Self talks Azubuike’s injury, previews TCU at weekly presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – There were many topics of conversation Monday as Bill Self met with the media at Allen Fieldhouse for his weekly press conference, but the main subject centered around how he expects his team to move forward following the season-ending injury to junior center Udoka Azubuike. Self also previewed the Jayhawks’ Wednesday-night contest against No. 25 TCU and what it will take for KU to rebound from its second loss of the season.
A video of the press conference is available on ESPN+ and a full transcript is below.
On who he expects to step up in Udoka Azubuike’s absence:
“It will need to be collectively. We played without Doke (Azubuike) for four games and actually did a pretty decent job during those particular games, but not great. We labored against New Mexico State but played pretty good against Villanova. The lineup certainly didn’t cost us the game against Arizona State, even though we lost. Dedric (Lawson) is not a five (center) and we’re going to have to play him at the five. He’s much better when he can face (the basket) and drive a guy, or whatever. We’ll tweak some things on what we need to do. We don’t have much time to do it. It will be a collective effort by everybody.”
On changing schemes knowing this is who we are:
“We’re still trying to figure some stuff out. We do a lot of things that it doesn’t appear like we do anything. We’re one those, right now, when we get out of kilter, we do a lot of things but don’t do anything real well offensively. We need to tighten that ship a little bit and reduce what we are trying to accomplish offensively where the guys maybe can execute a few things differently. We have 70 plays, believe it or not, or 60 plays and we don’t run any of them very well. Maybe run five and run those well. I think that will be something, to try to simplify a little bit.”
On going with Marcus Garrett:
“We’re still going to play two bigs some, we have to. I would think the majority of the minutes, if you are going to break it down, and this is what I’ve tried to do, break it down; how many minutes in a game would you play two bigs as opposed to how many minutes in a game would you play four guards. And if the number is real high with the four guards, which it should be, then you don’t have a lot of bench. There is not a lot of bench for foul situations and things like that. I think our opponent will dictate some of that and what we do. There are some things we need to tighten up. We went into the season, this is by fault of me without question, thinking the strength of our team would be playing two bigs and playing through Dedric (Lawson) who is our best passer and Doke who is our best low-post scorer and everything. New Dedric’s passing has been eliminated in so many ways because he doesn’t have guys like Doke to throw it to on the block. And out low post presence has been eliminated in some ways, but not totally. We’ve got to get David (McCormack) and Mitch (Lightfoot) where they are doing a good job in executing what we are trying to do. And we can do that. This is not a lost deal by any means but certainly not the ideal situation to kind of have to revamp who you are after conference play starts.”
On the bench idea of playing four-guard lineups would you consider Ochai Agbaji not redshirting:
“We haven’t made that decision, but to be real candid with you, Ochai, myself and mom and dad, we’ve all talked about it. I haven’t made a decision to do that whatsoever because if you bring him out, you bring him out to play him. Is he good enough? Absolutely. There’s no question. But the reality of it is, it’s a different pressure that he hasn’t had the chance to experience any of it. The games he played in high school, even though he was a very good player, weren’t state championship games. So your first taste is not even a Michigan State. Your first taste is going on the road in a hostile place and have him deliver. He’s been great in practice and has gotten a lot better but it’s a different type of environment that he has never experience before. Are we thinking about it? Absolutely. But have we made a decision yet? We have not.”
On most fixable shortcomings from Saturday in the loss at Iowa State:
“I would say the lack of togetherness and cohesiveness and leadership. I hate to beat a dead horse but Saturday, we played awful and they played really well. But even as bad as we were, we were up four with two and a half left in the first half, so they weren’t great either for the first half. We gave them at least probably 15 possessions where they didn’t have to defend us. They probably gave us five, so that is a plus-10. That’s a chance between 20 and 30 points that we just said, ‘we don’t want it’ because of unforced errors. That was frustrating but still, with all that being said, it’s a single-digit game under 10 (minutes). We’ve won a lot of games where it is a single-digit game under 10. That’s not a panic situation. But it was a different feel this time because we didn’t have anybody bring us together like we’ve had in the past. We played as bad against West Virginia last year as we did Saturday. We just had some seniors that flipped it and we just didn’t have anybody flip it the other day. Of course, the last 10 minutes against West Virginia we played perfect.”
On if there has been progress on Silvio De Sousa’s situation:
“No, there is not at this point in time that I know about. I know the University is working hard trying to bring a resolution to it but that hasn’t occurred yet. I’m not privy to all the information on timetable and stuff like that. When I ask my daily deal, it’s ‘working on it’, which is 100 percent accurate and we know that to be the case.”
On how it is frustrating Silvio De Sousa:
“He is crushed. And he will be more crushed now because his partner (Azubuike) can’t play and he knows his role could be bigger. Whether Doke plays or not, that is totally isolated form Silvio, totally different. We would want him to be available and have him the chance to do regardless of Dokes situation. You could think it could be a little more magnified now. In my world and my eyes, it’s not. It’s still the same situation that we are in. People are trying to move forward with it. It’s just not as quickly as we had hoped.”
On the long term plan for Azubuike:
“Yesterday, when he was told and when I was told what the deal was, I don’t think it’s the time to say, ‘well you got this and that’. Here’s the bottom line, the kid is 19-years-old. So if he enters the (NBA) draft this year, he’s still one of the youngest guys in the draft, even though he’s a junior. There is nothing with his biological basketball clock is ticking that he needs to hurry up. There’s nothing like that, even though in his mind, I’ve been there three years. That is a positive thought. He will have options. He could go (professional) and hopefully put himself in a position. He could return, that’s a case that he could do. This would never happen but technically, he could get the year, a medical hardship. Technically, he could have two but that’s not going to happen so there is no reason to worry about that. We should not feel bad for us. We should feel bad for him. If you look at it, the kid hasn’t played in very many games since he’s been here. He played 11 games as a freshman and missed the whole season as a starter on a team that could win a national championship. Last year, he got hurt at an inopportune time even though he toughed it out, came back and gave us a chance to go to the Final Four. And this year he plays nine games on a team that is preseason No. 1 in the country and we’re undefeated when he plays. It’s a crushing blow to him. I think he has options. We know he’s going to heal based on his other hand. And we know the timeframe it will take to heal. For a 19-year-old, that’s not the easiest thing to digest right now. It’s probably too early to talk about the future.”
On if it’s fair to expect Devon Dotson to step into a leadership role:
“Is it fair that anybody is thrown into a position that maybe they’re not quite ready for? But they still have got to do it. Is it fair that somebody who’s an intern at a job quits and you’ve got to put them in there for an important, month-long period until you can hire somebody? Is it fair? Do you expect the same results? Absolutely you do. I think anything’s fair. I do, I believe that. But it’s also not easy too. Everybody could do more. Doke (Azubuike) didn’t give us that verbal leadership or anything like that, but he did give us a ‘security blanket’ when he was out there. Certainly, we’ve got to have somebody that’s willing to go out of their comfort zone and to go attack it. I think that Devon is probably the best prospect to do that. If you saw Devon, where he was in June, to where he is now in regards to comfort level and things like that, he’s made tremendous progress. In order for us to get to where we want to go, and have the year we hope to have, he probably needs to do more. Is it fair? Maybe not, but he’s capable. It’s certainly something where he hadn’t had a chance to be with Frank (Mason III) and Devonte’ (Graham) and watch them. He hasn’t had a chance to learn from others.”

On the defensive difference being without having Azubuike available:
“We didn’t have great shot blockers, but Doke was a presence that at least people had to think about certain things. If you stop think about it, can we become totally opposite of what we’ve been? Can we become a charge-taking team? Since we don’t have shot blockers, can we become a team that’s better positionally, that you can’t get beat as much because you don’t have the guy behind? Could we be a team that maybe soft presses and do some things to create activity? Things like that, that maybe wouldn’t be in our best interest if you’re playing two bigs, stuff like that. So we’ve got some stuff to look at. I don’t think we need to change who we are but we do need to make some tweaks to allow us to have a different mindset, defensively, at least in some situations.”

On Quentin Grimes’ improved play over the last three games:
“I didn’t want to downplay the other day, but it’s hard to get excited about someone scoring some points when your team plays bad. Bad teams have leading scorers and we were obviously a bad team on Saturday. But, from a positive standpoint with him, he’s seeing the ball go in the hole, he’s shooting with more confidence, he finished a couple of tough plays around the basket. I think he is on an uptick, big time. I think he’s playing the best ball he’s played since he’s been here. So, that to me, is very positive. The thing about it is, the other day, he didn’t have much help. You take him away and what were we, 3-of-15 from three? I could be off. I think we were 6-of-20, so the last two games combined we are 9-of-41 (from behind the 3-point arc). And that makes it hard on everybody. I watched the Iowa State game, that we played against them here, and I just happened to remember what was on the bottom line: at one point in time in the game, we were 13-of-25 from three. It’s not like guys can just step up, space it and made some shots last year. We’re never going to shoot that high of a percentage as we did last year from three, but we’re certainly going to be a lot more capable of doing what we’re doing. And we will, I have no problem stating that. I’m confident we will. But we’ve still got to manufacture some things so that the things we don’t do quite as good, how are we going to make up for that in other areas? How are we going to score in transition? How are we going to get offensive-rebound putbacks? These were things we were obviously laboring with that makes the other things magnified. Because if you did those things, then the other things aren’t magnified as much.”

On what he initially imagined Ochai Agbaji’s role to be right away:
“I don’t know. I think he’s going to be a really good player. I’m not saying we’re going to bring him out; I didn’t say that at all. But going back to June and watching him, I thought he had a chance to really good.”

On if Agbaji is an effective 3-point shooter:
“He can make shots, yeah.”

On what he thinks of TCU’s backcourt, where they rank in the league:
“I thought that Iowa State had, by far, the best guards we’ve played against this year. By far. (Senior guard Alex) Robinson, statistically, is better than anybody. He’s averaging nine assists a game, the ball’s in his hands and he’s really, really fast. He’s experienced. Then (junior guard Jaylen) Fisher can do some things; score the ball and really been effective, even though he didn’t play the last game, but it was only because he’d gotten his knee drained. We expect him to play Wednesday. And (junior guard Desmond) Bane is having a good year. Bane is their leading scorer, if I’m not mistaken. Their guards are good; if you look at the matchup on paper, you may say that that may be a situation that, obviously, we need to be concerned with. They don’t have (Vladimir) Brodziansky anymore to throw it into, but they’ve got enough guys. (Senior forward JD) Miller’s having a good year, obviously. And they’ve got (redshirt-freshman center Kevin) Samuel. They’ve got enough guys that you’ve got to defend the post, but primarily they are spreading it and they are putting the ball in Robinson’s hands and letting him make plays. That’s hard to guard.”

On his evaluation of Lagerald Vick over his last few outings:
“He’s doing okay. He’s not shooting the ball like he shot it earlier (this season), but you knew that would happen. He was on such a roll earlier; nobody gets on rolls like that. But we know he’s got it in him, so you know at any point in time, he can make four or five in a row and totally change a game. But he’s doing fine. He’s doing fine. One thing I think we can all get better at is when things aren’t going particularly well individually, we’ve got to figure out a way to still stay engaged as much. That’s hard sometimes for scorers and shooters to do. That’s certainly the case with our team, because we’re a little bit inconsistent shooting the ball. So everybody needs to stay engaged.”

On whether he believes Azubuike can mentor the other KU bigs while he is out:
“He can, but he won’t initially. Surgery will be some point in time this week, so he’ll be gone and then after surgery, with school being out, I’ll imagine he’ll be back here, but there’s a chance he may go home for a few days. He’ll have a role and he’ll do a great job with that, but right now, it’s probably too early for him to try to coach those guys on a daily basis, even though I know he will once he gets back and back to ‘normal.’ Right now it’s not ‘normal’ for him.”
On whether the game vs. TCU is a “keystone” game for this team:
“Keystone may be too strong, but thing about it is that it is certainly a big game because we are playing a team, I haven’t seen the polls. Did TCU crack the top-25 today? (Ranked No. 25) Okay so we are playing another top-ranked team at home. We don’t need to say that we are short-handed anymore, we are not short-handed. This is who we got. So we don’t need to say, ‘Well we don’t have Doke, we are playing short-handed.’ We are not playing short-handed. This is who we got. So we need to change our mind-set that what we need to do in order to be successful. And I think what we need to do to play well isn’t any different than what we have been stressing all along. I just think it is magnified now a lot more. And yeah we’ve got it in us, I mean there is no doubt about that. This team has got a lot of pride, we got this.”
On McCormack and whether more minutes with Azubuike out will help him develop:
“Yeah I think so, no question. No question he can do that. David has a different skill set than Silvio has, but I think that he can certainly do some things to stabilize. You know you are not going to throw it to him and score as many points, but he can certainly do some things to stabilize the interior, which he is more than capable of doing.”
On how the process of “re-imagining his team” works with he and his coaches:
“I remember when Wayne (Simien) got hurt and broke his hand, we totally changed everything in a two- or three-day period, totally changed everything. And thankfully we did because it stuck with us. But we are dealing with Doke, we are dealing with doctors, we are dealing with surgeries, we are dealing with travel, we are dealing with mindsets. Players didn’t even know — when it was released to the media — players didn’t even know yet yesterday. So, there are other things we are working with than just kind of tweaking. But there is 24 hours in a day, so we have still got plenty of time to get some stuff done.”
On his comfortability with the four-guard line-up:
“Yeah, we are actually better playing four guards. If you can put Frank (Mason III) and Josh (Jackson) and Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Devonte’ (Graham) out there, I think it is damn good us playing four guards. The thing lately about it is, this isn’t anything different. Look at the rebound advantage we have the other day playing small (41-26 vs. Iowa State). It was a beat down on the glass playing small. Now a lot of those are misleading because they are long shots, long rebounds. Only guards can get those and stuff like that. But still, there are some things that we did that were positive even though we played small. But our offense was just horrendous, it was just brutally stagnant. We had nowhere to go. So those are the things I think we need to tighten up more than anything else.”
On the similarities between Azubuike’s injury this weekend and the injury in his freshman year:
“Identical. They said that they could flip the X-rays with the left hand and right hand and line it up perfectly, said it was identical. So yeah, I shouldn’t say the X-rays I should say the MRIs, obviously the X-rays didn’t show that but yeah it is an identical injury.”
On how Azubuike injured his hand:
“I am not sure. It was just kind of hit in practice. It was not a fall, something just happened and it happened to catch it just right. But I don’t know exactly. First time two years ago it got caught in a jersey, this one I don’t think was that I think this one he just got a hit.”
On if Azubuike knew right away it was the same injury:
“No, we taped it and he practiced. But it was really bothering him. What is frustrating is you know he wants to play. He wants to play, but the pain tolerance just wouldn’t allow him to do it. And it is frustrating to me sometimes when people assume he should be out there. This kid shouldn’t have been out there. He wanted to try to be out there, but there is just no way he could’ve gone.”



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