Self previews Kentucky at weekly press conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Prior to his team stepping out of conference play this weekend for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the media Thursday to discuss the Jayhawks’ upcoming trip to Kentucky. Self also touched on the emergence of sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, as well as the current status of the Big 12 race, with his team sitting just shy of the midway point of its conference slate.
A video of the press conference is available on ESPN+ and a full transcript is below.
On sophomore guard Marcus Garrett:
“I think Marcus is an acquired taste. There are certain things that certain coaches value more than maybe other coaches value and he would be a good player for anybody, don’t get me wrong. But the coaches, and there are a lot of them out there that value toughness, intellect, strength, being able to guard four positions or what not, I think he (Garrett) would be a great addition to any team. Like for us, we look at him as being one of the premier players in our league and he won’t make anybody’s all-league team based on his numbers. He’ll make defensive (all-league) but it’s hard to get awards from the public if you don’t have numbers. To your point, I think other coaches look at him and say, ‘He gets a lot done’ for a guy who doesn’t shoot the ball that much. He’s a really good player.”

On Kentucky being on a roll, winning five-straight games:
“Five in a row against good people, too. They’re playing well. They were really good, especially the last 10 to 12 minutes against Mississippi State, the other night. They’re good. They’re big. They’ve got enough fouls to give so they should never have to play shorthanded up front. (Ashton) Hagans has developed into a premier guard and maybe he is as good a defensive guard. He’s their Marcus Garrett. (Tyler) Herro and Keldon Johnson are both having terrific years and are on a roll right now. They are good. They are a team that can win a national championship. I know everybody thought that before the season and then you have one game where the attention shifts and they’ve done it the right way. They’ve grinded their way back to where they are right now and that’s being one of the best teams in the country.”

On Kentucky graduate forward Reid Travis:
“They all bring something (to the table), but Reid brings size. He’s an explosive jumper in tight. He doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, but he’s definitely a skilled perimeter player who can stretch it, as evidenced by what he did at Stanford. He also brings a ton of experience. If I’m not mistaken, Reid redshirted one year at Stanford due to injury. He’s a college graduate from Stanford, a fifth-year guy and helping all those young kids at Kentucky. I would think his value to the team is about as high as anyone’s.”
On Marcus Garrett’s attributes to the team and his role now:
“If you stop and think about it, if we didn’t have the four guys starting last year that we had, he would have been playing these kind of minutes last year. He was our fifth guard last year and we played four. He played a lot last year and this year when we made the decision to go small, he goes from being a reserve to a starter. He’d be a starter by now, regardless if we were playing big or small. But probably as much as anything, circumstances have dictated the minutes (he plays) in many ways, even though we thought as highly of him last year as we do this year. He’s a much improved player because he is a year older. I don’t think he’s done anything different. He’s coachable. He’s tough. He tries hard. He’s smart. He’s got fast hands and he loves to compete. But we knew that when we recruited him. I don’t think he’s done a lot different, except just be himself.”

On Garrett’s leadership development:
“I think he and Dedric (Lawson) are probably our two best talkers, and Dedric is by far the best. He’s (Marcus) not scared to call anybody out. The players, all of them, respect what he says because he can back up what he says. I think he’s a good leader. I think he can obviously become better, just like everybody can. He’s a player who guys look to for confidence. That’s definitely a form of leadership.”

On the positives and negatives of having the Big 12/SEC Challenge in the middle of the league race:
“The negatives are, it comes at a bad time of the season. It’s not a great game for Kentucky and it’s not a great game for us. But, it’s a great game because to the kids, we get a chance to play Kentucky. And to their (Kentucky) kids, they probably feel the same thing about playing us. There’s a natural rivalry there, even though it doesn’t go back as many contests as you may think. But when you are talking about the two winningest programs of all time, there’s (a) built-in natural rivalry. Adolph Rupp played at Kansas. There are so many things that intertwine the schools. I also think Cal (John Calipari) brings an element to the rivalry with the success that he’s had. To me, it’s not a great game. It’s not as important as playing at Texas (Jan. 29) but in the moment, it’s as big as any game that we’ll have. And to our players, they’ll feel that same way too. Breaking up your conference season to do this, I don’t know of any coach (who) would say they are a huge fan of it, but it’s great exposure for our league. It’s great exposure for the SEC and for one day, on ‘GameDay,’ we’ll actually be hearing about the Big 12 and all the schools in it, which is great for our league.”

On Quentin Grimes’ similarities to how Malik Newman improved toward the latter part of the season last year:
“I see signs (of it), like today in practice. We practiced at seven this morning. For a seven o’clock practice and how he shot the ball in competitive drills, it was terrific. We see signs of that. He needs to have some success during the game. I see flashes of him doing what we know he is capable of doing, but I also see periods of time where things don’t go as well, (and) he loses all aggressiveness. He’s got to stay aggressive at all times. Whether it (the ball) goes in or not, or whether you make a good play or bad play, at least do it downhill and be aggressive. We need him to be the version of himself that we know he can be in order for us to have a chance to finish strong this year.”

On this year’s freshman class hitting the “freshman wall”:
“In my experience, it comes in early February, or late January, so now’s the time that they would start hitting it.”

On how his staff prepares the freshmen for that phenomenon:
“We don’t. We don’t practice as long as we used to, but we’re not going to change what we do to play to that (supposed freshman wall). We don’t know positively that it’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen, but we know it’s going to happen (where) they get emotionally tired. The mounting pressure of delivering night in and night out in the big games, it gets tiring. That’s why playing so many tough games early, I don’t know if that was good for this team. I look back and I say, ‘Man, I wish we would have had some games where we didn’t have to sweat as much every single game’ just because it adds another game to your conference season. So instead of playing 18 conference games, most teams are playing maybe 23 or 24, we could be playing 27 or 28, with the tough non-league games (we played). The effort and the things that you’ve got to put into those games to win. It’s natural for them to hit a wall but usually they hit it and they get it back. I won’t make a big deal out of it. Maybe if I don’t talk about it, they won’t realize that there actually is a wall out there.”

On if it’s harder for this year’s team (because it’s younger) to go into a place like Rupp Arena and treat it like it’s just another road trip, another business-trip type of game:
“Well, the best player in that game was Josh (Jackson), he was a freshman (at that time). I see your point. Our guys will be more amped up, even though those other guys were too (two years ago) but those other guys were probably more prepared to control the emotion of it than these guys will be. I do agree with that. That’s part of growing up though and it’s ok. As important as this game is to people, this is just a game you just go play, have fun and let it go. No matter what happens, you’ve got to turn the table in 24 hours and start preparing for someone else; (and we have) a good Texas team (Tuesday, Jan. 29 in Austin). I think we’ll handle it fine. Iowa State (Hilton Coliseum), there’s some really good atmospheres in our league and other places that we’ve played in. This will be unique because the atmosphere is great, but it’s the ‘stuff’ outside of the lines is what puts the pressure on. You know how many NBA scouts are there; you know ‘GameDay’ is there; you know every time you turn on the TV, they are going to be talking about Kentucky vs. Kansas; that’ll be new for our guys and hopefully they’ll be able to handle the emotion of it. But they did pretty good in the Champions Classic (dealing with those elements).”

On if this year’s Big 12 Conference race seems to have more teams ‘in’ it:
“I agree. I think that four losses right now, geez, we’re out of it.’ But I’d be like, ‘No, you’re not out of it at all.’ That’s one week with the way things are going. Anybody can lose two games in a week in our league and anyone can win two games in a week. So it’s too early to get excited about where you are or too early to get down about where you are. I will say this, after watching a little bit, I believe K-State is playing better than everybody right now, because you just don’t get an easy basket against them. Whether or not they maintain that and whether or not other people (teams) get better remains to be seen. But a third of the way in (to the conference season), I think the people who wanted to see a good race, I think they’re getting their wish.”

On if Kentucky’s John Calipari is one of his closer friends in the coaching profession:
“Cal and I have a lot of similarities in the path because he was here (at Kansas) and I came the year he was leaving, so we never (crossed paths) here, but we have a lot of the same connections to people who were here during both stints. People can say what they want to and make a big deal out of a lot, which sometimes they do. But the bottom line is that he’s done a ridiculously good job wherever he’s been. He gets so much credit for being a terrific recruiter, but he’s as good of a coach as he is a recruiter. He’s always going to be a guy that is fun to compete against. I believe that. He may say the same thing about us, I don’t know, but that’s what I think makes this (game) even more fun. To Matt’s (Tait, Lawrence Journal-World), players get excited too, but there’s certain games that coaches get excited for as well. This will be one of those games that it’ll be even more fun preparing for and watching and that kind of stuff. I’m sure it is for them too.”

On if there is any roster news:
“Roster news; no, no roster news. That’s a unique way of how to put, ‘How’s Silvio (De Sousa) doing?’ [Laughter] But I like it; that was respectful. That was good.”

On what the objective is of the token defensive pressure the team has been showing some of lately:
“I think that we have been so inactive, from an activity standpoint, that anything to do to try to – not to steal – just to try to create activity. Marcus (Garrett) plays great with his hands, but how can he get six out of seven steals in a game? He basically makes the vast majority of our plays, defensively, that would lead to us taking the ball from our opponent; whether it’s a deflection or going to steal the ball, whatever. So anything to try to create activity. I’m not a pressing guy, you guys know that. But it’s hard to press when you don’t have shot blockers in the back. The other day, we did it against Iowa State in three passes, uncontested, for a 3 (-pointer) in the corner, so we stayed in that for a long time. All it was was to try to create some energy.”

On Dedric Lawson shooting more 3-pointers:
“I think he should shoot more threes, I’ve told him that throughout the season. He hadn’t shot them well, to date, up until the last game, but he’s a good shooter. The way he’s going to be defended now, without having Doke (Udoka Azubuike) around is that you can put two guys on him and lay on him and beat him up, so to speak. So he needs to get away from the basket some. So I don’t think those are bad plays at all.”

On if that will be particular true on Saturday at Kentucky:
“Could be. I don’t know how they’ll guard, but I do know that we all need to be very aggressive and not play to just one guy shooting the basketball. We need to play with all five guys being threats out there and I think we go through periods of times in games when we don’t do that very well.”

On the energy freshman guard Ochai Agbaji brings to the team:
“He has helped. I think we’re more athletic and more energetic since he started playing, without question. He’s been a big bonus. The other day (vs. Iowa State) he was terrific. He gets five fouls in 16 minutes, so obviously, we need to improve some things there, but I thought he was terrific the other day with his energy. He comes in firing. You would think that everybody would have that mindset to come in and be aggressive like that. It’s easier to do that when the ball goes in the hole, but that was nice to see right off the bat.”

On who is the second-best 3-point shooter on the team, behind senior Lagerald Vick:
“Well, I would say … [long pause] all of them. It’s a tie. [Laughter] I do think Dedric can shoot the ball as well as anybody. I coached Q (Quentin Grimes) this summer and I saw what he did, I know he can shoot the ball. Charlie (Moore) should be, but Charlie hasn’t had as many opportunities. Ochai is developing as a shooter. Devon (Dotson), from a percentage standpoint, is terrific. He just doesn’t take many (3-point shots). To be candid with you guys, it’s not quite as easy to score easy points when you can run bad offense and a guy can just jump up and make a shot. Lagerald has made a ton of those for us this year; bad or marginal shots, at best, and he just knocks them down. Well, the bottom line is we don’t have as many other guys who can get their own, so we have to manufacture some things. That’s why it’s so important that everybody be aggressive and try to force help. We’ve got better shooters than we’ve shot it, but certainly, it’s not going to be like it was last year.”



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