Sunday, July 31, 2016

Self’s stamp: How KU transitioned from Roy’s Boys

Kansas coach Bill Self answers a question near his Associated Press Coach of the Year trophy at a news conference at the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kansas coach Bill Self answers a question near his Associated Press Coach of the Year trophy at a news conference at the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


There’s an old golf story floating around that compares former Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams’ countless rounds of golf at Alvamar to the first time current KU coach Bill Self played there.

The story recalls how Ol’ Roy would arrive early, pick the teams, call the game, pinpoint the specifics and head to the first tee knowing that every detail of the round was just as he liked it.

That was not the case when Self first teed it up at the same course 13 years ago.

Instead of outlining every detail, Self’s crew arrived a little before its tee time, strolled to the first hole and went for it like a weekend foursome.

That disparity, though having nothing to do with basketball, represented one of the most obvious differences in the transition from Williams to Self.

Since then, with Williams moving home to North Carolina and passing the torch to Self, who three times has defeated his predecessor in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas basketball has traveled down a different path than the one it walked under Williams for 15 seasons.

The wins have continued to pile up, and KU has remained a perennial title contender, but five oh-so-subtle tweaks that followed Self’s arrival set a new course for Kansas and brought us to today, where Self and the Jayhawks sit on the verge of tying UCLA’s record of 13 consecutive conference titles heading into 2016-17, which officially opens with Late Night two months from today.

Hello, giant Jayhawk

With a new hoops coach and new athletic director leading the Jayhawks into 2003-04, Self and Lew Perkins decided to do something bold. Gone was the old state of Kansas logo that sat at mid-court of Allen Fieldhouse. In to replace it was a 251⁄2-foot Jayhawk that promised to jump off television screens and lead the movement toward stronger branding of Kansas basketball.


A crew from Acme Floors of Lenexa has works on refinishing the floor at Allen Fieldhouse on Aug. 14, 2014.

“That’s when we knew things were changing,” said one former player who began under Williams and finished playing for Self. “The big Jayhawk. The new video board. They just modernized the whole facility. I grew up in this modern world, and I was, like, ‘Yes! Look at this big Jayhawk. Look at that video board.’ It was just awesome to experience that. And I can tell you, for recruiting, that stuff is huge.”

More than Williams, Self always has seemed open to the idea of glitz and glamour guiding his program. And throughout the years, he has shown greater acceptance of the need for trendy uniforms, flashy play, bold changes to the locker room and facilities and the hype that accompanies recruiting. In addition, Self, better than most, has embraced the importance of the one-and-done culture without sacrificing sound fundamentals.

Another former player asked about the difference between the two coaches referred to this as Self being “more John Calipari than Dean Smith.”

2004 Elite Eight run

Say what you will about a coach guiding players he inherited, but the run Self’s Jayhawks made during the 2003-04 season was crucial to his being accepted quickly by the Kansas basketball community.

Fresh off of back-to-back Final Fours and an appearance in the national title game, Kansas was in the middle of one of the most impressive strings of recent success.


Kansas University junior Wayne Simien answers questions as Jayhawks, from left, J.R. Giddens, Jeff Graves and Aaron Miles, and Keith Langford, right, listen. KU's players and coaches spoke Saturday in St. Louis about today's NCAA Tournament Elite Eight matchup with Georgia Tech.

In his first season in charge, which included a few noticeable changes in style of play and program priorities, Self’s fourth-seeded Jayhawks advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to Georgia Tech in a game that could have gone either way.

Another Final Four would have been the dream scenario, but getting back to the brink of the big stage proved just as important.

“Once he got us there, we got the sense that, ‘Well, this dude does know what he’s talking about,’” said a reserve guard on that 2003-04 team. “He proved that he could get us there his way, and that was huge. That’s when we really started to believe.”

Expanded recruiting corridor

So great was Williams’ respect for his mentor Dean Smith that the longtime KU coach often avoided mining the same areas of the country for talent while at Kansas.


Kansas University men’s basketball player Thomas Robinson turns and gives the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse a big wave for their support on Tuesday after returning home from the Final Four game in New Orleans.

For the most part, this meant areas east of the Mississippi River, which left Williams to restock the roster of one of the best programs in the nation with roughly half of the country’s population at his disposal.

The thought was that there were enough players in the Midwest and on the West Coast — areas in which Williams did very well on the recruiting trail — to keep Kansas competitive without forcing Williams to confront the uncomfortable task of recruiting against Smith, which inevitably would have happened.

When Self arrived, all bets were off. The East Coast became a target area because of the number of tough and talented athletes that fit the Self mold who resided there. And some of KU’s top players under Self have come from areas that Williams might never have recruited — Russell Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Marcus and Markieff Morris, to name a few.

Self’s recruiting philosophy is simple: Go wherever you have to go to get the players you want. And KU’s recent rosters have proven that Self has not been shy about traveling anywhere to get top talent. From Cali and Vegas to New York and Florida, Minneapolis to Texas, Africa, Canada and Ukraine, Self has pulled players from all over the world into the Kansas basketball family.

Defensive principles

Both coaches like to stress fast offense, but that strategy ranks as the most important thing for Williams and sits more in the No. 1A slot for Self.

Williams believes a team can get up and down the floor no matter what happens on the defensive end.

Self, however, preaches that in order to play fast, you first must get stops.

It’s important to remember that just because Williams feverishly waved his arm to inspire fast breaks, it did not mean he dismissed defense.

In fact, another former Kansas player who has familiarity with both Williams and Self said the big reason people believe the two are so different is the way they emphasize defense.


Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self signals to his defense during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Coach Williams spent as much or more time on defense as coach Self,” the player said. “But because of the style of offense coach Williams had, it took away from our defense.”

When comparing the two during their time at KU, a few former players recalled Self putting a greater emphasis on film study. Self uses tape early to emphasize a few core requirements that remain constant.

“Coach Self gets the principles of the defense in, and the guys understand that very early on,” one former player said. “So, as the season goes along, you’re tweaking, and you don’t have to spend as much time making major adjustments.”

While Williams stressed team defense, Self views defense as a very personal skill rooted in pride and toughness. His quest each year is to find five players — and preferably more — who can guard their men and tackle the challenge of not letting an opponent get to the basket.

Even though their points of emphasis were different up front, both Self and Williams strongly believe that even the best offensive teams cannot win big without solid defense.

It’s here where the two Hall of Fame coaches are most alike, even though it may not always appear that way. As one of the former players consulted for this column said, “When you cut ’em open and see what they’re about, they really are very similar.”

Another former Jayhawk suggested that Self’s sideline demeanor — a roll of the eyes, heavy cringe or icy glare — might paint the picture that defense is more important to him than to Williams.

Man about town

From the minute he arrived in town and was greeted at the Lawrence airport by a few adoring KU basketball fans, Bill Self has been visible in Lawrence.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who has seen him be anything but comfortable with his perpetual presence in the spotlight.

Whether it’s out at dinner with friends or at speaking engagements from golf tournaments to black-tie galas, Self carries with him the charm and charisma that makes him approachable and beloved.

Williams did not. Although he often flashed his charming, southern personality, Williams preferred to stay out of the public eye and often kept the company only of his closest friends behind closed doors.

Self’s willingness to let more people in, along with his uncanny ability never to forget a name or face, has helped the program soar to extraordinary heights, inspiring an even stronger family feel between fans and team.


Kansas coach Bill Self, left, and his wife, Cindy, second from right, head into Abe and Jake's Landing on their way to the annual Bill Self Basketball Boogie on Saturday, June 8, 2013.

“Coach Self is such a people person with everybody,” one former player said. “He just makes everybody from Bob Davis to the facilities guy and everybody on the street feel a real connection with him. That’s just how he is. And it’s important to him.”

Added another former Kansas player of Self’s positive public image: “I think that built the brand and helped with donors and people feeling connected to the program. That stuff adds up and is important. During the down years, that helps build up equity.”

The Jayhawks, of course, have had very few down seasons during the 13-year Self era.

After winning 24, 23 and 25 games during his first three seasons, Self rattled off an average of 32.5 victories over a seven-year stretch that included six 30-win seasons, one national title and two Final Four appearances.

With a record of 385-83 in his first 13 seasons, Self is ahead of the torrid pace set by Williams, who finished 418-101 in his 15 years in charge of Kansas basketball.


Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

That's an oversimplification.

In head-to-head competition, Self is 4-1 against Williams (1-1 in Kansas-Illinois games and 3-0 in Kansas-North Carolina games).

In terms of conference titles at Kansas, Self has 12, Williams has 9. (Not gonna get into conference titles at other locations)

In terms of conference tournament titles at Kansas, Self has 8 to Williams' 4.

And Self's record in Allen Fieldhouse is definitely better than Williams' record.

But in terms of NCAA Tournament performance, Self's record leaves something to be desired. Yes, I know that Self won the title in 2008 and Williams never did while at Kansas, but Williams also NEVER lost in the Round of 64 while at KU; Self did it twice in a row in 2005 and 2006. Williams' record in Elite Eight games at Kansas is 4-1, Self's Elite Eight record at Kansas is an abysmal 2-4. Williams has four Final Four appearances at Kansas to Self's two. And as many heartbreaking losses as Kansas has had under Williams and Self, Williams NEVER lost to a team seeded lower than 9th while at KU; Self has managed to do that FOUR times (2005, 2006, 2011 and 2014). Also, Williams only lost twice to teams from inferior conferences (UTEP in 1992 and Rhode Island in 1998); Self has lost FIVE times to schools from FCS/I-AA conferences (2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2015).

Self > Williams at winning home games and conference titles.

Williams > Self at performing in the NCAA Tournament, with the major exception of 2008.

If Self can win a second NCAA title while at Kansas - no coach has ever won more than one title at KU - then we can definitively say Self is better than Williams.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 1 month ago

You could make a very legitimate argument that the parody in college hoops during the 90s is nowhere near where it has been during Self's tenure.

Roy had a great record in the regional finals, but when you consider that the Georgia Tech and Villanova games were basically coin flips, you can start to appreciate how close Self has come to equalizing Roy's FF total. He's literally two made-or-missed baskets from having two additional final four appearances.

It's a silly and fruitless debate, but I'll take Self's record at KU every time over Roy's.

Len Shaffer 6 years, 1 month ago

I don't think that's fair, Joe. I think there was probably just as much comedy in college basketball in the '90s as there is today. Oh wait, you probably meant "parity," didn't you? Never mind.

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 1 month ago

Now that is a good pick up. Embarrassed to admit I missed it the first time.

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 1 month ago

Really good summary about the nuances that differentiates Self from William. Both coaches, with their own distinctive styles are beloved by the KU fanbase. Self will leave a more permanent impact upon KU traditions because he has a National Championship, the consecutive Conference win streak, and the building boom under his tenure (McCarthy Hall and DeBruce Center). In fact, Self's influence would rank only behind Naismith and Allen. It's hard for any coach to overshadow guys who invented the game or name is on the building, started the NCAA Tournament, put the game in the Olympics, established the BCS, etc etc. However, it Self gets one more NC, he will be in a unique status.

As his 14th season dawns thoughts naturally wonder how long can this last.... more years? Self is building that family tree amongst coaches and players that make Lawrence and AFH a welcoming place for so many. Certainly that has to be a warming feeling for anyone and something well traveled LB misses.

Because of Self's ability to connect with so many people, I hope Self hangs around Lawrence forever or atlas the balance of my lifetime. If Self wants a change of pace...say in 4-10 years...I'd love to see him enter into State or National politics. We need national leaders that can see past party lines to forge compromises for the betterment for all. A 6 year term as a Kansas Senator, replacing Pat Roberts in 2020 would be terrific. Following a term in the Senate, perhaps a term as Kansas Governor or a Cabinet position before making a run for President.

Jeremy D. Morris 6 years, 1 month ago

Great story, Matt. If you forced the former players who played under both to vote for who they preferred to play for (or who is/was better for KU) what do you think the split would be?

Matt Tait 6 years, 1 month ago

Glad you enjoyed it. I'd been sitting on it for a while and it was pretty fun to dive into. Your question is VERY interesting. I'm just guessing here, but I think a majority of those who played for both would probably say they preferred playing for Self.

Steve Macy 6 years, 1 month ago

Lots of differences, same type results. KU has had some great coaches. The one thing I always questioned was Roy's unwillingness to call a TO before the first TV timeout. Coach Self does not hesitate if he thinks it is needed. Looking forward to the coming season, also to watching KU football win at least one if not more games this year.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

One thing I don't like about either coach is their unwillingness to change from man-to-man to another defense like a zone or a press when the opposing team is carving up their D or bombing 3-pointers.

Jay Scott 6 years, 1 month ago

You wish that Self would go to a zone when the opponent is bombing 3-pointers?


Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

Reading comprehension, Jay - do you have any? Did I say that coaches should switch to a zone when the opponent is bombing 3's? No! I said that coaches should be willing to abandon man-to-man when it isn't working. A zone would be for when the defense is getting carved up on the interior, a press to stymie 3-point shooting.

Quit cherry-picking other posters' words and twisting them into something we don't say.

Jay Scott 6 years, 1 month ago

What defense should they switch to when the other team is bombing 3 pointers that Coach Self so stubbornly refuses to use? Is this where a press would be better? That's even more silly.

No cherry picking is needed to find absurdity in your comments...

Joe Joseph 6 years, 1 month ago

First thing I noticed with Bill Self... He was not afraid to call a timeout. Roy let multiple games get away from him because of his reluctancy to do so.

Bob Bailey 6 years, 1 month ago

Self's biggest weakness is his inability to compensate for the 3 pt winning team. Most of the problems cited are that problem.

We lose to the winning team this year because he settled for Ellis getting 4 pts all game. If he had switched enough to get Ellis 10 pts, KU wins the game by one pt! He will never switch! So as fans we have to settle for the losses.

It also means we have to look pretty hard at his ultimate successor. Danny is good, but maybe our boy at Md might be better at winning NCA games.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 1 month ago

Turgeon is 51. Manning 50.

Self is 53.

I'm hopeful Self coaches into his 60s. What makes you think a near-sixty-year-old (if not sixty) is the best next-coach at KU? Especially when both Mark and Danny have only okay-to-good coaching records?

A KU pedigree should not be the prime requirement for the position.

Kris Weidling 6 years, 1 month ago

Too bad we couldn't get a perspective on this from someone who covered both coaches from the start: Gary Bedore! Not meant to be a dig at the author of this article, but rather pointing out that today begins a slow, steady decline of content and readership for the new owners of the LJ World, Ogden Newspapers. .

Matt Tait 6 years, 1 month ago

For what it's worth, I actually did cover a few Roy Williams teams in my day, as well. We all miss Gary and always will. But I'm confident he'll be fine and we'll do the best we can, as well. Thanks for reading!

Joseph Bullock 6 years, 1 month ago

Final Fours are great, and losing in the first round, is definitely, not good at all (Duke has done it, as has Michigan State)! But the bottom line, is 'Winning National Championships'! That is what all great programs shoot for1that is always their Ultimate Goal: Period! Williams won Zero at Kansas! Self has '1', and will be in the mix, again this year!

Alex Wishart 6 years, 1 month ago

No one in California calls it "Cali". It's a true sign of an outsider trying to sound cool.

Jay Scott 6 years, 1 month ago

It's a commonly used shortened version just like "Frisco" or "Mass". Whether the locals prefer them or not doesn't mean anyone is trying to be cool. Most people outside the US refer to all Americans as "Yankees". Are they trying to be cool?

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 1 month ago

They say 'Yanks' to sound in during the America's Cup people regularly asking.... 'You a Yank mate?" They sounded cool to me.

Jay Scott 6 years, 1 month ago

The were just trying to absorb some of your abundant coolness Suz...

See how I shortened your name?

Trying to be cool like you! I failed, didn't I?

Humpy Helsel 6 years, 1 month ago

Very good story. Great read for a hot summer day with months to go prior to tip off. Addresses questions serous KU basketball fans have long pondered.

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 1 month ago

You need to take up golf for these hot summer evenings, post 6 pm to dusk is a great time to play. Before you know it, it's football season which means Kansas basketball can not be far away.

Greg Ledom 6 years, 1 month ago

I look forward to football season as much as basketball. I'm an odd Kansas fan this way.....

Mick Allen 6 years, 1 month ago

Good article Matt in that you did a nice job of distinguishing their philosophical differences on emphasizing defense or offense. I loved the way Roy's teams ran the break and secondary break. HCBS's emphasis has always been an aggressive man to man defense. A lot of NCAA games are "ugly" in that shooting percentages tend to go down [huge arenas, too much depth behind the hoop, and the high anxiety of tournament play] place a premium on defense. As I have had the good fortune to attend practices of both coaches, I would opine that the biggest differences I saw in practice was the increased physicality of the Self practices as compared to Roy's. The physical competition at practice i.e. a ball is never out of bounds at a Self practice which encourages confrontational play, lends itself to the tough defense Self demands.

Jay Scott 6 years, 1 month ago

I suspect that Coach Self learned a bit from Jay Wright. He played a little deeper lineup and went into the NCAA tourney ready to play physical. If the fouls came he had the players to sub in. If they didn't he got the turnovers. "Nova basically played the old rules. I'll be shocked if Kansas doesn't copy this a bit. They have the depth this year. If winning the Big12 and defending home court turns out to be a little easier this year then players like Lightfooot, Vick, AZ and Coleby could get more PT.

Mick Allen 6 years, 1 month ago

Jay, if Self were not our coach, Jay Wright would be my first choice. His coaching on 'Nova's march to the title was most impressive.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

His team's defense was pretty impressive, too.

Mick Allen 6 years, 1 month ago

You are correct with that observation Bryce.

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 1 month ago

You've capped things off perfectly again, Mick. Thanks

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