Top-seeded Jayhawks, Bill Self arrive in Des Moines ahead of NCAA Tournament

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. and Kansas forward KJ Adams enter the Hilton Downtown Des Moines upon their arrival at the team hotel on Tuesday March 14, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

Des Moines, Iowa — Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self was the first member of the top-seeded Jayhawks to arrive at the team’s first-round NCAA Tournament site on Tuesday.

Self, who was released from the hospital on Sunday after a five-day stay following a stent procedure that kept him away from last week’s Big 12 tournament, made the trip to Des Moines with his family and traveled separately from the rest of the team.

Upon the team’s arrival at their downtown hotel around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, KU assistant Norm Roberts classified Self’s status for the tournament as “day to day” and added that Self was doing well.

“He’s doing good,” Roberts said. “He was at practice this morning with the guys, he was at practice (Monday), so he’s doing well. We’re just seeing how it goes, day to day.”

Asked specifically if he knew Self’s status for Thursday’s 1 p.m. game against No. 16 seed Howard at Wells Fargo Arena, Roberts said, “We haven’t decided that yet.”

Self will continue to be monitored and evaluated throughout the week and Self, his coaching staff, along with KU’s team doctors, will respond accordingly.

Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts talks with media members upon the team’s arrival at the Hilton Downtown Des Moines on Tuesday March 14, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

One Jayhawk who might not need as much monitoring in the days to come is senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr., who practiced with the team on Tuesday before traveling to Des Moines and walked into the team hotel, which sits a few hundred yards away from Wells Fargo Arena, showing no ill effects of the back spasms that kept him out of last Saturday’s Big 12 championship game.

“Kevin practiced,” Roberts said. “He was bouncy, stayed in there the whole time, went through everything, looked good.”

Roberts, who previously was the head coach at St. John’s from 2004-10 and also at his alma mater, Queens College, from 1991-95, has been at the helm for the Jayhawks seven times this season.

He led KU to four wins in four tries in November, when Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend sat out for a university-imposed suspension relating to KU’s ongoing NCAA case, and then helped the Jayhawks reach the Big 12 tournament title game last weekend, guiding the team to wins over West Virginia and Iowa State before falling to Texas.

Asked Tuesday if he had spent any extra time with Self in the past few days because of his role as acting head coach, Roberts said filling in for Self has continued to be a total team effort.

“We spend a lot of time together anyway and (talk) together as a complete staff,” Roberts said.

As for Self’s message for the team upon his return and before their departure to Iowa on Tuesday, Roberts noted that it sounded awfully familiar to the one he’s heard from KU’s head coach hundreds of times prior.

“The message (was) about being focused and understanding every team that you’re playing is a champion,” Roberts said. “They know how to win. They’re hungry. They want to win as much as you do. And then paying attention to detail because one turnover, one lack of an assignment defensively could mean you’re going home. So you’ve really got to lock in and be focused.”

Self’s words to the team during practices the past two days also had a familiar ring.

“Let’s practice hard, let’s be focused, let’s execute, let’s defend,” Roberts said. “We talked a lot about defense and that we’ve got to guard and make people uncomfortable. … They seemed excited and ready.”

The Jayhawks (27-7) are slated to conduct an open practice at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday, from 12:30 to 1:10 p.m. KU also likely will practice at another venue off site at some point during the day.

Wednesday’s NCAA Tournament responsibilities also will include KU players and coaches meeting with the media from 11:50 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen how much, if any, of that will include Self.

Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts talks with media members upon the team’s arrival at the Hilton Downtown Des Moines on Tuesday March 14, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug


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