Self checks in with media at weekly press conference
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head coach Bill Self met with members of the media Thursday as part of his weekly press conference at Allen Fieldhouse. Self gave updates on his team as the Jayhawks head into their final regular-season contest at Oklahoma State Saturday, Devonte’ Graham’s candidacy for Big 12 and National Player or the Year, and his thoughts on what his team will need to do over the next 10 days to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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. I was wondering, when you’ve got a roster like this and you have so many guys that can’t play because they’re sitting out or whatever and you’re thin, obviously, do you get personally more time to work with guys individually in practices or throughout the season?
BILL SELF: I would say probably not. Most of our individual stuff is primarily done during the off-season. But if you’re talking about doing more stuff with Charlie (Moore) and Dedric and K.J. (Lawson), I would say the answer is yes. Yesterday the other guys didn’t practice, but the focus was on the guys that didn’t start. So maybe a little bit with those guys, but not with your starters, no. The advantage is, if there is an advantage, when we practice at home you can keep your core seven or eight together all the time. So a lot of times if you’ve only got ten guys out there, you’re switching jerseys and doing that stuff. So that may be a little bit of an advantage. Keeping your team together, spending more time with your team that could possibly play than having to switch jerseys a lot.
Q. Who is standing out to you right now, if anybody?
BILL SELF: They’re all about the same. I think they’ve all had good years. I really believe Charlie and K.J. are tremendously improved, and Dedric, we don’t have anybody that can guard him. So he’s really a talented, very skilled, skilled guy.
Q. Having so little time to try to catch up, what are the hardest things that maybe some of us don’t even notice, to become instinctive for them?
BILL SELF: Well, it could be a lot of things. It could be being able to react and not think usually takes time. But it could be like on a defensive thing, if we’re watching him play, if he was playing the four or the five, it may not seem that much, but do you want to switch four. Like we practice every day whenever Silvio (De Sousa) is having to guard Keenan Evans or (Jevon) Carter, and the answer would probably be no. So how do you work it with everybody else knowing that we’re going to play different just for the small amount of time that he’s in the game? And is it worth practicing all that time just to get to the point where you may do something in the game or you may not do it.
That, to me, is the biggest hang up with him. Spending all the time with him knowing — I always thought we were better off running five or six plays with him, and two or three out of bounds plays and that kind of stuff. But he’s picked that stuff up good. I don’t think that he’s had a fair chance having the feel to play with others like those others do through the summer, through pick up games, through the fall.
I do think that’s made a difference. I don’t think that he’s as confident, although he’s shown flashes, without question, as confident going to make plays when he knows that maybe his role out there would be just don’t kind of screw it up, and I think that’s hard to play sometimes.
We haven’t told him that, but in his mindset, obviously, that’s got to be what he’s thinking.
Q. Will you adjust minutes for certain guys against Oklahoma State?
BILL SELF: No, not at all. Not at all. No, we’ve got — we’re not playing for anything to help us in the Big 12 Tournament, obviously. But this has potentially national implications depending on the seed lines and stuff like that. So certainly we’ll play to win.
Q. Devonte’ (Graham) is a semifinalist for the Naismith Trophy?
BILL SELF: What does that mean? How many make semis? 10, yeah.
Q. Could you discuss his emergence for candidate for National Player of the Year performance right now?
BILL SELF: I didn’t think that going into the last probably ten days, I didn’t think he would be a candidate for National Player of the Year. I thought he’d be a candidate to make an All-American team. But there is a big difference between being — I do think he’s immersed as a candidate. Not a leading candidate in my opinion, but who knows what’s going to happen in the next ten days. If he plays as well as anybody in the country the next ten days, he may be a guy that could win an award or two in that area.
But I do think without question he’s positioned himself to be heavily considered for first team All-American.
Q. Does it make it more impressive? You’ve had guys that have done that, but does it make it more impressive when he’s following Frank (Mason III)?
BILL SELF: I would say no. I would say what we should kind of look at is how good Frank had it, having Devonte’ next to him. Then we should also look at it as how good Devonte’ has been considering he doesn’t have Frank next to him. That’s not a knock to Malik or anything, but it’s totally different. Malik (Newman) is a prototypical two guard. He’s not a point guard. He’s not a guy that initiates or anything.
But in years past, Frank could guard the other team’s best player, but it probably wasn’t our goal going into a game to wear him out the first half, guarding the other team’s best player. Hey, Devonte’, you’ve got to score the points and take the shots at the end of the clock, you’ve got to do all the talking, we’re not going to sub for you and you’re going to guard the other team’s best player the whole time. So, for me, from a Coach’s standpoint, you have to respect that.
Q. Oklahoma State, they’re a great offensive rebounding team. What else do you see from them?
BILL SELF: I see them as having a chance to get in the tournament. They go 8-10 in our league, how could they not be under serious considerations if you go 8-10 in our league? They’re talking about everybody else in our league getting in at 8-10, why shouldn’t Oklahoma State be considered? If they beat us, they would have beaten Kansas twice, Texas Tech and West Virginia. So they would have had four wins against the best three teams in our league. And they would have, you know, had a huge non-conference win against Florida State.
So I think they deserve to be in the consideration. So they’ll have a ton to play for and revenge may be part of it, but I hope our mindset is to go down there and show them a team that they didn’t see here in Lawrence, because they didn’t see the best of us. In large part because they whipped us, but I like for them to see a much better team in Stillwater.
Q. Do you think the guys know about the streak of never being swept in the Bill Self era?
BILL SELF: I have no idea. I don’t know if Lagerald (Vick) and Malik are lying awake at night thinking, “God, I really want this for Coach.” I don’t think that’s under consideration. So if they know about it, they know about it, but that’s not going to be anything that will be motivation for them.
They may be mad enough at me that they’ll say, ‘Okay, this will be a good way to get his (butt) back, too.’ So… (laughter)
Q. Is that (streak of not being swept) pretty astounding?
BILL SELF: You know, I don’t know. Yeah, it is, I guess. But back when it was north-south, you didn’t play as many home at homes is what you do now, but I know it’s been like this, I think Brian (Hanni) said it, it’s been like a hundred series or a 101 series, so hadn’t been swept. So certainly going to Texas Tech and going to Stillwater isn’t the remedy you would think to give you the best chance to keep that streak intact, but we’ve got an opportunity if we play well.
Q. Marcus Garrett really coming on. You rarely are surprised by anything your kids do. Has he even surprised you with what he can do shooting from the perimeter?
BILL SELF: No, no. He was never as poor a percentage shooter as what his stats showed, but he’s not ready to be a really good percentage shooter yet. He still has some time away in the gym from becoming a consistent threat. But he has improved it so much, even though he takes limited shots, that you’ve got to guard him. I thought against Texas the other night, I thought he was fabulous.
You know, he was great against Texas Tech and he scored two points. I think, against Tech, I could be wrong, but I thought he was one of our better performers against Tech as well, so he’s on the uptick.
Q. When they were laying off him and saying basically go ahead, shoot it. I know you guys said drive it.
BILL SELF: Drive it, yeah.
Q. Was it hard to convince him of that?
BILL SELF: No, Marcus, it’s not hard. It would be hard to convince some players of that, but Marcus’ ego is such that he wants to do what he can to help his team win. He wasn’t his leading scorer on his high school team, so it’s not like that’s how he’s built. Some guys are built that way. Some guys would say, hey, I can make that shot, and I say I know you can make it. You can make it 1 out of 5 times, that’s good enough to get beat. But you can’t really express that.
Marcus is a guy, “No, no, I understand that. Why would I — if Svi (Mykhailiuk) is on a role or Devonte’ (Graham), why wouldn’t we get them a shot first? He understands that. But he has gotten a lot better, and teams are going to have to start guarding him, we hope, going down the stretch, because he’s been much better on that end.
Q. It also seems like these guys have really figured outlet’s look to Udoka (Azubuike) whenever possible. Do you feel like that’s possible?
BILL SELF: I did until Texas Tech, and we didn’t throw it to him at all at Texas Tech because the pressure kind of pushed us out. But I do think the guys are playing through Doke more, I do. He’s, without question, playing the best ball he’s played all year.
Q. What do you think when you see his field goal percentage number? Did you have a number when you started the season that we hope he hits this?
BILL SELF: No, I don’t ever think like that. Maybe with a guard. Say, man, if he could shoot 38 to 40 from three, that would be a huge bonus, but I’ve never thought that with a big guy. First thing you think of, he’s not getting enough shots. Then you go back and look at it, how many shots has he actually scored there are outside of three feet? I mean, not many.
So we’ve got to figure out ways and we’ve got to become better passers in ways to get him the ball in tight. He’s improved a tremendous amount. His attitude has been great. There are so many positives that he’s done, considering his age and his lack of playing all through his lifetime. He’s starting to really pick things up and the light’s coming on now.
Q. It didn’t hurt you, but you mentioned Azubuike’s free throws the other night?
BILL SELF: Yeah, they didn’t look good at all. After watching it, there was a breakdown fundamentally. Not that it’s going to be perfect, but so much of it is repetition, and he reverted back to doing some things that he had before. So when you revert back to doing some things and you combine that with doing some different things now, it didn’t look very good. He’s worked hard on it since then, and hopefully he’ll be more consistent moving forward.
Q. How would you evaluate Lagerald Vick over the past couple weeks and what do you want to see from him heading into postseason?
BILL SELF: I think Lagerald’s kind of like our X-factor. When he’s really good, he gives us a whole different element as a team because he can drive it, he can force help, he can shoot it. He could be as good a perimeter defender as we have.
I don’t think he’s played poorly. I don’t think he’s played as consistently well as what he was early in the season, but hopefully he’ll get that back here in the end.
Q. I think you can take it for granted, but when you guys shoot open threes, it seems like they go in a lot. Does it help when you have four shooters on the court for a coach, for an offense?
BILL SELF: Well, we also shoot a lot of guarded shots that don’t go in. I think one of the biggest problems we’ve had this year is you give guys so much freedom, our shot selection hasn’t been great all the time. But when we do take good looks, we do have a better chance (for them) to go in.
We shoot a lot more threes when Doke’s (Udoka Azubuike) in the game, at least I think we do. You’d have to look at those stats; that’s because he draws interest down there because of his ability to score.
So it seems like with Mitch (Lightfoot) in the game, we get more driving the ball. But Doke is a guy who basically opens things up for others. It’s hard to double team him, and when they do, he’s gotten better passing out of the post. (He’s) Still not where he needs to be, but we’ve always said when you pressure out and your pressure release a lot of times can be throwing it to your big guy. Having a big guy in there that forces dives, that forces different looks, I think has done wonders for having our perimeter shooting.
The hardest thing to guard is four shooters around the big. (Tim) Jankovich told me that a long time ago. Every four man we recruit should be a 3-point shooter, because that’s the hardest thing to guard. We’re doing it a little bit differently and taking it to a whole extreme saying we don’t need a four-man. We’re just going to play four guards who can shoot. It doesn’t always work out well, but it’s worked out okay so far.
Q. You say sometimes that the fun part of it is the challenge of trying to figure out how to get things to work. You’ve played more 3-point shooters now. Is that kind of an interesting challenge to figure out how this new four-guard offense looks?
BILL SELF: No, I think last year really helped us because we planned on playing Carlton (Brag Jr.) and Landen (Lucas) or Udoka as our starting bigs the whole time. Then you’ve got Mitch and you’ve got (Dwight) Coleby, but we had a three-man that was obviously probably the most gifted kid on our team (Josh Jackson) who could do everything a guard could do, but also could do everything a big could do, so that was easy to move him into the spot as a four man because he was still a guard.
This year has been different because we don’t have a guard who can do the things that a big does. So when teams say that we can’t play or this would be a tough match-up for us, try to flip it and say how do we make it a tougher match-up for them? It doesn’t always work out. It’s worked out its fair share.
The fact that you’ve got four guys who can stretch it, and at least a third of the time he’s going to be one of those guys chased around by 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10 guys can sometimes play to your advantage.
Q. What is the path for a NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed for you this season?
BILL SELF: Well, I think if we were to win (the Big 12 Championship tournament), I think we’d put ourselves in a great position. I was asked this earlier. I believe there are seven or eight teams, maybe more, maybe nine, that are in play for a one seed, and I think we’re one of those. Whether or not we’re on a one line now, who knows with the ACC Champion?
Virginia’s going to get a one seed. Somebody from the Big East is going to get a one seed, maybe two. Michigan State runs the table in the Big Ten. How could they not be a one seed? You could look at it in a lot of different ways.
A lot depends on what other people (teams) do, but we kind of control it, in my opinion, because we’ve got so many good wins. I think we have 18 or 19 wins against a Top-100 (team). That’s a lot of wins. I think we’re like second in the country in the most top-50 wins or something like that. We put ourselves in a good position.
But if we don’t finish strong and somebody else does, we don’t deserve it. So I think the only path is to win.
Q. Would you rather be a No. 1 seed and maybe have to travel a little farther away, or would it be better to be a two or three seed and stick closer to home?
BILL SELF: I think locations are way overrated. I mean, it would be nice to stay closer to home in Wichita or whatnot. But last year we had an opportunity and we didn’t make the most of it, and we’ll never have a better home court opportunity than we did last year playing in Kansas City. But I also think sometimes when that happens and you’re not playing well, it can also add pressure. So, to me, wherever it is, doesn’t make any difference.
Q. You mentioned you think Vick’s kind of an X-factor. What is it about him? Is it when he plays well other guys just enjoy seeing him have success?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think so. I do. Everybody enjoys it when the other guys have success. When I say X-factor, what could potentially he do that maybe he hasn’t done as consistently lately? Okay, Doke can go from here to here, and Devonte’ (Graham) can go from here to here. Lagerald can go — there’s a pretty big gap. So that’s what I mean by X-factor. He could really elevate our team play.
Q. A few weeks ago you talked about this team’s toughness being a concern. Is it much of a concern now, have you seen improvement, and are you where you want these guys to be?
BILL SELF: Yeah, I think we’ve improved in that area. We’ve had to improve in that area because we’ve had some good, tough wins. The other day (when) we played Texas, that was a game that they were beat up and we had total control of the game but didn’t put them away. To me, that’s an element of that (toughness) just a little bit.
But I do think that we’re better than we were. You look at certain things, rotation, rebounding, things like that. (When) You’ve got a 6-foot-5, 190 (pound guy), blocking off their 4 or 5 man, you’ve got to be tougher than what we are in a lot of ways in order to physically compete when you’re not as strong, and that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t think we’ve consistently shown that we can do that over a period of two or three weeks.
I think we’ve shown that we definitely can do that within games, but I’d like to see it be more of a mindset. We’re gaining on it, but we’re not there yet.
Q. We asked you before Big 12 play started what record might get a piece of this year’s championship. You said 13-4, maybe 13-5 even. What was it back then that led you to believe that a 16-2 record wasn’t realistic and those lower numbers weren’t there?
BILL SELF: First of all, I thought the league was too good to go 16-2, and I didn’t think there was a team in the league good enough to go 16-2. To play in probably the most competitive league in the country, to think that when there is no bottom half of the league, that over a course of 18-game season you would only not play well twice is a pretty pie-in-the-sky thought.
So I didn’t think that we could do that, nor did I think anybody else could do that just because I thought there was too much balance and the teams were too close together. We’re 13-4 now. How many of those 13 wins have come down to the last two minutes? Most. I mean, so we could easily be 9-8 or 10-7. So I don’t think there is that much difference in the teams.
Q. Do you buy in at all to the close wins helping in the postseason, playing so many close games?
BILL SELF: I think you can buy into it. Whatever situation you’re in, you should buy into it, and that’s exactly what we need. Billy Tubbs asked me, when we won in 2008, what our point differential was going into the NCAA Tournament. And I told him. He knew that because we were averaging winning games by 20-something a game. We were beating conference teams by 40 or 50. So it was a little different deal. But the league was different then too.
He said, ‘You can win it.’ You know why? Players aren’t stressed. He hadn’t played many close games. That was his philosophy. Then you hear other people’s philosophy that you’ve been in so many close games, that may help you. I don’t know if there’s an exact formula. Don’t turn it over, make your free throws, stay out of foul trouble — those are the things that will give you the best chance to win in the tournament.
Q. What do you think of your former assistant coaches’ seasons and their position to get into the NCAA Tournament?
BILL SELF: Barry (Hinson) finished second in the (Missouri) Valley. Joe (Dooley) is in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun and they’re hosting, so he’s got a great chance. Janks (Tim Jankovich) had the worst luck of anybody in the country. There’s not a team more beat up than what SMU has been this year. And Danny (Manning) is going to have to obviously play well in the ACC Tournament, but they’re so young.
Basketball is such a fine line because one guy makes such a big difference. But here’s Danny going into the season, losing that stud he had last year, (John) Collins, but knowing he’s got this kid right there that can totally anchor everything, and the week before school starts, he goes pro overseas. It is such a fine line in our sport because one guy can change your whole outlook.
But our guys have done fine. Kyle Keller (Stephen F. Austin, Southland Conference) is there to have a chance to win, Doc’s (Sadler, Southern Miss, C-USA) had an up and down year, but for the most part they’ve done pretty well.
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