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December 31, 2015

Bill Self

Lawrence, Kansas

Q. Do you think Rico is a Player of the Year candidate?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I think he's a candidate, there's no question. Of course, it's too early. I think when those accolades, postseason accolades, my personal opinion, there's too much emphasis put on the whole year, as opposed to conference play. Because to me, there's a big difference in what a guy does playing against the same competition every night and what he does playing against different competition.

Right now, without question, the Player of the Year in our league to date has been Buddy. Buddy has been great, and of course George has had a great start to the season. You know, Rico and Prince both have had excellent years so far.

But to me, Buddy has probably been the best so far. But really, what matters, if you're going to have a Conference Player of the Year, shouldn't you be based on the conference, as opposed to based on 13 games outside the conference. So I think he'll definitely be in the coverings without question.

Q. To guard, the numbers really have impressed --
COACH SELF: I have a hard time believing any team can have that many assists per game. You know, it's unbelievable. Like in the last game against Texas Southern, they had 27 baskets and 23 assists. I mean, the numbers are staggering of what they are doing, and Lester is probably the biggest reason why that is. He's off to a fabulous start.

We talk about Frank's assist-to-turnover ratio; Medford the last five games is 42 to six. That's seven to one, and we talk about Frank being really good at four and a half to one. They haven't skipped a beat with him playing there, at all.

Q. When they do move the ball like that, does that change the way you prepare your defense?
COACH SELF: No, well -- you know, I would say without getting too technical, you do different things to maybe deny the post an easy catch or make them catch it a step further out, so they have to balance it to get in the scoring area.

But for the most part, it's the same thing that we do with all our opponents, so not really. They are just better at it than most of the people we play.

Q. You might not think about it in these terms, but have you sensed that you guys have won 11 straight Big 12 titles, that there's almost a little bit of fatigue for people taking the streak for granted; that you guys have been able to do it every year?
COACH SELF: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that people take the streak for granted. I think our fans do. I think nationally, it has not got the respect in a lot of ways that it deserves, but I also understand that that's -- what gets most of the attention now is what you do in the postseason, as opposed to regular season, and I understand that.

But what these players have done over time, and with so many different combinations and all those things in what is arguably as good a league as there in the country, is pretty remarkable. I'm real proud of it, but the whole thing is, this will be the hardest year probably to defend it probably. That last year was a monster year to defend it. But I really think that this year there's more good teams our league has ever had, and when I say good team, I mean teams that have chance to be Final Four-type contenders.

Q. Is that why you think it will be the hardest this year?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I just think the competition is different. Last year, our league was great. And there's been many years where the league is terrific and we've started three freshmen and two sophomores or whatever. There's been many years where something like that has happened.

But the reality is, year-in and year-out, we've had as good of players as anybody, we have. And so when you have as good of players as anybody, you should win games. And certainly this year, though, you can make a case that the teams in our league are every bit -- there's four or five or six teams in our league that are as good as the other team.

And what will be a key in my opinion of winning the league will be holding serve at home, which obviously is no lock, and of course you've got to steal some on the road. But it's not having a bad two-week stretch; it's not getting the wrong guy hurt two weeks when you're playing tough games. That, to me, so much of it is scheduling and good fortune on those things.

Like for instance, when you can play your best ball, and if a team loses their best player for two weeks to an ankle injury and you go and play your best ball you've ever played, that still may not be enough to beat that team because that's what you're going to face in our league. It's going to be difficult.

And the other thing I think is going to be very important for players to understand and coaches, is it's a long grind, and I don't think the highs can be too high or the lows can be too low.

Q. Aside from the fact that you have won it every year, are there certain aspects you've gotten more personal satisfaction out of or certain things you look back on and say, that's what I'm really proud of, or something like that?
COACH SELF: I would say the thing for me personally, that probably gives me the most satisfaction -- and I get it. This is big, but I would rather play great in the third season, as opposed to the second season, but obviously the second season is still very important.

But the thing about it is, is that faces have changed but expectations and results haven't. That's the thing that I probably take the most pride in is that the kids, regardless of who you lost, it's kind of the next man up, and that mantra, they have delivered. So I take great pride in the consistency, because it's hard.

I remember, certainly, when we won it in 2008, I thought there would be no way that we would get complacent. There's no way. But human nature just makes it that way. People are asking to do fun things. Everybody's patting you on the back. Instead of being in the gym a week after the season, now it's three weeks after the season because you're worn out from doing all the other stuff. It's hard and now you understand why there's not that many repeats at the professional level and things like that.

And then you have rosters changing. It's difficult. I remember telling my assistants one time after that, saying, hey, guys, I think I'm letting you down. I hope you guys are working harder than I am because I spend my whole day doing stuff that doesn't have anything to do with winning, and everybody can do that.

Speaking engagements, appearances, opportunities to do certain things -- you're still getting up and you're still going to the office for 12 hours a day but you're not working on things that have anything to do with winning.

So I felt like, and I caught myself saying, you know what, I'm falling into the same thing that I know everybody else says you fall into but nobody ever believes it. But fortunately for us, our players didn't do it. It would probably have been harder to have a great year after winning the National Championship if all those kids returned.

But all starters are gone and now the new kids come in and now they have got to do what the other guys did, so there was an expectation level and they knew how hard they had to work to do it, so that was probably a blessing, and at the time, we thought it was a curse. But the consistency is probably the thing that I'm most proud of.

Q. You've played two ranked teams to open this year, is that a huge challenge?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it's a challenge. But there's going to be weeks in the league where a lot of teams have weeks where they play two ranked teams. When you have five teams ranked every week or whatever it is, there's a lot of times they are going to matchup that way.

But yeah, it's a challenge. And thinking about what has happened in the past is something that you can think about and be happy about, but our focus and my focus is 100 percent what's going to happen this year, and there's obviously a ton of things that have to fall right for us to have to put ourselves in position to have another great league season.

Q. Any surprises so far from your team, anything that's happened that you didn't expect?
COACH SELF: Probably not. I thought we would be -- I mean, I would say we -- knock-on-wood, if you're going to really break it down, we've probably taken better care of the ball than maybe what I thought we would. We are not quite as good a rebounding team as I thought we would be. I thought we would be a good shooting team; we've been pretty good so far.

One thing that's been pretty pleasant in my eyes is I think the guys share it. I think we're pretty unselfish for the most part with our thoughts and our play. But the real season hasn't even started yet. Whenever you play games that you can play poorly and still win, you sometimes get a false sense of who you are and what's going on.

From this point forward, you can't play poorly and win. The NFL is by far the best league, in my opinion, because there's the most parity. It's set up where everybody should go about 8-8. You stop and think about it: Every game, the Panthers can have -- be 14-0 but they are going to have three or four games that they have got to win on the last possession. That's one of the things that made them special because they have had so many comebacks in the fourth quarter. Everything is a tight game.

In college athletics, the SEC in football, is thought to be like that. But in a lot of leagues, you have, we don't have to be our best this night and you can still have success. The Big 12, the parity and how about the teams are is going to be as close to what the NFL football season is, in that you have to show up and you have to play.

But when you only have ten teams and you play everybody twice, and you could have six or seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, you have to be your best every night, much like I think what you have to be in the NFL. In the NFL, if you don't play well, I lose and I think it's going to be that way in our league more so than ever.

Q. Is the team where you thought they would be at heading into conference play or a little ahead or a little behind?
COACH SELF: I would say maybe on the average, probably about what I thought. I mean, I've said it a thousand times and I'm not being negative at all, but I wish we could throw the ball inside and score more.

But I also know that we get the ball to the paint and get the ball to the rim a lot more driving it than what we ever have in the past. Those kind of off-set each other, but I know in the teeth of a game at crunch time in a big game, you want to be able to get fouled when you throw it inside or come away at the basket. I thought our first shot defense would be a little bit better than what it is, even though it's not all of. I mean, it's not bad. But it's not quite where I thought and I thought that we would rebound it better than what we have.

The stats are skewed a little bit. There's some teams that are plus-15 a game in rebounding. Well, they are a good rebounding team, there's no doubt about that, but that plus-15 becomes includes eight when you get into league play and it's the same thing. Your field goal percentages come down because everybody guards and your field goal defense goes up because everybody can score.

It's all a little bit skewed right now, but I think that we've done some good things and we've put ourselves in a position that we have a chance to build on some things and become pretty good. But right now, I don't think we're near there yet. And I bet you, nine other teams in our league feel the same way.

Q. Can you talk about Sullivan? Seems like he's impacting the game more than he has in the past?
COACH SELF: The first half in the other night, played 12 minutes and didn't impact the game at all, at all. He had one strong drive and didn't impact it. Talked at halftime and comes back out and still doesn't make any perimeter shots but he was at times the best player on the floor. And he did exactly what you're talking about. He got seven rebounds.

Well, that was something that was good because he had not really been rebounding the ball. He figured out a way to impact the team to help us win when he wasn't making shots and I think that's the thing he's probably done better this year. Of course, he's made shots for the most part but that's the thing that he's done better this year than anything else is become more of a complete player.

Q. Inaudible -- finished a lot better after last year -- really struggled. Is he just picking his spots there?
COACH SELF: You know what, I thought last year, he shied away from his body a little bit. I thought when we had a chance to go finish strong, sometimes he tried to finesse things. And now he's become more powerful at the rim finishes, which I think is obviously going stronger. So that's a little bit of it, and maybe picking his spots a little bit better, I think that would be part of it, too. But the bottom line is I think he's playing to his athletic ability more.

Q. Assignments --
COACH SELF: I'll just give you a scouting report here. You know, the thing about Rico is -- and we've struggled with him last year, last year he was unreal, scored outside the lane, jumpers right-handed, left-handed, doing everything. But he's going to get his and he's going to get rebounds and things like that. We just can't let him get huge numbers. But without showing too many -- but our big guy, whoever the big guy is, will draw that assignment.

Q. Is it a totally different challenge than Mamadou?
COACH SELF: One is 6-7 and the other is 7-6. So 11 inches is a little bit different challenge. But Rico, he's an athlete. I mean, he's a guy, you know, you think that would be an NFL tight end. Great hands and is active and can move around and can run. I mean, he's a real athlete, where Mamadou, not taking anything away from him athletically, but he couldn't move like Rico but certainly his handing height was unread. There's few guys in college basketball if any that rebound like Rico.

Q. I think you said you watched OU. What's making them a top-five team for people that haven't seen them?
COACH SELF: Well, we are not playing OU yet. I think they returned four starters off a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year. They have got veterans and they have got good players. I think they went to Sweet 16, isn't that right? And they got a national Player of the Year candidate. So they are good. But our focus is not on them at all.

Q. What do you like most about starting the Big 12 at home than being on the road?
COACH SELF: I don't know that I do. I think it's better, for fairness, we should play all 16 games here. But the reality is, if you start on the road and you win, you're a leg up on everybody. You win at home, that's just -- that's just a push because you've got to do that.

I haven't really -- a negative could be the students aren't here, but I still think we'll have pretty good crowd support in these games. But it really doesn't matter much either way.

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