Where the Jayhawks stand, according to Bill Self
It’s no secret that Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has high expectations for his teams and players in just about every way imaginable.
But Monday, a few minutes ahead of KU’s final practice before returning to Allen Fieldhouse in front of a live studio audience for tonight’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Pitt State, Self acknowledged something about his standards that he doesn’t always concede.
“I think we’re behind,” Self told reporters Monday. “But I told our guys I need to be realistic in what I expect. I don’t think we’re doing poorly, I just think that we’re probably where most young kids probably should be, but that’s just not quite good enough.”
With that, anyone listening and everyone reading got a very real glimpse into the mind of Bill Self, who gave the answer in reply to a question about where the 2017-18 team stood at this point in the season compared to teams from the past.
“I don’t know that we’re really ahead of schedule on anything, to be honest,” he added.
That’s not to say the 2017-18 team is in bad position or that the Jayhawks are going to struggle at times this season. They could. But Self’s statements were more reflective of exactly what this team is being asked to do. Moving on from big, strong, talented leaders like Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas and Josh Jackson will not be easy.
And even though Self paid senior point guard Devonte’ Graham the ultimate compliment on Monday — saying Graham gives KU, “a more natural leader this year than we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever since I’ve been here, as far as by example and verbally,” — that does not mean that the aches and pains that come with putting a new team together will disappear.
They may not show up tonight against Pitt State. Although, they certainly could in some areas. But no matter how much talent this team has, it’s not as if Self can just snap his fingers and, poof!, you’re looking at another 30-win team. It will take time. There will be ups and downs. And even though some important pieces returned to the KU bench, the early going still figures to be full of growing pains.
“I think there are some things that we do from a skill set standpoint that are good,” Self said. “I do think we can be a good 3-point shooting team and I do think we can be a pretty good passing team. But as far as defensive positioning, creating havoc, stealing extra possessions — things that I really think are important — I don’t think we’re very good and we’re behind in those areas.
“Also, to be fair, we’re comparing Frank and Josh and Landen to Udoka (Azubuike), Billy (Preston) and Malik (Newman), which, from a talent standpoint, over time, yeah, that’s OK. But you’re taking veterans: fifth-year guy, four-year guy and then maybe the biggest dog in college basketball as a freshman last year. I mean, he was an assassin. And we’re comparing them to guys that aren’t ready to be that yet.”
Yet is the key word in that last sentence. And like so many teams and players who have come before them, this group figures to benefit a great deal from the coaching it will receive, day in and day out, from Self and his staff, whose high expectations and standards make life tough for the Jayhawks but also make the Jayhawks perennial winners.
Another journey begins tonight.