"Kansas loves its-Self."
Corny? Perhaps, but that message, emblazoned on T-shirts celebrating the hire of Bill Self as the eighth men's basketball coach in Kansas University hoops history, seems correctly to depict feelings of KU administrators, fans and players as they gear for the 2003-04 school year -- the start of a new era in Jayhawk hoops.
"I believe that Bill Self is the right person at the right time for KU," said Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who introduced Self as Roy Williams' replacement April 21.
"His record speaks for itself, and he is the kind of person who people instantly feel comfortable with. He inspires confidence and trust. He also clearly cares about the whole development of student-athletes, both as players and as students.
"I think he will continue KU's excellent graduation record. He will do things the right way, which is the KU way, meaning a fierce dedication to winning, but winning with great integrity," Hemenway said in an early summer interview with the Journal-World.
Hemenway likes more than Self's 207-105 record compiled in 10 seasons as a head coach.
"We spoke at length that Saturday before he came to Lawrence, and it was clear to me that he understood the value of KU tradition," Hemenway said. "He wanted to practice his craft at this university, and he knew what it meant to be a Jayhawk."
Self, who went 78-24 the past three years at Illinois, has had his eyes on Kansas a long time, since working as an administrative aide on Larry Brown's KU staff in 1985-86, which happened to be a Final Four season.
"I used to talk to coach Brown all the time, and he amazed me because he has been to a few places. Here is a guy that played and coached at North Carolina, and here is a guy that coached and went to the national championship game at UCLA. He used to tell me that those places are great, but there is no place like Kansas," Self said. "That has always stuck with me. He has been to the best, and he thought this was the best.
"This is the most prestigious act in all of college basketball," added Self, who has already calmed the fears of Jayhawk fans by saying he will not apply for the coaching job at his alma mater, Oklahoma State, when Eddie Sutton retires in a year or so.
Williams, of course, left KU for his alma mater, North Carolina, three years after declining a similar offer from UNC.
Jayhawk fans had grown tired of Carolina's flirtation with Williams, who spent 15 years at KU.
"We have had the chance to go through some stops," said Self, who started his career at Oral Roberts, where he went 55-54 in four seasons. He moved on to Tulsa, where he compiled a 74-27 mark in three seasons. Then it was on to Illinois, where he was also wildly successful and popular.
"I've never been at a job where I've been able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. At Oral Roberts, we're 21-7 and have to leave and go to Tulsa, and you've got to re-prove yourself. At Tulsa we go 32-5 and make the Elite Eight, and you've got to re-prove yourself at Illinois. At Illinois we go back-to-back (winning league) and finish second and have got to totally re-prove yourself at Kansas. We're really looking forward into getting into a routine here. This is a career-ending job. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Self is wanting to make the most of the opportunity by winning and doing it the right way.
"Coaches can't win without great players, and you can't win continually without doing it the right way," Self said. "The goal at Kansas is not to have great teams. Great teams are expected. The goal at Kansas is to have great programs.
"One thing that coach Williams and prior coaches have done," Self added, "is recruit quality student-athletes that care about education. The graduation rates here are unbelievable. The players here only care about winning. Once you taste it, you want more of it."
The players, who will make Self a winner or loser, like what they've seen in the personable Self.
"He's cool. I like him," said guard Aaron Miles.
"It's good to know that we've got one of the best guys around," sophomore forward Wayne Simien said. "We are looking forward to the season."
"We will take no steps back," noted sophomore guard Keith Langford. "Coach Self will show us an even better way to get there. We have a coach, and a good coach at that. We have a coach that recruited me out of high school, and a guy I know.
"In a lot of ways he is like coach Williams, a player's coach," Langford added.
Self wants his reputation as a player's coach to continue as he begins work on a job he has had his eye on since working for Brown that one season.
"I feel this is an enormous responsibility," Self said of his carrying on the KU tradition in hoops. "This program is so big. This program is bigger than one player and is bigger than one coach.
"Coach Williams has done a remarkable job over 15 years and done it with class and dignity and his performance on the court certainly equals the performance off the court. He is a tough act to follow. But you know something, Larry Brown was a tough act to follow. Ted Owens, who went to two Final Fours, was a tough act to follow. Phog Allen was a tough act to follow. The guy who started it all, Dr. Naismith, was a tough act to follow. I see this as a great opportunity."