Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
In a Wednesday interview with ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self shed a sliver of light on just how much longer he might like to coach.
Brace yourselves, Kansas fans. Self’s answer was not, “forever.”
Self, who will turn 55 in late December, often has shared the feeling that he is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of coaches like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (72), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (70) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (67), all of whom are still going strong at or near the age of 70.
“I’ve said all along that if I could go to my late 50s, that’d be good for me,” Self told Medcalf on Wednesday. “Now that I'm getting close to my late 50s, I’m like, ‘Well ... ,’ but my contract runs until I’m 59, so I’ve got five more years left. I definitely want to do that. Then whatever happens after that I’d be happy with whatever.”
Self’s current contract, which was extended by four years back in 2012, runs through the 2021-22 season. And, at this point, 60 fast-approaching or not, it’s hard to imagine Self hanging it up then.
Self carries himself today with as much charm and charisma as he did the day he arrived at Kansas and operates, acts and looks a lot more like a coach in his 40s than one talking about turning 60. That’s with players, fans, colleagues and, perhaps most importantly, recruits.
Medcalf’s story also quoted Self as saying that the never-ending world of modern recruiting, “just wears you down,” and it’s certainly understandable that a life that does not involve tracking every move of young ballplayers from the time they’re 14 or 15 years old through the day they announce their college of choice would be appealing to Self and dozens of other coaches in similar positions.
Still, as things stand today, it sure seems like there’s a lot for Self still to accomplish before he hangs up his whistle.
Don’t mistake that for more to prove. There really isn’t much for Self still to prove.
He already has a national title; — though one or six more of those surely would please both him and the rabid Kansas fan base — the Big 12 Conference title streak already is the longest in the history of the game and Self is the only coach to have racked up that many consecutive conference titles all on his watch; he recently was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; and his trophy case is full of a variety of coach of the year hardware.
While those credentials, and many more, were what earned Self his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame this year and a permanent place in the hearts of Kansas fans forever, it really does seem as if Self is simply getting better with age. Say what you will about his record in Elite Eight games — 2-7 all-time, 2-5 at Kansas and 0-2 in the past two seasons — you just don’t see the kind of elite-level consistency that Self’s Kansas teams have produced pretty much anywhere else.
That’s what makes that five-year time frame he talked about so hard to imagine.
Self’s coaching career began in 1993, at the age of 30, when he took over the Oral Roberts program after several years as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. When he was a junior in high school back in Oklahoma, he told his father, Bill Self, Sr., that he would become a college head coach by age 30 and, after achieving that goal — “That was just unbelievable to me,” Bill Self Sr., recently told the Journal-World — Self moved forward with a career that has been turning heads and accomplishing goals — big time, lofty, next-level goals — ever since.
He picked up his 100th victory while at Tulsa in 1999, grabbed win No. 200 just four years after that, during his final season at Illinois and snagged his 300th win during his fourth season at KU.
Since then, Self has been on pace to eclipse a major milestone victory about every three years, with No. 400 coming in 2010, No. 500 coming in 2013 and No. 600 coming last December. Self ended the 2016-17 season with 623 career victories, giving him an impressive average of 26 wins per season during his 24 seasons as a head coach, a number that, somehow, rises to an eye-popping 30 wins a year during his 14 seasons at Kansas.
Who knows how many more wins or seasons Self will actually coach? While records and milestones are as appealing to him as the next guy, you just don’t get the sense that those things really matter that much unless you’re talking about the milestones that come with a net and a trophy on the final Monday of each college basketball season.
Given the fact that Boeheim and Coach K (both already over 1,000 career victories) are still coaching and winning, it’s hard to imagine Self one day climbing to the top of that list. But winning 800 games seems within reach, and, provided Rick Pitino (770), Bob Huggins (747) and John Calipari (694) all get there before him, Self would become just the 12th coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 800 wins.
Would a milestone like that be a good enough note on which to call it a career? Perhaps. Keep in mind that Self mentor and close friend, Eddie Sutton, guided his teams to 806 victories during his remarkable career. Wouldn’t there be something special about Self tying that mark or, in true Self fashion, perhaps finishing right behind Sutton at 805?
Regardless of whether Self goes to the end of his current contract and hangs ’em up or gets to that point and decides he wants to coach another 5 or even 10 years, one thing is certain: He’s definitely the kind of guy who would (a) want to walk away with a lot of good years of living still ahead of him, and (b) would have the discipline to say he’s done and then actually call it a career.
As many of you probably know, the Kansas men’s basketball team often breaks down the end of each practice with a simple and strong chant of “Big 12 champs.”
For the past 13 seasons (and counting), that target goal has proven profitable, with the Jayhawks winning a record-tying 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles and currently beginning the early tune-ups to gun for No. 14 and the record all to themselves during the upcoming 2017-18 season.
The theory within the program always has and continues to go something like this: Win the Big 12 and you’ll position yourselves well to achieve all of the goals that follow — No. 1 seed, Final Four, national championship.
Obviously, that last part is always the goal for the Jayhawks. And, at a place like Kansas, it’s often a realistic goal. But it’s not always openly talked about before and during the season. Again, the idea is for the team to take care of the games that are right in front of them and attack the postseason when they get there.
This year, however, things might be a little different.
Speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, after Day 1 of the Jayhawks’ annual boot camp conditioning session, senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk uttered those very words — national championship — on two separate occasions in six minutes.
“The main goal is to win a national championship,” answered Mykhailiuk when asked if he had any goals for the upcoming season. “That’s what we’re trying to do every year, and to win the Big 12.”
When informed that the question was about his own personal goals, the Ukrainian senior obliged and simply said, “Just to improve everything and be a better player and a teammate.”
That was the second reference. The first came when he was asked about Day 1 of boot camp and just how difficult it was this time around, the fourth such boot camp battle for Mykhailiuk.
His answer again pointed to the team first and the gains the group was getting from going through Self’s vicious two-week boot camp.
“It’s getting us better so it doesn’t matter what we’re doing,” he said. “In the long run, it’s going to help us win a national championship, the Big 12, anything we’re gonna win if we want to win.”
While the lofty goal of winning it all and bringing another banner back to Allen Fieldhouse hardly comes as a surprise, it is noteworthy that Mykhailiuk was so open in talking about it. The reason for that seemed simple enough and also was addressed by the senior guard.
“We talk about it,” he said. “The past two years we were pretty close to the Final Four. This year, we just gotta get there. We were one step away (the past two seasons) and we felt like we should’ve been there, but we didn’t make it for some reason.”
Mykhailiuk's brief mentions of a national championship likely do not signify a change in philosophy for the Kansas program. This team, no doubt, will still continue to emphasize taking care of business in the Big 12 and will probably continue to break down the end of practices with that "Big 12 champs" call.
That's just the way the program does things and that's the way the program will continue to do things as long as Bill Self is the man in charge.
But that doesn't mean the seniors and other players who might feel as if the upcoming season is their final shot at the big prize aren't thinking bigger, even if it is for just a few minutes in mid-September. And that, too, makes perfect sense. After all, winning it all is the ultimate goal for every team out there and spending at least some time thinking about it and pursuing it as a goal is human nature.
Whether the Jayhawks make it to the Final Four (and perhaps beyond) this season remains to be seen. But I’m sure more than a few folks out there already have imagined how cool it would be for the 2017-18 Jayhawks to honor the 10-year anniversary of KU’s most recent national championship team by returning to San Antonio, the scene of the 2007-08 squad’s finest achievements, for the 2018 Final Four.
When Lagerald Vick first showed up on the KU campus, he was viewed as a solid pick-up but not a star, a player the Kansas basketball program would be happy to have in three or four years.
Well, Year 3 for Vick has arrived, and I think fans, teammates and coaches would agree that the appreciation for Vick surfaced long before now.
Regarded by Kansas coach Bill Self as the best on this year’s team at turning the corner and driving to the basket, Vick could — and probably should — play by far his biggest role since coming to Lawrence.
Add to that the fact that his confidence continues to grow by the day and you’re looking at a Jayhawk poised for a breakout season.
He Will: Start every game this season as long as he’s healthy
During the 2016-17 season, Vick made just six starts in 36 games. Most of them came early and one of them came when Josh Jackson was suspended during the Big 12 tournament.
Most of the non-Vick starts went to Svi Mykhailiuk and a lot of people believe that Mykhailiuk is poised to keep his starting spot for the 2017-18 season. So how, then, could Vick be in the starting lineup this season? There are two paths, either of which I believe is very possible.
Path 1: Vick starts alongside Svi and the Jayhawks, as they did a season ago, play small and fast with Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi and Vick joining Udoka Azubuike in the starting lineup. This option was solidified — if not born — in Italy, where the Jayhawks used this lineup early and often, both with Azubuike on the floor and during the two games he missed due to illness.
Path 2: Vick supplants Svi as a starter and the two merely switch roles. In order for this to happen, either Billy Preston or Mitch Lightfoot is going to have to make a huge jump between now and the start of the season. Both are bigger bodies and good athletes who would fit naturally in that four position. But neither has the experience, explosiveness or scoring ability of Vick or Svi. If one of them makes the jump, though, and Self finds himself picking between Svi or Vick, I think he goes with the driving ability, length and superior defense of Vick and uses Svi for instant offense off the bench.
The smart money, however, says both start and both play a ton of minutes.
He Won’t: Settle for as many 3-point shots as he did during the 2016-17 season
As mentioned above, Vick is likely the best player on this KU team at getting to the rim. He’s comfortable handling the ball, likes to turn the corner and is not shy when he gets into the paint.
Because of that, I think you’ll see him look to attack a lot more than he did a season ago, when Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III had the green light to go to the rim long before Vick.
Last season, 42 percent of Vick’s shot attempts (92 of 219) were 3-pointers and he hit 37 percent of those. Look for the number of shot attempts to go up, perhaps topping 300, but for the Memphis junior to fire up fewer 3-pointers than he did a season ago, when he benefitted greatly from waiting on the wing for Jackson or Mason to kick it out to him for open jumpers.
If Vick shoots 300 times this season — and, let’s face it, that’s entirely possible given the fact that the Jayhawks will be missing 821 shot attempts by Mason and Jackson and Newman and Graham can’t take them all — then I’d bet that 100 of them (33 percent) come from behind the 3-point line and the rest are transition buckets or drives to the rim.
He Might: Be one of the most underrated players in the country
At 6-foot-5, 175 pounds and bubbling with athleticism, Vick is the kind of athlete who many teams would love to have.
Add to that fact the reality that he actually has some pretty good skills — solid shooter, above-average defender, good handles — and you’re looking at a guy who can flat out play.
The Kansas coaches know that and many in the Big 12 know that, as well. But I’m not yet sure the rest of the country knows that.
When people think Kansas, they think Bill Self, they’re talking about Devonte’ Graham and one-and-dones and, this year, they’re talking about high-profile transfers like Malik Newman and the Lawson brothers waiting in the wings.
Vick is not a focal point for most people and, therefore, he’s flying in the shadows a little bit. That kind of anonymity is a nice place to exceed expectations. And the real answer to this claim will come in the results. Can Vick continue to produce solid numbers and perhaps take his production to another level as a bigger part of the program with more eyes on him?
If the answer is yes, he won’t be underrated or overlooked for much longer.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2017:
Part I: • Devonte' Graham
Priority Sports, the agency that represents him, said Monday that former Kansas guard Brandon Rush has joined the Milwaukee Bucks, his fifth team in a 10-year NBA career.
But there appears to be at least a little ways to go before the Kansas City native slaps on Milwaukee green.
According to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Bucks currently have 15 players on their roster, which is one more than the maximum number allowed by NBA rules. In order to make room for Rush the team either will have to move a player or two or is planning to give Rush a training camp deal which would allow him to compete for a spot.
If the latter is the direction the former Jayhawk has to go, it will be interesting to see how things play out.
Given his nine years of in the league with four NBA teams — including Golden State, with which he won an NBA title ring and Minnesota last season — Rush (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) would have the experience edge over young guns like Gary Payton II (6-3, 190), Rashad Vaughn (6-6, 202), Bronson Koenig (6-4, 193) and rookie Sterling Brown (6-5, 225).
But his career averages of 6.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 22 minutes per game paint his as a deep reserve and strictly a role player. While there is a place for a player like Rush on just about any roster — given his defensive ability, athleticism, experience and ability to shoot — it's entirely possible that the Bucks would favor any one of those younger options instead of Rush.
Still, the fact that his agents identified Milwaukee as a good spot for his next move would seem to indicate that there is at least something to like about the situation.
Rush, who had his jersey retired at KU last season, played in 47 games and made 33 starts for the Timberwolves last season. The 33 starts were the second most of his career and his 21.9 minutes per game were the most since he averaged 26 minutes per game during the 2011-12 season in Golden State.
Those numbers point to there still being a valuable place in the league for the veteran. But, at this point in his career, that place is likely the most important part of the puzzle. Finding a spot where the franchise appreciates and can utilize Rush's experience and skills is crucial. If they're able to locate it — whether it's Milwaukee or elsewhere — the former Jayhawk could likely play another 4 or 5 seasons.
With the official start of the 2017-18 Kansas basketball season now just a couple of weeks away — Late Night is set for Sept. 30 and the exhibition opener is slated for Oct. 31 — it’s time to dive into the second year of our He Will, He Won’t, He Might series.
As you might remember — or may have guessed if you don’t — the series takes a quick look at every KU player and takes a stab at three predictions for that player for the upcoming season.
Last year was my first year doing this, and, after looking back at the 2016-17 “He Will, He Won’t, He Might” predictions, I have to admit I was fairly impressed with how I did.
From predicting that Frank Mason III would land on the all-Big 12 first team for the first time and that 3-point shooting would not be a strength of Josh Jackson’s to the fact that Carlton Bragg Jr. would leave Kansas (OK, I may have missed this one and said “He Might” leave KU to become a lottery pick), most of the guesses were either right on or at least in the ballpark.
With a 2017-18 roster that features enough returners mixed with a couple of newcomers, let’s see if this year’s effort can be anywhere close to as good.
Up first: Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham.
He Will: Continue to look to get others involved before looking for his shot.
Although Graham has proven he is more than capable as a scorer, both he and his team often have been at their best when he has thought pass-first and score second.
Part of the reason for that is, when Graham is a threat to do more than just shoot, defenders have to respect that and can not just crowd him on the catch. Beyond that, Graham has great vision, is a naturally unselfish player and likes to see his teammates succeed as much as himself.
That mentality forces defenses to account for every corner of the floor and that often leaves Graham open on the back end of things for good looks from 3-point range that, at least to date, he has knocked down more than 40 percent of the time.
The whole thing falls into the old adage of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and, while Graham will look to emulate former running mate Frank Mason III in some areas, it won’t necessarily be as a scorer.
He Won’t: Have the year that Frank Mason III had in 2016-17.
This one ties into the first one, but it’s not because Graham isn’t talented enough to deliver a big season. He is. And he might. But if he does it won’t look the same as Mason’s national player of the year campaign a season ago. Here’s why.
For starters, Graham is not the same kind of player as Mason. How many times, late in the shot clock, did you see Mason put his head down and drive to the rim, either to get to the free throw line or finish in traffic when the Jayhawks’ offense broke down? A ton. Graham is not as likely to do that and does not have the same physical advantages that allowed Mason to succeed in that area.
So fewer trips to the free throw line and fewer points in the paint means fewer points overall. So don’t expect Graham to approach the 20 points per game average that Mason delivered last season.
He Might: Average more assists than Mason while averaging fewer points at the same time.
Seeing how the first two tied together, we might as well tie the last one to those two, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that it is.
If Graham scores less than Mason but continues to look to set up others for easy buckets at the same time, it only makes sense to think that Graham’s assist total could be higher.
For his career, Graham is averaging 3.4 assists per game in 103 games. I’m not sure if doubling that number during his senior season will happen, but I do think it’s possible. And if he’s able to, Graham would absolutely be in line for a first team, all-Big 12 type of season and possibly a Big 12 player of the year nod.
Just don’t expect him to parlay that into sweeping the national player of the year honors like Mason did and don’t count on Graham delivering Mason’s total of 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
Something like 14 points, 3 rebounds and 6-7 assists seems more likely and would be a solid, albeit completely different, season unto itself.
I know no one really cares at this point. And I’m not sure anyone should.
But since I wrote roughly 3,543,267 words about him this summer and most of you read every one, I felt compelled to put a neat and tidy bow on the mess that is Mitchell Robinson.
Surely, you remember the name.
If not, here’s a brief recap: McDonald’s All-American and Top 10 player in the 2017 class who committed to Western Kentucky only to leave Western Kentucky after his godfather left the coaching staff. He had already committed to Texas A&M before that but followed A&M assistant Rick Stansbury to WKU when Stansbury got the job.
After asking for his release after his godfather left, Robinson visited LSU only to have them back off. Then visited Kansas only to have them back off. And also visited the University of New Orleans during that time. Two of the three were close to his hometown in Louisiana so that made sense and, well, Kansas is Kansas.
But after all of that, after dragging out his visits and his decision and flirting with the idea of going overseas or sitting out the season entirely to prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft, Robinson went back to Western Kentucky, where he knew with 100 percent certainty that he would be eligible to play.
That is, until he didn’t.
Sunday afternoon, the 7-foot projected lottery pick told Evan Daniels of Scout.com that he was starting the whole thing over again.
OK. That might not be exactly what he said. And, hopefully for everyone’s sake, he’s not going to go through something as wild and crazy as his wishy washy summer. But he is leaving WKU for the second time.
“I’ve decided to leave Western Kentucky and just focus on next year’s NBA Draft,” Robinson told Daniels. “I want to thank Western Kentucky, the coaching staff, the fans and my teammates, but I decided to pursue a professional career.”
Added Robinson’s mother: “He’s strictly focusing on training in Dallas. He has another plan and it’s training.”
I won’t bore you with the why or the how or even the huh? of all of this.
It just seemed like a travesty for those of you who wasted so much time reading up on Robinson’s decision(s) to not know how things ended up.
“The lifetime goal of mine is to play in the NBA and I feel like forgoing my year of college and going straight to work on a day to day basis will help prepare me, so I can focus just on basketball and maturing,” Robinson told Daniels. “I just want to get better and just grow as a person.”
When it comes to talking to the media about their current teams, coaches, in all sports, often refrain from dealing in absolutes.
Kansas football coach David Beaty and his “earn it” philosophy is a great example, with nothing being promised to anyone and every player on his roster having to earn his spot day after day, week after week.
Even Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, whose roster always has both more talent and stability than Beaty’s, has been known to dabble in the art of the uncertainty, whether when discussing potential starting lineups or how he’ll divvy up the minutes between a trio of big men.
But when it comes to recruiting, things can get a lot more concrete in a hurry. And while it’s never the coaches who make it that way — for one, it’s against NCAA rules for them to comment on recruits and, for two, they likely wouldn’t change their approach anyway — their messages to recruits of all shapes, sizes and rankings often get out.
Take Class of 2018 point guard Devon Dotson, for example.
Fresh off an official visit to KU’s campus a couple of weeks ago, the five-star point guard from Charlotte hosted Kansas coach Bill Self and KU assistant Norm Roberts at his home last night, merely the latest in an incredibly busy week of in-home visits for the KU staff.
In addition to all of the regular stuff that he they found out about during Dotson's official visit to campus — from talk about academics and the support staff to questions about where they’ll live, what they’ll eat and how closely they’ll be monitored — the Dotson family, according to Dotson's father Dana, liked what they heard from Self and Roberts during the visit, which featured a series of follow-up questions and inquiries from the Dotson family.
“They believe he's the starting PG from day one,” Dana Dotson told Matt Scott of 247 Sports site TheShiver.com. “He stressed that over and over.”
A couple of things about that comment are important to remember.
First, it’s not a promise or a guarantee. You’ll notice that the father said, “They believe...” That does not mean they said, “We promise you he’ll start at point guard.” Instead, it means that based on the younger Dotson’s talent and skills and KU’s need at the position, the coaches think and hope that the young man, should he pick Kansas, would be a guy they could plug into the starting point guard role right away so long as he put in the work and picked up the system enough to handle the job. Pretty standard stuff, but still important to note.
Second, this is not a case of a coaching staff telling a kid and his family what they want to hear. Because of their blue blood status and all of the interest from so many of the top-ranked players in each class, the Kansas coaching staff does not have to operate that way. They can be — and always are — 100 percent up-front and honest, for better or worse, with these recruits during the entire process. Sometimes that honesty is exactly what an athlete and his family want and need to hear. Other times it has turned people off and left them looking to go in a different direction.
Which direction Dotson goes remains to be seen. But, between the official visit to Lawrence and the in-home visit Thursday night, the Jayhawks appear to be in as good a shape as anybody in their pursuit of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard who is ranked No. 17 nationally by Rivals.com.
“(It went) great,” Dana Dotson told Scott when asked about the visit. “Coach Self talked about why Kansas is the best fit for Devon. A lot of talk about the vision for Devon and what is, and should be, important for Devon and how Kansas fits those wants.”
Dotson and his family will visit Florida this weekend and many recruiting analysts believe the recruitment of the Charlotte point guard is down to a three-team race between KU, Florida and Maryland.
It's no secret turnovers have been a massive issue for the Kansas football team. And it's been that way for quite some time.
The Jayhawks have held the regrettable distinctions of...
- Leading all of FBS with 36 turnovers in 2016
- Committing two or more turnovers in 16 straight games
- Failing to win the turnover battle in each of their last nine road games
KU coach David Beaty has spoken at length about the turnover issues several times in the past.
He was asked about them again at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and noted that while the road-losing streak, which sits at a whopping 41 games, has been out of his mind, the turnover issues certainly have not been.
"Well, I've said all the other things. I've already talked to you about every drill that could have been created. Anything that's ever been done, we've done, and we've done it twice on Sunday," Beaty said. "We've studied with the Cowboys, we've studied with the Rams, we've studied with Seattle. I mean, just everywhere we can go trying to prevent that, right? That's the death of you in a football program."
Putting aside the 22 interceptions Kansas threw last year — a mark that ranked 126th out of 128 teams — and the four that new quarterback Peyton Bender has already thrown this year — no quarterback in FBS has more — the 14 fumbles KU lost last season were a massive issue, and it's one the team has attempted to thwart with just about everything, even clothing.
"It's a lot more difficult than people think to keep that ball up high and tight. But it's a learned trait," Beaty said. "When we toss them a pair of socks, they've got to tuck it. Doesn't matter what we throw them, that thing better be tucked. Wrist has to be above the elbow, back nose has to be covered, and that front nose ought to be gripped. That ball never comes away."
As amusing as it might seem, the players have at least taken to the strategy.
Junior wideout Jeremiah Booker, one of the team's captains, says he understands the reasoning for the drill, which Beaty reminds the players of during every practice.
Booker has also caught himself practicing his ball security outside the football complex, namely when his instincts as an athlete start to take over.
"High and tight. It's with anything and everything, whether it's a pencil or something," Booker said. "When I'm relaxing, not really, but if I'm rushing to class, I catch myself like (clutching) my water bottle or something."
Fellow wideout Steven Sims, who was limited in the Jayhawks' last game with a right-ankle injury, is another who has taken to this strategy, though he's hardly been part of the problem.
Sims has been charged with one lost fumble some 20-plus games into his college career, which came on a late drive of a 43-7 blowout loss to Memphis back in 2016.
With the game already out of reach and KU having already committed five turnovers on the day, Sims caught a pass down the left sideline and dove for a first down. At the same time, a Memphis defender dove at Sims and managed to knock the ball loose about an instant before he hit the ground.
Regardless, Sims is as sure-handed as just about anyone on the team.
That's in part why he's back returning punts this year. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who handled the punt return duties for much of 2016, is not back with the program, but he had already been removed from that spot on several occasions after a host of lost fumbles and muffed punts.
As for Sims, he takes ball security pretty seriously.
"Yeah they'll throw anything at you, a water bottle, anything they can find. You have to look it in and tuck it like it's a football," Sims said. "I'll always hold my imaginary ball. Like I'll be doing moves and things while I'm walking through a crowd. I'll be juking students and things like that. That's just how I am. I'm working on my game 24-7."
It’s been a wild week for the Kansas basketball coaching staff, with trips all over the country for in-home visits and check-ins with prospects in the Class of 2018 and beyond.
And while KU coach Bill Self and his staff clearly are used to the grind that is year-round recruiting, it’s also clear that they’re leaving little to chance with the current class, which Self, on numerous occasions, has said could be one of the most important classes in his 15 years at Kansas.
Take the case of Class of 2018 shooting guard Quentin Grimes, for example.
Grimes, the 6-foot-5, five-star prospect from The Woodlands, Texas, who has narrowed his list down to a final four of Kansas, Kentucky, Marquette and Texas, hosted all four schools for in-home visits this week and recently broke down those experiences with Eric Bossi of Rivals.com.
While it’s obvious that all four schools are very much still in the running — not to mention that they all can offer Grimes many of the same things in terms of playing time and on-court opportunities — it’s also clear that the constant connection between Grimes and the coaches and genuine relationships he has built with all four programs is what helped Grimes trim his list to these four.
It's hard to say exactly where each program stands after the in-home visits. Grimes had great things to say about all four programs and clearly has a great deal of respect for the coaches and the way each staff has recruited him thus far.
But a break down of the major selling point for each school in a couple of sentences looks something like this:
Kansas – The Jayhawks have been aggressive, flat-out telling Grimes they think he’s the best guard in the class and that they are not going to take no for an answer.
“They were real straight up and straightforward with me that I’m the best guard in the country,” Grimes told Bossi. “They basically told me that I have to sign with them.... They said they have to get me, they were very clear on that.”
Kentucky – Kentucky is really pushing their all-star roster and how that will help make him better. Grimes also noted that the Wildcats have “turned it up over the last month.”
“Their practices stand out because of all the other five-star players you go against and that you have to get better because of the competition,” Grimes told Bossi of the Wildcats. “They can help me reach my goals."
Marquette – For Marquette, it’s all about painting Grimes as the player who can put them over the top and get the program to the next level.
“During the previous visit in April they were consistent with the message that I’m the only guard they are recruiting and they showed that,” Grimes told Bossi. “They feel like I’m the missing piece to them making the next step and making a Final Four."
Texas – Shaka Smart is really emphasizing keeping Texas talent in Texas while also, like Kansas, pointing out that there’s a solid point-guard in waiting (KU’s Charlie Moore and UT’s Matt Coleman) with whom Grimes would fit perfectly.
“The uniqueness of knowing Matt Coleman and what he does and having a good relationship with him; he would be a sophomore and I would be a freshman and knowing him and that system could be an edge to set them apart,” Grimes told Bossi.
Self and assistant coach Jerrance Howard have handled the point on Grimes’ recruitment and, with official visits still to come, the Jayhawks have positioned themselves as well as possible with Grimes.
He has talked a lot about how someone from KU has contacted him pretty much every day of late and how the relationship aspect of his recruitment would play a huge role in his decision.
Grimes’ official visit dates are expected to be announced later this week and he is expected to make trips to all four of his finalists by the end of October.
As for when he might pick a program, the No. 11-ranked player in the 2018 class does not appear to interested in rushing a decision.
“Whenever the timing is right I will do it," Grimes told Bossi. “Waiting is an option. If I go take my visits and feel like I need to take unofficials and see them again I could do that. I’m not in a rush. Definitely the relationship with the coaches, I feel like that’s the most important thing. I'm going to have to be the coach on the court so I have to have a relationship with him because he’s expecting a lot and you have to be on the same page.”
• Recorded on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017
According to multiple reports that came in late Tuesday night, the Kansas men’s basketball coaching staff, which made an in-home visit with top-ranked Class of 2018 prospect Zion Williamson on Tuesday night, left Williamson’s South Carolina home with the knowledge that they’d see him again in a couple of weeks.
When that time comes, it will be on KU’s turf, as Williamson told Kansas coaches Bill Self and Kurtis Townsend that he planned to make an official visit to the KU campus the weekend of Late Night, which is slated for Sept. 30 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Williamson will be one of nearly two dozen official and unofficial visitors to make the trek to the Fieldhouse for the first official practice of the 2017-18 season later this month. Some of the notable attendees expected to visit for Late Night include: Jalen Carey (2018), David McCormack (2018), Zach Harvey (2019), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (2019), Malik Hall (2019), Samuell Williamson (2019), N'faly Dante (2020), Bryce Thompson (2020), R.J. Hampton (2020), Ty Berry (2020) and Markese Jacobs, the already-committed Class of 2019 point guard from Chicago.
As for Williamson, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound, do-it-all forward also has official visits set up at Kentucky (Sept. 22), Duke (Oct. 22) and UCLA (Oct. 27) and does not appear to have any desire to rush his decision.
“I said this before, but as far as lists and things like that I don’t see myself doing all that,” he wrote in a recent USA Today blog. “Once I feel like I’ve found the college and it feels right for me and my family I’m just gonna announce it. I don’t really have a timetable for my decision. It’s just whenever it feels right.”
Wherefore art thou?
Adam Zagoria, of zagsblog.com, reported on Tuesday afternoon that the KU coaching staff was expected to visit Class of 2018 shooting guard Romeo Langford at his school in New Albany, Indiana, on Thursday.
Langford, the No. 6-ranked player in the class according to Rivals.com, is a 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard who also is expected to host in-home visits with Louisville and UCLA later this week.
According to Zagoria, Indiana and Vanderbilt also visited Langford’s school this week. Also Thursday, KU has a scheduled in-home visit with five-star, Class of 2018 point guard Devon Dotson, who recently made an official visit to Lawrence.
It already has been a busy week for the Kansas coaching staff, which has made trips all over the country to check in with recruits and conduct in-home visits.
On Tuesday that included a quick stop in Little Elm, Texas, to watch a workout by R.J. Hampton, the No. 3 player in the Class of 2020 according to Rivals.com.
The 6-foot-4, 170-pound point guard on Tuesday Tweeted his thank-yous to coaching staffs from TCU, Texas, KU and Michigan for watching him and his team workout.
Hampton is one of more than a dozen underclassmen planning to make an unofficial visit to KU for Late Night in the Phog later this month.
As part of an ongoing project with USA Today, Zion Williamson, the No. 1 overall recruit in the high school basketball Class of 2018, per 247 Sports’ composite rankings, recently dropped Part VI of his online blog with the paper.
Included in this latest edition was a detailed entry about his recent recruiting talks with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and a little info about a trip to Disney World and the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Williamson, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound, do-it-all forward who sits very high on the wish list of the Kansas basketball program, did not mention Kansas by name in this entry, but did discuss his recruitment in general.
“It’s been great getting to know all of the coaches that are recruiting me,” he wrote. “I know that the reality is that the coaches can just tell me what I want to hear because they want me to come to their school so I’ve started to ask hard questions.”
With official visits set up at Duke (Oct. 22) and UCLA (Oct. 27), Williamson no doubt will have much more time then to ask all the questions he wants.
But, according to Matt Scott, of TheShiver.com, the highly coveted small forward will get a chance to ask plenty of questions of the KU coaching staff as soon as tonight, when Bill Self and Kurtis Townsend are expected to be in Spartanburg, S.C., tonight for an in-home visit with Williamson.
This, on the same day that KU assistant coach Norm Roberts was expected to make quick check-ins with Class of 2019 guard Zach Harvey, in Topeka, and Class of 2019 forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, at nearby Bishop Miege High.
Although the in-home visit is an important part of any recruiting process — parents love to see how these coaches operate on their turf and in a family setting — there’s little doubt that the KU coaching staff is hoping to come away from the trip to South Carolina having set an official visit date for Williamson to Kansas.
While Williamson has received an offer or interest from nearly every major program in the country and will bring elite-level athleticism and explosiveness, along with a certain amount of toughness, to whatever school he picks, he does not appear to be in any particular hurry to put the recruiting process behind him.
I said this before, but as far as lists and things like that I don’t see myself doing all that,” he wrote in the USA Today blog. “Once I feel like I’ve found the college and it feels right for me and my family I’m just gonna announce it. I don’t really have a timetable for my decision. It’s just whenever it feels right.”
With Hall of Fame week and the overwhelming emotions of being inducted and celebrated by assistants and players from every step of his coaching journey now behind him, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self can again move on to the business at hand.
In the immediate, that means getting back to recruiting full-time, an endeavor that is as important this year as any because of the potential for KU to lose as many as 5 or 6 players to the NBA Draft and graduation after the 2017-18 season.
Fresh off of his return from Springfield, Mass., where on Saturday, during a private ceremony one day after his induction, Self received his Hall of Fame ring, the Kansas coach will be in The Woodlands, Texas, today, conducting an in-home visit with five-star guard Quentin Grimes.
“I've got a lot of nice rings,” Self said Saturday. “But I don't know if I have any nicer than this. It is nice and it was nice to sit on the stage with all those greats. I'm still kind of blown away by the experience but this is something I will cherish and I'm sure my family will, too."
Today, it’s all about the next big step in adding Grimes to the Kansas basketball family.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Grimes recently wrapped up in-home visits with Kentucky, Marquette and Texas, but many believe the Jayhawks are the team to beat in his recruitment.
“This is one where I think BillSelf and his staff are considered the leaders headed into visits,” Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi recently wrote. “And I like where they stand.”
Borzello also reported that the Jayhawks this week were expected to make an in-home visit with fellow five-star guard Devon Dotson, the 6-1, 180-pound point guard from Charlotte who visited KU’s campus a couple of weeks ago.
Shay Wildeboor, of JayhawkSlant.com reported Monday that the Dotson visit will take place Thursday and Borzello indicated that the elite point guard also plans to host Florida, UCLA and Maryland this week after conducting an in-home visit with Clemson last weekend.
“There’s a decent chance that Kansas could get both Dotson and Grimes,” Bossi wrote. “If it doesn’t get both, though, I’d be pretty surprised if it didn’t get at least one of the two.”
Dotson and Grimes are just two on a long list of Kansas targets in the 2018 class, but, with both ranked in the Top 20 in the Rivals 150 (Grimes, No. 11, Dotson No. 17) they are two of the higher-profile players the Jayhawks are pursuing to add to a class that already includes five-star big man Silvio De Sousa.
Another such player is 6-foot-3, 175-pound point guard Immanuel Quickley, who visited Kansas two weekends ago and was slated to head to Miami (Fla.) and Kentucky after that.
Not much has been learned about Quickley’s visit to KU and his trip to Miami was postponed last weekend because of Hurricane Irma.
Given that Quickley is expected to visit Kentucky this weekend — and the Wildcats are Quickley’s Crystal Ball leader, at 100 percent, according to 247 Sports — it will be interesting to see if the Miami visit gets rescheduled.
Quickley has said he would like to make his decision before the start of his senior season at John Carroll High in Bel Air, Maryland.
Throughout the past week, and, really, the past few months, we've heard from a lot of people who love Bill Self and appreciate his honor of being selected as a member of the 2017 class at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
That honor will become official a little after 6:30 tonight (on NBA TV) when Self is inducted into the Hall in front of more than 120 friends, family members, former players and former assistant coaches.
And in the past several weeks, many of those people have spoken up to let their thoughts be known about Self's achievement and what he has meant to their lives.
Many of them made sense. Here at KUsports.com we got in touch with his daughter, his father, former KU coach Larry Brown, several former players, a few former assistants, all people who know Self best.
And it made perfect sense for them to share their favorite memories or emotions about the KU coach's big honor.
But earlier this week, a video made its way to Twitter that kind of came out of nowhere.
It makes sense for the Larry Browns and Danny Mannings of the world to honor Self. But for a few dudes who competed against him and suffered some tough, tough losses to come out and do the same is a whole different deal.
That's exactly what the Iowa State men's basketball program did this week, with former ISU player and coach Fred Hoiberg — whose daughter, Paige, works in the Kansas basketball offices — leading the charge and current ISU coach Steve Prohm closing the show.
The video is short and sweet, but shows an incredible amount of class, both on an individual level and at the program level, and, no doubt, will be one of the sweeter surprises for Self whenever he sees it.
In many ways, it's things like this that make college basketball, college athletics and competition at that level so great.
Here's a look at the video, featuring Hoiberg, Monte Morris, Georges Niang, Naz Long and Prohm. Great stuff.
Springfield, Mass. — Former Kansas coach Larry Brown, who on Friday night will present Bill Self during his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has been in the game of basketball long enough to learn a few important things about players and coaches.
None of them, according to Brown, are bigger than the one fundamental truth that exists with players at all levels but has been wildly prevalent with the professional players he has coached and observed throughout the years.
“Everybody always tells me about pro players and how you can’t coach them,” Brown told the Journal-World recently when discussing Kansas coach Bill Self’s addition to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “But the first thing to pros want to find out is, does this coach know how to coach? And they can tell you that after one practice. The second thing they want to know is, can this coach make me better? And the third thing, which trumps them all, is does this coach care? And that’s what Bill has. He has the ability to be direct and hold them accountable but yet they know he cares about them.”
That trait, among dozens of others, is one that Brown admires most about Self, who actually began his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Brown’s Kansas staff during the 1985-86 season.
Since then, through stops at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and the last 14 years at Kansas, Self has racked up 623 victories and a laundry list of achievements and accolades that would make any coach blush.
But for each trophy or trip to the Final Four or Elite Eight has been something deeper that exists within Self and the way he relates to his players. And Brown, who has witnessed this firsthand, both in practices and during games, says that trait has played a huge role in Self becoming a Hall of Famer.
“The thing, to me, that separates the really great, great coaches are the ones that can kind of tell their kids almost anything, but the kids accept it the right way because they know they care,” Brown explained. “He lets small stuff go, and he’s done that wherever he’s been. They all know the guy cares, so then they’re going to do anything for him.”
Brown, who recently penned an open letter to Self on The Players Tribune web site congratulating Self on the Hall of Fame and sharing with the world his admiration for the Kansas coach, has spent a lot of time around the KU program during the Self era and continually marveled at Self’s success.
“What he’s created there, shoot, it’s unbelievable what he’s done,” Brown said. “And he has not accepted it as him doing it, which is really unique.”
As for the kind words that Brown wrote in that letter, Self was asked about them in an interview with NBA TV earlier this week. And, in true Self fashion, he joked: “It was a nice letter. It was probably exactly the way my mother would’ve written it for him. But, no, he was way too kind with that and, certainly, he means a lot to me and he means a lot to so many that have been involved with this game.... Having him with me on Friday will be special.”
Stick with KUsports.com throughout the next two days for all kinds of coverage from Self's induction into the Hall of Fame in Massachusetts and be sure to listen to the complete Self interview with NBA TV.
Of all of the great tributes to Bill Self that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has rolled out, one left Kansas basketball fans frustrated on Thursday.
Outside of the main entrance to the Hall of Fame, just before reaching a statue of James Naismith, visitors encounter a walkway with several stone benches honoring the coaches who are in the Hall of Fame.
Larry Brown has one. Roy Williams has one. And now Bill Self has one, too.
Carved into the top of the benches, where people presumably would sit, are the coaches' names and signatures, the class they went in with, the honorees they selected to be named — most often family members or mentors — and a section at the bottom that lists all of the schools that are most important to them.
For Self, who starred at Edmond (Okla.) High before going on to play at Oklahoma State, both of those schools are on there, along with the four schools at which Self has been a head coach — Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas.
One problem. Where it lists Kansas, it reads, “Kansas University” instead of the University of Kansas.
With KU fans taking to social media to voice their displeasure, one KU official reached out to the Hall of Fame to inform it of the error.
The KU official told the Journal-World that the Hall of Fame regretted the mistake and promised to correct it as soon as possible.
All’s well that ends well. And, hey, it’s not like they spelled it “Bill Slef” on the KU coach’s official portrait or got the man the wrong jacket size.
Everything about the Hall of Fame and this induction experience has been first class and there’s no doubting that the bench will be fixed soon.
Some players develop a seamless chemistry from the first time they meet. That was not the case for Ben Johnson and Peyton Bender.
In fact, the first time the senior tight end laid eyes on his new quarterback, he never expected to catch a pass from him — at least on a football field.
“Peyton?” Johnson said, starting to laugh. “My first time meeting Peyton I thought he was a baseball player.”
As the story goes, Johnson walked up to a building on campus and saw Bender and his brother outside.
Locked out of the building, both Bender and Johnson tried to get in with their codes and then walked down to another door in an unsuccessful attempt to get inside.
At that point, Bender took action, pulling out his cellphone to make a call. As Johnson recalled, the two had a brief back and forth leading to the realization that the person standing next to him might be an important one to remember.
“Are you calling your academic advisor or something?” Johnson asked.
“Yeah, I’m calling Shanda,” Bender said, referencing Shanda Hayden, KU football’s academic and career counselor.
“Oh, shoot. Are you a football player?” Johnson asked.
“Yeah,” Bender said. “I’m the new quarterback.”
Since then, the two have worked on their chemistry and the results have shown on the field.
In the Jayhawks’ 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, Johnson caught three passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, making it by far his best collegiate game since joining the program.
But as was noted after the game — by both Johnson and KU coach David Beaty — it could’ve been even better.
“If he’d have run the route on the first play,” Beaty said, “he might have scored another touchdown.”
The first play
So let’s take a look at what David Beaty was talking about.
On its first offensive play from scrimmage, KU split four receivers out wide with Ben Johnson attached at the top of the line. The plan was for Johnson to start outside and get behind the linebacker. Then he would open up over the middle of the field with the hope being that the safeties would be occupied with the outside receivers.
“Oh, they were gone. They were gone,” said Johnson, watching the play unfold on a computer screen. “It would have been a touchdown. No question. Yep.”
Simple enough. Only it wasn’t.
With the linebacker so far up on the line of scrimmage, Johnson thought he could push him outside and then slip by him down the middle of the field. In theory it wasn’t a terrible idea, but Johnson admitted he should’ve just “jabbed him inside and then broke out.”
Looking at the GIF, you can almost see the moment Bender made up his mind to abandon that route and throw short to Jeremiah Booker. It’s right after he realizes Johnson isn’t going to be in the right spot, having gone to the inside of the linebacker rather than the outside.
It's also worth noting, the SEMO defensive back reacted pretty quickly to Bender in his attempt to get into the passing lane. If he had been just a step or two quicker, he might’ve even had a chance to intercept the pass, and all when the play probably should've ended up as a touchdown in the first place.
A second chance
Even though it only gained a few yards on the first attempt, the play itself actually proved quite effective. So it shouldn’t have been any surprise when the Jayhawks went back to it in the second half.
This time Johnson broke the right way and got behind the linebacker. Once again, the safety was occupied by the streaking receiver, and Johnson was able to slip down the middle of the field.
The straight-on view is even more telling.
After getting behind the linebacker, Johnson had plenty of space to make the catch and sprint down the field untouched. And the result was not only a 57-yard touchdown, but Johnson’s first ever 50-yard catch and 90-yard receiving game.
"It felt good, but at the same time I left a lot of play on the table," Johnson said. "I'm hungry. I want to go get it."
Throughout the past decade or so of Kansas basketball you’ve heard — perhaps even said — the chatter, in any given year, about how KU’s roster was so deep that its second five could finish in the Top half of the Big 12 Conference.
Although we’ve never been able to find out for sure, on many occasions, the claim certainly has seemed true, as KU coach Bill Self often has stacked his roster with such incredible depth and talent that it’s hard to believe so many talented players could be on the same team.
So what if we apply that line of thinking to Bill Self’s coaching career and imagine for a second that Self, who is set to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, could actually still have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him, too.
Think about it. While the grinding Self did at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and even Illinois positioned him for the job at Kansas, where he has won at an unprecedented rate and established a pace and set records that may never been seen again, it’s possible that Self’s best years are still ahead.
That’s not to take anything away from the turnaround at Oral Roberts, the deep tournament run at Tulsa or the national runner-up roster he built at Illinois. All of those achievements played a big part in Self being selected for the Hall of Fame the first time he appeared on the ballot. But there’s no doubt that his achievements at Kansas put him over the top.
One national championship, a pair of Final Fours, seven Elite Eight appearances, and, of course, a record-tying run of 13 consecutive Big 12 titles and counting. Without those feats on his resume, Self may still be waiting for the call from the Hall. But even if he were, isn’t it conceivable that what lies ahead for Self and the Jayhawks might actually top what he’s done to this point?
OK, he probably won’t win another 13 Big 12 titles in a row and push the incredible streak to 26 — but would you bet against it? And, depending on how long he plans to continue coaching, it’s no sure thing that he’ll get to another seven Elite Eights.
But can’t you see a few more Final Fours and another national title or two in Self’s future?
If so, you know that a bunch of victories would come with them, and that alone — what Self does from this point forward — likely would be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame in and of itself.
As it stands today, though, he doesn’t have to wait.
And while we wait for the week ahead, which will include all kinds of coverage of Self’s induction into the Hall of Fame, including stories and photos from the KUsports.com staff in Springfield, Mass., here’s a quick look back at our Bill Self “Hall of Fame Material” series in late March and early April that led up to the announcement and included thoughts from some of the people who know Self best.
“I’m in awe of what he’s done.” — Larry Brown
“I’m definitely not always there and don’t understand a lot of things that go into the day to day grind of being a coach, but I know how hard he works and what’s important to him. It is incredible to see guys stand up on senior night and share not only the impact that my dad has had on them as a player but also as a man.... To pour his life into these guys, some of whom come to college really lost, the hard work isn’t just in the X’s and O’s of basketball but in helping build these people into adults and helping them make something of their lives. I really admire that about my dad. He’s always wanted to be the best. He wants to win. But I don’t think it’s ever been just about him.” — Lauren (Self) Browning
“Just look at the numbers and the history he’s been a part of here, and even before here. It’s just unbelievable what he’s been able to do.” — Frank Mason III
“I mean, he’s the most unbelievable friend. Everybody knows about his coaching. They get that. But to have the ability to get the best out of people around him is what separates him from a lot of people.” — Doc Sadler
“The things that he’s done at the University of Kansas, basketball-wise, as well as with his contribution to the community and the area in general, make me extremely proud to be an alum, not only of the school but also of the program.” — Danny Manning
“He’s the whole package. He’s a great game coach and a tremendous recruiter. The thing he does that’s different is that Bill is such a people person. He remembers everybody’s name and remembers things about them.” — Bob Davis
“I haven’t been with him for four or five years, but he’s still with me. I’m 27 and he’s the most influential male in my life, just because of the things he said to me that stuck with me.” — Tyshawn Taylor
“He can coach. He can recruit. He can relate to kids better than anybody I’ve seen. And he doesn’t motivate through all the phony grabbing of sayings from Civil War and from Patton and all that stuff. He has a way of putting everything in the context of the present and letting it motivate the kids." — Roger Morningstar
“I can give you chapter and verse of all the things he’s accomplished, as everyone else can. And that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. But to me, what makes him a Hall of Famer is he’s one of the most authentic people I know. He’s humble, self-deprecating, what you see is what you get, and that’s refreshing. He’s a celebrity that doesn’t act like it.” — Sheahon Zenger
“I couldn’t possibly name all the great things people have had to say about him, but if I had to pick one that stood out it would be how people appreciate the relationship with his players.” — Bill Self Sr.