Self talks TCU at weekly press conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the media Thursday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse to preview his team’s upcoming contest with TCU Saturday. Self discussed the strength of the Big 12 conference, the search for his team’s identity and his impressions of the Horned Frogs

A video of the press conference can be seen on the Kansas Basketball Facebook Page. A full transcript is available below.

Q. How do you evaluate the Big 12 this year? The majority of the road teams have won the games so far. What does that say about the balance in the league?
BILL SELF: You know, I don’t know. I would say that three teams have certainly gotten off to better starts than everybody else. West Virginia is plus-two. OU is plus-one. Tech is plus-one, had a great road win.

We’re even. We won one and lost one at home. We certainly haven’t put ourselves in a very favorable position. But it’s week one. Eleven percent of our conference play, if I’m not mistaken, is done. (We’ve) Still got 89 percent left. We still have opportunities, as does everybody else, to improve if they’re not happy with the way they started.

But it’s a great league. It’s a monster league. Certainly, it’s one which I told our guys after the game, I said, ‘Hey, guys, I mean, we didn’t play well, they made us look bad, real bad at times, but it’s not going to be the last time we leave here sad this year. It’s going to be a gauntlet. Nobody is going to run the table. Certainly, there will be a lot of ups and downs, so you’ve just got to move on to the next one, (as) quickly as possible, have a short memory.’

Q. There’s been other teams that started out, you called them “soft,” not as tough as you need to be, then got them where they needed to be by the end of the year. Talk about developing a team toughness-wise.
BILL SELF: It was very disappointing the other night. You get a false sense sometimes when you make shots of who you are, that kind of stuff. The bottom line is, we’re a fairly athletic team, but we don’t have some quick-twitch guys like Tech has. I mean, let’s just be real. Zhaire Smith and Justin Gray are two guys we don’t have physically. Those guys dominated us from a quickness and explosiveness standpoint because I didn’t feel like we were energized to go (up) against that.

If you’re turned up, you play with great energy and enthusiasm. You can neutralize that, sometimes even surpass it. I mean, Lagerald (Vick) is a terrific athlete. He’s the only athlete we have on the perimeter that physically can play above the rim and do some things like that. He didn’t the other night. Nobody did.

I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go. But the reality of it is that we’re not changing right now. Playing four guards, our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder (who) weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing the fact that we’re playing two average-sized guards, and we’re playing four really average-sized guards. We’re not going to change that. We have to be scrappier and things like that.

For the most part, we’ve been able to do that. But I think we assume some things because of the past. You look at the past. I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s (Frank Mason III) mentality in that area. Which is okay. We were so spoiled with that in the past.

But we have to be tougher than what we are. We’re asking guys to be something. Lagerald and Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) aren’t softer than they were last year. They’re playing the same way they did last year, maybe a little tougher. They just don’t have the guys next to them to go do it.

Hopefully Marcus (Garrett) can add to that some. I hate talking about what we don’t have, because we have enough to play better than what we did this past week. It would be nice if we had some physical presence, some enforcer-type guys. Even though they’re not that, (we need some guys) that can give you some substantial minutes, and not get kicked on the glass like we have the last two games.

Q. The other night you were asked about facing a rough patch. You referred back to your time at ORU.
BILL SELF: No, no, no. We’re talking apples and oranges, guys. Losing 18 in a row, losing one in a row, it’s not exactly the same thing.

I think the question was asked, “Can you deal with this? Can you handle it?” I’m like, “Well, I coached at ORU. This should not be as difficult as that.”

I don’t think that question is really a fair one to ask because when you think about looking back, it makes it sound like it was dire straits. We were 11-3. We’re 1-1. That’s not the case at all.

I will say this, though, to your point: we haven’t had many situations where we did not get off to good starts in our league. Now, we won the league when we started out 1-2 before. But the majority of the time we have gotten off to good starts.

I think we need to quit talking about winning the league, even though that’s kind of expected around here. It’s obviously a fair question with having a chance to do something nobody’s ever done. We need to just talk about getting better each week. If you do that, the wins and losses take care of themselves. That’s what our focus is.

Q. The one or two simple things you’d like to see get better right away?
BILL SELF: One or two (smiling)?

Q. I’m just keeping it simple.
BILL SELF: Keeping it simple for me, all right (smiling).

I would say we have to guard the ball better. We let guys drive it with their dominant hand, get where they want to go. We have to be able to guard the ball better. When you can’t guard the ball, it forces rotation, which forces rotation rebounding, all this stuff.

Keep your man in front of you. That would be something that would be not an easy fix, but something that we know we got to improve on.

Something else is, everybody’s got a job to do when the ball is shot. That’s stressed every day. We’re not doing it. The offensive rebounders have to make an effort to get there. And certainly, you have to make an effort to check your man every time the ball is shot. We have not done that very well. That would be something that we can certainly improve on.

I don’t know this, I’m not going to say we’re going to do this, but maybe Sam (Cunliffe) can bring some energy to that point, being an offensive and defensive rebounder for us. I never thought you had to look to a guard to play a lot because he was potentially your second-best rebounder. That could be the case if Sam is able to help us in that area.

But I’d say just keep our confidence level high. I talked to one of my old coaches today. You know, we haven’t been through a situation where people are saying, “What’s wrong with Kansas?” We haven’t gone through that in 12 years, where people would say, “Oh, my God, they’re struggling.” We haven’t been through that.

We may have been through a stretch where we lost a couple (of games) in a week or one time we lost three in a row, but when you lose three in a row, (and) you start out 7-0, you’re still 7-3. We haven’t been through a lot of that stuff.

We’re going through what 97 or 98 percent of all teams in America go through: ups and downs. It really is this, and this will be “coach speak” to you guys: we’re not very good right now, okay? We’re not nearly as good as what we can be.

Now, can we play really well? Absolutely. But we’re inconsistent because we don’t have an identity. An identity is when things are going bad, you still have that deal (where) you can run the ball. Identity is, no matter what, you can still rush the passer. No matter what, you can still do certain things. That’s an identity you can hang your hat on no matter what.

Our identity is we control the line of scrimmage. Our identity is we out-speed, out-fast everybody. We’re trying to develop an identity.

You can look really good, then you cannot look really good. If our identity is going to be shooting the basketball, it’s going to be like this. Those are things we (have) got to improve on.

Now, when you say that we’re not very good right now, I didn’t say that after the Texas game. You could watch the game and say, “What happens (if) these shots don’t go in?” It’s not a happy ending. That’s what we have to do.

The whole thing is, when I say “not very good right now,” I’m talking about to be elite, okay? So there’s a lot of things we (have) got to improve on in that area. But the exciting thing is, if you don’t go through some crap — and this isn’t a lot of crap, but it’s enough crap — you don’t want to go through a lot of it. If you don’t go through something tough, how are you going to develop that toughness unless you go through it?

I don’t look at this as anything that is bad. I look at it like, yeah, (I) wish we didn’t lose. But the bottom line is, to get to where we want to go, some things have to be addressed and guys have to take ownership of (them). We (have) got to do a better job coaching them to get them to the point where we want to be at the end.

If we go through the season just by making shots, winning games just by that, I promise you, it will be a flame-out. You (have) got to have something you can really hang your hat on besides that.

We’re not awful defensively. We’re not. We’re just not good. We’re not a terrible rebounding team. We’re just not a good rebounding team. There are times where we’ve been very good in both areas, and there are times we haven’t been very good.

But the best teams, I guarantee you, defensive field goal percentage is down, they understand the ball, they take care of the ball. Those are all areas that are correctable, but certainly, our mindset has to be improved.

Q. In the halfcourt offense, do you have to wait for Udoka (Azubuike) to do a better job of establishing position, be more polished with his moves, do a better job to cash in at the line, before that can become your identity?
BILL SELF: I don’t think so. I mean, Landen didn’t score inside. But Landen could make a timely basket. We’d run something for him.

I think a lot of it with Doke (Azubuike) is exactly what you’re saying. In addition to that, for his understanding of the game — to understand how you get angles, how you score easy — he doesn’t really feel yet. He’s gotten better, but he doesn’t really feel that yet. Yeah, we (have) got to do a better job with that.

Here is what is bad about what you just said. When the ball goes inside, we (have) got four people watching him. If he misses a shot, we don’t make anybody pay. Does that make sense? So I don’t worry about what Doke is doing. What are the other four guards doing when Doke has it? That is something that would be more of a concern for me.

We would like for him to become more polished, for us to get him the ball on time, on target, all the time. The reality of it is, the better teams you play, they don’t let you get those easy baskets all the time. So we (have) got to do a better job of ball and body movement, playing in and out, being able to get to the glass.

Usually, when he (Azubuike) goes to make a move, there are people that come help. Then if you come help, that opens up rebounding lanes. We’re just not doing real well at that.

Q. Would Marcus Garrett be good at that?
BILL SELF: Yeah, he would. But he’s a guard. He wouldn’t be like a 6-foot-9 guy going at it. But, yeah, he’s a guy that you would think (could do it). Marcus and Lagerald and Sam would be our three best guys to be able to do that. Marcus tries. You look at his stats, he gets his hands on more balls and steals possessions for us than anybody we have in the game. I think we’re getting what we can out of him in that area.

The reality of it is Doke and Mitch (Lightfoot), that’s all it’s been so far, they (have) got to rebound better. Doke gets four rebounds when there are 38 missed shots. That’s not good enough. He’s got to rebound the ball better. And he will.

Q. Have you been talking to Malik Newman to try to get him back on track? What is your sense of how he’s fitting into the system right now?
BILL SELF: I think he fits in fine. He just hasn’t played nearly as well as what we know he’s capable of playing. Regardless of system, I think you’d still have the same issues. We need Malik to be offense for us, we need him. He doesn’t have to be great, but we need him to be an adequate defender, individual defender, a good team defender, that kind of stuff.

I’d say Malik has not played as well as what he’s capable of playing. But from an offensive-production standpoint, he’s had two of his best games the last two games. I don’t think that’s the issue.

I think when guys are really concerned about playing to win — I’m not saying our guys aren’t — but when you’re playing to win, you don’t worry about your shot. I think sometimes scorers get hung up on, “I’m not making shots.” There are a lot of ways you can play well without the ball going in the hole.

Q. Have you been impressed from what you’ve seen from Sam Cunliffe in short bursts?
BILL SELF: I thought he did some good things the other night. He had a couple of blunders. I think he cost us six points in the second half when the game was tight. He also got us a couple of nice drives, (an) offensive putback, all this stuff. He just needs time. Sam is going to be fine. He just needs time.

Q. Defensive lapses?
BILL SELF: Yeah. Or how you guard a ball screen, stuff like that.
Q. TCU has all their players back from last year. What are you expecting?
BILL SELF: It will be a hard game. They’re a lot better than they were last year. Last year they finished strong. They obviously won — what was it — the last five games to close out the season last year? I could be wrong. Are they 13-1 now? They’ve only had the one hiccup. That was the game they controlled till the very end.

I think they’re really good. I think Jamie is a terrific coach. I think they’ve recruited really well. They have some hold-over guys that have really blossomed and become really good players their junior and senior season. They have a nice blend of some newcomers that are really helping them, younger kids that are really helping them, but they really have a lot of veteran experience that’s rock solid.

Jamie and TCU, with the commitment they made to basketball, the arena and everything, they’re not going anywhere. They’re going to be good for a long, long time.

Q. What do you think of the way Devonte’ drove the ball in the second half against Tech?
BILL SELF: He did great. He did great driving the ball. It’s kind of a misleading deal, though. You’re behind. How many times did Frank shoot a lot of free throws last year when you get behind and you just drive it? The defensive team is basically kind of told, ‘Hey, keep him in front of you, don’t foul.’

The thing that Devonte’ did really good, and I think you cited the second half, are things he needs to do the entire game. To me, it’s too much pressure on him to be the only one to do it, though. If you look at it, who else is doing it? I think Lagerald touched the paint once or twice the entire game. Marcus will try to when he can. But that’s not really Svi’s game. Not Malik’s game, even though Malik had a couple late situations.

Somebody asked the question, I think it was our English friend (Shaun Goodwin of the University Daily Kansan) asked a question the other day, ‘Were you happy getting to the line 23 times?’ The answer is, Yes, we’re happier doing that. But it wasn’t real. It was in a comeback effort where you just drive it, put your head down and drive it. You’re not running good offense.

I’d like to see us be able to do that in the first half as well as the second half.

Q. When you do everything right, you get Udoka (Azubuike) the ball down low, the defense does everything right, if it’s a guy not in foul trouble, hacks him so hard he can’t get a shot up, is that a win for the offense or defense?
BILL SELF: I still think it’s a win for the offense. I do. It puts you in the bonus sooner. You bring up a great point. You’re struggling, even though it’s early, 5-0, you’re struggling, you get the ball right where you want it, you come away empty. Is it deflating? Yeah. There’s nothing more deflating than when you’re making a comeback and you miss a front end. I think you’re much better off being there than not being there.

Q. Do you expect word on Billy before the game?
BILL SELF: I don’t know anything that has transpired today. But as of last night, I expected that we’d have some semblance or some idea of exactly where this was. I meant before the game Saturday.

Certainly I’ve said for a while now sooner rather than later. I can guarantee you it will be sooner rather than later, but I don’t know what the outcome will be on it, honestly.

Q. Is it the same kind of tame table for Silvio?
BILL SELF: No, I don’t think so. I think Silvio, I said this last night on my show, just so you guys know, you won’t know to ask all the time, Gary (Bedore of the KC Star). Silvio’s deal is different. It’s an amateurism deal that every athlete that plays college athletics goes through. You don’t start processing their amateurism until they’re enrolled at your school. He didn’t technically get here until the 27th, 26th. NCAA offices were closed until January 2nd. Since January 2nd, in the last 48 hours, there’s been a lot of different things going on because they have to give us the questions they need answered.

The thing about it is, people say, ‘How hard is that?’. Well, he is he’s an African kid. He comes from Angola. Club teams, documents, did he ever play in this tournament, pros played in that tournament, were there pros on your team. There’s all these different things. You have to have written things to prove that he’s an amateur, he wasn’t a professional playing, all that stuff.

Then the communication with Angola I won’t say has been bad, I won’t say that at all. But a nine- or 10-hour difference, getting everybody over there to see what you want to do as their priority sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to get done. It’s not that easy doing that if you’re calling somebody from the same town here in the States sometimes.

We’re kind of at the mercy of some other people getting the information to us so that we can be sure and give complete information to the NCAA on that. But if he wasn’t an African kid, yeah, it would be done. It’s a little bit more hoop jumping.

Q. For a high school kid to join the team now, so much to process, does he become worse before he becomes better?
BILL SELF: Maybe, because he’ll be a thinker instead of a reactor. I think that’s a good point.

Let’s call it like it is. Can he help us in short spurts in the next week maybe? I think he might can in the next week. But in the next four weeks when we get to February, I would think that would be as close to a full team as we will have this year one way or another. When we get to February 1, our team will be probably as close as what it’s going to be. If Billy is or if he isn’t, when Silvio is or whatnot, at least we’ll be a team that can play together. Right now there would be no way Silvio could fit in, be comfortable and help us right now.

Q. Would Europe still be an option for Billy this year? His best way to market himself is to wait, if he wants to try the showcase?
BILL SELF: Combine. He’ll do that no matter what.

Q. He can do that as European?
BILL SELF: I would think so. I’m not sure. That’s a good question.

We haven’t even talked about that. Our whole focus has been getting him here playing. If obviously we get a negative report back, we’ll have to deal with that and get with he and his mother, determine what the best thing for him would be after that. But we’re very hopeful that’s not the case. We haven’t even talked about that.

Q. Is Billy in a situation where if he got the call today, good to go, could he step in and be pretty ready?
BILL SELF: Pretty ready. I think we’re talking about basically two months since he’s played. Has he practiced? Yes. But he’s also been on the scout team a lot. If he practiced for an hour and a half, it’s hard to give a guy you know is not going to play in the foreseeable future enough reps to really take it away from somebody else that does have to play. Yeah, but it’s going to take time.

If Silvio takes three or four weeks to get comfortable, Billy would take a week to get comfortable. You shouldn’t expect too much right out of the chute, but he’s a talented kid, though.




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