Self talks Final Four at weekly press conference
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Prior to departing for his third and Kansas’ 15th Final Four, head coach Bill Self met with members of the media at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday to discuss the Jayhawks’ upcoming week in San Antonio, which will include a national semifinal clash with the Villanova Wildcats on Saturday, March 31.
A video of the press conference can be seen on the Kansas Basketball Facebook Page. A full transcript is available below.
HEAD COACH BILL SELF
Q. I don’t remember the exact quote but I think you said, “How cool it would be able to coach this team in the Final Four, especially with Devonte’ (Graham)?” How cool is it?
COACH SELF: It is cool. It’s cool for everybody that support us. It’s not cool for other people that don’t probably (support us). But getting a chance to coach him another week, he and Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) and certainly, you know, having them have a chance to play in something that we came up short in the last two years, yeah, it’s pretty cool. And plus, this year’s team, even though it’s a good team and all those things, the vast majority of the season we weren’t a Final Four-type team. We certainly played to it here as of late.
Q. I went back and looked at the tapes of you that we shot after 2008, and after 2012, and you were excited, but it seemed like you were a little more emotional (this time around). Am I crazy?
COACH SELF: You’re probably crazy (laughing). You guys have more access now than what you did back then. But maybe so. (The) 2008 (season) was relief as much as anything. That was like a gorilla on our back, (one) that we couldn’t get off there for a while. Then in 2012, we really didn’t expect to be there in 2012 but we played to a pretty high level and won it.
With this team it’s been a little bit different. Plus the chance to play — in 2012, we had a chance to play (North) Carolina to go to the Final Four. This year we had a chance to play Duke to go to the Final Four. I think when you win games against those type of Blue Bloods maybe makes even an Elite Eight, which is always special, makes it even a little more special.
Q. You talked yesterday about some personal characteristics that people had to turn around and that they did 100 percent and that was one of the keys to your team turning it around. In talking to Malik (Newman), he pretty much said that he thought it was specifically directed at him; that he was one of the primary people maybe that you were talking about. But anyway, what were those characteristics?
COACH SELF: That’s not true. He was one of three, okay (laughter) because there were two other guys, too.
But the reality of it is, you need to be more mature. Being coachable, not being thin-skinned. Taking it in a way that it’s presented, as opposed to taking it as a way that you want to perceive it.
I don’t think that we are nearly “as cool” as what I think that maybe some of the guys thought they were, in my opinion. And then the mindset that you’re not going to win big, ever, unless you make your opponent play badly. And I don’t think we had that mindset at all.
So those were some things that I felt like had to be changed, and it wasn’t just with Malik. But Malik was a primary one, I felt like, because I thought he was content on just being out there, as opposed to being a guy that really put himself out there. So he’s really improved on that.
Q. As you looked at the tape, and you’ve had a chance to digest it a little bit, what jumps out at you? Especially the rebounding, how do you explain that?
COACH SELF: Well, we watched it on the way back. I haven’t watched it since we’ve been back, so we just watched it on the bus, and it was choppy a little bit because of the way we had to watch it through our computer.
So you know, it wasn’t really studied. But I can tell you that it’s nothing different that we haven’t been stressing all year long. I just think we were just more committed to doing it.
I think Svi totally gave himself up. I’m going to “butt-front” (Duke freshman F Marvin) Bagley III as much as I can, and we have practiced that about this much (indicating 0) and because we’ve always — when the 4-man catches it, we always trap with Doke (Udoka Azubuike). When you do that, it creates a mindset of, “Let my man catch it.”
So we totally tried to do away with that, even though he knew a trap was coming. Then, actually maybe if we go when ball is shot, turn, hit your man and then go try to attack the ball with two hands. It’s pretty complicated stuff, which we have not done consistently well all year long, and we did (the other night).
Whenever — and I could be off on this a little bit, so forgive me if I am — but even if you take Doke and Silvio (De Sousa) out of the game, our guards, who would be the only other people playing, if I’m not mistaken, even out-rebounded Duke. I think Doke had eight and Silvio had six (rebounds, respectively), is that right? So Silvio had 11 rebounds, or 10? He had 10, so Doke had eight, so 18 (total between the two big men).
And the other thing that was cool about that rebounding stat, what was it, 47-32? They got eight, I believe, that were deflected out-of-bounds. They didn’t rebound them, We didn’t rebound them. They were deflections out of bounds. We got one. So when balls were actually possessed, it was 41-24.
So, stop and think about it like that. Even though the ones that go out-of-bounds count, but (against) Duke, it’s kind of like live-ball turnovers.
(If) You play West Virginia, it’s okay to turn it over. Just make sure you throw it out-of-bounds when you do. Because if you throw it to them while it’s a live-ball play, it’s two-on-one back on the other end, and even if the ball went out-of-bounds, at least it didn’t give them an opportunity to tip it in. I thought we did a great, great job on glass, just fabulous.
Q. Is it nice to have a program in place for Svi’s family to come to the NCAA Tournament games and for Silvio’s, to come from overseas?
COACH SELF: That’s a great thing that the NCAA has done. Silvio’s dad will make it, from what I’ve been told. Svi’s mother and father will make it. And we’re trying to get Udoka’s mother here, but we’re having some visa complications.
You know, the thing about it is everybody is working hard. Our staff is talking with all the proper political people to try to make something like that happen because we know how much that would mean to Udoka to have his mother be able to witness (him playing in the Final Four). Can you imagine a parent coming over here who has never seen a basketball game, a real basketball game like this, and that’s the first time you see your son play? That would be just an unbelievable experience. We’re hoping that (ends up being) case.
But it is a great rule change, and it’s going to take so much pressure off of so many families. I never knew that San Antonio was the most expensive place in America to fly into, but it is right now. I mean, it is. So, (airline) tickets, you can’t get down there round trip for less than a thousand or $1,200 from here to Kansas City. Can you imagine what it will be like coming from Lagos or the Ukraine or from Angola or some of these other places?
It’s pretty cool that they (the NCAA) are helping with that.
Q. How many relatives do they get? Is there a number?
COACH SELF: Don’t quote me on the rules, since I know that you guys won’t (laughter). I don’t think they get a number. I think (we, as a team) get an amount, and then you can try to squeeze whatever you can within that, if I’m not mistaken.
Q. Do those guys know how their lives are going to change? Have you talked to them about how playing in the Final Four changes your life forever?
COACH SELF: I don’t think it does. (In) My opinion, I think it definitely enhances it. I think it changes your life and your popularity on a really short scale. I mean, hell, Gurley (Greg Gurley, Kansas men’s basketball 1992-95) played in a Final Four, so the reality of it is, I think winning it is something that changes it forever.
We’ve got a ton of work (to do). Even though you say you’re so close, we’re still light years away from doing what we want to do. And, you know, who we’ve got to go through to do that (Villanova) is what makes it most difficult.
But I do think it enhances it. I think for the short term there’s no question about it being life-changing; but long term, I think you’ve got to cut down the (National Championship) nets.
Q. You mentioned yesterday in the teleconference that one of your favorite memories of 2008 was walking off the court with your son, Tyler, with the net hanging around his neck. What were some of your other favorite memories from the aftermath of that game?
COACH SELF: From the aftermath, I would say, having Coach (Larry) Brown there, and when we got back to the hotel, we had every family take a picture with the Championship trophy with myself and Coach Brown, as well as anybody else that wanted to be in it. That, to me, was cool. Really cool.
And then after that, I had a lot of buddies — I had family, obviously, there — but I had a lot of buddies from high school, college, guys that were there. The fact that we hung out and they ragged on me for five hours and I ragged on them, and it wasn’t about us winning; it was about us just being together. To me, that was as good as it gets.
Q. The styles of the two teams, Duke and Villanova, are so divergent; is that difficult?
COACH SELF: I don’t think so. I don’t know that it’s good. I’ve heard this a lot of times, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. But a lot of people look at Duke and us as seeing they have a huge advantage here, or they have a huge advantage there. But Kansas has an advantage in this area or Kansas has an advantage in that area. Whoever can play to their advantages the best should win.
With Villanova, it’s different. The advantages they have over us are the same advantages we have over others. Or our advantages, whatever they are, we have over them (Villanova), are basically their strengths, also.
So we’re different. They can stretch it from five spots; we can only stretch it from four. You know, we play through a big with his back to the basket; they don’t. But you talk about how they are going to guard man-to-man; they are going to play four guards the vast majority of the time.
I don’t think the differences are that great. I don’t know if that’s an advantage for being in this game or that game. I don’t know. You can make a case probably for both of them.
Q. Right after the game, you made a point to say, “These guys aren’t soft,” on national television. Is that because maybe you used the “S-word” publicly more than you ever have this season?
COACH SELF: Probably. I do think that people who have covered us over time know that one thing that our program takes great pride in is that we play hard and we play unselfishly. Regardless of how talented we were, we’re (maybe) not physically tough, but we enjoy the toughest moments, and I don’t think this team did.
Somebody asked the other day when I said that (about our team being soft), did I mean it, or was it frustration? It was frustration. But I meant it 100 percent.
But it’s just different now. There’s something different about us. We may not rebound the ball worth a crap, but we’ll find some other way to make a play. There’s just something about us right now that hasn’t been there consistently all year long. We’ve shown flashes.
Like when we beat Kentucky to start the season, we shot 35 percent for the game and they are so much bigger than us, and yet we still won the game. To me, that was a tough, grind-it-out win. We haven’t had very many of those until we got to the second half of Big 12 Conference play and that’s when I think we started getting better.
Q. What happened?
COACH SELF: I don’t know. Maybe losing three (games) at home. Maybe that last Oklahoma State game at home with (all of the) 120th-year reunion people here, and basically they heard the same thing (from them that) I’d been telling them for months. I said, “Guys, you think you’re so tough, so let’s just talk about history. You think this team, right now, is tough enough to rebound the ball at a high level six games in a row when we’ve shown we haven’t done it for two games in a row all year? Do you think you can just turn it on and do that?” Hopefully some of those things finally set in to the point where maybe they thought, “Yeah, we’ve got to improve in some areas.” It wasn’t that they weren’t trying. It’s just none of them were willing to get out of their own comfort zone.
Q. What are the dynamics of guarding a team where one person dominates the ball maybe as much as anybody in the country?
COACH SELF: You know what, I’m not sure that’s 100 percent the case. I would say that Devonte’ probably dominates the ball every bit as much as Jalen (Brunson, Villanova junior guard) does. To me, when I watch them play, it is ball and body movement. It is, “Hey, (Villanova RS-freshman forward Omari) Spellman, their 5-man, is going to shoot threes, he’s going to handle it.” He’s a passer. They use bigs in and out.
I’m not saying (one guy should) just dominate the majority of the time, but I think Jay (Wright, Villanova head coach) wants balance. I think he wants different guys to handle (the ball), and certainly with (redshirt-junior guard Phil) Booth and (redshirt-sophomore guard Donte) DiVincenzo, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, you’ve got real guards in there that they can play without him (Brunson) in there.
So, I think they have about as much balance (as possible) when it comes to sharing. Usually guys who dominate the ball have an unbelievable high number of assists, like Devonte’ or Trae (Young, Oklahoma freshman). I don’t know what Jalen’s assist numbers are, but they are not quite as many, in large part, because other people have equal number assists, too.
Q. Some people are calling this the National Championship game. Do you wish they would reseed the teams? if so, how do you look at what they are saying about that?
COACH SELF: Well, since they are not going to, I’m going to say, “No, I love it exactly the way it is.”
If we were going to reseed them, that would be great, too. I think whoever is saying that, obviously, is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves. It looks like our game is maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it’s a No. 1 seed versus another No. 1 seed, but trust me, the other game is going to be just as marquee as this one.
Q. This team had three guys improve so much, not from November, but from late February, in Malik, Lagerald (Vick) and Silvio.
COACH SELF: You know, if Doke hadn’t gotten hurt, you could put Doke in that category, too. Doke was so much better the second half of conference play.
But probably not. You know, Lagerald is a different guy than he was in mid-February; and Malik is a different guy than he was; and certainly, Doke was on a good roll, but then he got hurt.
And Silvio, you don’t even even recognize him (now as compared) to where he was mid-February. And even though Silvio is not a point producer, he’s just such a presence in there from strength and rebounding standpoints, and he has great hands.
It’s been fun to watch. You know, they always talk about teams peaking at the right time. And with us, I don’t know that I could ever say a team peaks at the right time because we’ve been fairly consistently good over the last several years.
So even if we got a little bit better late, it wasn’t a substantial jump. This (season) is like, night and day. I mean, this is like, “Hey, we went from a pretty good team to a really good team in a short amount of time.”
So when fans talk about wanting their teams to peak at the right time, this would be the one example since I’ve been here that we can actually show that.
Q. Devonte’ said earlier that he thinks that the Doke injury really helped this team, specifically with Silvio. What did Doke’s injury maybe cause some other guys to do?
COACH SELF: Maybe it’s coincidental, but I told our guys when Doke was hurt, “They say guards win in postseason” and they have certainly taken that to the extreme and given us a chance.
Also, it’s allowed Silvio to get minutes. You can say whatever the reasons are, and I won’t justify it because maybe I just didn’t trust enough to play him, but when Doke’s out, you’ve got Mitch (Lightfoot) and Silvio. That’s it. Silvio’s going to play; whether he plays good, bad or whatever, he’s going to be out there. (We) Happened to put him out there and he was great in the Big 12 Tournament. I think he got 30 (points) and 29 (rebounds) in the Big 12 Tournament.
To me, I think that gave our guys confidence that we don’t have to have the big fella (Azubuike) to have good possessions and to win. If you look at it, I could be wrong. Didn’t Doke foul out against Seton Hall? Or did we just sub for him late? I can’t remember. He fouled out — and he fouled out against Duke and still we’ve had some of our best possessions with him not in the game.
So, I think that certainly gives guys confidence in Silvio, but it also tells them they have got to go be ready to make plays too.
Q. One of the guys said after the tournament, I think he said, “Coach didn’t let us get too caught up in the Final Four. He brought us down to earth in practice.” Is that something you consciously do, or do you just coach?
COACH SELF: I probably consciously do it a little bit. This team is a little different, though. Hey, we’re so soft.
This team’s so different. We’re giving them two days off, you know, where that team in 2008, we had enough depth (that) we didn’t care if anybody got tired. You know, we had seven pros on that team.
With this team, we’ll practice really hard tomorrow, and yeah, I’ll find some reason to get on them today during a walk-through. But for the most part, this team’s probably done the best job of handling the distractions, knock-on-wood, in large part, because they haven’t been presented with as many (yet).
When you’ve got guys who are potential lottery picks and things like that, trust me, there’s more distractions that go into that kind of stuff. We’ve got guys who have been flying under the radar for the most part. I’m sure the distractions will pick up, but so far, so good.
Q. Assistant coach Jerrance Howard’s son did a scouting report on Duke. Did you see it, and how accurate was it?
COACH SELF: I actually saw a little bit. I couldn’t blow it up on my phone, so I couldn’t really read all of it, even with my glasses on.
He was right on point. I think that we should have JJ actually doing more of the scout than his dad after reading it. I said, he’s better — (laughter). I thought it was pretty cute. But it was done I guess three months ago, so I guess he had a little foresight into what was getting ready to happen.
Q. Aside from the obvious, are there certain things a team has to do to emerge as the last team standing Monday night?
COACH SELF: I’d say eliminate distractions. You know how they put blinders on horses in races, so they can’t look left and right? If you could do that with athletes, where their minds couldn’t go left and right, that would be a lot easier to do. It’s hard to do.
And people can say, how hard is that? No, it’s hard to do. There are a lot of things that come into play, and certainly, I bet the team that wins on Monday will be the team that does the best job of managing those (distractions).
(It) Doesn’t mean that you have to make every shot or whatever. Look at our Memphis game. We were down nine (points) with two (minutes) left or whatever, and still made enough plays to get it into overtime. You know, the game’s never over. You’ve got to make plays the whole game. If anything, usually in games like this, offense is at a premium, so you’re going to run average offenses because the defenses are better, and you need to have one guy step up and make some plays that you can’t coach.
Q. Two years ago, the Villanova guys at the Final Four, said their earlier loss to Oklahoma motivated them. I know it’s been two years, but the in the 2016 NCAA Regional Final, for the guys who were here, the guys who played in that game, are they going to remember that? Do you think that they will remember that they probably should have won that game?
COACH SELF: I don’t know about “should have won.” It was a one-possession game when they called the foul on Devonte’ for diving for the loose ball, but that was a tough game. We were the No. 1 seed. We were the favorite. Roles are reversed a little bit this time around, obviously.
But “should of” is probably too strong. Going into that game, if you remember, we felt like we had played so well in the tournament. We were great the first round. We were great against Connecticut. We were great against Maryland and things just didn’t fall right for us in that game (versus Villanova). Hopefully, we’ll have a reversal of those things, and maybe we’ll get some good fortune this year.
Q. Each of your Final Four wins here, you’ve had a Teahan on the team. Will you call on the Teahan family for luck maybe?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I better, since the mother of the two children has told me that she would kill me if I treated their son poorly. Yeah, I’d say that they are definitely good luck.
Q. Did you ever see the two kids from Loyola University Chicago (when they played) at Blue Valley Northwest High School?
COACH SELF: Yeah, they came to camp every year. Ed (Fritz, BVNW head coach) would bring them to camp. They have done so well. I don’t know exactly how Clay put it, but he (redshirt-junior guard Clayton Custer) was good enough to play at Kansas. But the timing wasn’t right. You know, so much of recruiting is timing, and he ended up signing with Iowa State.
But, you know, we were loaded at the guard spot. I mean, we had Frank (Mason III) and Devonte’, and so that probably would have been tough for him to come in and do what he’s doing right now if he had this role. So it’s great to see.
I texted Ed right after the game and congratulated him because I watched those teams play over at (Blue Valley) Northwest quite a bit, and they know how to play, and that’s certainly a tribute to him.
Q. Svi was pretty straight-faced when he hit the 3-pointer to tie the game against Duke, but just now, Malik and Devonte’ said they had specific celebrations they would have used if they hit the three. What do you think of guys when they celebrate or don’t celebrate?
COACH SELF: Did they say what the specific celebrations were?
Q. I don’t want to repeat Malik’s.
COACH SELF: Well, you guys should have figured this out by now; they say a lot of stuff that doesn’t actually happen. So I don’t know. I don’t think there’s too much celebrating (going on) when there are 25 seconds left in an Elite Eight game, the score is tied and now you’re on defense. Maybe after the shot missed by Grayson (Allen), maybe they celebrated a little bit, but I don’t remember seeing any of that.
Q. One question about (Bob) Newton (Jayhawk IMG Radio Network Producer/Engineer). This will be his last go-around. Was he here the first time you were here?
COACH SELF: Yeah, Bob’s old. (Laughter) Bob’s been around a long time. Next to Max, Bob’s been around probably the next-longest. No, I’m joking.
It’s not too often you get a chance to have Bob Davis and Max Falkenstien, two (on-air radio) legends, and then, you know, obviously they look much better than what they actually were in large part because of Bob Newton.
We didn’t allow Bob Davis to go out on top last year like would have been a perfect ending to his story. Hopefully we can do a little bit better job for Bob Newton.
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