One thing was obvious after listening to the poignant postgame speeches of Kansas University's senior basketball players Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Keith Langford, Michael Lee, Aaron Miles and Wayne Simien, who were left without the man who recruited them when Roy Williams bolted two seasons ago for North Carolina, ultimately wound up having special feelings for Williams' successor, Bill Self.
"I don't know how your heart fits inside your chest. You have the biggest heart of anybody I've been around," Simien, KU's All-America candidate, told Self. "It's a shame I only got to play for you two years. If I could stay, I would."
Simien remembers feelings of devastation immediately after his sophomore season when Williams accepted the UNC job.
"I was on the phone with Larry Hogan, my high school coach," said Simien, a Leavenworth High graduate. "I said I didn't know what to expect with coach Self, should I go, or stay?
"He (Hogan) said, 'You'll have to play with the hand you've been dealt.' I can't think of a better hand."
Simien burned Kansas State for 25 points and 20 rebounds in the Jayhawks' 72-65 victory -- just the seventh time in Big 12 Conference history a player went for 20 and 20 in a game.
The other seniors didn't speak as long as Simien but also grew emotional in recognizing Self, who listened intently from the bench.
"Coach Self, I love you because you always make us see the other side of the fence," Lee said. "Coach is always on us, which is what coaches are for. He stresses that whatever you are going through you don't have it that bad, somebody has it much worse."
|6Sports video: Seniors dominate Senior Night Hear Simien, Lee, Langford, Miles: Senior Night speeches (03-03-05) Video: Seniors thank family, players and fans at Senior Night (03-03-05) 'Hawks Hoops Forecaster -- KU vs. MU Bio: Wayne Simien Bio: Keith Langford Bio: Aaron Miles Bio: Michael Lee Sign up for cell phone updates Sign up for e-mail updates|
Lee's best buddy, fellow Portland, Ore., native Aaron Miles, told his coach: "You came here and didn't have to believe in me, but you believed in me. I appreciate that."
Keith Langford said the best thing Self did for him was "teaching me that you can't become a bigger person or a better person without coming out of your comfort zone.
"My demeanor is such ... coach won't let me accept being cool," Langford said. "He won't accept me not saying anything, not yelling when it's needed. He challenged me to be one of the leaders on this team."
Self, who inherited a touchy situation in coaching players he didn't recruit, said he was flattered by the players' words.
"Of course I am, but I don't get hung up on, 'I hope the players say this or that,''' Self said. "I love coaching these guys. I love them. I love chewing them, praising them, going to practice every day with them.
"It's been pretty smooth sailing for the most part. Sure, there have been some issues. Like Keith said, I try to get them out of their comfort zone every day. Sometimes we don't like that that much. It's a special group. I'm thankful they've given us a chance to coach them."
Self said it would be extremely difficult to replace the seniors.
"Our young players will be good players, and our recruits outstanding. I feel losing these guys will be a big void," Self said. "Certainly, the program will go on and continue to be good, but this is a special group. We need to treasure the time we have with them and understand next year will be a totally different deal. Next year's team will be very challenging to live up to the same standard these guys have set."
In fact, Kansas State, which has lost 30 in a row to KU, will have more veterans than KU.
"On paper, it'd look like we'd take a step backward. I'm not willing to concede it. I just feel we will have a very young team and very green," Self said.
The senior speeches will be shown again on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 at 11 a.m. March 16.¢
Top seed forthcoming?: KU (12-3 in league) will garner a No. 1 seed in next week's Big 12 tournament as soon as Saturday if Oklahoma State beats Texas.
The Jayhawks, who are a game up on Oklahoma and OSU (both 11-4), will win any three-game tiebreaker between the teams and any two-game tiebreaker between KU and OSU.
In a three-way tie, ties between teams in the same division (OSU and OU) are settled first. OSU would win a tiebreaker over OU because the two teams split, and have identical records against South teams (8-2). OSU, however, swept Texas Tech, while OU split with the Red Raiders, giving OSU the tiebreaker.
The only way KU will not be a No. 1 seed is if KU and OSU both lose their finales and OU beats Texas Tech. In that case, KU would be No. 2 and OSU No. 3.¢
Recruiting: Rivals.com reports that KU is looking University of Southern Idaho sophomores Mohamed Kone and Jamaal Brown.
Kone, a 6-foot-11 center, has heard from coaches from Kentucky, Oklahoma, UCLA, Pitt Iowa, Iowa State and others; Brown, a 6-0 guard, has heard from UConn, Illinois, Oklahoma State, USC and others.
KU has no scholarships available to give in recruiting. Self, however, always continues to recruit in case their is any movement involving his roster.¢
Roy remembered: Miles thanked former coach Williams during his senior speech, and the response drew cheers from the crowd.
"It was a polite applause. I didn't worry about that," Miles said. "I think people appreciate the things coach Williams has done for this program, because he's done a lot. He did a great job here.
"If you think about it, if it wasn't for him, none of us seniors would be here anyway. You've got to thank him. He was a great influence on my life, and I love him still."