After a tough fought, controversial win over in-state rivals Kansas State on Tuesday night, Kansas head coach Bill Self discussed his team’s defensive struggles and the upcoming Big 12 conference season in his press conference.
Q. You’ve talked so much about defense, obviously. Is there anyone on your team playing up to the standard of KU?
BILL SELF: I think defense is obviously the majority of the team as individuals, so you can have some guys that are trying really hard, but maybe not a good team defensive player. Or you could have guys that are in the right place as a team, but maybe not doing the things on the ball you want them to or whatnot.
Just in a nutshell, I would say no. I would say that everybody can get better, without question.
Q. When you know that they can get better —
A. It’s frustrating.
Q. When they’re not playing at the level you want, how do you pull that out of them?
BILL SELF: I think hopefully — we’re practicing right now. You guys are so important that I left practice early to come in here and talk to you guys, because I didn’t want you guys to have to wait.
But I think you do it through film, you do it through talking, you do it through challenging, you do it through demanding. You do it a lot of different ways. The guys care, certainly about it, but I don’t think their actions show that they care as much as maybe what they think they do about certain things. I’m talking about strictly defense. They obviously care or they wouldn’t be ranked number two in the country. But I think that the guys all see where we can get better.
We’re just not active. We just don’t creator have near enough activity and create opportunities for steals or deflections or poor possessions on the other team, because we basically are right now in a mode where we’ve let the other team run their stuff. We’ve always been a fairly disruptive team.
Q. Do you challenge them?
BILL SELF: Oh, yeah, we’ve tried. We’re doing it all. We’re doing it all.
Q. Is there a guy that could be the leader doing that that you kind of look to?
BILL SELF: I think if you cut the head off, people say that the body will follow. So I think most of the responsibility falls on Devonte’ and Frank more than anybody else, because I think they can set the tone for everything.
Q. Is there a team in recent memory that’s maybe started out this way and gotten better? Is there anybody you can compare it to?
BILL SELF: There are a lot of teams. I told our guys today, last year when we lost to Michigan State, I told our team right after we lost, I said, you watch, by January 1, we’ll be ranked No. 1 in the country, and it actually played out that way.
Then after we got ranked that high, everybody, the sky was falling here last year too. What did we lose? Three out of five or something like that and the sky was falling. Then that team hardened up to the point where we’re, I think, I don’t know how many we ran off in a row, but it had to be close to 14 or 15 in a row as the number one ranked team in the country. And I think, you know, I think every team that we’ve had here, and every team in America, for the most part, maybe not Kentucky a couple years ago because they were so talented, goes through ebbs and flows and certainly aren’t as good as what they potentially could be. And a lot of it is basically some of it could be fatigue, not only physically tired but mentally tired, things like that. Energy level is not quite as good. There could be multiple things. An injury that nobody really discusses with the media that, obviously, slows you down.
But we don’t have any excuses. We’re just not doing it. But we’re going to get there. I say that with supreme confidence. We’re going to get to where we want to go, but that doesn’t guarantee success either, but it certainly puts us in a better position to have success.
Q. During your time here, who have been some of the most selfless defenders you’ve coached?
BILL SELF: Travis Relaford was unreal. I thought Aaron miles was terrific as well. We’ve had a ton. I think Tyshawn Taylor was one of the best defenders we’ve ever had here without question, Withey, Cole, those guys obviously did some good things.
But we’ve had some teams that were really, really good that had some individual bad defenders. Thomas, he wouldn’t get close to his man in the first half because he was scared he was going to foul because if he fouled, he may have to come out. So in his mindset, he was always nervous about that, but we needed him in the game offensively because we didn’t have a lot of fire power.
But I think that we’ve had our fair share of — I’ll put it to you like this. What was Devonte’s best game offensively last year? Without question at OU. Okay. He was concerned about one thing the whole game, guarding Buddy. And when you think about it and you worry about the right things like that, I think that’s when you actually perform better on the other end.
Q. Does how good you guys are in transition make it more important that you guys are able to create more halve okay and steals?
BILL SELF: I think so. I’m not a big stat guy like Jesse, as far as breaking down how many times a guy dribbles his right hand or left hand during the course of a possession. But I do know this, that when we have opportunities to have numbers, we’ve got enough good, individual players in the open court that we’re hard to deal with, and certainly we need to create more of those opportunities.
Q. How is Josh’s conditioning? I know for a freshman, it’s got to be a shock. Does he ever get tired?
BILL SELF: Yeah, and Josh is probably the guy more than anybody else that asks to come out of the game more, and then he’ll get right back in there. But playing that many minutes as a freshman, I think, would be kind of a body shot to you. But he’s in good shape.
Q. You said you hadn’t seen any replays when we last talked to you.
BILL SELF: That was five minutes after the game was over, so…
BILL SELF: Yeah, I saw it. And he took off early and certainly took more than two steps, yeah, he did.
Q. What impressed you most about what Tech did against West Virginia?
BILL SELF: I think — I’ve talked to Chris some throughout the season, and I think probably the poise. After the game was over, we flipped it on in the locker room, and to me, the way they got tied, I thought that would be a hard game to win after the way they got tied. And West Virginia shot eight free throws on the first four possessions, so they got lucky that West Virginia missed some free throws.
But I just thought I was really impressed with the poise they showed. And they also scored at the end of the clock better than most teams do. I think that’s a sign of good, disciplined, well-coached team.
Q. Did you first meet him at as a junior college in Tulsa?
BILL SELF: Yeah, yeah, we recruited probably the best JUCO kid ever. A kid named Ermal Kuqo, he was from Albania. So we got to know Chris and his family and everybody really well through that recruiting process, and we actually signed him at Tulsa, and we left to go to Illinois. He ended up not going to college. We found out later on he went pro overseas, so he was never going to play college ball anyway. But a great kid. And certainly that’s how we got to know Chris really well, and we’ve been good friends since then.
Q. Is there anything different for a coach to come up and start at the JUCO rank like he did and then wherever else he was?
BILL SELF: I tell you, this is a good story, okay, because Beard is a good guy, but he didn’t grow up in a way that he was destined to be the head coach in the Big 12. He took a different path than most. But last year, after they won in the NCAA tournament, he sent me a pick of his team. After the game, they went and celebrated at Whataburger, and that’s kind of the mindset I thought that was really cool.
Not spoiled, tough, and I think that the path he’s taken has definitely made him appreciate a lot of different things, and I’m sure his players do as well. Nothing against Whataburger. I mean, it could have been another restaurant, but it happened to be Whataburger.
Q. What is the offense like (Inaudible) another team over 50%?
BILL SELF: Yeah, they’ve got two unbelievable stats, their team offensive field goal percentage, and the other one is their defensive rebounding percentage. But their defensive rebounding percentage. And certainly they’re not allowing anybody to get to the offensive glass on them. And then, of course, they’re shooting. I think we’re like at 51-and-a-half or something like that, and they’re shooting a little bit better than us for the season. But they also take good shots, they’re patient, and they’ve got some big guys that can score. They just have really good balance.
Q. You’ve only gotten to the free-throw line twice this year. Is that something you want to see more?
BILL SELF: I think he’s actually driving it more. He’s doing a good job. But like the other night he shot three free throws, and not because he drove it but because he got fouled on the three-point shot. I think that’s something that we’d like to see he and Devonte’ doing more of, and Lagerald. Lagerald hasn’t shot many lately as well.
Q. Is that just a case of guys falling in love with just that pretty three-pointer where they don’t drive it?
BILL SELF: I don’t know if that’s the case with us. I think people do fall in love, as you said, with the three too much sometimes. But we really emphasized driving the ball downhill and putting pressure on people doing that. I think sometimes when the ball is dominated by one guy on their team the majority of the time like it is with us, it lessens other guys’ opportunities to shoot a lot of free throws.
So it would really look poor if Frank hasn’t shot more free throws than everybody because Frank has more opportunities to drive it downhill. But I do think in the situation with Devonte’ and Steve and Lagerald, I do think we can do that more.
Q. When you’ve got teams in the Big 12 that are ranked top of the nation, like you guys, like Baylor, how much does that speak to this conference, and how much does that help you guys in a conference like this?
BILL SELF: Well, I think there’s no question that our league is underrated and it’s rated very high, and it’s still underrated. I think you could make a strong case that the ACC has more good teams in their league than anybody else. But that’s also in large part the numbers are so much bigger. They’ve got five more teams or four more teams to pick from.
But I think our league is a monster. And you know, coaches after games sometimes can be emotional and mad or happy, and there’s been a time or two I’ve been that way as well. But the TCU win was a good win. They’re going to beat a lot of people at TCU.
We shouldn’t apologize for beating Kansas State at home, although I didn’t think we played well, I think Kansas State’s a really good team. I think they did some things that didn’t allow us to play well. So I think winning at home is going to be a premium again. But I don’t think the home wins are going to come as easy as a lot of people perceive them to be as they have in year’s past, just because there are more good teams in our league.
Q. Those two games and how tight they were, was that kind of a nice reminder for your guys?
BILL SELF: I think so. You guys ask questions sometimes that I haven’t even had a chance to address with them, because we took yesterday off and today we practice. We’re actually going to meet tonight and really go over Texas Tech tonight as a group. But I think there have been a lot of nice reminders for our guys on just how hard it is to win and especially in a league where, I mean, this is no disrespect to anybody, but I think most in fans minds think if you go to TCU based on the past few years that that should be a game that you should for sure win. And as coaches, we know that we’re going to have to play to win because there is so much improved.
I think that’s the one thing that we really need to sell to all of our players, and I think other coaches will sell to their respective players is, hey, everybody’s better than they were last year for the most part. Everybody’s better. So don’t look at an opponent based on what happened last year. Everybody’s improved. Everybody’s added some nice pieces.
Q. Beard and Underwood and Dixon, and the new blood, does that change the dynamic and just the feel?
BILL SELF: I think so. I think you don’t ever want to say upgrade, because I love the other coaches that have been at their respective schools. But this league has had a lot of turnover, with Rick going and Shaka coming in, he’s a national name. And certainly losing Tubby, a great name, and then Chris coming or Brad replacing Travis or whoever it’s been over time.
I don’t know that you say one is better than the other. I just think a lot of times there is an advantage in taking over a program that’s been well-coached by somebody before you. Because not only do you get to add your little blend of things that’s going on, but you also get to steal the habits that you’re inheriting. And a lot of times, I think that can be an advantage.
In these situations, I think it has been an advantage for some of the new coaches because the other guys knew what they were doing too, and now you add a few pieces and you add your own little style and get an influx of energy and things like that, those are usually very positive for programs.