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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Keegan: Self knows his stuff



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2007-08 March 22 KU NCAA Day 4

— One week from today, in the event Kansas fifth-year basketball coach Bill Self takes scissors to nylon in Detroit and moves onto his first Final Four, much will be made of him breaking into the ranks of elite coaches for finally getting past the Elite Eight.

His players, peers and bosses would know that to be so much nonsense. They know that after KU won a grinder Saturday night against UNLV, 75-56, he is one victory away from making his fifth Elite Eight appearance with his third different program, and his third appearance with Kansas. They also know that most college coaches don't ever make it as far as the Sweet 16. They know Kansas could not have a better man at the helm if it had first pick from the other 339 Division I head coaches.

Reaching the Elite Eight is not the goal, of course, but his history of doing it so often does speak to how ideally suited he is to coaching big-time college basketball. His players spoke from the heart on that topic after pushing KU's winning streak to nine games.

"I definitely think he's the best college coach in America, the plays he draws up and just the way he is," junior Brandon Rush said. "He can be a comedian when he wants to, and he's a great communicator. He makes what he's trying to do pretty straight and simple to us."

The public sees the smiling Self, snapping off quick one-liners to take control of conversations. The players, behind closed doors during practice sessions, see all sides.

"When we're playing bad, it's really hard to play for him," Rush said. "When we're playing well, I don't know, he's friendly and funny all the time. He makes you want to play well."

Kansas wasn't playing well in the first half against Lon Kruger's Runnin' Rebels. Senior Darnell Jackson got tied up for a jump ball, and the possession arrow pointed the way of UNLV. Self, using an in-game voice that carries like a Gary Woodland tee shot, let Jackson have it.

"D.J., will you get yourself open!" Self hollered, disgust dripping off of every syllable.

"When he gets on me, sometimes I think he's wrong, but coach Self is always right," Jackson said afterward. "He knows the game. He's been in the game too long."

Of more importance, Self knows people, knows how to get the best out of them even when they are in the midst of personal tragedies, knows how to get them to work as one, even though so many of them arrived at his program as the undisputed center of the universe, their entourages told them so.

Self's .812 winning percentage ranks first among Kansas coaches who coached more than one game. (Karl Schlademan went 1-0 in 1920.) His NCAA Tourney record stands at 8-4. Players don't keep track of such things. They feel themselves becoming better basketball players under him. That's what makes them listen to him, no matter the tone.

"The first time I met coach Self, I just knew there was something about him," Jackson said. "I couldn't figure it out when I first got here. When he kept staying on me so hard, kept pushing me so hard, I understood that he was trying to get the player that was in me out of me. I couldn't understand that, and now I do understand that. I understand that I have to be responsible when I'm on the court and when I'm off the court. Coach Self, man, he's just a great coach, he's a great father, he's a great person, and he's a great friend. That's why every day I see coach Self, I just smile because he's the father figure in my life that I want to be like when I grow up."

Self brings such loose charm to any situation that it's sometimes lost on people how controlling an individual he really is. That quality can make it difficult for him to let up on the reins. Self revealed after the victory against UNLV that before the game one of his former managers sent him a simple message: "Make sure you trust your players."

"I'm getting where I trust them more and more," Self said.

Kansas has such a flexible roster that it's a stretch to say any team presents a bad matchup for the Jayhawks (33-3). That's why they have a legitimate shot to go all the way to their first national title in 20 years. Credit the old point guard's vision for knowing what parts to put together.

"It would be a great accomplishment if we did win that national championship," Jackson said.

Then he smiled, picturing something, but what? What was he picturing? Might as well ask.

"I would love to see coach Self cry," Jackson said. "I want to see some tears come out of his eyes."


fansincewilt 13 years, 10 months ago

This Jayhawk team is a great story. I want them to win so much. I could never get enough of this kind of article.

86finalfour 13 years, 10 months ago

Great article but what about the game? Couldn't we have had this article sometime next week?

1977kufan 13 years, 10 months ago

Super article, Tom. The game against UNLV speaks for itself. Great personal insight into Coach Self. He has really come through for DJ. We know that he and the entire coaching staff are there for this team and for KU. Also, it is really nice to beat a former meowcat from Silver Lake. ROCK CHALK, JAYHAWKS!!!

Scott Lippoldt 13 years, 10 months ago

I'm a KU alum and huge Jayhawk fan living in central Michigan. Does anyone have ideas on how I can get tickets to the games in Detroit, as I would love to take my son to these games.

Go Hawks!!!!!

John Percival 13 years, 10 months ago

Dude, you may want to read some other articles. Think there were some about the game.

b_asinbeer 13 years, 10 months ago

Bitch, bitch, bitch...some people never learn. (One only needs to look at the first post to see what I'm talking about.) Great article Keegan!

Christopher Johnson 13 years, 10 months ago

great article keegan. i'm finally starting to think about joining the collins bandwagon (just hope everyone still sees that russel robinson is the real glue on this team) but its nice that you wrote an article that's not about sherron. now instead of every other article about sherron, you're aproaching about every three articles. i love coach self . . . nobody else could have come in and kept us in the top 10 every single year just like roy did. there are only three teams in the country that are consistently in the top 10: UNC, Duke, and because of Self's genius and amazing recruiting, Kansas is still included in that group. it sucks that being a KU fan has been disappointing as far as producing national championships, but i'll take what we have (very consistent success) over something like what florida does - win a couple championships and then completely suck for a few years before finally crawling back into the picture. Keep up these great feel good articles. There's always so much bitching by KU fans, so its nice for someone like you to point out the positives every once in a while.

flipborder02 13 years, 10 months ago

I love to see Rus drive to the basket he makes it about everytime and he kicks it out for and open three if he has to.

Ed Fox 13 years, 10 months ago

Keegan - Unquestionably one of my favorite articles you've written. Both because it's just a nice piece, but also because of the point. Final Fours are important and a key measure of a program, but they're only part of it and the teams that make it there aren't always the best 4 teams (with the best 4 coaches) in the country - just as the '97 team.

Additionally, this is college athletics. There are reasons that it's better than the pros and articles like this help show that. I want a FF and NC so much for this team that I can taste it, but will I be devastated if it doesn't happen? No. Specifically because the quality of this team, the quality of the individuals, and the tremendous people we have on the team are so much more important. The kinds of people that represent the University of Kansas and the basketball tradition here are so much more important than just FF's. I couldn't be more proud that Coach Self is the coach and that these young men are on this team. The quote from Darnell is so touching - in HCBS we have a man who can recruit like a monster, coach X's and O's very well, and provides a good role model for the players and all the fans who watch his program. He's a great coach, but he's obviously a great man - and I wouldn't trade him being a great man for the next 5 years of FF's.

Finally, talking to my wife today we were discussing various teams the punks that they have. This led to a discussion of how this KU team doesn't have that. There just aren't a-holes on this team that complain and whine about everything, that talk unnecessary trash (just the in-game stuff that goes on, nothing mean spirited) or that take cheap shots. I'm proud to watch how they play. I think a lot of this is because of Self and his rule about players not complaining to refs - that it's his job. He's kept us in the top-10/5 since he got here, keeps bringing in great recruits and sending them to the NBA (which brings in more great recruits) and he's built a team that, win or lose, Kansans and Kansas fans can really be proud of. What more could we really, in all fairness, ask for?

frompekka2sasha 13 years, 10 months ago

Nice article, Tom. Coach Self is a class individual and I wouldn't trade him for ANYONE else. I know you are a Marquette guy but I'm so thankful that we didn't get stuck with Tom Crean or Mark Few as our coach. It seems obvious who is the "cream of the crop" out of the guys that were considered and I hope he brings KU a title this year. If not, I will still fully support him because the guy is simply an unbelievable ambassador for KU.

ralsterKUMed95 13 years, 10 months ago

Hard to qualify this statement in an absolute sense (and if you are a UNC, UCLA, or Memphis fan...), but THIS KU team and this KU coach really, truly deserve to get the accolades after winning the championship. True, they have got to go out there and take it away from some very capable teams, but what a feel-good finale it would be to win it all. That being said, I agree with a comment above, that even if we fall short it takes nothing away from the pride and admiration I have for these players and Bill Self. Anything can happen in the Final Four, but everything that is truly important and substantive in life is what is "right" about these KU players and Coach Self--that is something they have already earned and won in our/my eyes, and nothing can take that away!

Bill Kackley 13 years, 10 months ago

Finally nice to see everyone positive about Coach Self. Thanks for the Article Tom

Kit Duncan 13 years, 10 months ago

Great article Tom!

Contrary to an earlier complaint about the timing, I think your timing couldn't be more perfect. The goal of course, is to win the National Championship. But the realities are, the closer you get to the Final Four, the odds of winning out go down. The announcers put it in perspective last night when they said of sixty five teams, every team but one will go home with a loss.

Coach Self deserves every accolade that comes his way, from recruiting to coaching to mentoring. The young men on this team are the epitome of class. This is truly a TEAM which has no ego, and that reflects on Coach Self. Win or lose they play as a team and that makes them the best group of student-athletes in the tournament.

All the way 'Hawks!!! Beak 'Nova!

tashe2 13 years, 10 months ago

Bottom Line, Coach Self is a man! I love the hell outta that dude. I can't wait to see his reaction when we beat UCLA for the NC this year!! I may break down and cry just for how happy I'm going to be for this team and for Coach Self!!

I hope Villanova fans our reading all of our post. They would have to be thinking, WOW, KU is one hell of a program in every aspect you look at it!!

Rock Chalk Jayhawks!!

National Champions 2008..

TulsaFan 13 years, 10 months ago

A flat out inspiring article. Our players and Coach Self are all about class, hard work and heart. It's great to hear in this article and in all of these posts total admiration for them, regardless of whether the team wins another game.

craigers 13 years, 10 months ago

Quite an article Keegan. Self you deserve the championship and none of us would mind if you stomped on UNC or Padgett on the way!!! :)

This is a great team and I have noticed how mature these guys are in their comments to the press and everything. Keep up the good work guys and bring it on home. There will be a packed Fieldhouse when you get back on April 8th!!!!

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