lose to a team. We played against a whole bunch of different schemes and zones and different matchups, good guards, good bigs. So I felt like it put us in a position that we could play in this Elite Eight game.
Q. Devonte’, wanted to ask you about Malik. Having him practice with the team last year when he was sitting out as a transfer and what he did there and then having some struggles here to get going as the regular season went on, kind of up and down, were you surprised that he had some struggles given what you knew about him coming into the year?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: No, not really, because I feel like everybody, you go through that hump or whatever it is, if it’s just trying to learn the system, learn how Coach wants you to play, and you’ve got to learn how to pick and choose, when you shoot the ball and things like that. You get to learn how to play with guys.
So he didn’t get to play with us last year; he was always on the red team and playing with the walk-ons a lot. He just had to get that chemistry, but ever since then he’s been great and playing hard and knocking down shots.
Q. Devonte’, you’ve been part of a number of Kansas teams now and both the last two years ended up in the Elite Eight. I’m curious in your mind, how is this team different from the ones you played with Josh and Frank a year ago and before that?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I don’t really know how much different we are. We’re still doing the four around one big and playing kind of the same. And I think we might have a lot more confidence coming into this tournament than we did last year because we lost in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, so that kind of maybe lowered our confidence, and we’ve just been on a little high streak coming off that Big 12 run. And guys getting a lot of confidence and them playing a lot more minutes.
So from a team standpoint, I think we might have more confidence than we did last year. And we’re just going to try to keep it rolling.
Q. Devonte’ and Svi, do the Elite Eight games feel any different than other tournament games? Do they come with more nervousness, maybe more of a chance to play a little less loose?
SVI MYKHAILIUK: I would say just more important, because we know it’s one game away from a Final Four, so we’ve got to do our best and come prepared for the games because we know we’re just one step closer.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: What he’s saying, it’s just more important. And I think you feel a little bit more anxious and excited about this game, because you know you just need one more win to get to where you always dreamed to be of as a kid, playing in Final Four. So just anxious and excitement.
Q. Devonte’, the game’s already as big as it gets for both teams with the anxiousness and excitement. Does having a Kansas/Duke matchup add any juice to this game?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Definitely, it’s two blue bloods; two great, historic programs; and two Hall of Fame coaches. And it’s a pride thing. And you want to do it. And the fans to have something to brag about. And, of course, getting to the Final Four is on all of our minds. So it’s definitely — Duke/Kansas is a huge matchup.
Q. Coach, you have a senior guard matchup tomorrow night in Devonte’ Graham and Grayson Allen. To single out your guy, Devonte’, what type of legacy will he leave on your program regardless of tomorrow’s outcome? COACH SELF: I think that his legacy is cemented right now, and he’ll go down as one of the all-time greats. He’ll have his jersey retired. He’s an All-American. He’s Player of the Year in our league.
But more importantly than that, I think he’s the best intangible guy we’ve ever had here and has as good of leadership qualities as anybody I’ve ever coached. So he’s been the complete package as a player, and basically he’s a guy that I don’t think coaches get an opportunity to coach but every few years. And certainly we’ve been blessed to have him.
Q. How difficult a matchup is this going to be especially guarding Bagley. You don’t match up in a way that you have somebody that can probably go on Bagley — I’m not asking for your game plan —
COACH SELF: Have you not seen how big Svi is?
Q. Huge, put on a lot of weight.
COACH SELF: You know, it’s a hard matchup. They’ve got great players. And who knows, they may have five first- round draft picks. Could have the number one pick. Definitely a couple of lottery picks.
But you know we’ve got good players, too. And the thing about it is sometimes I think when you play somebody like that, if you play like them and you know you can’t match up physically, the scales definitely tip to them.
We don’t play like them. We play different. So if we play our game — and everybody’s talking about how do we match up with them — well, hopefully we can be in a game that forces them to kind of play a little differently to match up with us.
And that’s hard to do when you play zone a lot of the time. But it will be a tough game, like Svi said, but it’s going to be a fun game. And certainly we know it’s going to be tough. We know we’ve got our hands full. But we’d like to think that they have their hands full, too.
Q. After your win last night you talked about — I think this was before Duke and Syracuse had finished up their game — but you talked about how your guys should be playing free. And I was just hoping that maybe you could expound upon that. Why in this game, in particular, is it important for your team to play free?
COACH SELF: I think whenever you’re a perimeter-shooting team and you generate most of your offense from the perimeter, the freer you play, the better you’re probably going to shoot the basketball.
But we’re playing arguably the most talented team in the country. And we’ve got really good players and players come to Kansas and they go to Duke to play in games just like this. And I really believe that this is going to be a game in which there’s the pressure to go to the Elite Eight. But there’s something about it that it’s Duke/Kansas on the biggest stage that allow guys to just go play for that one thing and not so much thinking about what’s next, which I think a lot of times, that’s what teams do in the Elite Eight game.
Q. When you go three months, like Kansas does, when all you’re hearing is the streak, the streak, the streak, and you have to deal with that and overcome it, does that prepare you in any way, prepare the kids in any way for March?
COACH SELF: You know what, that’s a great question. And I would say it probably does more than it doesn’t. I don’t know if it’s a huge deal. But our kids operated under duress this year and most years because of the streak. And it’s not so much the pressure we put on ourselves, it’s what the outside people always want to talk about. And they hear it and they don’t want to be the team that doesn’t do it.
So I think as far as operating in games that are of high magnitude, certainly hopefully would help you prepare for a game like this that we’ll have tomorrow.
Q. This year and last year you made the four-guard rotation work. Coach K has gone to a zone defense which we wouldn’t have expected. Has there been a change in recent years of top coaches’ maybe willingness to adapt their philosophies to what’s in front of them that maybe hasn’t existed before?
COACH SELF: I guess you could say so to an extent. But also I think personnel and youth dictate a lot of it. I can’t speak for any other program, but I would think that Duke’s always been historically one of the best defensive teams in the country year in, year out. And when we’re playing a ton of freshmen, sometimes that’s a more difficult thing to do.
But the zone with them is so effective because of their size and length. I mean, we see that with Syracuse all the time. So strategically I think it’s a good move. And with us, we didn’t do it because we chose to. We did it because of personnel.
And last year when you talk about your 4 man being a guard, but the guard is Josh Jackson and he’s a lottery pick, it’s a little bit different than playing with legitimate four guards. So we’re playing a lot smaller than what we have in years past. That’s been the biggest challenge for us.
Q. A lot of Elite Eights for you, and you have stressed that you want the players to play with a free mind, it’s been a continuing theme for them, too. Along the way was there any adjustment you had to make yourself to maybe not be uptight or show the team that you were uptight? Did you have to do anything tangible or did you try to do anything tangible to be more relaxed in front of your team?
COACH SELF: During the NCAA Tournament?
Q. Yeah, I mean —
COACH SELF: No.
Q. Regarding the Elite Eight.
COACH SELF: We haven’t played it yet.
Q. Through the years.
COACH SELF: You know, when we went to our first Elite Eight at Tulsa, I mean, you’re playing with house money. And the other ones we’ve been to we’ve been, you know, we’ve been a pretty high seed.
But I’ve always thought this time of year is supposed to be fun. And I guess people can equate to a poor record in the Elite Eight as maybe teams uptight or whatnot. I don’t think that’s the case. I really don’t. We don’t do things any different — I’m more relaxed now than I am in December and January, I guarantee it.
But I do think that is important. Players need to feel free and they need to be relaxed and have fun as opposed to sometimes you want something so bad it creates pressure. And I do think that that’s been the case a lot of times with us. You want something so bad that sometimes maybe you don’t give yourself the best chance.
But I don’t think that will be the case this year. This year’s different. This year is, I mean even though we’re a 1 seed, everything — every time you talk to somebody it’s always: What’s wrong with them? Nobody ever says what’s good with us. Everybody says what’s wrong with them; they’re too small, they don’t defensively rebound, they can’t defend their home court, they’re this or that. And the guys still end up pulling it together and with very little depth.
So, I think this team is really proud of their accomplishment. And I think they feel like that we put ourselves in a position where we don’t have to feel that pressure.
Q. You’ve talked a lot about Devonte’s growth and Svi too, but is there anybody you had at Kansas that sticks out that improved the most from the time he got into the program to the time he got out?
COACH SELF: I think you could say Frank. Frank and Devonte’ probably as much as anybody. Thomas Robinson played eight minutes a game as a freshmen. He was runner-up for player of the year two years later. Cole Aldrich, who we didn’t know if he could ever get in the game. Jeff Withey, we’ve had a lot of guys that came along a way.
We’ve really recruited well, really well. But if you look at the best players for our teams over time have been guys that have been in the program two or three years that may not have been McDonald’s All-Americans, may have been top 70 or top 100 guys that end up being lottery picks.
But we’ve had a lot of guys get a lot better, but certainly Devonte’ and Frank probably as much as anybody.
Q. Have you noticed any difference in the way teams are guarding Svi at the 3-point line in the tournament in the last three games?
COACH SELF: Not really. They’re trying to shade him and not give him as many looks. And I haven’t studied it, but how many 3s has he got off in the tournament so far? Maybe 15 or so. Which is not a great number. I mean that should be a two-game total as opposed to a three-game total.
But he’s — I think teams have done a pretty good job the second half of Big 12 play of shading him and trying to take him out a little bit more.
Q. Coach, in terms of — everyone, coaches talk about different 2-3 zones, different zone defenses in general. What makes this Duke zone particularly hard to play against, especially on a short turnaround like you guys have to deal with?
COACH SELF: You know, even though we played Syracuse early in the season, and we didn’t do a good job of attacking it at all. We just made shots, made some hard shots. But I think the biggest thing is — and Baylor has done this with us with their zone even though it’s a different zone — but it’s hard to simulate length.
You can’t simulate the length that some of the teams can play with, and primarily the way Duke can play with theirs. And they also have — even though they want their bigs to stay in the game, but they’ve got multiple bigs they can put in and do some things. And I think that’s the thing that makes it the hardest is their activity out front and then their length behind it.
Q. What do you remember about the first time you saw Bagley out on the recruiting trail?
COACH SELF: I remembered what everybody remembered is that he’s different. He’s different. The thing that impressed me the most about — and we tried to recruit Marvin, obviously, some — but the thing that impressed me the most about him is to be more talented than everybody but also play harder than everybody.
He’s got a great motor. And that motor was in AAU ball. The motor was in high school. I’ve always thought that he played as hard as anybody, anytime I’ve ever watched him play. And then when you’re more talented and do that, then obviously that’s going to mean great things.
Q. Can you talk more specifically about the other guys outside of Bagley and what’s going to make them a difficult guard tomorrow?
COACH SELF: You’ve got two prolific 3-point shooters in Trent and Allen, and you’ve got a point guard that we tried hard to recruit that’s probably as gifted with the ball as anybody, that anybody is and can make plays for others.
And then if you got the best three big men in the country, if you include Ayton, two of them play for Duke, with Carter.
So they’re good, they’re deep and certainly well-rounded, but it’s not one of those games that you can — Marvin is terrific, but any of those other guys are capable of getting 25 or 30 any night, too. So we’ve got to defend as a group.
But certainly the biggest thing is you’ve got to defend the 3, but you gotta keep them off the glass, and that’s kind of a tough assignment sometimes when you get spread out.
Q. If Devonte’ and Svi are thinking about the last two years tomorrow, would you take that as a bad sign or would you think it might be a good thing to be able to light a fire under them?
COACH SELF: Well, I don’t agree with, if they’re thinking about it it lights a fire. They’re seniors; how could you want it more just because something happened last year? They’re going to want it the same. I don’t think it lights a fire. I think sometimes they can be learning experiences which maybe make you more prepared, because we lost to the national champion, Villanova, in a one-possession game two years ago, and last year we didn’t play very well and Oregon ended up beating us, double figures, I think.
But certainly they’ve got to play like there’s no what-ifs, just let it go. Let it go. If you play to try to protect something tomorrow, we’ll go home sad. We’ve got to try to take it. And I think those guys understand that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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