Bill Self motivated to bring focus back to basketball after tough October for Kansas program

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas head coach Bill Self jokes with Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, Baylor coach Scott Drew and Texas head coach Shaka Smart as they and other coaches assemble for a group photo during Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 at Sprint Center.

After a few weeks of deferring comment to others and proclaiming that his thoughts could not and would not be shared until the appropriate time, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self on Wednesday night shared a prepared statement regarding KU’s involvement in the college basketball fraud trial that ended Wednesday afternoon with a guilty verdict for all three defendants.

The statement, which Self read from a printout in front of him shortly after 7 p.m. inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room, took two minutes and 39 seconds to get through — all 365 words of it — and was followed by a 24-minute question-and-answer session with a couple dozen media members, many of whom had spent the day covering the whole thing at Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Mo.

Self’s statement was pointed and seemed to stir genuine emotion, as the Kansas coach explained that he was not worried about the way his program had conducted its business and that there were still many things he could not answer.

The Q&A session that followed was a mixed bag of thoughtful answers to detailed questions and a handful of “I can’t comments” that seemed neither disingenuous nor unreasonable given the circumstances surrounding the ongoing investigation into college basketball that still has two trials scheduled for early 2019 and who knows what else beyond that.

More than once on Wednesday, Self uttered the words, “I won’t run from this at all,” indicating in a variety of ways that dealing with issues of this nature — as unpleasant as they may be — was merely part of the job and something he believed he should be expected to handle.

But Self’s a basketball coach. A Hall of Famer at that. And he’s much better at coaching the game than he is interpreting legal jargon or responding to testimony from a federal trial.

So basketball is what Self plans to spend the foreseeable future fixated on. Even more so than usual. At one point during Wednesday’s Q&A session, a Kansas official indicated to Self that the news conference was done. Self’s response?

“Are you sure,” he asked. “Because, guys, this will be the last time we talk about this until all inquiries are concluded. So, if you have anything else (you) want to fire at me that I can talk about, I’d rather do it now because we’re not going to do it after the game tomorrow night.”

With that came six more minutes of questions and answers before Self calmly walked out of the room — “Guys, thank you for your time. Have a good night” — and into what seemed like the real beginning of the 2018-19 season.

Sure, the Jayhawks began practicing a month ago. Yes, Late Night has come and gone. And, yeah, Thursday night, Kansas will tip off its exhibition schedule with a 7 p.m. live-action game against Emporia State at Allen Fieldhouse.

But the cloud of the FBI investigation and federal trial hung over most of what led to Wednesday. And who knows? Maybe it’ll hover over a few of the days or weeks ahead, as well. After all, there still is the issue of uncertainty surrounding sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa’s status.

But Silvio or no Silvio, damaged public perception or not, Self’s plan for the days ahead is crystal clear and involves hours and hours of basketball and little else.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to have a trial that relates to college basketball or any of the names that have been mentioned during the trial,” Self began. “But it does bring some closure that, as a staff, we can certainly look forward to and prepare our team in as motivated a way as we have since I’ve been at the University of Kansas.”

Make no mistake about it; Self is extremely motivated. He has the No. 1-ranked team in the country that he is openly jacked about, a talented and deep group that multiple people close to the program have said could have “a special season,” and all the desire in the world to get back to the games on the court and worry less about what’s going on off of it.

There is no longer an immediate fear of what the latest witness might say about this series of text messages or that recorded phone conversation. The headlines and national news stories that Self stressed on Wednesday did not always paint an accurate picture of what was going on or actually being written, will become fewer and far between. And, slowly but surely, matchups like Kansas vs. Michigan State or Kansas vs. Villanova, will start to matter more than The United States of America vs. Jim Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins.

Heck, Self does not even seem to fear that the NCAA, whenever it is able to act and react, might seek to levy some kind of severe punishment against Kansas in an attempt to make an example out of one of college basketball’s blue blood programs for the rest of the world to take note of.

“I don’t know how the NCAA operates,” Self said. “I have a hard time believing that their goal is to say we have to make an example out of somebody. But I do think if the evidence says they should, they will. That’s what I believe. And maybe that’s a very wholesome way to look at it, but I don’t believe somebody’s out there saying, ‘We’ve got to do this,’ if the evidence doesn’t say (they) should do it.”

Asked at the end of Wednesday night’s news conference about that motivation he spoke of earlier and, specifically, how he can expect to stay locked in on basketball with so much swirling around him, Self jumped into full-on coach mode for a minute.

“You know what? I really think that part of this is also a test for us to better (ourselves as coaches),” he began. “Sometimes it’s hard to focus when you have a lot of distractions. Isn’t that what we tell our players all the time? Well, now I need to listen to what I’m telling our players and I need to block out the noise and focus in on my team to get them as prepared as they can be to have a great season. And I do think we have a team of great guys of character that also are pretty good basketball players that have a chance, if things fall right, to have a special season.”

Self’s desire to focus on basketball, and only basketball, in the coming days is born from the belief that putting a tough October behind them will be the best thing for Kansas basketball from pretty much all perspectives.

And he does not believe he will be forcing anything to make that happen.

“The one thing about our players, and I think this is probably pretty common for players across America,” he explained. “When you’re in the eye (of the storm), you don’t really feel as much of what’s going on outside of it. And I think that’s more common for young people than it actually is for adults. I think, as adults, we internalize and we look at all aspects of what’s going on. And the players, they may know of it and may feel it a little bit, but they’re worried about how to compete against this program or scouting report or what’s happening next in their own personal lives.

“So I don’t see this as being a distraction. And I promise you it will not be an excuse if we do not perform well. At all.”


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