Kansas basketball talks 2017-18 at annual media day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With a preseason Big 12 player of the year, a streak of 13-consecutive Big 12 Championships and an exhibition with Missouri to support hurricane relief on the horizon, there was much to discuss at Kansas men’s basketball’s annual media day Friday afternoon inside Allen Fieldhouse.
KU student-athletes gathered for photos with local and regional websites, magazines and newspapers before writers and videographers interviewed the 14-member squad on the floor of Allen Fieldhouse. Entering his 15th season at Kansas, head coach Bill Self then previewed the team and the 2017-18 season with the media in the Allen Fieldhouse Media Room.
Preseason top-5 in most publications, Kansas returns two starters and six letterwinners from last season’s 31-5 team which won an NCAA-record-tying 13th-straight regular-season conference title, a streak which started in 2004-05. The 2016-17 Jayhawks also won the CBE Hall of Fame Classic and entered the 2017 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, advancing to the Elite Eight. KU opens exhibition play when it meets the Missouri Tigers on Sunday, Oct. 22 inside Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The purpose of the charity event – Showdown for Relief – is to raise awareness and financial support for hurricane relief efforts.
A video of Bill Self’s press conference can be seen on the Kansas Basketball Facebook Page and a transcript is below.
Q. Can you update us on a possible exhibition game next weekend?
SELF: Yeah, I can update you: that it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen next Sunday; that was the best time for everything to come together and create a situation where we encountered the fewest amount of expenses. Certainly, I think it’s a great opportunity for two schools to do something together for the better of the masses and be able to send a significant amount of money to people who are suffering right now. So that is going to come to fruition, and we’re really happy about it.
Q. How did that even come about? I know you’ve been on record in the past about not being real anxious to play Missouri?
SELF: This does not have not one thing to do about playing Missouri. We approached this subject with Hurricane Katrina with the NCAA a decade ago. We brought it up again in our August meetings with the NABC board with the NCAA in the room, and they thought that there could be a possible avenue where something like this could happen. We were talking about for every school, every school in America, to play an extra exhibition or do something to be able to send funds to those who are in need. The NCAA, which I totally understand, in a short amount of time, can’t just make a blanket deal because who knows who will use it for a competitive advantage or financial advantage, and so they’re doing it case-by-case and presenting waivers to those who have come up with the right ways to do something for others.
My whole thing when I called Cuonzo (Martin, Mizzou head coach), it didn’t have anything to do with us wanting to play Mizzou. It had everything to do with how can we send the most money to those victims. There was no doubt, no disrespect to Washburn, but I think the Missouri game will probably draw a little bit more interest and be able to create some more funds.
Q. What will people see there? What kind of game will it be? What sort of dollars do you think you’ll raise?
SELF: Certainly, (we) plan on north of a million. But I think they’ll see just a regular game. We’ll have officials and we’ll throw it up and guys will commit fouls and we’ll shoot free throws. But it won’t be any different than any other exhibition game. Cuonzo and I talked about that. He won’t have his stuff in, we won’t have our stuff in, none of that stuff, but it’ll still be good for the fans probably to be able to see their young product. Obviously, they’ve got a lot to sell and those sorts of things, and I think it’ll be good for our guys to do it, but that’s not why I have any interest in doing it. The only interest is because we have an opportunity, through NCAA approval, to do something for others that we wouldn’t have had a chance to do at this level if we didn’t play Mizzou.
Q. What made you think of the idea? When did it pop into your head to raise money?
SELF: We discussed it at our August meetings. When we had our August meetings, I could be wrong on this, but the only hurricane that had hit land at that time was Harvey, Irma and Maria hadn’t. We were talking about doing it for that catastrophic event, and since then we’ve obviously had five or four others with Irma, Maria, and then with Las Vegas and the fires in California. Who knows what direction people will want to take to do different things, but we chose hurricane relief.
Q. How much do these guys know about what that rivalry was?
SELF: None of them played in it. They don’t know. They’ll get excited because I’m sure there will be enough people around here who will get excited for them to play in the game, just like their (Mizzou) people will, too, but we don’t talk about that as a group. I’m sure there will be some things mentioned between now and then, but our focus and I’m sure their focus, too, is getting their team ready for the season. But this is a good opportunity to help prepare your team for the season because you’ll see some different things.
Q. Can you provide a team progress report on where you think you are now, as you prepare for the season?
BILL SELF: I think we’re obviously in pretty good shape on the perimeter. I love our guards. I think we’ve got five good guards. We’re thin inside, and we’re young, and we don’t know what we’re doing yet inside. But I do think potential that can come around.
But I like our talent. I’m not sure we have the fourth pick in the draft or the National Player of the Year, but we do have some guys, I think, who are good college players and if things go well they’ll have a chance to play at the next level. But right now we’re a long ways away. We’ve only been practicing a week, but certainly attitudes are good, they’re trying hard and we’ll relatively healthy, so there’s a lot of good things.
Q. You always like to get easy buckets and had Frank Mason II and Josh Jackson driving in last year. How is this team going to get easy buckets? How is that coming along?
BILL SELF: That’s actually a good question because last year we got easy buckets because we didn’t score the ball inside. This year we’ve got a guy who can score the ball inside, so hopefully we can get some by creating angles for Dok (Udoka Azubuike). But I still think we’ve got guards, primarily Devonte’ (Graham) and Lagerald (Vick), who can get the ball downhill, but not like Frank could. We were spoiled last year watching him. But there are some things that Devonte’ can do that are different than Frank that may be better than Frank in some ways. But certainly, we’re going to miss those two, and you also are going to miss arguably as good of a post defender as there was in the country. Landen (Lucas) wasn’t a great scorer, but he was a great 5-man and could defend just about anybody else’s big.
Q. What are your expectations for Udoka (Azubuike)?
BILL SELF: I think last year hurt him, set him back quite a bit because he was just so young and didn’t know the game. He didn’t get a chance to get a lot better because he missed those six months. But I have expectations for him to be an all-league type (of) performer this year. I think he can be. He’s certainly got to get in better shape. Even though he’s in good shape, he’s got to get in great shape because he’ll foul every possession or every other possession right now. But he can run, he can jump, he should be able to defend his position, and he can certainly score in tight.
But he’s a very raw player right now, and we saw that last year. If he got it within two feet he was pretty good. But he’s improved in other areas, and I think he’s ready to take the next step to becoming a very good offensive player.
Q. Udoka, which has a really high ceiling for scoring for you. How does he have to get better as a scorer and a passer?
BILL SELF: Well, he’s probably a better scorer than he is passer right now. You’ve watched him; you probably know that, but he’s really improved in that area. At least last year he was a better scorer than passer. He wasn’t a prolific scorer, but he’s become a better passer and certainly a better scorer. If you just look at it in theory, if you have Lagerald, Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk), Malik and Devonte’ around him. There’s not going to be a lot of help that’s going to be offered because those guys can all knock it down, so you would hope they’d isolate him on the post, which would make him look like a much better scorer than if teams can run and double him.
Q. When Billy Preston is playing the way he’s capable of, I don’t know if there’s five better freshmen. How important is he to you guys this year and how big is consistency with him right now?
BILL SELF: I think his most consistent thing that he does is that he’s inconsistent. I mean, he’ll have one great day and then one day that’s not quite as good. But he’s actually gaining on it. I mean, it’s not from an attitude or effort standpoint, it’s just sometimes the motor doesn’t always run like it should. And a lot of people equate that to effort. I equate it more to habits. I think that he could be one of the better freshmen we have from a talent standpoint if he’s at that peak ceiling where the motor runs and he’s playing to his athleticism and playing inside-out rather than just playing outside. There are a lot of things that he needs to improve on, but certainly you can’t deny his talent. He’s a very talented kid.
Q. Guys like Devonte’ and Svi, and really everybody, they’ve accomplished all they can minus the last weekend in March or first weekend in April. This year, with this team, how do you do that and really how difficult is it?
BILL SELF: I think everything is hard. It’s hard to win a league, but that’s something that we’ve been pretty good at. Then it’s hard to get to the Final Four because, obviously, we’ve lost in the first weekend before, there’s no question. In recent memory, for the most part, other than a couple years, we’ve had pretty good success getting to the weekend before the Final Four. How do you play what will take maybe the two best games of the season to get there? Last year we played arguably as good of a game as we played all year long against Purdue and then we laid an egg against Oregon. If you look at the game before, against Michigan, Oregon didn’t play great. They were lucky to get through that game and they played their best game the second game.
I don’t know the exact answer at this juncture to say how we can do that, but I think we’ll have the toughness and the mindset. If we’re put in that position to be in that game again, I think that if we’re not successful, it won’t be because we weren’t tough enough, we weren’t prepared to be there. Maybe it’s just because the other team was better.
Unfortunately in athletics, both teams try really hard. You get to that (Elite) Eight game and everybody in that Eight game is probably capable of winning the National Championship. So you’d better be your best that day, and we obviously haven’t been the last two years.
Q. You said that 70 percent (of the time) you were going to try to play big. How do you see that working with three big men?
BILL SELF: That was really before we started practicing, so I think that number has gone down a little bit to about 50 (percent), but I think we’ve got to play big at least 20 minutes a game, at least. You look at it over time, teams can play small. We can play small. But you look at the Finals last year, maybe the two biggest teams in America were Gonzaga and North Carolina. You’ve got to be able to control the paint and get easy baskets. You’re shooting in domes and you may not shoot as good of a 3-point percentage – there are a lot of factors that go on. There’s such an advantage to have multiple bigs; we need to get to the point we can play 6-foot-10, 6-foot-10, and if we’re able to do that for 50 or 70 percent of the game, I think our chances will elevate quite a bit for us being a great team by February.
Q. How much of an advantage is it for your guys, this year, to know going small worked last year?
BILL SELF: I think that could be a little bit of advantage, because we say we played small last year, but we had a 6-foot-8 guard who could rebound and block shots and defend. He wasn’t a normal guy. So this year, if you play small, you’re playing small because you’re going to play four guards, where Josh (Jackson) was a guard, but he could do anything. And he was a match-up nightmare for others.
So how will we defend the post if we did that? That’s the question. But the reality of it is how do they match up with us on the other end, too? I think last year does give us confidence that we can play small and play a little faster.
Q. What are the challenges Devonte’ is facing this year in terms of facing a team after such strong leadership on the front? Does he just need to be his own man this year?
BILL SELF: I think Devonte’ has been his own man since he’s been here for the most part. I think last year he deferred because it was best for our team to put the ball in Frank’s hands more. But he won’t defer to anybody this year. This is his squad. This is his team. More so than anybody else. Svi has been terrific so far, but Devonte’, to me from a vocal standpoint and by example, he’s going to have a lot of fun this year. And if he has a lot of fun, then obviously he’ll be a great leader for us because he’s got personality like very few who we’ve ever had here.
Q. Talk about Billy Preston’s versatility, and do you see him really playing much small ball 5 this year?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I do. Well, he’ll have to. If Dok is in, Dok fouls. Let’s say Dok does an unbelievable job of staying out of foul trouble and gets in great shape, so he’s able to play between 25 and 30 minutes a game. Well, that still leaves 10 to 15 minutes a game somebody else is going to have to defend the 5. So Billy, that would be real small ball, but that’s certainly something that would have to happen.
Voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni caught up with several Jayhawks for a Facebook Live session on the annual media day.
Sophomore F Udoka Azubuike
On coming in as a young freshman:
“When I came in, I was young. Everyone knew I was going to be here for two years regardless. I came here knowing that, knowing that I would stay here for two years. For me it was just a learning process my first year.”
On having to sit out last year due to injury:
“I’ve never had an injury before to end the season, so it was new stuff for me, not being able to play. I learned a lot just watching people and how they were playing. Seeing mistakes and learning from mistakes they (my teammates) made.”
On what learned during that time:
“Hard work, (especially) during practice, and every game we have to bring the intensity; to every game and every practice. I really learned about working hard regardless of who we are playing. You still have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
On the frustration of having to sit out last season:
“It was frustrating for me not being able to play my freshman year, but sometimes stuff happens for a reason and you just have to bounce back.”
On if sitting out last year provides motivation for the upcoming season:
“It’s a motivation for me, sitting out last year and not being able to play. This year is my year to show off everything people might not know (about me) and my basketball skills.”
On his mom’s role when he was hurt:
“My mom is really religious, she’s really a Christian. So each time she talked to me she would read me a Bible verse or try to encourage me. That really helped me a lot, just to stay focused and keep my head (on) straight.”
On losing weight since last season:
“We’ve been working hard in practice and (during) boot camp. I’ve really lost a lot and gained a lot of muscle.”
On the upcoming season and his role:
“Oh definitely, I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for what this season is going to bring for us.”
On the challenge of playing four guards and one ‘big’:
“It depends on what the coaches want to play, whether they want to play four guards and one big. I’m excited, I’ve been practicing a lot, working out a lot, being confident in practice.”
On freshman F Billy Preston:
“He’s a good player, he can really shoot the ball. I mean he’s 6-foot-10 and he can shoot the ball. He’s a good player.”
Freshman G Marcus Garrett
On who has impressed him:
“Dedric Lawson. He has a big man’s body, but can handle the ball, pass, shoot – he can basically do everything a guard can do, just in a big man’s body.”
On what he’s looking forward to this season:
“I’m most looking forward to playing my first home game this year, because I’ve never attended a KU game before.”
On joking with his team:
“I feel like sometimes, as a team, you can take things too seriously and when it’s time to laugh and have fun, I take advantage of those times and crack jokes.”
On going up against experienced guys like Devonte’ Graham:
“It makes you a lot better. You have to make sure you compete.”
On a surprise player for this year’s team:
“Lagerald (Vick). He’s been unbelievable. He’s been facilitating the ball, scoring, being great in transition, (on) defense and helping me out a lot. He helps me with different reads, defensive adjustments and how to do multiple stuff on the court.”
Senior G Devonte’ Graham
On how his game has changed from the time he got here until now:
“I’ve become way better at shooting. I’ve become a leader. I’ve built a lot more confidence in my game. Just by being here, I’m stronger, quicker, have a better IQ, a better feel, for the game.”
On how head coach Bill Self influences his game:
“He’s done everything for me. I think my confidence comes from him, just knowing he believes in me by putting me in situations that make me become a better player.”
On learning from former KU G Frank Mason III:
I’ve learned a lot from him, playing with him for three years. The toughness he brought to the game and the way he played with that underdog mentality always. He’s just like my brother and he taught me a lot.”
On the preseason honors he has received thus far:
“It’s nice for the coaches to vote and stuff like that, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really mean much. I still have to go out and play and improve.”
On what he likes about this year’s team:
“I like our personality. We’ve got a lot of outgoing guys who laugh and stuff off the court, but they also know how to work hard. And (we’ve got) young guys who are willing to listen, to learn. (They) are the best ones and I feel like they do that.”
On stepping into a leadership role more this year:
“I feel really comfortable stepping into my new role. I feel like I’ve had a pretty strong role the last couple of years, so I don’t think it’s going to be anything overwhelming or something that I can’t do.”
On possibly playing Missouri next week:
“I think it would be great. I heard it was for charity and to raise money for the flood, so I know it would be a good turnout.”
Sophomore F Mitch Lightfoot
On his role this year:
“This year I’m an energy guy. Helping steal extra possessions, getting rebounds and getting guys on the team their shots. I play better when I’m doing my nontangible, stuff like rebounding, stealing extra possessions, taking charge, stuff like that.”
On how it’s been practicing with fewer bigs on the team:
“Practices are a little more challenging without bigs, obviously. But it’s good for me because I get to learn how to play against someone as big as Udoka (Azubuike), and then someone skilled like Billy (Preston), and then I get to guard Malik (Newman) and Devonte’ (Graham). It’s a really big learning experience for me and something that’s really helped me out.”
On the team being able to survive with fewer bigs:
“Coach Self does a really good job of coaching up the big guys and teaching us how to do more with less and how to get angles and stuff like that. You don’t necessarily have to work super hard, but you have to work smart. I really feel like he has a great plan for us and it’s going to be a good season.”
Senior G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
On the excitement he has for his senior season:
“I’m really excited to be back for my last year. Being here in Kansas is a blessing. Playing here for four years is a great opportunity.”
On the team’s progress during the offseason:
“I’d say we are getting better. We have a lot of new guys, but we have five or six returning guys. (The) Last two years we ended a little short (in the postseason), but we are working hard and we know what we are doing. We know our goals and we (will) just keep grinding.”
On the team’s motivation to go deeper in the NCAA Tournament:
“Definitely (we are) motivated because last year we came up short. Last year we thought we could do it. We had a really good team and (the) national player of the year (Frank Mason III). It was sad because it was two years in a row; but this year we’ll try our best to go to the Final Four.”
On similarities and differences of this team compared to past seasons:
“It is pretty similar to (the team) last year because we have a lot of great guards. Last year we played a four-guard rotation and it depends on Coach, but I’d say we are similar to last year.”
On being comfortable playing the four:
“I’d say I am pretty comfortable because with four guards, they are all interchangeable and we play the same role, so it’s not that hard.”
On the possible KU vs. MU exhibition game and the rivalry between the two schools:
“Coach told us yesterday. It’s a great game. We’re going to raise a lot of money and it’s great to help people. It’s a big rivalry, but we’re just talking about basketball here. I am not from here, so it’s just basketball for me.”
Redshirt-Sophomore G Malik Newman
On his confidence that playing small works:
“Anytime that something works, I think that you shouldn’t be afraid to try it again. With the guards that we have, I think that it will be a great thing to do. All of us, I consider all of us to be ‘big’ guards, so we can all switch ball screens anything like that. It just means that we have to be in shape so we can run.”
On being eligible to play again this season after transferring schools:
“(I’m) Just trying to process it right now. (I’m) Very excited about it. I can’t really put it into words how excited I am about it. (I’m) Excited to get on the court with my guys, my brothers, to compete and have fun in front of the fans in the Fieldhouse. It’s a new chapter in the book and it doesn’t seem real yet.”
On the personality of the backcourt without Frank Mason III:
“I think it will be the same as last year: tough, gritty, competitive and skillful.”
On the guards living in Mason’s shadow:
“Frank did a hell of a job last year running the team and getting the job done, doing what he had to do. Congrats to Frank. He gave us a blueprint of how to go out and compete each and every night. The blueprint he gave us, I am pretty sure Devonte’ and I will use it to the best of our abilities and try to put our own ink into it.”
On stepping up and getting to the rim:
“That is one thing they are emphasizing, and getting to the free throw line because free throws are very important to the game. If we are able to get to the line, that will open up the game for other players.”
Freshman F Billy Preston
On his time so far at Kansas:
“As far as me thinking about my next move, I’m really focused on the season right now. I want to enjoy Kansas as much as I can no matter how long it takes; a year, two years, three, four, whatever it may be. I just want to enjoy my time here while I’m here.”
On playing ‘small ball’:
“Coach Self has told me that 60 percent of the time he’ll let me play my game, but the other 40 percent he’s going to need me to be a big presence inside. I don’t have a problem with that. Seeing that we’re not as big as we were last year or a couple years before, seeing our only true big is Udoka (Azubuike), we’ve got Mitch (Lightfoot) and me, we’re figuring out how to work within that. I’m definitely going to work my hardest and take Coach Self’s advice for the other 40 percent and be a presence inside.”
On what can make this team successful:
“I think when we’re all on the same page, everything meshes well. Coming in with new pieces, such as myself, and not being as big as we were, it was a rebuilding process this whole summer – figuring out who we were and what we wanted to be as a team. We strive (for) our best when we’re all on the same page and everyone knows their roll and what to do. If we follow Coach, he’s going to lead us in the right direction.”
Junior G Lagerald Vick
On this year’s team compared to previous teams he’s played on at KU:
“I’d say it’s different than first two teams I played with here, (because) we are probably a speedier team this year.”
On Udoka Azubuike being back and playing a four guard line-up:
“It’s different when he’s in the game, it’s a lot of help though; you can drive and draw help and throw it up anytime. It’s definitely different when you’re playing with Udoka.”
On backcourt group of players’ relationship:
“We’re really close. Over the summer, all the guards worked out together and hung together. We are definitely close to everyone and treat everyone like brothers.”
On redshirt-sophomore G Malik Newman:
“He’s a big-time scorer, he has a passion for the game and he’s a big time player.”
On a possible match up with the Mizzou Tigers:
“I would definitely say it has a lot of history behind it, so I feel like it would be an exciting game.”
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