Self talks Oklahoma State, Big 12 race at weekly press conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas’ Bill Self met with the media on Thursday afternoon for his weekly press conference inside Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawk head coach covered a variety of topics, which included a preview of his team’s Saturday match-up with Oklahoma State and areas of improvement he’d like to see as KU heads into the second half of the Big 12 regular-season race.

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

Q. You’ve always had road warriors in your career here. This team seems to be rising to the top and playing their best ball on the road.
BILL SELF: Yeah, I don’t think it’s any secret. We probably (have) played better away from home than we have at home this year. Even the one game we lost (at Oklahoma), we were right there to win that one against a really good team. Hopefully, (we) obviously continue to play well on the road, but we need to play equally as well at home.

I thought this past Saturday against A&M, that’s probably as good a half as we (have) played. Hopefully we can stretch that out and play well this Saturday against Oklahoma State. They do a lot of different things that can give us some problems. We better be pretty alert.

Q. You’ve talked about (Oklahoma State head coach Mike) Boynton a couple times, just his poise. What are the challenges of being that guy, at that age, coming into this league, having to run on the fly and learn it with a bunch of good coaches and veterans?
BILL SELF: I think there would be challenges regardless of experience and age. Sometimes (among the) most experienced staffs, (the) pieces don’t quite fit or whatever. In this situation, it looks like to me the pieces really fit, and they fit him.

He’s got a great demeanor on the sideline. His players probably get confidence from that. They’re playing hard. (Former Oklahoma State head coach) Brad (Underwood) had them playing really hard last year, too. They’re playing equally as hard this year.

They haven’t taken a step backward at all. Maybe (they’ve) taken a step sideways from philosophical thinking, but certainly not in effort and competitiveness.

Q. Do you remember when he (Boynton) got the job? Was that a surprise?
BILL SELF: I wasn’t in the know on that. It happened fast. I think maybe some people may have thought, Mike Boynton, been there for one year, was with Brad at Stephen F. (Austin) prior to that.

But he’s got a pretty good background when you study where he’s played, who he’s been involved with and everything. He’s beyond his years. I guess he’s the youngest guy in our league, hands down, but he’s certainly beyond his years.

Q. A few weeks ago you said you weren’t rooting for specific teams yet. Last night with West Virginia and Iowa State and Texas and Texas Tech, did you have a rooting interest in those?
BILL SELF: I didn’t watch either game. (I) Had some other stuff going on. (I) Was watching tape.

No, not yet. Two weeks from now, maybe. If Texas beats (Texas) Tech, they’re tied with Tech. They’re still in position. Like I’ve said before, when two teams play each other, it’s impossible, (but) I guess you kind of hope they both lose. That’s obviously never the case.

Q. With the energy that Devonte’ (Graham) is expending on the defensive end, how is that affecting him offensively?
BILL SELF: I don’t know that it is. I would like to say he’s probably been our most consistent perimeter defender. He’s doing a good job on that end. The reality is, we played 20 minutes of zone the other night, too. It’s not like he’s chasing a guy around all the time.

I would certainly make the case against (Oklahoma’s) Trae Young, the way we defended him. Basically that was his guy. He exerted a lot of energy to guard him well. Then not to get a rest.

The other times, from a defensive standpoint, I don’t know that I feel (it’s that way) that much. I feel it more from an offensive standpoint. West Virginia runs two guys at him, he still has to bring it up every possession. That kind of stuff. I think it will wear you down to the point where you don’t shoot it as well.

Then offensively, the way we play, we have more perimeter movement than a lot of teams do. They’re getting a pretty good workout on offense, too. Maybe fatigue has contributed a little bit to him not shooting a good percentage the last couple of weeks, but I’m not really buying into that one too much though.

Q. With his down the lane driving ability, is Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) playing at a level what you expected him to do?
BILL SELF: I think he’s playing great. We’ve had different phases. Lagerald (Vick) was our best for a while. Devonte’ was our best for a while. Malik (Newman) has been consistently as good as anybody here of late.

Svi has been playing at the highest level since he’s been here. (There were) Period of times where Doke (Udoka Azubuike) was our best player in certain games.

The bad thing is not everybody is playing well at the same time individually. The good thing is we have good enough players that five different guys could be your best player. Those are positive things.

Q. (This is a) Good 3-point shooting league. You’ve been held to 29 percent at three. What do you attribute that to?
BILL SELF: They missed shots. I don’t think our zone the other day was anything that, for sure, made K-State miss from guarding them. I think what it did was it probably got them out of rhythm, which makes shots harder, that kind of stuff.

I think that’s a good stat if you look at it over time. The reality of it is that can change. Somebody goes 10-of-20 from three against you, all of a sudden it changes. Somebody goes 3-of-20, all of a sudden it changes positively.

We should be defending the three a little bit better because we obviously are playing four guards. You’d think the teams that may struggle would be the teams that play two bigs and they(have) got to guard a guard on the perimeter. That certainly hasn’t been the case with us.

Q. Is the zone something that you’re okay using in the future or would you rather avoid it?
BILL SELF: No, I’m okay with that. I’m not stubborn at all. I’m fine with playing that.

I don’t think it needs to be a mindset that that’s what we go to, in my opinion. But we were certainly better in that the other night than we were man (man-to-man defense).

Q. When you look at Mitch Lightfoot’s numbers, which numbers stand out?
BILL SELF: Blocked shots would be the only thing that stands out.

Q. When you watch Lightfoot play, it seems like he always makes a big impact. What does he bring?
BILL SELF: Energy. He’s our most energetic big guy, without question. He’s got personality. He’s probably a much better athlete than what people give him credit for. He’s really quick off his feet.

We got beat one play against K State in the first half. He doesn’t really guard the ball screen right. I think (Barry) Brown got past (him), lays it up. Next thing you know, he (Lightfoot) blocks it against the backboard, we go the other way with numbers.

Just from an energy standpoint, he can do some things like that for us. His attitude is a 12. I mean, we don’t have anybody in the building that is more positive and is more into “team,” or into “Kansas,” all those things, than what Mitch is.

Q. Is he almost a team leader at his young age?
BILL SELF: By example, yeah. I wouldn’t say verbally, but by example, I would say yes.

Q. Silvio (De Sousa) didn’t have boot camp, exhibition season. Mentally how is he handling trying to fit in and contribute and understand his role?
BILL SELF: Well, we don’t really know what his role is yet. I’d like for it to develop. He’s had a bad last two Big 12 games. Three turnovers in one minute. Yesterday, the other day, Wade gets six points, and he has a turnover in one minute. He really hasn’t had a chance to do much.

I need to keep him out there. But right now I would say his head’s spinning. I mean, it’s spinning. It’s going too fast for him. He shows flashes in practice of being terrific. He is going to be terrific. He just hasn’t been able to probably get the minutes nor the opportunities, nor is he quite confident enough for that to translate to the games yet.

I still believe this. I said it would be February 1 before we kind of know who we are. I think we have a better idea of it. We’re still not a complete team until he starts giving us more because he’s very capable of being one of the better 6-7, 6-8 guys in our league.

Q. What have you seen from (indiscernible) since he got here?
BILL SELF: I think his energy level is better. I think he goes after balls better. He’s an above average rebounder when he’s doing those things. You can just see the wires aren’t quite connecting, but they’re getting closer. There’s a chance they may touch each other here pretty soon. They haven’t quite done that yet.

Q. What do you think of the Big 12’s proposal to change some NCAA transfer rules?
BILL SELF: I have strong beliefs on this, as do all coaches across America. The free agency aspect of it, where kids can go wherever they want to go, whenever they want to do it, we are all strongly, strongly, strongly against. It’s not because we think it’s negative with kids. It creates an environment where now you’re actually recruiting players from other teams in handshake lines.

You have something negative happen to your program, and you just look for a guy at a mid-major that averages 15 a game, we’ll throw some bait out there for him.

We’ll legislate that.

You can’t legislate that stuff. Everybody has a contact that knows somebody. People can contact you.

I think any time when you don’t have to sit out is a very, very, very bad rule. I personally think, for instance, and there have been talks that if a coach leaves, allow everybody to leave, but they can’t go to the school with the coach. What about an assistant coach? What about an assistant coach? I guess he doesn’t fall into that category. If he takes the players he recruited to go to another school, they’d have to sit.

The thing about it is, with our sport, people talk a lot about a lot of different things with our sport. Competitive balance is good. What you’ve done is you’ve just eliminated that with that type of thing.

If you can think about it, a coach retires. That whole team can leave before you have an opportunity to hire a new coach. I don’t understand. I don’t understand how that fits into the academic component where statistics show, unless you have a certain grade point average or whatnot, statistics show when you transfer, not usually all credits transfer, and it takes a little bit longer to graduate.

If we’re looking at it from the big picture as to what’s best for student-athletes as a whole over time, I would think that graduation would be at the top of the list, then I think competitive balance is right there underneath that.

Q. What do you like about Oklahoma State?
BILL SELF: They play fast. They run the same stuff that they ran with (former Illinois head coach) Brad (Underwood). Kind of Johnny Orr’s 2-1-2 high motion set. They’re doing some other things out of it, as well.

Defensively they play ridiculously high on the floor, daring you to make plays backdoor, daring you to play behind them. In football, it would be like putting eight guys in the box and daring you to throw it. Pretty good terminology for Super Bowl week. That’s how I would kind of see that. They want to make you play behind that.

It’s much easier said than done. The pieces to me just fit. They don’t have guys, other than Jeffrey (Carroll), that were pre-season all Big 12 type guys. You watch them play, man, Smith, the transfer, he’s really good. Lindy Waters is really good. Mitchell Solomon is one of the best all-around big guys in our league, without question. Shine is having a fabulous year. He’s so athletic.

I think they got a really good team. I think they do some stuff that’s different than anybody else in our league.

Q. What is a big area of improvement you want to see your team step up in the second half of the conference season?
BILL SELF: I think a lot of the same. We rebounded the ball decent the other night, but that’s one time. We got to rebound better. Our first shot defense needs to get better, even though it hasn’t been awful, but it hasn’t been great.

Personally, I’d like to see us play better at home. Once you get into the post-season, obviously there’s no home games. I’d like to see us generate and play with a little bit more energy at home. Seems like our energy level, maybe because we have a tighter huddle, maybe because we have a mindset it’s us against everyone, I don’t know what it is. It seems like our energy level has been better away from home than it has been at home. That certainly has to improve.

Q. Svi’s three-point percentage, are you good with all the threes he takes?
BILL SELF: Yeah. I don’t think anybody would be disappointed with a guy shooting 48 percent from three if he takes 10 a game. He’s probably not that far off here recently of taking that many. So, yeah, I think that’s all good.

Q. Did you ever think one of the reasons it makes Allen Fieldhouse so great is all the human noise that it generates? It seems in recent years, the electronic noise has been louder and louder, kind of drowns out the human noise. Could that possibly be why you’re not playing as well at home, because have gotten a little out of control, those that control the electronic noise?
BILL SELF: I don’t listen to see how loud the electronic noise is (smiling). My first guess would be absolutely not, but I haven’t studied it. We may form a committee to talk about that (smiling).

I do think this, and to speak to your point. In athletics, in sports, primarily basketball, the natural old time crowd noise is a must. But in today’s time, I think the piped-in stuff at times is also a must. I think there needs to be a combination of both.

I don’t know what our percentages are in that, but I think we do a pretty good job with it, from my perspective.

Q. You talked about liking some of the elements of playing on the road the other day, getting the team together for meetings, eating together. Is there any way you could replicate those things at home?
BILL SELF: We do try to replicate them. We don’t stay in hotels. We don’t get up at whatever time, eat breakfast together, go to practice together on the bus, come back, eat meals together, watch tape together.

Here, yeah, you have one meal a day together. Kids go to class, do whatever. It’s just not quite the same as what it is when you play away from home.

Q. Malik (Newman)’s scoring has been up as of late. You mentioned Monday his rebounding numbers. Any correlation between the two of those?
BILL SELF: There could be. I think he’s worried about the right things. I think he’s worried about things that help our team win. When you do that, you don’t worry about scoring, so you score more.

There could be. There could be. Malik is not a terrific facilitator, getting other guys shots and things like that. He has figured out he can be a terrific rebounding guard. He’s contributing in ways that maybe Devonte’ doesn’t do as well or Svi doesn’t do as well. There could be a correlation. I don’t know that for a fact.

I think the biggest thing is his confidence level is higher because he knows we want him out there. Maybe rightfully so, he went through a period of time where he felt like he couldn’t really play, which I don’t really agree with. I know all players go through that sometimes. I don’t think he feels that way anymore.

Q. I think he (Malik) said last week you guys gave him the freedom to figure it out on his own. Was that by design?
BILL SELF: Yeah (smiling).

I think he probably got tired of us telling him the same thing. Maybe we just quit telling him for a little bit. He looked at that as freedom to figure it out. I don’t know.

You guys analyze stuff a lot more than I do.

Q. Is that important, though? Would you rather have a kid figure it out on his own than to have to be told over and over, or does that not matter?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I would say from an IQ standpoint, you’d rather a guy be able to figure some stuff out on their own. But that’s not always the case, you know. You’d like to, if you’re playing in a scramble, you’re hitting first, all your teammates would like, ‘Hey, put it in the fairway so everybody else can go for it.’ It’s a scramble, you got to go for it, too. Everybody kind of goes through that.

Q. Has any team nationally stepped ahead of the rest in your eyes?
BILL SELF: I’d say from my perspective, the three best teams in the nation have totally separated themselves from everybody else. That would be Villanova, Purdue and Virginia.

With that being said, I don’t know if they’re the most talented teams or they’re the teams that are playing the best. That could look totally different a month from now when other teams have a chance to maybe find themselves a little more, that stuff.

The one thing about those three teams, they’re all veteran teams. They’re not going anywhere, those teams won’t go anywhere. You may have some teams narrow that gap obviously that are younger and will continue to find themselves as the season goes on.

They (Purdue) took their team to the World University Games. They won the silver. That’s not an easy thing to do. They’ve been together a long time, that group.

Q. You mentioned you wanted to make rebounding a point of emphasis. How big was it for your guys to out-rebound K State by plus 10 on Monday?
BILL SELF: I think it was big for us to win, without question. But the whole thing is, we were better, but it’s one game. You got to do it the right way every time. If you try to do it the right way every time, seven out of 10 times it will probably work out for you, but still won’t work out three times. That was a game that it worked out well for us.

We can try hard against Oklahoma State. For whatever reason balls don’t bounce our way, they’re a little bit quicker, more aggressive, they could wear us out.

But that’s an area that we just need to continue to talk about and work on and get better at.

Q. Any of the transfers stood out in practice?
BILL SELF: I think they all have. I think Charlie (Moore) and Dedric and K.J. (Lawson) have all had really good years, comparable to what Malik was doing last year. Those three are all doing it this year.




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