Self previews Big 12/SEC Challenge at weekly press conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the press Thursday afternoon inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room. Self discussed his coaching philosophies on free throw shooting, the strength of the Big 12 Conference and the Big 12/SEC Challenge bout with Texas A&M this weekend.

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

Q. Bill, there was a report that somebody went over to McCarthy Hall to give a player free throw advice. I wondered what you thought of that and if it’s serious or not serious?

COACH SELF: If it’s Rick Barry, I’m all for it. Or Mark Price. [Smiling] I did get that report. It was a little strange, because it was unsolicited, but it was probably all good intentions.

I was told that the security over there called. They just thought it was strange that an older gentleman would be kind of stalking and hanging out in the dormitory area.

But I don’t think anything, definitely, was ill-intended, but probably just a little unusual.

Q. Did you have a first reaction, like ‘Are you kidding me?’
COACH SELF: No, I didn’t have a reaction. Because apparently he told everybody that he was coming to see me next. So as long as it’s not Freddy Krueger I’m okay with it.

Q. Did you have a chance to hear what his advice was for free-throw shooting?
COACH SELF: No, I didn’t see him. I’m sure it was good intentions. What he’s probably saying is no different than what many others have told me that we should do. Everybody’s got their own opinions on those sorts of things.

Q. Going off the Rick Barry thing, Wilt Chamberlain went to the underhand free throw (method) and he shot the best percentage of his career. Do you think of even considering that?
COACH SELF: No, no. I talked to (SMU head coach Tim) Jankovich. Of course Jankovich is feast or famine, there’s nothing remotely in between with Tim. He’s the best or he’s the worst. It’s not anything in between.

I asked Tim about it and he said, “You know, I think underhanded may be good. I could say if I had a guy that was struggling I may recommend that to him.” I said, “Would you do it?” He said, “Bill, if I was shooting one percent from the line, there’s no way in hell I would do it. But maybe somebody else would want to.”

So I don’t see that happening. The thing about it is with Udoka (Azubuike), if that’s who you’re talking about, which I assume it is, is shooting underhand does not change his shot.

In order for him to advance and have a chance to have a (professional) career he’s got to be able to shoot the ball. And I don’t know how shooting it underhanded helps prolong his playing career at all.

Q. If it helped him become better from the line, though, like it did when Rick Barry taught George Johnson, another guy —
COACH SELF: There are a lot of people that shot them underhanded back in the day. Why did they switch (back)? Because they shoot them better the way they shoot them today than they do underhanded.

There may be a few individuals who may shoot the ball better, a Rick Barry or Canyon Barry, who did it last year. Why didn’t Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) ever switch? I haven’t asked him personally. But certainly I can certainly understand that. That would be the case.

So the thing about it is, unless somebody’s totally bought in — and to switch, make that dramatic or that drastic a switch in a (quick) span of (time) — do you want him to switch now, with 24 hours to practice it? With big games coming up and then see what happens? I don’t know how you get confidence from that.

I think if you’re going to make drastic switches like that, I think it needs to be done over a course of time. You can’t practice them underhanded and in the games (decide), well, I’m not quite comfortable, so I’ll shoot them back the way I always shot them.

So, it’s a commitment to make a serious change like that, and I don’t see that occurring at this juncture of the season.

Q. Would you consider maybe trying to bank them in or shoot them one-handed? Is that drastic, that kind of change that falls in the underhand category? Or is that maybe a step below?
COACH SELF: You know, there are a lot of things that you could probably try to do. I don’t know that I would say banking in would be the answer, because he could start banking it long then, too. The problem is every one of his free throws hits the back of the rim.

And he’s not missing left-to-right as much as it is short or long. And when you evaluate shooting, that’s the first thing you look at.

If he’s missing right and left then he’s probably not a real good shooter. If he’s missing short and long then maybe that can be worked with. And I believe we can work with it. And I think he’ll attack it in the right frame of mind.

Q. How much of it is mechanics? How much of it is in his head?
COACH SELF: I think it’s both. Obviously, mechanically it’s not the most sound. You brought up a good point; mechanically, everyone’s been taught that when you throw a dart you keep your elbow under your hand. Everybody’s been taught that.

And Doke’s isn’t like that when he shoots. But even with that, you could ask just about any great shooter or any coach that coaches shooting: What’s the most important thing about a shot? They would say the release and follow-through. You’ve seen great shooters shoot it like this. And you’ve seen some poor shooters that shot it like this.

You want it all. But I would say follow-through would probably be as important as anything, and that you finish in the same spot every time.

But even with that being said, it becomes a mental thing whenever you feel the pressure. You can shoot 1,000 free throws a day in practice. It’s not the same as being fouled intentionally with under three (minutes) left, on the road, in a pretty big game. So pressures are always different.

Whatever you do, you need to be able to withstand pressures. So, I think the mental aspect of it is far more important than the actual physical (part of it).

You’ve seen a lot of great baseball hitters who have an ugly swing. You’ve seen a lot of professional quarterbacks who don’t throw it the way you’re supposed to. There are still guys who can get by with it. Billy Kilmer threw one of the ugliest balls for the Redskins. Every one of them wobbled, but he still got it done. It doesn’t always have to look right. But the follow-through is very important.

Q. Texas A&M leads the SEC in rebounding. How do you get your guys ready for the Aggies?
COACH SELF: They’re big. They’re really big. Tyler Davis is a load and of course Robert Williams (is) one of the best prospects in the country. And I don’t want to mispronounce any names, but No. 10 (Tonny Trocha-Morelos), the first guy off the bench, he’s long. He can shoot, too.

But (DJ) Hogg is a huge guard. They provide some real problems from a physical standpoint. They played LSU the other day, on the road, and LSU won the game but I think at one time A&M was plus-20 on the glass. So that’s going to be a big challenge and a huge key to the game.

Q. I think you’ve been outrebounded nine games in a row and won probably seven of those. What do you need to do when you get outrebounded to win the game?
COACH SELF: Well, you can have more turnovers than opponents and still win, shoot a worst percentage and still win. I think OU end up rebounding us five down the stretch. We controlled it. We led at OU, they keep the running tabs on rebounds on the scoreboard. So every time I looked at the scoreboard I was able to see we’re plus-3 or plus-4. But down to the very end of the game we weren’t as good (of) a rebounding team.

I really think so much of it is effort and discipline. I could be wrong, it may have been Baylor, they got 12 offensive rebounds but it was 16 points. And then there’s been other teams we played that got 16 offensive rebounds and it will be five points.

So much of rebounding is, obviously, (that) you want to steal possessions because extra possessions give you more of an opportunity to score points. If you play the percentages, obviously, you score more points.

But defensive rebounds, obviously, are a huge key. But what they do with those defensive rebounds is even bigger key.

Q. Do you like that running total — if you ever need to point it out to your players?
COACH SELF: We get stat sheets during the game that we can tell them. But in that particular situation I liked looking up there and seeing it, yeah.

Q. How much is rebounding position of being in the right spot so that you can get good positioning?
COACH SELF: A lot of it is positioning. Good offensive rebounders, especially if they shoot the ball, they can read where it’s going. You can tell if you’re going to miss it inside left, it automatically bounces right, all that stuff. If you’re a good offensive rebounder and you shoot the ball, you can tell that.

But defensive rebounding, so much of it is positioning. A lot of it is physicality. A lot of it is having a good base. When you’re not very big and you’re blocking out somebody who has a stronger base than you, all it takes is one nudge to displace you. All of a sudden you’re rebounding only makes and they get the opportunity to rebound misses because you’re under the basket. There’s a lot things to it.

But early contact is probably as important as anything. But the biggest thing, and I’ve heard Coach (John) Wooden say this, you want teams to block out, but it’s a lot more important to have guys who go after the ball than it is to block out. And we don’t attack the ball nearly as well as what we have in years past, but we’re also not near as big also.

Q. Can you talk about guard play? Malik (Newman) has really come on, I think he’s scored 20-plus in his five or six games. And then Lagerald (Vick) is still struggling?
COACH SELF: Lagerald hasn’t really done much, quite candidly, on either end in the last five or six games in the last three weeks or so, since the Texas game. We need him being active. We visited quite a bit about it. It’s not that he’s playing poorly. He’s just not putting his handprint on what’s going on. And we need him to put his handprint on it.

He’s arguably our best athlete; certainly, our best athlete who plays a lot. He’s not playing to his athletic ability or confidence level that he will play at, if he can just see some good things happening.

But on the flipside, Malik is just the opposite. Malik is confident. He’s playing with a more aggressive mindset and attitude and certainly he’s doing more than just shoot perimeter jump shots.

Q. When you say you visited with Lagerald, what’s his frame of mind? What are the visits like?
COACH SELF: Well, I’m not going to tell you what we visited about specifically. But I can tell you (that we were) just trying to address, to let him know, that we need him to do more.

And he wants to do more. It’s not like he’s fighting that at all. But (we’re) needing him to do more and, certainly, become more aggressive. (We asked) Maybe why haven’t you been as aggressive and those sorts of things.

Q. Do you have a theory? Is it Big 12 play?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t think so. I think everybody has ebbs and flows and everybody has ups and downs. I think he’s going through a situation where, in the past, he’s probably never had to be counted on consistently. He was so good early in the season and so good against Texas that maybe we started thinking that he could do that consistently, which I personally think he can have the capability to do that.

But still, I think he defers too much. We need him to do certain things to give us the best chance. It’s not effort. It’s a mindset. It’s a mindset of playing safe or whatever and we’ve got to get him out of that.

Q. Devonte’ (Graham) has played 40 minutes three games in a row. How do you guys weigh knowing how valuable he is and not trying to wear him down in the game, so he has a little bit of juice left?
COACH SELF: At OU, for instance, our decision was (that) we were subbing him whenever Trae (Young) came out. And Trae never came out. But you bring up a good point. He needs to get a rest, a little bit of a rest, each half.

But it’s hard to take him out. Nor does he want to come out. He didn’t practice yesterday. He’s not practicing today. We’ll go hard tomorrow and Saturday and practice light Sunday, play Monday and he’ll be off next Tuesday and Wednesday.

So maybe that way we can get him a couple of days (of rest) a week. This week we got him three days off. I don’t remember ever doing that with anybody. We know he’s got to play a lot. I think what we’re trying to do is just limit his exposure during practice a little bit more.

Q. In practice, how does that work?
COACH SELF: I mean like totally off. Like yesterday the whole team was off. Today certain guys will practice and certain guys won’t because we’ll work on four-on-four, dummy offense or whatever. We feel we’re better off having him (Devonte’) fresh on game nights than we are wearing him down by practicing an hour and a half each day.

Q. Is Malik getting closer to being maybe that second ball handler you needed?
COACH SELF: I don’t know about that, but he’s certainly playing much better. The thing is, we had one guy who I felt was really capable of keeping Trae (Young) in front of him. And Devonte’ did a great job of that for the most part. We broke down some there at the end.

Q. Has it just taken Malik a while to adapt to Big 12 play? Or is it that really good play will come because of confidence?
COACH SELF: I think because of confidence. You know, he played in the SEC two years ago. And we played a pretty good schedule. So I think a lot of it is confidence.

Coincidentally, (he) started out slow in league play, (but has been) picking it up. But I think that there’s been a positive trend since we started league play whereas there was probably a negative trend back just before Christmas that didn’t have anything to do with league. So I think a lot of it is just confidence.

Q. The last couple of games we haven’t seen Sam Cunliffe. Does he still have a possibility of playing this season?
COACH SELF: I think he could. Sam is a terrific athlete. (But) Sam’s got a lot to learn from a basketball standpoint and when he’s in the game what his role is. I like Sam a lot. I like his athletic ability and I like his talent. But he hasn’t performed very well in the limited opportunities he’s had that have been big-time opportunities.

He’ll play better, and a lot of people may think we’ll give him an opportunity and play better. Well, that is true. You could also ask, ‘Why was Silvio (De Sousa) in when he turned the ball over three times in a minute?’

Well, he needs an opportunity too. So there’s the devil’s advocate to everything that you possibly could say. I would say that Sam has had minimal opportunities, but probably hasn’t made the most of those or his practice opportunities as much as what we’d like to see.

Q. Talk about some of the steps you’re taking to preserve the energy, the freshness, of your guys. How do you get your guys to fight through mental fatigue at this point in the season?
COACH SELF: I think we’ve been pretty good at that. I think everybody goes through ups and downs. I don’t know if you remember a couple years ago, we beat Kentucky here in a great game and I’m thinking this is going to be what spearheads us and then we go flat right after that.

We beat Kentucky and then they take off right after that. I don’t know that there’s an exact science to it. I’m very cautious of fatigue setting in, but I’m not cautious of mental fatigue setting in yet, even though I know we’ll go through those grinds.

But, to answer your question, we’re trying to do as much as we can to take their mind off ball, trying to let them be a normal student and do things that normal students do. But at the same time, (we’re) trying to keep them off their feet as much as possible.

Q. How much does this A&M game factor into the fatigue or the rest? It’s not a ‘must-have’ because it’s not a conference game. Does it factor in that way?
COACH SELF: We’ll play the game to win just like everybody in this challenge is going to play the game to win. We’ll play it just like we would if we were playing Oklahoma or K-State. And they’ll do the same thing.

At the end of the day, you don’t want, regardless of what happens in this particular game, to impact what happens after that. Whether it be (if you) win a big game, you kind of get careless or complacent, or if you lose it, now does that affect the next one?

You don’t do that because this game is important, but it’s not as important as the league race. And I’m sure there are 19 other coaches who are playing in the challenge that would tell you the exact same thing.

Q. After Saturday’s SEC Challenge game, you have K-State on Monday. (You had the same kind of) Short turnaround with West Virginia. Does the preparation change this week for you guys?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it did. We didn’t practice yesterday and we’re not practicing today. We’ve got the guys who haven’t played much, they’re going to come in and shoot and run dry offense. But, we’re keeping the guys that are playing (in the games out of practice).

(With) Udoka, of course, we’ve got some stuff we’re going to work on. And Lagerald needs to shoot some. But that’s it. Malik and Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) and Devonte’, they’re not going to do anything today. That’s two days off. In large part (it’s) because we can’t take Sunday off. So, yeah, that would be a way that we could adjust.

Q. (You’ll practice) Light on Sunday?
COACH SELF: Yeah, (we’ll only have a) 30-40-minute practice on Sunday.

Q. Do you like a break from Big 12 play (with the Big 12/SEC Challenge) or do you wish it was earlier in the year?
COACH SELF: I wish it was earlier. I think it’s great for our league because it’s one day where it’s all (about) exposure, two good leagues going against each other. I think it’s great for our league. (It’s) Probably good for recruiting. I don’t know how much that really matters, because I think most teams get plenty of exposure anyway. But I think that’s a positive.

I also think it gives everybody a chance to improve their NCAA (Tournament) chances because to put another quality win in the bag, or improve your seed line, because a big win could certainly impact that.

But other than that, I don’t think it carries nearly as much weight as what a conference game would.

Q. Looking at the conference standings, almost halfway through (the Big 12 schedule) now, do you feel like maybe there are a couple teams that could win it?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t feel that.

Q. This year it feels very different.
COACH SELF: Yeah, I think there are five teams, and I could be wrong because, who is 4-4, is anybody 4-4?

Q. Texas.
COACH SELF: Texas is 4-4. They’re still right there. That’s one week between Texas and us. That’s just one week. And it’s been shown by everybody that you could lose a couple of games in a week or win a couple of games in a week.

So the teams that probably have more than four (league wins) would have to make a serious run. They’re going to have to run the table or get close to it. But there are still six teams. And, depending (on) if somebody else just gets really, really hot, there are six teams that you say, ‘Oh, man, they’re right there with a chance.’

We could have put ourselves in a really good position Monday if we could have closed that game out. We would have put ourselves in a really good position. If you told me before the start (of Big 12 play) that we would have a one-game lead going into game nine, I would say, ‘You know what, we played a hard schedule; we’re okay.’ But the reality of it is, it’s not much of a cushion. It’s no cushion at all.




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