Press Conference: Bill Self previews regular-season finale
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self met with members of the media inside the Allen Fieldhouse Media Room for his weekly press conference on Thursday, to preview the Jayhawks’ regular-season finale at Oklahoma State on Saturday evening (5 p.m., ESPN). View the complete transcript below or watch the entire press conference video here.
Q. Talk about the job Brad Underwood has done turning around Oklahoma State midseason?
COACH SELF: Oh, yeah, he’s done a phenomenal job. He would be my pick for conference coach of the year, without question. I think there’s a lot of guys that have done good jobs but I don’t think anybody has done a better job than Brad.
Certainly, they played a hard schedule to start the conference off. I mean, you look at their games, and so it would be hard to have a great record playing those six games to start. But to start out 0-6, and then what did they win, like eight league games in a row, something like that, it’s pretty remarkable. He’s done a fabulous job. He’s a good coach, good guy, and he fits — he fits that university very well from the outside looking in.
Q. What’s the motivation, since you guys have one game left but you wrapped it up a long time ago?
COACH SELF: I think, you know, you get to play against, you know, (Jeffrey) Carroll and (Phil) Forte and Jawun Evans, who may be as talented as any guy around.
I read something yesterday, or maybe the day before, that, you know, a lot of people are touting Jawun Evans for a lot of national honors, All-American teams and things like that, which I think he’s deserving.
But we just want to get better. We’ve been in this situation before where we haven’t probably closed the season out the way we’d like to, based on, you know, maybe clinching beforehand.
But this is a time where I just hope our guys go down there and free mind, just play, and love to play with each other and know that that time is coming to an end at some — shortly, and we just want to make it last as long as we can and make the most out of each opportunity, and this is certainly another opportunity.
Q. What’s been the biggest reason why you guys are so good on the road this year? You’ve won the conference before with some 5-4 records, and this year, the one loss.
COACH SELF: You know, I think guys are pretty tough. I think guys enjoy playing in front of rowdy atmospheres. We played in front of our fair share this year. Of course Saturday, if you guys haven’t seen Gallagher(-Iba Arena) when it’s jumping, it’s as good as any place in America. So I know that it’s sold out. Brad Underwood texted me this morning to remind me that it was already sold out.
I think it will be a great test for our guys, but our guys usually like playing in those type situations to be tested.
Q. Does Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Svi) just need shots to fall, doesn’t seem to have quite the confidence, something that he did midseason?
COACH SELF: I agree. I thought he was on a real roll about three weeks ago, and he hasn’t played as well of late. I don’t think he’s quite as aggressive. And a lot of people equate aggressiveness to shooting the ball; and I would equate it more to, you know, putting yourself in a position to make plays. It could be a 50/50 ball; it could be a hard block out, it could be a lot of different things.
You know, he’s a good player. He’s very conscientious of those sorts of things, but needs to quit thinking and just start playing. I think everybody goes through that sometimes, but him being a junior now, you know, and he knows his value to our team. He knows he’s got to be more aggressive and now it’s just a matter of him going out and doing it.
Q. Doesn’t seem like he’s pressing or forcing anything. Is that a positive?
COACH SELF: Probably. Probably is a positive. But you know, if Frank (Mason III) was struggling, you think Frank would sit back and just kind of let the game come to him? He’d try to go make something happen.
I guess it would be the equivalent of a baseball hitter, you know, when you’re not getting any pitches to hit, but you’re so anxious that you always swing at bad pitches. I don’t think Svi has done that but I do think he can be more aggressive, though, and look for his opportunities.
Q. When you have a player going through a little slump, do you pick your spots on pulling him aside to talk to him one-on-one – do you do that?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I’ve talked to Svi. But I don’t make a big deal about it, but I’ve talked to Svi. I’ve even thought about, you know, would it help him maybe, would he feel less pressure coming off the bench or this or that. Lagerald (Vick) gives us such energy off the bench normally. But Lagerald and Svi, if you look at them over time, they’ve kind of been: One’s been good and one hasn’t been as good. It’s kind of been, they both — over the course of the season, they both had good seasons but they both had ruts, too.
I think our best chance moving forward is to try to get Svi to kind of come out of this, because I think Lagerald at least in the last couple of weeks has been consistent enough that we know what we’re getting from him and I certainly like what we’re seeing from him.
Q. Being as quick as Lagerald Vick is, does that help the energy factor off the bench?
COACH SELF: I think so. You know, I think if you are coming off the bench, it’s obviously great to change the pace or the energy level. You know, we talk about people a lot of times as a team saying, you know, you can breathe life into the room or you can suck all the energy out of the room. And a guy off the bench needs to breathe life, breathe life into his team.
I think Lagerald has done that. I think personality allows to you do that more. I think athletic ability allows to you do it more. But also scoring also allows you to do it more. It’s nice, you know, you talk all the time getting points off the bench and things like that. Even though it’s kind of a stat that’s way, way, way overrated. But it is, it is — it does bring merit in knowing that, you know, you can take out a starter and have somebody off the bench that can actually add something, give you something more, if he’s playing well, and certainly Lagerald has done that.
Q. Have you ever been part of a team that’s been able to overcome as many double-digits deficits as you have this season?
COACH SELF: I don’t know, I don’t know what the number is — Gary, what’s the number — (laughter). Okay. All right. That’s a little disappointing, Gary. For a guy that’s covered KU for 35 years, I figure you know 1992’s double-digits comebacks.
But no, it is a little — it’s twofold. It’s good. I mean, it’s good that no matter what happens, you know, the guys haven’t panicked.
It’s bad that we put ourselves in a position to be behind some of those deficits, but when you’re playing in a league that is as balanced as our league, I don’t think that’s totally unusual. I bet if you go through and you look at West Virginia, I bet you they have been behind double figures quite a bit or Baylor or — Baylor maybe not quite as much because Baylor’s games are usually, you know, they don’t allow their opponents to score that many points because of the style and everything.
Iowa State, a 10-point lead at Iowa State means nothing, nor does a 10-point deficit. And I think offenses have changed so much and defenses and rules and everything’s changed so much; it’s easy for an offensive team to get on a little bit of a roll, especially early in the game because you play a little defensive on defense and that kind of stuff.
But we’ve got to correct it. I mean, obviously we need to correct it because I could be wrong, but I think there’s ten games we won in league where we’ve been down nine points or more. I could be off on that and Gary should know that. But I’ve never had a team probably come back better than what this team has.
Q. In some years, you have a lot of blowouts, like Gonzaga this year has a lot of blowouts, could a team like Gonzaga get tight because they are not used to playing?
COACH SELF: Maybe. I’ve said this before; I’ve had coaches that have been in the business a long time say that there is a number of close games you want to play, just so you’ve been in them. But the reality is, you don’t want to sweat or stress as many games as what we have, because it takes a toll.
And then I’ve had other coaches say, no, you want to play in as many tight games as you can so you can have your guys go through more situations and different situations.
I don’t know. I don’t know what the formula is. I can’t speak to Gonzaga. But the way the media portrays it, and there’s nothing wrong with this because there’s no other way you can portray it: A team goes 28-0 and they lose one game, oh, God, what happened, what went all of. You know, you lose one game; well, they haven’t been in enough close games, that’s got to be it.
Sometimes you just get beat. Sometimes you just don’t make free throws. Sometimes the other team plays better. Sometimes the other team makes the same shots you miss. I mean, so I think we can overanalyze some of those things sometimes.
Q. When the conference race was in question about a month ago, and you were bombarded with things that were not related to basketball, does the team’s ability to withstand all the off-court distractions make this conference title more special?
COACH SELF: I will say that this team has been as focused as any group that I can remember considering all the crap and distractions that this team has listened to and dealt with.
So I would say that’s a proud thing. You know, as a coach, you want your team to be — to rally around things. You want them to be tough. And I do think these things indirectly certainly made us do those sorts of things, without us talking about them; it’s not like we sit around and talk about and break everything down; we don’t.
We on the inside, have a better feel for what’s going on than what the outside does, obviously, and so maybe it has — maybe it has helped in that regard. But it’s certainly been taxing, though. It’s been more than — you know, kids should be able to go out and relax and have fun and play the game they love, even though it’s playing for pretty high stakes. And those things that transpire probably didn’t allow them to do that quite as much, which is disappointing.
But I certainly understand it. I mean, it’s certainly human nature, and then when you’re — when you have issues in front of you that must be dealt with and you have issues that are obviously going to be talked about, it’s nobody — it’s not the media’s fault that that stuff’s brought up. But it’s also a way that, you know, hopefully that you can kind of rally around those things, as well.
Q. Can the lack of depth in a way sharpen the focus, too, because I know if I have a bad day, I know I don’t have anyone to pick me up.
COACH SELF: Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe. In ’12 we had less depth than we have now. We played — Connor, I love Connor Teahan, he’s a stud. But he was a four-year walk on here. And to hear his mother tell it, I waited four years too long to give him a scholarship.
But you know, here he is, he’s coming out, he’s a great player for us; not a good player, a great player for us. And if you remember that year, Justin Wesley was our seventh man starting the season, and he came as a walk-on, as well. So at Kansas, you’re playing your sixth and seventh man that were walk-ons, and you don’t see that very often. And Kevin Young ended up being Justin out and he became our seventh man.
But that wasn’t a real deep team. But the difference was, you had three NBA players in the starting lineup with Thomas and Ty and Withey, and then Travis and Elijah have been around forever.
I would say there’s some similarities to that team, and maybe it does help with the focus. I don’t know, those top six guys that are playing all the minutes, they like it. Before, when we had teams here, I mean, we’ve had some — I mean, Jeff Withey is our fifth-best big guy and Cole Aldrich is our — fourth best — big guy. We’ve had some times where a guy comes in and he doesn’t perform, he may not get back in for awhile.
I mean, think about — think if this team had Mario Little, how happy we would be with that, and Mario didn’t get a chance to play hardly at all because of all the guys that we’ve had.
This is a totally different — totally different-type group and I’m not sure this is the way you want to do it moving forward. But certainly it’s worked out well for us considering we’ve only had the one major injury. And if we had Dok, I wouldn’t look at us as a team with little depth at all. I would look at us as a fairly deep team if we still had Udoka.
Q. 2012 was known for comebacks, too.
COACH SELF: We did, you’re exactly right. We were a good late-game team in 2012.
Q. What’s your approach, minutes-wise, going into Saturday and then into next week ahead of the NCAA Tournament?
COACH SELF: I don’t have an approach. We’ve got, you know, we’re going to play six guys the vast majority of the minutes, and the seventh or eighth guy some depending on how they are doing. It’s not going to change.
Stop and think about it. I know guys can get fatigued, but if guys are going to be fatigued, they are going to be fatigued whether we rest them or not. So you know, we look at Frank — is Frank worn down a little bit? Sure he is. There’s a lot of players in the country worn down a little bit this time of year.
But think about it. We played Monday, we’re off Tuesday. We practiced 30 minutes yesterday, okay; 15 of it was the shooting. We’ll be off Sunday. We’ll be off Monday. We’ll play the Big 12 Tournament: Regardless of what happens, we’ll be off Sunday; we’ll be off Monday.
So with that much time off, if — I don’t think taking them out and playing them five less minutes in a game will impact them at all. I think it will be the same regardless. We’re going to play to try to win and I think our guys would be really disappointed in me personally if they thought that I was doing anything different.
Q. What are your thoughts on Phil Forte and what he’s meant to the Oklahoma State program?
COACH SELF: Well, first of all, we recruited Phil. His mother was in the same sorority here (at KU) as Julie Manning, and dad played football here, when Danny (Manning) was here. So we’ve known of Phil and we recruited Phil.
I’m happy for he and his family with the success that he’s had. People talk about Perry (Ellis) being around a long time; Phil’s been around, came in the same recruiting class as Perry and he’s still there.
But he’s obviously a tremendous shooter that you can just tell has worked so hard on his game to get better each and every year. He’s tough. He’s obviously, at least on the court, an unbelievable role model in how he carries himself.
I’m a fan. One thing as a coach, you can be a fan of other players on other teams obviously, and there’s a lot of them that I am, but certainly I’m a big fan of his.
Q. From your eyes, do you see something that’s clicked for Oklahoma State from their 0-6 start to Big 12 play, to now?
COACH SELF: You know, people have said this, and I think it is true. They were pressuring so much early on, so much. They still pressure, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s quite as dramatic as maybe what it was early on. So I think their defense is not spread out quite as much, and you know, those three guards are so good. They get the ball downhill.
With us here, it’s like a one-point game with five minutes left here, and it was anybody’s game and we ended up playing fairly well down the stretch. But I like their personnel a lot, a lot. And I also think, is it (Davon) Dillard, has totally changed their team energy-wise. And then I also think now with his emergence, Leyton Hammonds has gotten real good late shooting the ball. To me, they have more pieces than what they did, that they can count on, than they did early in the season.
Q. Are you surprised how good your press has looked against West Virginia and Oklahoma and what’s made it so effective?
COACH SELF: (Against) Oklahoma wasn’t really a press. We denied on-side, out-of-bounds. It was man-to-man. I don’t think we ever got into trapping and rotating and that kind of stuff. But (against) West Virginia we did because we had to.
But it’s — I don’t know what to tell you other than the fact that we don’t exactly practice that way every day but it’s worked out pretty good for us.
Q. A couple weeks ago, was Big 12 bordering on maybe eight teams in the tournament, and now maybe it’s down to five or six. Where do you think it’s going to end up falling?
COACH SELF: I think there’s a lot of big games on Saturday. I do. I think there’s five teams that are obviously locks — locks. There’s no way that anybody could play their way out of it on those five teams.
I think we’ll get more than five, but I think it still could be, you know, I still think Texas Tech has a shot but they would probably have to win at K-State. I think K-State obviously has a great shot, but they probably need to beat Texas Tech.
TCU is going to have to beat Oklahoma. And then there’s going to be some things that probably have to happen in the first-round games in Kansas City.
But our league will deserve more than five, without question. But I think it’s up in the air, I really do. And that’s being positive about everybody. I think everybody still has a chance of those ones I mentioned to be in the NCAA Tournament. All eight could get in. I just think it will be hard since some of them are playing each other.
Q. Do you think that all the close games from all the wild, close games from regular-season play will carry over into maybe a wild Kansas City tournament?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it’s going to be wild. People will probably look at us as the favorite because we won the league, but, hey, it will be as wild as can be. And so much of it is about matchups and who you can matchup with on no days’ rest and all that stuff. It will be wild. It will be fun.
Q. If Brad Underwood is texting, you must be close. Are you close with a lot of the new coaches in the league like him?
COACH SELF: Brad (Underwood), you know, I’ve known Brad since college. Like I said, I showed him around on his recruiting visit to Oklahoma State. I’ve known Brad and recruited his guys when he was at Dodge City (Community College). You know Jank (Tim Jankovich) and Brad are very close, and of course Jank and I are close. That would be nothing unusual for us to reach out to each other over the course of a year. But he did want to make sure I knew the game was sold out on Saturday.
Q. Today is the anniversary of Wilt’s 100-point game. How do you rank that and will it ever be reached again?
COACH SELF: At the NBA level, you know, I can’t — I guess it could. What did Kobe get, 81, something like that. But there’s a big difference between 81 and 100. I personally don’t think that I’ll see it in my lifetime, but who knows.
Q. As the only program with two Naismith Trophy semifinalists (Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson), what does that speak to the level of competition that you guys are playing at right now?
COACH SELF: Well, I think that I was pleasantly surprised when Josh, if I’m not mistaken, the semifinals was the final ten, if I’m not mistaken. I think Josh (Jackson) has played to an All-American level over the course of the league primarily in league play. And I think that he’s done it on a big stage, you know, like the Kentucky game and games likes that, that were big stage games where he was probably the premiere performer. I think it’s good.
I think it’s unusual that you have a freshman in that group because I know that that Lonzo (Ball of UCLA) is in the group, and I’m not sure that there’s another freshman in the group. I could be wrong. I don’t know if Markell (Johnson of NC State) is. I don’t have any idea.
I think he’s put himself in a good position. And it’s nice for me to think that, you know, we’re going to have two All-Americans on this team. And I think that should be the case. I’m not saying Josh should be first-team All-American. I’m not saying that at all but he’s going to be on somebody’s team on that first or second team, somebody’s, but I think it speaks that we’ve got good players more than anything else.
Q. You mentioned you don’t care too much about bench scoring but what do you like about what you’re getting from Lagerald Vick, Carlton Bragg Jr. and Dwight Coleby?
COACH SELF: Well, we haven’t really — Dwight was great against Texas. Carlton was great against TCU. But it’s been inconsistent. But you know, I can probably speak to Vick more than anybody. I like, to me, and I think Tom alluded to this; Lagerald is a good shooter, but he hasn’t made shots during conference season. So to see the ball go in the hole was good.
But the thing about it is, even if he hasn’t made shots, if he brings energy from an athletic ability, he can do some things you can’t coach, i.e., that play he made at Texas. You know, get the steal on the block, pitch ahead, no dribble and dunk it on the other end. There are just guys — and those to me are plays that change the momentum of the game more than others. We’ve only got a few guys that can make that play and certainly having a guy off that bench with that energy I think helps a ton.
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