Self talks Big 12 Championship at weekly press conference
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the media Monday afternoon for his weekly press conference inside Allen Fieldhouse. Self discussed his team’s status as it heads into the postseason and begins play in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship this week in Kansas City, as well as the league’s postseason honors his players received Sunday.
A video of the press conference can be seen on the Kansas Basketball Facebook Page. A full transcript is available below.
KANSAS HEAD COACH BILL SELF
Q. Aren’t your guys easier to coach after Saturday’s ballgame?
BILL SELF: You know, I hope so. They just dominated us physically. We watched the tape. We actually played better this game than we did the first time we played them (Oklahoma State), and they beat us by 18 (points). How are we going to handle pressure and how our guys are going to be able to get open one pass away, that seems like pretty elementary stuff. But it’s hard to simulate that in practice.
Of all the teams that pressure, you think of a West Virginia in our league, but Oklahoma State’s pressure has bothered us far more than what their pressure has this year.
Q. You talked about kind of concerns about execution with this team at times; where would you say the progress is with that at this point and how they’re coming along with executing?
BILL SELF: Well, I would say five days ago it’s been pretty darned good. I would say Saturday it was terrible. If you go on what you’ve seen last, then certainly it would be not very good. If you go on what you’ve seen over the last three weeks or so, you would say it’s been much better.
Q. With guys who are only here briefly and the other guys who come and unpack their bags, how have you been able to build and sustain a championship culture within this program?
BILL SELF: I think old guys teach young guys. We’ve had our fair share of guys who haven’t been here that long, but they’ve never been the foundation of what we do nearly as much as what the veterans have been. I think the Devonte’s (Devonte’ Graham) and the Svis (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) and the Landens (Landen Lucas) and obviously Franks (Frank Mason III), those are the ones who have been the foundation, and those are the ones with probably the best habits in how to work and how to teach young guys, although I will say this: Josh (Jackson) was an exception last year. Josh improved our culture so much, and he was only here for 10 months.
There have been guys who haven’t been here as long that have improved the culture, but understanding what goes into winning, I think the older guys deserve the vast majority of that credit.
Q. Is that something that just happens, that kind of trickle-down effect or whatever it is? You don’t have to talk to these guys about, ‘Hey, in a couple of years you’re going to be a veteran and you’ll teach young guys’ —
BILL SELF: I think it just happens. I would never tell Devonte’, ‘Hey, in a couple of years you’ll be able to do this or in a couple of years, Frank, you’ll be able to do that.’ I would expect them to do it as freshmen. But the bottom line, the reality, is that as a freshman you think you really care, then you realize as a sophomore you care more than you did as a freshman, and then you realize as a junior you care even more than you did last year, and then you realize as a senior it means more to you than it did even as a junior. So those are some natural things that take place that I think just goes with maturity and it’s just something that happens naturally.
Q. Has that been that way everywhere you’ve been, not just here?
BILL SELF: I don’t know about everywhere. I’ve been really fortunate; with the exception of one job, I’ve taken over jobs that had pretty good cultures. Some were a little overrated, but the culture was there that the guys believed they were good. So that’s always a positive.
Sometimes you can be in a situation where the culture — the work ethic and things like that — may not be as good as what you want them to be, but in the back of the guys’ minds they think they’re good, so that’s half the battle right there in itself. You want the combination of both.
Here we’ve been fortunate because the work ethic has been pretty good, and certainly the history has shown that guys can compete at a fairly consistent, high level. That makes it probably a little bit easier.
Q. It seems like every year with the start of the Big 12 Conference Championship, the intensity just goes up a little bit in the postseason. This year, with so many teams scrambling, right there on the bubble, would you expect this tournament to have a little more of that?
BILL SELF: I actually thought that we had a good mindset going to Stillwater based on our practices, and we go down there, and we got pumped because no matter how our mindset was, theirs was a lot better, and they played hungrier than we did. Playing against, fighting against somebody, no matter what, somebody hungry and desperate, they’re dangerous. And the way I look at this tournament, I look at it probably differently than the way most people do, but in this tournament, you could say going into this tournament nine teams deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. You can say that. I don’t see how you could say Oklahoma State does not. I mean, they’ve got too many great wins. But you can positively say that.
Then you could also say, depending on what happens with other leagues across America, depending on the favorites that get upset that are going to get automatic bids, now you could say that of the nine (Big 12) teams going in, some of them need to win to solidify what’s going on. And so I think you bring up a great point. As hard as Oklahoma State played against us on Saturday, that game, OU versus Oklahoma State, will be every bit as intense. Then whoever we play will be even more intense than what it was. We didn’t react favorably at all to playing a hungry, motivated team Saturday.
That’ll be good for us. I said this earlier: Dok (Udoka Azubuike) has never seen this. Malik (Newman) for sure has never seen this. Marcus (Garrett) has never seen it. Mitch (Lightfoot) has never seen it. Silvio (De Sousa) has never seen it. Lagerald (Vick) has seen it a little bit, but really the only two who have been in the fire has been Devonte’ and Svi when you’re going against hungry teams like that. That was probably good for us to see that, and I anticipate it being that at least plus some this weekend.
Q. Is it tough to match that level of intensity when you know you’re already in (the NCAA Tournament), you’ve got the berth while those teams are fighting for their life?
BILL SELF: I’ve never bought into that philosophy, never have. The answer would probably be yes. Whenever somebody is playing for something more than what you are, you would say that advantage would go to that particular team. I’ve never bought into that because if you love to play and if you love to compete, you want them to be their best when they play you because that’s going to bring out our best. And so I’ve never bought into that. But certainly, from a mindset and from a preparation (standpoint), I don’t think it should matter, but there’s a natural maturity level that exists that people do relax. Coaches relax. I relax. Everybody can relax, and when you relax, sometimes it’s hard to get it back.
Q. Are all wins valued the same?
BILL SELF: No. I don’t think so. Just like shooting percentages. They should just do away with shooting percentages. If you want to see what a kid shoots, see what he shoots the last 10 minutes of a game. Same with free throws. If you want to see how a team plays, see how many possessions they win in the last five minutes.
I think basketball (wins), although they’re all important, and we can all say they all add up the same in the end, which they do, but I think basketball is a lot like tennis; and I’m not a tennis person, but (Tim) Jankovic taught me this: if you get a chance to break somebody in tennis, those are the most important points to win. Who cares if you win a point and you’re down 40-love and they’re serving. Who cares? The points to win are the ones where you have a chance to break, and those are the ones you have to win. To say that all wins and losses are the same, I don’t think so. There were some games at Texas Tech you had to win. West Virginia you had to win. You go back and you look at some games early in the season, those are must-wins, because they all add up the same, but the reality of it is it’s going to come down every year to winning games that feel different than the rest of the games, and those are the most important ones to win.
Q. Is that why you win the Big 12, because of the way you finish games?
BILL SELF: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I think every coach would tell you that. You could play somebody in December or somebody in early January, and it’s a huge game, but when it gets this time of year, they don’t even rival the importance of the games this time of year. Even in conference season, even though we look at them and they all add up to 18, however you get to it, everybody looks at them and says, ‘Well, the last seven or eight games or the last five or six games of your conference season are going to determine what happens or who wins’ and that kind of stuff, so that makes those games important regardless.
Q. A couple of games ago you talked about Devonte’ being deserving of being named Big 12 Player of the Year. Were you pleased to see it was unanimous?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I was. I think that speaks a lot to what opposing coaches think of his value to us. They saw what I’ve known all along, and I think that’s really neat for him.
Q. He’s so humble; how did he handle it?
BILL SELF: I woke him up, and I told him firsthand, ‘You’ve got to call your mom and be the one to tell her.’ He was able to do that.
But he didn’t even bat an eye. ‘Oh, Coach, that’s great, thanks. Yeah, I’ll call Mom now.’ It was not a big deal to him, even though I know it will be about five years from now when his name is hung in the rafters.
Q. Can you talk about both Oklahoma State and OU, playing them for the third time and what might figure into that third matchup?
BILL SELF: Well, we’ve lost three of four (games) against those two, and Oklahoma State has handled us easily for the most part as far as Big 12 games go. They’ve controlled both of those games. We’ll prepare for both, but the biggest thing I think we need to prepare for is us. We’re not going to be able to practice specifically knowing who’s going to win the game until they actually play the game. Our practice on Wednesday is before the game happens. We won’t practice on Thursday morning. We’ll try to get ready, in theory, and in principles, on how we would guard and attack both teams, on Monday and Tuesday.
But I think they’ll both be challenges. But I also think they’ll both be fun. No matter who we play, there should be an incentive for a lot of reasons. One, we lost in the first round last year; two, if you get a chance to play OU, you get a chance to go against the leading scorer, leading assist guy in the country in Trae (Young). If you play Oklahoma State, you get a chance to play against somebody that’s obviously handled us twice. So hopefully there will be plenty of motivation on our end.
Q. Would you ever go into a tournament wanting to reduce minutes of players?
BILL SELF: I actually think that would be the perfect world. I’m not sure we can do that with this team. I think this is who we are, this is what we’ve got, and guys are going to have to play minutes. I don’t think that’s going to change at all.
Q. The Big Ten Tournament is over; would you like that if you had some time between then and now?
BILL SELF: I haven’t thought it through, but I wouldn’t like it for this reason: if they had to cram their conference season (together), going back to December — I’ve never been a fan of starting conference play before Christmas. And the other thing is how many times did those teams have to play three games in five days? So you don’t allow players’ bodies to heal. You don’t allow for scouting. You don’t allow for possibly, academically, putting them out in ways like that.
I personally would not like it. I think the Big Ten did it for a good reason, the way I’ve been told. They get New York City. They get a market. I thought their exposure this past weekend was tremendous. But at the end, I don’t know if it’s for the betterment of the student-athlete/welfare stuff. I don’t think that’ll be a discussion point for us.
Q. You talked about in a perfect world you’d rest guys. What about this team makes it so that you need to play guys (so many minutes)?
BILL SELF: We don’t have subs. I mean, who are we going to rest and how? When you think about resting guys, there are only two guys that need rest: that would be Svi and Devonte’. Nobody else has played enough minutes to warrant needing the rest. Doke played, what, 20 minutes against Oklahoma State? Lagerald has played some significant minutes here the last (few games), but those are the only two. And I don’t think we can take those guys out much. We can take Svi out a little bit, but we can’t take Devonte’ out. That’s what I’m talking about where (last season) if you need to rest Frank you can play Devonte’ at point. We don’t have that luxury this year.
Q. When you look back at the years you’ve won the Big 12 Tournament, has there been a noticeable momentum boost you’ve used to take into the NCAA Tournament?
BILL SELF: I would say when we won the tournament, (we) had all kinds of momentum when Mario (Chalmers) and them were sophomores (in 2005-06), and we lose in the first round (of the NCAA Tournament) to Bradley. But I would say winning definitely creates energy and a buzz. But I don’t think losing the first round last year hurt us at all. We played as well in the NCAA Tournament the first three games as we played any three games all year long. I think you can use it both ways.
Q. Which of your conference losses this year was most valuable?
BILL SELF: Hopefully it remains to be seen, but I would say as of now, I thought that the (Texas) Tech loss initially helped us. I thought the Oklahoma State loss here was probably the worst and the best loss at the same time we had all year. Then, it remains to be seen if this most recent loss (at Oklahoma State) helped us or not.
Q. After Senior Night, you talked about Udoka’s free throws, and he was not great the other day (at Oklahoma State). Is this a good time for him to have a few days (to practice)?
BILL SELF: It should be, but I’ll say this: we can talk all we want to. He’s got to put in some reps, too. So, it should be a time where he can get a little bit more comfortable. So much of it is repetition. Now, we shoot a lot in practice. We shoot a lot. But his routine is so damned long. Have you guys noticed how long his routine is? So even in practice, if he’s shooting for 30 minutes, he’s going to shoot half as many as what everybody else shoots. I’m not being funny. It takes a concerted effort to spend a lot of time on it because he can shoot 25 when everybody else shoots 50.
If you say a kid shoots 100 free throws in a day, after practice or before or during practice, you say he shot a lot. Well, he can’t do that based on how long his routine is. There’s nothing wrong with having a long routine, but he’s got to really make a conscious effort to put in some time. Some people, when they go to hit range balls, they hit enough to get loose. He needs to stay there long enough to really spend some time on it.
Q. Is that why there are so many lane violations, too, because people aren’t used to someone taking that long?
BILL SELF: No, I don’t think that’s why. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe a little hitch or something, I don’t know.
Q. Did you talk routine with him after playing OU there (in Norman)?
BILL SELF: That’s all we talk about every day is his routine. He needs to do what’s most comfortable to him. I’m fine with that, but he’s just got to do the same thing every time. If he wants to shoot free throws differently or speed it up, it totally negates practice. Why do something that you’re not going to do in a game? You’ve got to do it the same way every time, so it takes some time on his part to be able to put that much time in on it.
But he’s tried hard and he was actually getting better. I thought the second one he shot at Oklahoma State was really soft and just (went) in and out. But I believe he’ll make them, and he’s trying, but he’s got to stay focused on what his routine is and do it repeatedly for hundreds and hundreds of times as opposed to 50 here, 50 there. I mean, that’s not going to get it.
Q. You’re saying Devonte’ didn’t bat an eye when you told him he was Player of the Year. What was Malik’s reaction as newcomer?
BILL SELF: I don’t know, this was a weird year because we only had three newcomers in our league. I don’t know if you guys know that. But I was happy for him that he was able to get that (accolade). But, to me, a newcomer is also a freshman, but that’s not how the league looks at it. But I was happy for him. I was happy for Lagerald to get honorable mention. I was happy for all our guys to get some individual attention. I think that’s important. But I don’t think it really means much, to be candid with you. They’re going to get a certificate, with the exception of Devonte’, who is going to get a real nice trophy, but everyone else is going to get a certificate. I’m not against certificates or anything, but to me, the best way to really put your stamp on it is to go out and win and have something tangible, have a trophy or something that you can help carry off a stage or something. That, to me, would be the motivation.
Q. With Newman, how much progress has he made since November and December to now, and what are you still looking for out of him?
BILL SELF: I think he’s shown flashes of a lot of progress, and then I honestly think he’s shown flashes of not. I would like more consistency. There are a lot of things that I wish that we could do that would take pressure off of Devonte’. When I look at Malik or Lagerald, I almost look at (as), well, here’s what you do, but what did you do to help him? I’d love to see Malik be able to say, ‘I want to guard the other team’s best perimeter player.’ I would love to see us be able to initiate offense with Malik so Devonte’ doesn’t have to. And those don’t have anything to do with stats, those are things that would help our team a tremendous amount. He’s shown he can do that, but I think he can be more consistent with that.
Q. How much of that is just learning how to compete? Have you seen this team, outside of the two seniors, kind of make strides in that area?
BILL SELF: Well, we won the league, so yeah, we’ve done a good job. I just don’t think it’s consistently good. Being able to go into a game and not have anything outside in your ear to distract you, that’s part of competing. Knowing how to channel your energies and your focus, that’s part of competing. I think that we can certainly get better at that.
Q. What do you think maybe the range of seeds could be for the NCAA Tournament, depending on whether you run the tables this week or lose early?
BILL SELF: We shouldn’t be on the (No.) 1 line. We don’t deserve that. But if we were to win out and somebody else loses, then you could make a case for that I guess because we’ve got so many good wins. You could certainly make a case for the (No.) 2 line because of so many good wins. And you can make a case for the (No.) 3. I, personally, would say somewhere in that range, but a lot depends on what’s going to happen, obviously, this weekend.
Q. Did you see Tubby Smith’s comments on transferring?
BILL SELF: No, I did not.
Q. He went on this spiel about how easy it is in the culture of college basketball for guys to transfer, like there were 800 transfers last year in just D-I. Do you think transferring is too prevalent?
BILL SELF: Yes, it is. People think it’s more because coaches are running guys off or — that’s not the reason why kids are transferring. Sometimes it’s a poor recruiting decision. ‘I made a decision to go to this school and I didn’t fit.’ Well, it could be a variety of reasons. It could be something at home, could be homesickness or whatever. But, to me, the most prevalent reason why there’s so many transfers is because if things don’t go right, we have to go find something else to do. And is that the culture just in men’s basketball or is that the culture just in life? How many kids do we recruit and coach that are at their third high school or fourth high school? You look at kids in Kansas City or Topeka, (if) they don’t start as a sophomore, they’re looking for somewhere else to go. This is a societal problem to me, not just a college basketball problem. But we’re obviously part of it because everything is so magnified, but I agree with Tubby, and certainly I think all coaches do, that very rarely does a good player go to school saying, ‘You know, I can learn from him for two years and I can start for two years.’ That ain’t happening. You can have the best band, the best fans, the best home court, the best travel, the best gear, the best living, whatever, but if you go into it thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to play much early because they’ve got him,’ you’re eliminated. And I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just kind of the way it is. The thing that sells as much as anything is opportunity, immediate opportunity, and a lot of times when kids don’t feel that, then they feel like they’re being misused or whatever, a lot of times the path is to go somewhere else where you see it differently.
I would be really curious on those statistics to know of the 800 transfers, how many are going to transfer a second time? It wouldn’t be that many, but there would certainly be a fairly significant number on that, as well.
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