Shawnee Proudly wearing a blue Kansas University golf shirt and khaki shorts, Bill Self descended from the top row of a set of bleachers at Okun Fieldhouse to sit next to a man wearing a purple shirt and black ballcap, both adorned with Wildcat logos.
That person would be Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
Both were on hand for a Metro Sports/KC Prep Invitational basketball game featuring Perry Ellis, a 6-foot-8 junior blue-chip forward out of Wichita Heights High School.
“Frank and I are friends,” Self said after sitting with the rival coach for the second half of the AAU game, one in which Ellis scored 20 points and pulled down 13 boards for Wichita’s Pray and Play Players.
“We talk about recruiting. We talk about coaching, X’s and O’s. We talk about different things going on. We talk about trying to get our families together for dinner sometime in August,” Self, KU’s eighth-year coach, revealed.
So the two are good buddies?
“I don’t know about that,” Self said with a smile. “We definitely enjoy sharing a few minutes whenever we get an opportunity.”
Obviously the two want to ultimately sign the same player in Ellis, Rivals.com’s No. 26-rated player in the Class of 2012. Yet they are not cut-throat in pursuit of the player.
Self enjoyed not only visiting with Martin, but could be seen chatting with various coaches at last week’s AAU tournament. He conversed with Florida’s Billy Donovan, Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel and Nebraska’s Doc Sadler, just to name a few of the head coaches. Countless assistants, including former KU players Steve Woodberry (Missouri State) and Jeff Boschee (Missouri Southern State) also were on hand to sit with Self and KU assistant Danny Manning.
Self obviously was having a good time recruiting so close to home during a July evaluation period in which he’s traveled to Indianapolis, Cleveland, Little Rock, Ark., Tulsa, Okla., Dallas, Augusta, S.C., Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.
“I love the fact Kansas City has a couple major recruiting type tournaments,” Self said. “It means selfishly I get to sleep at home, which is good. This tournament gets a lot of quality players here as evidenced by the number of coaches here at 9 a.m. You will not (often) see a place get 15 Div. I coaches in the gym at 9 a.m.”
Self, who left Okun Fieldhouse at 8 p.m. Wednesday, was back early Thursday to watch morning games of Ellis and St. Louis prep guard Ben McLemore, as well as some younger under-the-radar players.
The accessible coach joined 610 radio’s Shan Shariff on a raised stage to speak in generalities about recruiting — he can’t talk specific names in accordance with NCAA rules — bright and early Thursday.
“I never felt one of my biggest strengths was the pure evaluation (of players),” Self said, giving a shout-out to assistants Manning, Joe Dooley and Kurtis Townsend on the radio show.
“You walk into the gym and see the best player in the gym, it’s not hard to tell that. It’s watching the third- or fourth-best player on a team who hasn’t developed yet — where you project him, learn the background (of player). Is he projected to grow? How explosive is he? Can he fit in?
“The best recruiters in the business from an evaluation standpoint are at the mid-majors. They do a great job evaluating their talent level when they (players) are 16, 17 and projecting them out to when they are age 21. At Kansas, we don’t get the opportunity to do that. The majority of kids we recruit want to be in school goal-wise, one, two, three years. Very rarely do the best of the best stay all four years in college basketball the way the landscape is. The real talent of recruiting is being able to dig those guys out who at age 21, 22 can whip those kids who are 18. The people getting that done are the ones having success.”
Of course, ultra-successful high-major programs like Self’s Jayhawks — KU has won six straight league titles to go with the 2008 national crown — are doing well after signing top 50 rated players.
It should be no surprise KU is in on a bunch of top prospects again this recruiting season.
Included in the Class of 2011 are McLemore, 6-foot-5, St. Louis Eskridge High who is headed to Oak Hill Academy for his senior year; Josiah Turner, 6-3, Sacramento, Calif., Jabari Brown, 6-3, Oakland, Calif., and Angelo Chol, 6-8, San Diego, to name just a few. Turner and Brown are ranked Nos. 12 and 13 nationally by Rivals.com, while McLemore is No. 21 and Chol No. 51.
“I don’t know,” Self said, asked in generalities about how the July evaluation period, which ended Saturday, went for KU. “We don’t have any commitments yet. I think we’re in on some good kids, hopefully the right ones. I feel much better about our situation having gone through July. I do think we are in on the right kids,” he added.