San Antonio — When Charles Barkley looks around college basketball, one of the most impressive feats that stands out to him is the Kansas basketball program’s streak of 14 straight Big 12 titles.
Considering the one-and-done era, all of the transfers and just the challenge of staying consistent, Barkley believes coach Bill Self deserves more credit than he’s received across the country.
It’s not that Self hasn’t been recognized for his achievements. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in September. But Barkley, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion, respects the way he coaches and is amazed at all of his success.
“As great of a coach as (Kentucky’s John) Calipari is, he’s not as consistent as Self has been,” Barkley said. “What he’s accomplished is incredible. They’re both great coaches, but I just don’t think (Self) gets the credit he deserves.”
Barkley said he doesn’t know Self well, but he’s a fan of the way he talks to players without sugarcoating anything. Self called the Jayhawks “soft” after a couple of losses this season.
Blaming a “corrupt AAU” system for hyping up players, Barkley says it’s a reason there are so many transfers across college basketball.
“Nobody wants to compete anymore, ‘Well if I’m not playing, I’m transferring,’ ” Barkley said. “It’s a different culture now.”
Said Self in an earlier press conference Friday: “You know, I guess our society has changed a little bit. Stating the obvious, I don't think, is really calling anybody out, because to be honest with you everybody could see what I saw.”
Barkley, who is predicting a Villanova win over Kansas in Saturday’s semifinal, is intrigued by the battle between All-American point guards Devonte’ Graham and Jalen Brunson.
The NBA on TNT analyst doesn’t believe the two point guards will guard each other. In his eyes, Brunson is too strong when he posts up and Graham is too quick for Brunson in the open court.
Grant Hill, the former Duke star, was a color analyst alongside Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery for KU’s games against Clemson and Duke in Omaha. After watching Graham play for a couple of games, he’s confident that Graham will find a way to impact the game whether it’s scoring, passing or just his leadership.
"He may not have put up the gaudy numbers but he has an impact," Hill said of Graham. "He’s felt when he’s out there."
Watching Malik Newman explode for 32 points in the Elite Eight, scoring all of the team’s 13 points in overtime, Hill said it was “one of the great performances that I’ve seen.”
Matching up against Villanova, Hill believes the Jayhawks need one player to step up offensively alongside Newman and Graham, highlighting Svi Mykhailiuk or Lagerald Vick.
“Villanova is a tough team and they are well disciplined,” Hill said. “They’ve been here on this stage, their core guys. But Kansas is more than capable and I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
The Jayhawks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and Barkley believes that Self’s coaching record speaks for itself, no matter how the rest of the weekend ends up.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s only won one national championship.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, a lot of coaches never won a championship,’ ” Barkley said. “Winning that many (conference) championships in a row is incredible, I mean flat out incredible.”
Wichita — Hoping to receive 20 minutes from Udoka Azubuike on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he thought Azubuike was the team's most valuable player with the way he provided offense in the post and defended Seton Hall center Angel Delgado in a 83-79 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
"We won the game because of Dok," Self said. "That kid would've had 35 and 34 if Dok didn't play. I'm really, really thankful and proud of him for his attitude and coming back so quick."
Advancing to the Sweet 16, Self said he doesn't want to get caught up in how the team played as long as the Jayhawks continue to win.
"We have to win two more games to get where we want to go but so proud of our kids and certainly nobody can say they haven't had a great season," Self said. "Now we have to go make great (turn into) special."
Throughout the past decade, Kansas has found itself ranked among the top teams in the country and competing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament each season.
Perhaps the only ranking system that hasn’t shown the Jayhawks at the top annually are recruiting class rankings. Duke and Kentucky have traded turns with the No. 1 class for the last several seasons, while Bill Self's classes have been a little lower.
On ESPN’s Campus Conversation podcast with Jeff Goodman last week, Self was asked why the Jayhawks haven’t competed as often for the No. 1 spot as Kentucky or Duke, even though the Hall of Fame coach has proven he can land top-ranked prospects like Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson.
“These high school rankings can be so overrated,” Self said. “We went to the national championship game with not one McDonald’s All-American on our roster in 2012 and last year’s national player of the year (Frank Mason III) was not a McDonald’s All-American. Joel Embiid was not a McDonald’s All-American. We’ve done fairly well but to look strictly at rankings is the wrong way to look at it, even as a fan.”
The Jayhawks are off to a very strong start to their Class of 2018. Even with Silvio De Sousa opting to reclassify to help the team this season, guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, and forward David McCormack, all earned selections to the 24-player McDonald’s All-American Game in March.
Kansas is ranked No. 3 in the team rankings by Rivals and ESPN, and fifth by 247Sports. The Jayhawks had only one Top 5 class, according to ESPN, since 2010. Of course, not all years are created equal with the availability of scholarships or adding college transfers instead of high schoolers.
“It is comical to me,” Self said. “Kentucky has by far the most pros in the NBA, they’ve got 30. I was watching something on ESPN and I think that Duke is second with 23 and then us and (North) Carolina are third right now with 16. You don’t get 16 guys to the pros when you recruit them and they can’t play.”
Since 2010, the Jayhawks have recruited eight one-and-done prospects: Josh Jackson, Cheick Diallo, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Ben McLemore and Josh Selby.
“You recruit the best kids but you also want the best kids to fit everything you are trying to do,” Self said. “If I can recruit five one-and-dones every year, I would. But that’s not what we do. Certainly, we won’t beat everybody in recruiting every year, but I’ll tell you this, Kentucky and Duke don’t beat everybody every time either.”
Since 2010, the Jayhawks have been a one or two seed in each NCAA Tournament, so it's difficult to say that any of the recent recruiting classes haven't matched up with Kentucky, Duke or other blue blood programs.
The last Top 5 ranked class was in 2013, which featured Wiggins, Embiid, Mason, Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene.
“Recruiting is such an inexact science,” Self said. “I think the best teams have always been the ones with maybe the most talented guy is the youngest but the heart and soul is always the oldest. I think Jay Wright has taken that formula into a whole new level in what they’ve done there at Villanova.”
Larry Brown will serve as Bill Self’s presenter Friday night when Self is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but he wanted to share his thoughts of his former graduate assistant ahead of time.
Presenters are only ceremonial and don’t give speeches, so Brown wrote about some of experiences with Self in a story on the The Players’ Tribune, released Tuesday.
“Bill is sincere. Bill is honest. I can’t stress how rare that is,” Brown wrote. “The kids can tell right away that he has their back. While I don’t like where the game is going — a lot of times, kids just aren’t prepared to compete at the next level — I never worry about that with Bill’s players.
“His teams are always well-prepared. For kids who want to make it to the next level, Bill helps them make the transition. To say it plainly — he’s one of the best coaches in the game.”
Self and Brown first worked together during Brown’s basketball camp in Lawrence in 1985, introduced by R.C. Buford, now the San Antonio Spurs general manager.
In the ’85-86 season, Self became a graduate assistant to Brown at KU. Brown notes all of the coaching talent surrounding that team in the Players’ Tribune story, which included Self, Buford, Alvin Gentry and Gregg Popovich, along with players-turned-coaches Danny Manning, Mark Turgeon and Milt Newton.
“Loyalty is something that a lot of people forget is a critical part of this business,” Brown wrote. “Bill’s been loyal to me for 30 years, and people who coach with him now — Norm Roberts, Kurtis Townsend, Danny Manning — stay around him a long time. I think that shows that Bill creates a great environment that’s really hard to leave. Coaches want to be around Bill.”
Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 and shared some of his advice for Self during his special week: enjoy a glass of red wine, recognize all of the people who helped his coaching career and realize the impact he’s had on his assistant coaches.
Self said Tuesday that he was expecting more than 50 of his former players in attendance for his enshrinement ceremony and 15 assistant coaches.
Brown estimated that he spent about 30 days around Self’s program last season and said if his son wanted to coach, “there’s no other place I’d rather have him be than within earshot of Bill Self.”
“He recognizes how much respect the head coach position at Kansas deserves,” Brown wrote. “And yet, he’s inclusive and open, which means everything to the people that work around him. He doesn’t make himself any bigger than he is.”
The Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Springfield, Mass., televised on NBA TV.
Read all of Brown’s tribute to Self on the Player’s Tribune website and stay tuned to KUsports.com for more coverage of Self’s enshrinement into the Hall of Fame throughout the week.