Bill Self proud of his team's hustle
Unsolicited, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self got something off his chest in the wake of his team’s remarkable comeback victory against West Virginia, 84-80, in overtime Monday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Anybody who says their guys play harder than mine, it’s a ridiculous statement,” Self said. “I’m not saying they play harder. I’m saying nobody competes harder than my guys.”
Might that have been a counter-punch to Kansas State coach Bruce Weber’s contention that in two close losses to Kansas his team twice beat Kansas on the “play-hard chart”? Probably. Weber also said, “We out-rebounded them. We kicked their butts again.”
Should the teams meet again in the Big 12 tournament, look for those words to be posted on the Sprint Center locker room wall.
The Self-Weber relationship forever will be strained, dating back to Weber holding a mock funeral for Self during his first season at Illinois as his successor because he was so tired of players telling him how they used to do things.
But Self’s words about nobody competing harder than his guys were more than just an opportunity to settle a score with a nemesis. They were spoken from the heart. He genuinely appreciates the consistent hustle of the players on a 23-3 team that needs no effort-coaching and isn't full of itself.
Noticeably absent from this year’s post-game press conferences are Self’s creative efforts to find fault in winning box scores. In years past, after his team hammered an opponent, Self would immediately get to work at defending against encroaching complacency. He would point out something such as his team gave up too many offensive rebounds in the second half, or the other guys had wide-open shots that they usually make and Kansas isn’t going to get away with that sort of defense and expect to win the next one.
Not this year. Gratitude replaces nitpicking as the overriding theme of most post-game sessions. Clearly, he really likes this team because it plays with a great deal of confidence, yet without a shred of conceit or complacency.
“Our guys have a lot of pride,” Self said.
Yet, the players have not allowed that pride to spin into hubris. They do a nice job of playing together without pausing to reflect on their own achievements. With the minutes they play, they’re too exhausted to stand in front of a mirror. They get off their feet at every opportunity. Counting only conference games, Iowa State’s Monte Morris leads the Big 12 with 38.6 minutes per game, followed by Frank Mason (36.8) and Devonte’ Graham (36.7).
The seven-man rotation and four-guard lineup are new wrinkles for Self, but the Big 12 standings look quite familiar.