Self Talks Sunflower Showdown at Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Heading into the first Sunflower Showdown matchup of the season - and the first of four-straight top-25 opponents - Kansas head coach Bill Self addressed the media Friday afternoon at his weekly press conference.
Q. What is Kansas State doing well?
COACH SELF: Well, they're guarding. Guys seem to really understand their roles, and certainly their freshmen now have played enough minutes that they're more seasoned and have been more effective. They're playing extremely hard, and they are off to a good start. There's no question, they're playing with a ton of confidence.
Q. As coaches, you talked about the rivalry (between Kansas and K-State). What do you tell your guys about a rivalry like this?
COACH SELF: Well, we talked about that we're going to talk about it. It's one of those things. We're going to get into stuff more today because kids from outside the area -- and they're freshmen, too, from outside the area -- they don't grow up thinking KU vs. K-State and all that stuff. Whatever teams are rivals in the region that people grow up in, that will be who they follow. That's not in any way, shape or form a knock on anybody. But we'll talk a lot.
We just got back early Thursday morning, and so yesterday we practiced for an hour and visited, but we really didn't get a chance to go into a lot of stuff, so we'll start doing all that today.
Q. What stands out when you look at (K-State freshman guard) Marcus Foster?
COACH SELF: He's hungry. The kid is thirsty. He wants to score. He's aggressive on how he goes about getting his shot. He knows where the shots are coming from, and he's prepared to score. He's a good player. He's a guy that will be an all-league-type player. Eventually, I think he's got a chance to be terrific.
Q. Do you remember ever seeing him play in AAU?
COACH SELF: I probably did, or our staff (did). When you start talking about the number of kids and how many you see, I honestly spend a majority of time recruiting kids that we're involved with as opposed to just going to sit in the gym just to watch and try to find out (about kids). But my assistants definitely were aware, and of course I was aware of him by name, but I didn't get a chance to call on him.
Q. People over there (Manhattan, Kan.) have started drawing comparisons between Foster and Mitch Richmond. Is that unfair? Or do you see that at all?
COACH SELF: Well, he's younger -- when Mitch got to K-State, Mitch was one of the baddest boys in the country. Mitch was an Olympian and an NBA All-Star. He was a bad boy. But at the same stage, they're comparing Joel (Embiid) to (Hakeem) Olajuwon, and you're talking about a Hall of Famer. When you're young and you haven't had a chance to really become what you're going to be, I think there are a lot of times there are comparisons made like that, which is probably fairly accurate.
Q. Right now Kansas is the only state with three teams ranked in the top 25. What does that say about the state compared to a Texas or Carolina or Kentucky?
COACH SELF: Well, I don't know about Kentucky because Kentucky doesn't have that many schools, but obviously Carolina has 20 or whatever, Texas has a lot and California obviously has a lot of high, major schools. But it speaks volumes when you have three Division I schools in the state, they're all ranked and all doing very well.
I saw something the other day on which is considered to be the best basketball state in the country right now, and I think Kansas was second or third, something like that. I think Ohio was one or something, but it was pretty flattering to know that in a state that's not that highly populated and you only have three Division I institutions, that all are doing as well as they are.
Q. Do you feel like each program benefits when the other two in the state are good?
COACH SELF: I've always thought that. I think when K-State is good, it helps Kansas. I would think when Kansas is good, it helps K-State. And then, of course, I think when Wichita State is doing the things that they're doing, obviously it brings attention to our state, which is very positive. I see absolutely no negatives in that stuff.
Q. Tomorrow's game versus Kansas State starts a stretch of you guys playing four-straight top-25 teams. Can you remember a more difficult five-game stretch?
COACH SELF: I'd have to go back and look because I make statements all the time like 'this is the most games that have ever been away from home', and I get corrected on that. So I'm not really sure, going back, if I can recall if we've played a tougher stretch than what we're getting ready to play based on records and based on rankings, but I can't think of one. This is a monster start for us, certainly one in which we need to play good. Early in conference play, you can't win the league, obviously, in January, but you can certainly put yourself in a position where it would be awful tough to catch up, so we need to be our best right now.
Q. Is this the most wide open you can remember the league as far as teams actually having a chance to win it?
COACH SELF: Well, in my personal opinion, I think that we've been a favorite several years. We've been co-favorites or there's been other teams that have been up there that make a run. I can go back many times and think about, well, we've got three losses and they've got two, and we've got to win out and we've got to hope something happens with them.
So it's been open before, but I think going into a conference season, I don't think we've ever had as many teams that you could say, when they're playing their best over a period of time, could be the best team in the league. Now I think there are multiple teams that you could say that with.
Q. I have heard that Bruce Weber has Chris Lowery coaching defense; it's almost like an offensive coordinator-defensive coordinator type deal. What is Lowery's defense known for?
COACH SELF: Well, when he was at Southern Illinois and we played them in the Sweet 16, they really, really got after you and their ball screen defense was the best I had ever seen. They almost scared you when they set a ball screen. Who was it, Randal Falker, big kid? (The) Guy was a stud, and they had others. And their close-outs were unbelievable. I'd say close-outs and ball screen defense was what I remember most about that Sweet 16 team because they did those two things as well as any team I had ever seen.
Q. Is K-State doing those things now?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I would say so. That team at Southern Illinois was an experienced, tough, upper classman-type team that really, really, really understood how to guard and understood team concept. There's no question K-State is playing at a very high level defensively. I would be interested to see what Chris (Lowery) thinks about comparing the two because I'm not there every day, so I don't know. But right now they've got them playing defensively about as well as anybody in the country.
Q. When you look at Perry Ellis' game against San Diego State and how he played the other night (at Oklahoma), what are the keys for him?
COACH SELF: I think a lot of it was just -- in that situation, he felt terrible vs. San Diego State. His health wasn't very good. Nobody is going to talk about it because when you play, you've got to perform. There are no excuses.
But I do think he felt much better physically against Oklahoma, and he looked much more aggressive going after the ball.
Q. The proposed apartment complex, is that something you think might be able to help you out with recruiting?
COACH SELF: Well, that's a question that I haven't thought would be asked today, but there's no question. The thing about it is, and everybody will have their own take, but housing, where our student-athletes reside now, is way, way, way, way behind what the competitors would be housing their student-athletes in, in a big way. But there's certain things about it that's terrific, mainly being location. You're just across the street from a lot of things.
But in order for us to maintain and even exceed what we've been doing, there are certain things that have to be done. Why did we renovate Allen Fieldhouse? Why did we build a practice facility? Why do you renovate offices and locker rooms? Bells and whistles are very, very important, and the one thing that I would say, as much as anything and we've said this all along, why did we build a new academic center? It's for the benefit, and certainly for the development, of the student-athletes. They deserve to have a situation to live in which they can be monitored, in which they can obviously have more security.
If you recruit some guys into your program, and hopefully we'll continue to do so, where there's very little security and people can come and go as they please and basically take away all privacy these youngsters have, I don't think that's the intent of being a student athlete. We can't put it on college kids, it's professional people. It's agents, it's runners, it's professional autograph seekers and things like that.
I think we should provide our student-athletes a little protection, so therefore they can at least have a better experience. And of course we want them to be comfortable and have the same type of living conditions as the other people we're recruiting against. Certainly, that will be something that -- not only can we sell it, but people can't use it against us, because right now that's obviously something that could be used against us.
So I think it's good. I think it would be (paid for by) obviously the athletic department or through the generosity of some people. Hopefully, it's going to be money raised privately. I don't see a big negative, but I see a world of positive.
Q. Could you discuss specifics about Joel Embiid's development this year? Are there aspects of his game that you didn't expect to see at this point or what he's been doing on the court?
COACH SELF: Joel? He's done great. He didn't play as well against Oklahoma, but I was proud of him for being out there. He gets the goggles, or the glasses, on but he never remembered to take them down. It was kind of comical to see his free throws and he didn't remember to put them down. But I think he's done great. There are some things he's obviously got to continue to get better at, and one of them is strength. He's got to continue to get stronger. But I don't think anybody in our program could say that they're surprised that he's done as well as he's done, and certainly I don't think there's anybody that could say in the least way, shape or form that they're remotely disappointed. He's been everything we thought he'd be this early in his career and more.
Q. San Diego State gave Embiid a free-throw line jumper and he kept passing it up. Does he have that shot yet?
COACH SELF: I think a lot of it was he was a little bit outside the free throw (line area). He was probably behind the arc or straddling the line, but yeah, he needs to take that shot. There's no question he needs to take that shot.
There were a lot of teams last year, I don't know if you realize or remember, but playing Marquette, (former forward) Kevin Young found the high post, jumped up and at least was a threat from there, which forced them to guard. It's kind of like going long in football; you've got to throw long, even if it's incomplete, just to let people know you're going to do it. I think we should be doing more of that, and Joel should be doing more of that, as we go forward.
Q. How long will Embiid wear the goggles?
COACH SELF: I don't know. That'll be (head team physician Larry Magee) Doc's call. He took a pretty good blow, so it's just precautionary, but I think they're going to keep him in them for a little while.
Q. The game the other night, what did it do for your confidence, winning on the road?
COACH SELF: Well, it did a lot for mine but I don't know if you really care what it did for me. But certainly for our players, I thought they felt really good about themselves out there. We're kind of in a unique situation here, and it's a good situation, but I can go back and I can remember every home loss like it's yesterday, and I've been here now almost 11 years. And trust me, our players know that, too.
So sometimes when you have a situation like we had last Sunday, and we obviously didn't play well, and you lose -- it's a big deal. I mean, it can be a pretty good body blow, whereas most places it's not a body blow, it's something that hurts but you get over quickly because you've learned to deal with it more.
So I hope we don't ever get where we're comfortable with it. Whenever that happens, a situation like that, I think it's important that we recover in a quick way, and I thought our guys responded really well against OU. I thought we did a lot of good things, and we did it with Joel (Embiid) and basically Andrew (Wiggins) not having big nights, and we still scored 90, so I was really pleased with our guys.
Q. Is that a better example (of responding to a loss) when you see 50/50 balls and hustle and getting on the floor?
COACH SELF: Yeah, we were pretty active the other night. We were very active, I thought.
Q. Is that something that kind of becomes contagious?
COACH SELF: No question, it's contagious. You get one doing it, two will do it. You get two doing it, four will do it. That play where we got the loose ball and we called time-out, there were seven kids that dove for that ball, seven, and we ended up getting it. So OU is playing hard, too. That's the way it is in conference play.
Q. Is that why they played harder, just because it was conference play?
COACH SELF: Well, could be we got our butts beat on Sunday, and it's the first game of a new season, conference, and practices were probably good. It's probably a combination of a little bit of everything. But playing hard is not the right term. Our kids played hard. It's probably playing more with passion, because whenever you have more energy, the appearance is you play so much harder. But I could be wrong; you could go out and run a mile and nobody is watching and run it as hard as you can and your time will be much slower than if you've got some people competing against you and that kind of stuff.
We think we're playing hard but there's still another big step we can take, and I thought that was a step at least in the right direction. All teams go through it.
Q. What did you think of Naadir Tharpe down the stretch?
COACH SELF: He was terrific. Naadir closed the game for us like a point guard is supposed to close a game. He was good.
Q. What about Conner Frankamp's future? Do you expect him to get better?
COACH SELF: Well, I hope so. I thought Conner did good against OU. We were down four, I think, and then we went on an 11-1 run to key it in the half, and he obviously played a role in that. He played good, he just didn't make two shots, and that was really positive.
Q. With the exception of maybe a couple of seasons, you guys have had consistently in-state kids that have not just been on the roster but have contributed, started and played big roles. How big is that for the program? Does that surprise you a little bit that you've been able to maximize a state with not a lot of population?
COACH SELF: You know what, and we've actually missed on some kids, too. We've made some recruiting mistakes, gone in a different direction where kids have panned out to be really good players and that kind of stuff. I think what local kids do -- this isn't necessarily true but in games like K-State or whatever, it's nice to have some local kids that grow up understanding the rivalry and that kind of stuff.
I'm a big believer that -- hey, the best players don't always make the best teams. The best players that play together the best make the best teams. We've had some great blend guys that came from the state of Kansas, great blend, whether it be Travis (Releford) or Tyrel (Reed) or Brady (Morningstar), that the ball moved a little better when they were in there, or they were able to make sure that they piggy-backed screens or went ball side of every curl, that maybe don't translate to be big things, but those are plays that win basketball games.
I've been real pleased with who we've been able to recruit. I hope there are good players in our state every year. I wish we could get a kid out of here every year because I do think it adds something to your program to have some local flavor.