Press Conference: Coach Self and Mason preview postseason play

Video Press Conference Video

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Ahead of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball Championship this week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, senior guard Frank Mason III and head coach Bill Self met with members of the media in Allen Fieldhouse to preview the week ahead.



Q. Regarding Frank Mason III, where did you see the improvement in his game?
COACH SELF: I think he’s improved in all phases, leadership, intangibles, but primarily his consistency shooting the basketball. He’s always been a good finisher and everything, but I think he’s more aggressive and looking to score more. I think that’s things that he’s probably done as well as anything.

Q. A lot of times you get that freshman/sophomore jump. Did Frank Mason III make a big is jump junior year to senior year?
COACH SELF: I think he made a big jump, but I thought he was pretty darn good as a sophomore and I thought he was pretty darn good as a junior. I just think that he wasn’t looking to score as much. You had Perry (Ellis) and Wayne (Selden Jr.).

In the games we struggled he was always our leading scorer, or seemed that way to me. This year he’s kind of been our leading scorer regardless if we’re struggling or not. I think he’s taken the approach I’m going to be more aggressive the last year than the first two. By nature he’s obviously a very aggressive person on the basketball court.

Q. Talking to some of the pro guys, and Frank Mason III has really opened their eyes this year. What do you think he has done to give himself a chance at that level?
COACH SELF: I think winning trumps everything. I think Frank would agree with that. But also, you know, the naysayers would look at his height. But the league is getting a little bit smaller and more guys are having success, whether it be a Yogi Ferrell or whatnot that’s not that big.

I think Frank is different than those. To me, he reminds me of a different type of guard. I don’t think anybody has ever questioned his toughness or the fact that he’s a good player.

I just think they question can he do what he does against bigger guys and NBA players. The way he finishes and the now the way he shoots it, it certainly puts you in a situation where you got to guard him. Now if you guard him, all you do is open up driving angles, which we all know he’s very good at touching the paint off the bounds.

Q. He came in and started a few games as a freshman. Do you think that accelerated his growth?
COACH SELF: I can’t go there. We can look back and say, ‘Well, this was a turning point or that.’ Who knows? But I do think that he should have played more as a freshman. I think his mindset coming in here was more to fit in, and now he’s more to take what he thinks he deserves. But I think even though he wouldn’t admit to that, I do think it took him a while to kind of get to that point.

Q. About a month, six weeks ago, you didn’t quite know what the identity of the team was at that time. When did it define itself and what is it?
COACH SELF: You know, if you say toughness, I think that obviously you don’t always play to that. But I think the identity for this team, as much as anything, is mental toughness. I think it’s a pretty mentally tough team. Doesn’t mean you’re going to play well.

It seems like to me they enjoy the harder moments more. Very rarely have I been around a team that actually enjoys it when it’s hard. You know, most teams would go into an opposing crowd and say, ‘Okay, now let’s figure out a way to take the crowd out of the game.’ They go in there saying, ‘No, give us what you got. This makes it more fun.’

So I think enjoying the competition may be an identity. I don’t know. Most team’s toughness – rebounding, defense – we’re good at that, but usually only in the lasts four or five minute at the level we want to be good at.

I don’t know what it is, but I think enjoying the moment would probably be as much as anything.

Good question though. Hadn’t thought about it.

Q. Speak to the strength of the Big 12 point guards, and does that make Frank Mason III’s accomplishments any more special?
COACH SELF: I don’t think it makes it more special. I think it gives it more reason why it occurred. I think in Frank’s mind, when he looks across and sees he’s going against (Iowa State’s) Monte Morris, (West Virginia’s) Jevon Carter, (Oklahoma State’s) Juwan Evans, or (Baylor’s) Manu Lecomte or whoever it is, (Texas Tech’s) Keenan Evans — no matter who it is – (Oklahoma’s) Jordan Woodard. (K-State’s) Kamau Stokes is a good guard. You can go on and on.

No matter what, I think that’s what brings his level up himself. So he’ll always put team first, but there is something inside him, like with a lot of players, that enjoy that personal kind of confrontation. I think those other players — it’s a great point guard league, the best the league has ever been at point.

What it does it is raises everybody’s level. I tell Frank, ‘They’re telling their player they get to recruit against the best guard in the league’ … ‘You were the pre-season player of the year, not him,’ or whatever the situation would be.

I think it raises Monte’s level, Juwan’s level, and I know it raised Frank’s level. Because they’re all terrific. I was really happy to see, in USA TODAY, Monte make third team and (Baylor’s Johnathan) Motley make third team All-American. So, I mean, I love seeing that. That’s good.

Q. It was about this time last year Devonte’ Graham really elevated his game to another level. Why haven’t we seen that yet? What would it take for him to bring it?
COACH SELF: I think we have seen it. I just think he’s deferred a little bit. The game he had against Oklahoma State, (Phil) Forte made one shot on him. The other shots he made — no, no, I take that back. He made two. He made two twos on him. The other shots he made were off switches.

I think Devonte’ has elevated his game in a lot of ways. We just haven’t seen it through points as much. I think he’s playing well, the best ball he’s played all year right now. In large part because I think he’s playing both ends better.

What did he go, four for eight from three the other day? I mean, in a pretty competitive game and everything, that’s pretty good, considering you got two other guys kind of All-Americans out there playing next to you. I think he’s picking his spots pretty good.

But you’re right, flashes against West Virginia, flashes against Oklahoma. We have no chance to win those games without him. We saw that three or four times late in the season last year that I think kind of gave us a sense every game would be like that.

He’s had some games like that. Just hasn’t had the opportunity to have as many.

Q. You’ve had some injuries early on in the year, which limits who you can go to on the bench. Do you feel like now your bench is a little deeper?
COACH SELF: Lagerald (Vick) has been good all year. Lagerald had a little bit of a dip, but for the most part everybody goes through that. He’s been good all year. The thing that’s been encouraging to me is our seventh man, and usually Carlton (Bragg Jr.) more so than Dwight (Coleby), has played better of late. In the time he maybe didn’t have his best game, Dwight had his best game of the year.

You look at it, we can definitely go eight, and we could go nine with Mitch (Lightfoot), but we could definitely go eight depending on the situation.

I feel pretty confident we can get seven guys out there all contributing in a positive way.

Q. From November to March, what part of Josh Jackson’s game has he worked the hardest at to improve?
COACH SELF: You know, I look at Josh — I don’t think it was anything unnatural, if that’s a word, for him not to shoot the ball well early in his college career. I think there was pressure on him. You have all these expectations coming in. I think operating under a little bit of duress probably didn’t help him in skill type things.

But you look at it, and he’s been pretty consistently good in defense, rebounding, extra possessions, energy, making plays for others offensively, passing. He’s been a consistent scorer. I could be wrong on this, and Gary will know for sure, but I think like in the last 17 out of 19 games he scored at least 14 points, something like that.

So he’s been a model of consistency. If you’re going to look at one thing, obviously say, ‘Well, he’s shooting the ball better.’ That would be the one thing. I’m not sure it’s because he worked on it so much more. It’s just something he kind of had to go through. But he has worked on it.

Q. Pretty much every year you have a guy like him. You only get one season with him.
COACH SELF: I think his mental makeup and maturity. He’s beyond his years. He just turned 19 not too long ago, but he certainly doesn’t play like a 19-year-old or act like one. In crucial situations he’s got a calmness about him.

I think that his intangible makeup is as good as any that I’ve ever been around, especially at that age.

Q. Looking at head at Mitch Lightfoot, how could he possibly help you in the tournament, and looking ahead in future years, what do you see from Mitch and how he can contribute?
COACH SELF: I see Mitch as a Travis Releford, an Elijah Johnson, Jamari Traylor. Those guys may have played a little bit more than Mitch early on, but it’s hard to take a guy like Josh (Jackson) off (the) court unless situations dictate it: Injuries or foul problems or whatnot. He’s too good. (We’ve been) playing close games.

So Mitch hasn’t had the opportunities that we probably thought he would have before the season started. But Mitch is going to be a good player. He’s an athlete. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s got nice touch on the ball.

He needs to have a big summer, and certainly his minutes will steadily improve. But I said all long we recruited Mitch not for his first year, but as a program guy that two years from now everybody will say, ‘Man, aren’t you glad you got Mitch Lightfoot?’

I believe that will be the case. He’s basically right on schedule with what we thought he would be. I wish we would’ve played him more. I’ll look back and probably kick myself about that quite a bit.

When we made the decision to go to four guards, that eliminated a lot of his opportunities.

Q. What about Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk? What do you think of how he played last game?
COACH SELF: I thought he was okay. I thought he was okay. I thought he got one bad foul called and picked up a bad one on his third.

I think it totally took his confidence away and he wasn’t aggressive. At least he came out shooting the ball. Svi is a good player. No doubt about that. He knows he’s a good player. He hasn’t had his best couple weeks he’s had since he’s been here. Hopefully this is a week where he can get it back.

Q. If a guy isn’t an exceptional defender, how much can athletic ability maybe disguise deficiencies?
COACH SELF: Well, a lot. If you’re an athlete, you can fake a screen, get over a ball screen. You can not be in the proper position, but somehow or another can recover that other guys can’t.

There is no question that you want athletic guys that are sound. That’s the biggest thing. But I would rather have an unsound athletic guy than an unsound nonathletic guy. We’ve got some guys like that, but I think they’re learning.

Our defense, it’s not the best in the country by any stretch, but I think it’s gotten significantly better over the last month or so.

But having a guy — let’s just say Lagerald (Vick) for instance. He’s a pretty good defender, but he can make a mistake and then he can recover by blocking a shot. A lot of times, bad defense becomes great opportunities offensively.

If you make a bad play it forces rotation. If you have a rim protector it’s a blocked shot which leads to a run-out.

Whereas if you keep him in front of you all the time it may just lead to a missed shot and rebound and walk it up. So there are opportunities there, but certainly athletic ability does make a difference.

Q. (Regarding Saturday’s game and momentum for the tournament.)
COACH SELF: I thought we played pretty well. I thought they played well, too. I didn’t think we were bad defensively. I hadn’t had very many people comment that it was a stellar defensive performance, but I didn’t think we were bad.

A lot of hard shots were contested. You would think it would be nice momentum, but how many times have you seen a football team play great on Saturday and you think they’re on their way and lay an egg the next Saturday. That could happen with us, too.

I would think from a confidence standpoint, I don’t know that that one game did a lot. I think the culmination of games late in the season should have our guys going into the Big 12 Tournament pretty confident.

Q. Do you like the confidence of your team throughout being battle tested?
COACH SELF: Yeah, yeah, I do. I think there are a couple guys that can have more confidence shooting the ball right now and things like that. For the most part, guys are playing with a free mind.

I think at this time of year, you obviously want fresh bodies and fresh minds, and part of having a fresh mind is a free mind. I think for the most part most of the guys are playing that way.

Q. What area has pleased you the most going into postseason play?
COACH SELF: I think our field goal percentage has gotten a little bit better. It’s not the great. I think even though we’re not a great rebounding team, to win by 12 down there (at Oklahoma State), I think — you know, the biggest problem we’ve had, if you guys have followed us closely, and the majority of you have, is Landen (Lucas) and Josh (Jackson) do a good job rebounding the ball. Our guards haven’t been any good at cleaning up.

Long shots mean long rebounds. We’ve been a team that a lot of people choose to attack us by shooting a lot of threes.

The other night, Frank (Mason III) gets eight, Devonte’ (Graham) gets whatever his number was; Lagerald (Vick) gets eight. That’s the difference. That’s why we out-rebounded Oklahoma State by 12. Not because of our bigs but because of our guards.

That’s the one area we wrote down that we have to improve on if we’re going to have a chance to have success in the postseason.

Q. Josh Jackson is going to get a lot of looks at the free throw line just by the nature of his game. Are you a little concerned that maybe he hasn’t shot as well knowing he’s going to get opportunities late in the game, that free throws maybe the difference in the game?
COACH SELF: Sure. I think every coach is concerned about a lot of things, but that’s one. I’m not going to — I’ve said it before, I’m not going to make a big deal about that. He’s got to make ’em. You know, he’s proven to me over time that when it counts the most, he usually does.

We’re not as poor a free throwing team as people make us out to be. We’ve had a lot of good teams here. I bet you we’ve had a lot of good teams that didn’t shoot 71 percent from the line. I could be wrong.

Sasha Kaun wasn’t exactly Rick Berry when he went to the line, okay? So we’ve had numerous things like that. We’re shooting 71 percent in league play, which is not awful. It’s not awful. It’s not good enough. But knowing if the other guys continue shooting at the same rate and Josh just improve a little bit, that’s a 75 percent free throwing team. I think he will.

Q. Frank Mason III said rebounding first, and then he said shoot at least 80 percent as far as keys to successes. Is that a talk you’ve had or him throwing that out?
COACH SELF: Talking about himself or the team? Yeah, well, if we can shoot 80 percent from the line, that would be great, Frank. I don’t know why he didn’t say 95. That would even be better. But I think rebounding and stealing extra possessions and certainly converting. The points is well taken. When you got guards and you drive it downhill, you hope to shoot a lot of free throws. You’ve got to convert.

Q. Starting this week, do your guys look at going forward any differently than the regular season?
COACH SELF: Maybe. Maybe. I think our approach is going to be a little different because we’re going to try to rest more. We’ll talk to them about — so we’ll take yesterday and today off. How are we going to be on Tuesday and Wednesday?

You got to trust that they’re going to come out and be fresh and enthused and all these things and know that Tuesday will be an average practice at best, and then Wednesday needs to be good. Based on my experiences giving guys days off, usually don’t come back as good.

But I think their mindset doesn’t need to change. Hopefully the mindset does change in this regard, ‘Hey, guys, the finish line is near. You can see the end of the tunnel, and so now what are we going to do? Get our extra rest, take care of our bodes better, eliminate distractions.’

To me, that needs to be the mindset not so much what happens between the lines.

Q. Would you rest guys more during the games?
COACH SELF: No, no. That’s not fair to our players. I know everybody says that. You think you ask Frank — this is how we done is all year long. It’s been pretty good.

‘Hey, Frank, we’re only going to play you 27 minutes today,’ when you’re trying to win a game? ‘Why you even play me at all then, Coach?’

Nothing will change on that.

Q. (Regarding NCAA Tournament seeding going into the Big 12 Tournament. Is the No. 1 overall seed wrapped up?)
COACH SELF: No, I don’t agree with the No. 1 overall, nor do I think that’s important. I do think would be hard pressed to say we wouldn’t be a No. 1 seed. I guess anything can happen and I’m not going to make any bold predictions, but I don’t know that that one would be too bold. I think we can be a 1 seed. Next step of course would hopefully be a 1 seed in the Midwest.

But if you look at it, not that I do, a lot of things could happen. You could have Gonzaga as a No. 1 and the winner of the Pac-12 a No. 1. If that’s the case, they have to ship one of them to different region. Maybe they could go Midwest?

If Carolina or whoever is a No. 1, they’ll stay in their respective deal. Villanova will stay in the east in their respective deal.

I guess it (a No. 1 overall seed) could happen, but we could probably solidify that by playing well this weekend obviously.

Q. (Regarding Landen Lucas.)
COACH SELF: He only shoots layups. That helps. He shoots shots that are real close to the goal. One thing I think everybody would agree, frustration at times would set in with Landen because he would get the ball in tight and not finish in years past.

He’s become a better finisher. I think that’s as much as anything. And he’s gotten more confidence scoring the ball inside. He made a jump hook there at Oklahoma State that was sweet. Caught it on the right block and gave a little hitch and went back and shot a jump hook off the glass about five feet. That’s a big time post move.

I think he’s getting more confident, but the biggest thing is he’s finishing.

Q. What does it mean that the Big 12 coaches named you Big 12 Coach of the Year?
COACH SELF: It’s nice. It’s nice. Certainly appreciate it. Guys, you guys know as well as I do, if Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham isn’t on your team, nobody is getting recognition for any coaching awards.

So I mean, it’s very nice, but I think I had an advantage by having those guys on my team.

Q. About a month ago you said you gave this team more freedom to shoot early. What do you mean by that?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I think we’ve always — you guys disagree, but we’ve always been a team that wants to score fast. Out of scoring fast, if it’s not there, give the defense a chance to break down. We’ve always played through our bigs. Now it’s more like, ‘No, go score however you can whenever you can.’

I think we’re trying to score more before defenses get set maybe than in years past. Nobody can say we’ve ever played slow. I certainly think this year has been a much faster pace than we have played.

A lot of times the appearance of playing faster is shooting faster, and we definitely have had shorter possessions. I haven’t done a study on that and I don’t know who has, but I would bet our possessions have been shorter this year than probably any time I’ve coached.

Q. How do you feel about Missouri head coach Kim Anderson being fired?
COACH SELF: I hate it. I’ve known Kim a long time and he was a great player at Missouri. Player of the Year in the league, and even a better guy. He was on the Big 12 for a while. Did a great job at Central Missouri.

He inherited from the outside looking in a pretty tough situation. I know some of his staff members, and everybody works hard and nobody likes to see anybody lose their position.

Certainly I feel bad for Kim and the staff. People do things and make choices in the best interest of the university. It’s a business decision, I’m sure. It’s not personal, because there is not a better guy out there than Kim.

Q. What about all your former assistants who are doing well?
COACH SELF: Talked to Joe (Dooley, FGCU head coach) last night. Aaron (Miles) is on staff there, too. Visited with Aaron. Talked to Jank (Tim Jankovich, SMU head coach). They’re all on cloud nine.

Talked to Barry (Hinson, Southern Illinois head coach). Even though they got beat, they tied for third in the league, which was a great year in a tough league.

Doc (Sadler, Southern Miss head coach) has probably struggled as much as anybody because of the situation he inherited. I’m happy for those guys. I’m proud of them — not that that would mean a lot. But they have done real well.

Danny (Manning, Wake Forest head coach), of course. I don’t see how he’s on the bubble (of the NCAA Tournament). I think he’s got to be in. Winning one more would solidify it. I think they play Boston College in the first game (of the ACC Tournament). Yeah, Danny has done great. To win those high-pressure games, Louisville and Virginia Tech the last week, I think probably tipped the scale in their favor.


Q. Coming into the season, what were your goals compared to the actuality?
FRANK MASON III: My goals were just to be successful as a team, do whatever I can do to make sure it’s successful. You know, really change it on the defensive game and get after it.

Q. What did you work on in the off-season?
FRANK MASON III: Worked on a lot of ball handling, different shooting drills, conditioning, things like that.

Q. What does the team have to do to be successful in the postseason?
FRANK MASON III: We have to rebound the ball; we have to defend at a high level; we have to be coachable; we have to execute on the offensive end and make at least 80 percent of our free throws.

Q. When you were working on individual stuff this summer, how much of it is geared towards maybe questions that NBA people have about you and trying to play professionally?
FRANK MASON III: Well, just working with guys who had that experience at the pro level. Learned a lot from those guys. Just took me to a lot of those pro-type workouts, and I think it really paid off.

Q. Do you think you’ve put yourself in a position to get to the next level?
FRANK MASON III: Haven’t really been thinking about that. I’ve just been enjoying college and focusing on the season. I haven’t been thinking about the NBA.

Q. With your team being the focus for you, when you look back to this season, do you have a favorite moment or play of yours that jumps out to you?
FRANK MASON III: Favorite moment probably would be the West Virginia game when we made the comeback. Other than that, favorite play would probably be against Stanford when I hit the reverse layup.

Q. What was the most complete game this team has played this season?
FRANK MASON III: Most complete game? Not really sure right now. I would say (at) Baylor. I like the way we played against Baylor. We didn’t get off to a good start, but I think we played pretty good.

Q. Has it sunk in that you’re name is up there in that player of the year group?
FRANK MASON III: Yeah, it’s pretty cool to see my name alongside those great KU players. Means a lot to me. Nothing would mean more than winning the National Championship game. None of this would be possible without my teammates and coaching staff.

Q. Looking back to freshman year, you got the chance to start a few games. Was that maybe motivation to get back to the starting spot?
FRANK MASON III: Yeah, it definitely did. As a freshman I was just accepting my role, and I learned a lot as a freshman. I think that really helped me out moving forward throughout my career and it paid off for me.

Q. What did you learn in those first few starts?
FRANK MASON III: Mainly learning the offense, learning exactly what Coach Self wants. Just learning how to be a leader, learning how to be a point guard.

Q. Are you a better scorer or distributor?
FRANK MASON III: Both. I could be a better scorer some nights, and some nights I could be a better distributor. I’m not really sure. I think it’s a mixture of both.

Q. Coach Bill Self said earlier in the year he’s been giving you guys more freedom to shoot early. Do you know what he means by that?
FRANK MASON III: Yeah, definitely. You know, it’s been like that all year, even a little bit last year. He trusts us a lot more and he trusts his guards to make plays early on the shot clock, and we’re thankful for that. We try to take advantage of that and create easy shots for our teammates or myself.

Q. What does it do for guys if you have more freedom?
FRANK MASON III: I think it helps me because I’m probably at my best in transition. That’s when we try and get out and run. Works for me, and I think it’s great for our team.

Q. Has not having advanced to the Final Four weigh on you now that this is your last chance?
FRANK MASON III: Yeah, I think about it all the time. You know, it’s the last go-round, and just trying to do everything we can to make it to that point. I definitely think about it all the time.

Q. Are there other teams or players or coaches across the country in college basketball that have impressed you?
FRANK MASON III: I watch a lot of different college teams, college players. As far as teams, I would say Villanova. I like the way they play. I think they play really hard on the defensive and execute pretty well on the offensive end. Oregon looks pretty good to me. UCLA, they play with a nice pace, get up and down the floor. Few other teams I really like.

Q. Is there sleeper for the tournament, a guy to keep an eye on maybe?
FRANK MASON III: Well, it’s March. Anything is possible. We don’t sleep on any team. We take it one game at a time and really focus in on the scouting report. We can’t sleep on a team because of that record. Obviously, if they’re in a tournament they’re a pretty good team and have a chance of doing something special. We just want to take every game serious and focus in on the scouting report and give ourselves the best chance to be successful.

Q. You’ve played both teams twice already. How does that help prepare for the Big 12 Tournament?
FRANK MASON III: I think it helps a lot on the defensive end because we know personnel. Just having faced them two different times helps us on the defensive end, what kind of action they like to run, who they like to give the ball to, and things like that. I think this helps us a lot.

Q. Last year, one win from the Final Four. As you prepare for the next one, anything you can take from last year’s loss to help you moving forward?
FRANK MASON III: Well, we want to win every time we step on the court, but we can learn something from every loss. I think if we do that and be coachable and get back and look at them and see the things that we can change to get better, then I think it’ll really help us moving forward.

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