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March 23, 2007
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
THE MODERATOR: We have head coach Bill Self along with Kansas' five starters, Brandon Rush, Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright. Questions, please.
Q. Bill, it became I guess okay the last few games when you got on a streak to say it doesn't matter who steps up, everybody is playing well. You needed Brandon last night, can you talk about how that was okay during the streak and how important maybe that is now for someone during the tournament?
COACH SELF: He has played very, very well and shot it very well in the tournament. But I think these guys would all agree, our focus hasn't changed on who needs to shoot the ball each possession. It's still kind of equal opportunity from that regard.
But I think our guys do a good job of understanding when certain guys are on a roll, try to allow them to be a first or second option. I think Brandon's about as complete a wing as there is anywhere. We need him to be aggressive. Certainly I think he would agree last night the first half he wasn't that aggressive, but when the game was on the line, he was, and he was terrific.
But it's been Brandon. It's been everybody up here plus three more guys that have stepped up for us. That's still how we look at it. We've got eight starters that can make plays when the game counts the most.
Q. Russell, how would you compare this defense to what you saw last night?
RUSSELL ROBINSON: I think this defense we're going to face tomorrow, UCLA, is just as good if not better than SIU. I think they got a lot more talented guys. It's going to be scary. I think we'll be prepared and ready to play.
Q. Is there a difference, a different style of defense?
RUSSELL ROBINSON: I think they get out and pressure. I think they got a more athletic back line than SIU had last night. I think we'll be ready to play.
Q. Coach, do you feel if you guys need to score more than 61 points to be successful against UCLA?
COACH SELF: I would probably say yes. I wouldn't feel very comfortable if that's all we got. But on the flipside, a lot just depends on how well we guard them, too. They're going to guard us. I think we'll guard them. We guarded Southern Illinois pretty good last night. You take away offensive fouls, some second-shot opportunities, we really played pretty good.
I think we had five offensive foul calls, turnovers. But I think the game will be faster than the Southern Illinois game, but I don't know if it's going to be a lot faster. Just kind of have to wait and see. I know we'd like to get out and run. We're going to try to do that. They're very opportunistic, too. They'll run, too. They have as quick a point guard as there is anywhere. I don't anticipate it being a slowed down game. I can see a low-scoring game where both teams are trying to play pretty fast, but defense on both ends will be pretty good.
Q. I've never heard a coach after a big game say that we didn't run any plays, we just let our players make plays. What is it about your ego that makes you so honest, not to take any credit for what happened last night?
COACH SELF: Well, to be honest, I didn't make a basket or get a rebound or anything (smiling). But I do think this: I think sometimes coaches can overcoach or manage the game. I think the strength of our team is that we have really good players that can make plays. When I say "make plays," I mean put the ball in their hands and they can force help. That was what we tried to do last night, especially the last 10 or 12 minutes was, hey, we got good guys, we got a little bit of size advantage in some spots, let's try to get to the paint, force help or go make a play yourself.
But to me that's not the coach drawing up anything. I mean, that's just playing to your strengths. We can do that a lot better at times than we can run a play. There's times we run plays better than we do that. But last night was a time where I didn't think plays would work.
Q. Brandon, what clicked in your head last night in the final minute that told you you had to do something? Talk about and explain your tournament so far, why you've been so hot.
BRANDON RUSH: My teammates have been looking for me a lot during this whole NCAA tournament. That's the reason why I've been playing so good, making shots. Making shots really counts a lot.
Last night, the last couple minutes, somebody needed to step up and make a play. The ball came to me a couple times. I forced help a couple times, got some easy layups for some of my teammates.
Q. Bill, how would you describe the difference between what you saw last night defensively and UCLA?
COACH SELF: I don't know how UCLA will guard us, what their scout report will be. Based on what we've seen on tape, they trap the post very, very, very well. They're great hedgers or trappers off ball screens. Their rotations are very, very good. I think it is comparable to SIU except you're adding, you know, 6-3 1/2, 6-5 at the 2 and 3 as opposed to six foot, and you're adding more length, more bounce, maybe more quickness across the board on the back line.
I thought Southern Illinois' on-the-ball defense was terrific. This will be a comparable-type defense, but you'll have more guys, more athletic guys, that can kind of clog things up and give you problems if you allow them to.
Q. Russell, any of the other players, there was so much made about the first-round thing coming into the tournament. Since you got over that hump, has the team's mindset changed? Have you been able to relax a bit now that you won't hear those questions any more about what has happened the past two years? Once you got past that, do you feel you can go anywhere?
RUSSELL ROBINSON: You can definitely tell a difference in the second weekend from the first. Guys were a lot more relaxed. The goal is still to win games. We got over the first-round hump, got that out the way. We still want to continue to win. I think that's the mindset that everybody has.
Q. Coach, because of how good UCLA is on the defensive end, how much of what they can do on offense and their talent on offense gets overlooked?
COACH SELF: I don't think from our perspective it's been overlooked. It may be the story of the day that their defense may carry 'em or whatever. But you talk about, you know, Collison, Afflalo and Shipp on the perimeter, they're never going to be overlooked. Those guys can score points, make plays, stretch the defense, that kind of stuff. Then, of course, I think Mata is a much improved offensive player. Of course, Mbah a Moute I think is one of the most complete skilled four men out there. He's a lot like our four man to be honest with you, he can just make being plays.
I don't think from our perspective at all one end's going to get overlooked.
Q. Does winning a game like last night, when so much is made of your tempo, being able to win a grind-it-out game, give any confidence that you can win any way the game is played?
COACH SELF: I think it does. We've played some games like this already. We've had some low-scoring affairs in our league that we've won. Teams play to their strength. Our strength is we have some pretty good athletes that can run and score in transition. That's what we'd like to try to do. It's much easier to slow a team down than it is to speed a team up. Southern Illinois took certain things away that we were going to have to play that game.
I told our guys all week long, You might as well enjoy playing this way, because this is the way it's going to be. We didn't do a great job with it, but we did pretty good - good enough. Usually in the NCAA tournament, scoring averages of teams start doing this (going down). Deeper you get in the tournament, they start going down a little bit. Possessions are more magnified. I think it was very good for us to play that game last night to help us play Saturday's game.
Q. Julian and Mario, does Bill have a bigger ego in practice or do y'all see more of his ego than maybe what he shows us in the media?
COACH SELF: I still control playing time, guys (smiling).
JULIAN WRIGHT: I just know he's a great coach. He's really good at motivating, keeping everybody focused. I never really thought about that really. He's good at calming me during the games. Makes you feel like you can go out there and mess up without, you know, thinking about you have to sit on the bench or something like that after that. Pretty good, like I said, calming me, keeping everyone focused at the task at hand.
MARIO CHALMERS: Yeah, I agree with Julian. Coach is a great coach. He lets us play our type of basketball. As long as we abide by the rules, we can still play the game. I think that's why we're so successful.
Q. Coach, this is your fourth chance at winning an Elite 8 game. Would you consider this your best team out of the four that's made it this far in the tournament?
COACH SELF: Absolutely. I've said this all along. This is the best team I've had, and the best players I've coached collectively, and I've coached some good ones. Just because it's the best team doesn't guarantee success or whatnot.
But, I mean, we're more equipped to play deep into the tournament. We've had some -- you know, last two years are magnified, but this is our fourth one in eight years. We've had some pretty good players, some pretty good teams. But certainly this is as good as we've had.
Now on the flipside, we're playing a team in the Elite 8 that's as good as we've played, maybe better, too. We understand that we got a tough challenge ahead of us.
Q. Guys, how much do you think about the tradition at Kansas? You're playing UCLA. Everybody talks about the traditional powers.
JULIAN WRIGHT: I try not to think about it, especially throughout the season, or at least throughout the regular season playing. Once the tournament starts, it starts to soak in, especially us playing against another traditional powerhouse in UCLA, just knowing it's a lot of good players and good teams that's been in the past. Just want to try to do my part in keeping the tradition up.
MARIO CHALMERS: Yeah, I feel the same way. I mean, we think about tradition a little bit when we're out there just because we got a national championship back in '8 --
RUSSELL ROBINSON: -- 8 (smiling).
MARIO CHALMERS: Yeah (laughter). We just try to go down in history, bring another one back to the tradition, just try to be remembered.
RUSSELL ROBINSON: I don't know about these guys, I think about it every day. Any time you got an opportunity to do something big, we have the tools to do it, you want to do it. I just think every time I look at Danny, I just think how everybody, Lawrence, our KU fans love him. I think we got a chance to be somewhere close to that. I just try to go out and leave it out on the court, do everything in my best effort to make sure that happens.
SASHA KAUN: Yeah, I definitely agree with Russ. It's great to be part of such a great tradition and stuff. You just got to play hard, do your best to keep it up, just go into history with it.
BRANDON RUSH: Yeah, same thing what Sasha says. It's good to have the great tradition that we have right now, playing against another powerhouse like UCLA. Give it all you got. It's tough trying to represent all the tradition that's been passed by.
COACH SELF: I, like Russ, think about it every day. I think no matter how well we do at Kansas, we're never going to ever do more than what the people that came before us has done. And UCLA feels the same way. Ben has done a remarkable job. He's probably not going to win 10 and 12. We had that same feeling at Kansas, even though we don't have as many national championships. But there's a lot of pride, tradition. These guys are all great players, but they're not going to be Wilt or Danny. We're caretakers of something we take great pride in for the period of time we're here on campus.
Q. Coach, do you have any of the former players besides Danny talk to the players about the rich tradition at Kansas?
COACH SELF: I think they talk to him on a continual basis. When you talk about past players, everybody points to Paul and Kirk and Raef, the guys that are playing in the league. Hey, we're talking about Ryan Robertson, we're talking about Brett Olson, we're talking about Christian Moody, Michael Lee. You didn't have to be a great player to be part of the tradition at Kansas.
One thing that we have, I don't think it's comparable to UCLA, because you have so many people probably living in L.A., but in summertime these guys come back. They make home there. On a regular basis, they interact with our players, take great pride and success that our players have, and also hurt when they hurt. Very unique. Keith Langford, he calls from overseas all fired up after we won the first two games because he knows he's a part of it. He wants these guys to do well just like he did well.
Q. Even though you're a 1 seed, you find yourself playing in UCLA's backyard tomorrow. Can you talk about what you expect from that crowd, if you feed off a hostile environment.
BRANDON RUSH: Yeah, I think we going to come in the game pretty proud. We going to be in a hostile environment. We're going to try to take control of the game, keep an up-tempo game, try not to let the game get away from us.
SASHA KAUN: Yeah, I mean, I think it's going to be great. We're going to have a tight huddle and stuff in the game. Going to be great playing in an environment where, you know, the opposing team has more fans and stuff. It's going to be a lot more fun playing that kind of game.
RUSSELL ROBINSON: Nothing we can do about it. It is what it is. I think we just got to come out and be prepared. We played in some tough environments all season. I think we're well-prepared for anything and I think we'll be ready to play.
MARIO CHALMERS: Following up on what Russell said, it is what it is. I think we play our best basketball when our back is against the wall. I think tomorrow our back is going to be against the wall with the UCLA crowd here. I think we got to come out, be prepared, try to take the crowd out early.
JULIAN WRIGHT: Just like Mario and Russell said, it is what it is (smiling).
No, we've been tested throughout the whole season, having everyone's best shot and the crowd, with everyone, us having the pressure of being one of the top teams, now being the top seed. We're just trying to really grasp that, know that, go into the game mentally prepared, be tough, be ready to play a tough game.
Q. A couple of the UCLA players were of the opinion that they would have success running with you guys, how would you respond to that?
JULIAN WRIGHT: You know, if that happens to be the kind of game both teams, fast-court flow, I think it would obviously be more exciting, but I think it will really help us, open us up. That's what we really like to do in terms of running. We got guys that are capable to handle the ball on the break and finish the break, and guys that are able to shoot threes, stuff like that. In that kind of game, we control the boards. That just leads to most fast-break opportunities.
MARIO CHALMERS: Yeah, I hope they do try to run with us. It's going to be a much more fun game. I mean, we both got a lot of depth on our teams. It's just going to be exciting for the fans, exciting for the players. I think it's going to live up to everything it's going to be.
RUSSELL ROBINSON: I hope they do run with us. I think it would be great, you know, just -- I think it would play to our advantage because I just think we got more guys, our guys are better. But I think we just got to go out and play. They got some good guys and stuff. I think we just have to defend. If they do go up and down, I think it will be great.
SASHA KAUN: Definitely agree with the guys, if we play fast-paced game, that's great for us. That's the game we like to play in. I think it's going to be good for us.
BRANDON RUSH: Being an up-and-down game is going to be pretty much an exciting game, just get out and see us get out on the floor and run. It's going to be a real tough game knowing we have to match up with their offense and they got to match up with our offense.
COACH SELF: I'd like to add something to that: UCLA has great athletes. They've looked to run all the time this year when I've watched tape. They may not run off made baskets, but they get it and they push it.
I don't think you get to this game and go away from what you want to do. UCLA wants to run. I mean, they got the pieces to run. We want to run. But also both teams have the pieces to keep the other team from running.
You know, I think we'd love for the game to be in the 90s. I think every player on both teams would love for the game to be in the 90s. Now, neither coach wants that. But I think the players want that. But that's just natural. I think they'll look to run. That's who they are. That's how they play. But they can also grind it out. They're a great possession team, as well.
Q. Coach and Russ, obviously this is the farthest this bunch has ever made it in the NCAA tournament. What have you taken from your past experiences that has better prepared you to play in this tournament? What have you learned about playing in games of this magnitude the further you've advanced?
COACH SELF: I asked our staff the other day -- not the other day, it was last night after the game. What can I do better, because this is the first time we played in this game. We're not going to change anything. We'll keep the same routine.
The one thing about it, might as well not hide the fact, it's a big game. I mean, it's a big game. It's the reason kids go to UCLA, it's the reason kids come to Kansas, to play in this game. So enjoy it. That's what I would say, enjoy it, because this is why you go to school, why you pick a respective school.
But I don't know what we will do differently from a preparation standpoint other than the fact that, hey, get your rest, stay focused, limit your distractions, go have fun.
RUSSELL ROBINSON: Like Coach said, us players, we live to play in these type of games. Players are going to make plays in big games. I think we're going to have guys step up and be ready to make the most of our opportunities. Got a chance to go down in history making the Final Four and stuff like that. I just think we got to leave it out there on the court, make the most of our opportunities.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to the break-out rooms for the student-athletes. Coach Self will remain here for some more Q&A.
COACH SELF: I thought that was Q&A (smiling).
Q. Bill, can you talk in particular about coaching Julian Wright, a kid with enormous ability, does things on the court that make you blink your eyes, but occasionally the game seems to speed up for him sometimes.
COACH SELF: He's just a sophomore in college, too. He's a fabulous talent. I said that all along. When he's playing his best, his ceiling is higher than anyone else's.
But he's not a natural scorer. That's not what he wants to do. So sometimes he can kind of give the appearance of not impacting the game as much because he's not scoring points. But certainly he makes basketball plays. His second and third jump are about as quick as I've ever been around. He makes plays you can't teach or you can't coach. That's why sometimes by coaching him too much takes away from what he does best.
Q. Of those three regional final losses, which one was the toughest to get over? Is that generally the most painful loss a coach can have because it's the one that keeps you from going to where you want to go?
COACH SELF: I thought so until the last two years (laughter). But I will say this: you know, every one of our games we had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the last 20 seconds. You know, usually when you're playing other good teams, there's a lot of one-possession games, just like what we came down to last night. You know, that was basically a one-possession game last night.
But, you know, they're all smart. When we were at Tulsa, got to the Elite 8, I was planning on being at Tulsa a long time. I'm thinking, this is going to be my only chance to do this. It crushed me. Then you go to Illinois, your first year you go to the Elite 8, you get beat on basically a last possession to a really good Arizona team that was loaded, God, it's two in a row. Surely your luck's going to run dry here pretty quick.
Kansas was the one year we didn't expect to go, to be honest. We were hoping to. We were a 4 seed. We were a pretty good team, but we weren't a great team that particular year. Still yet, you know, it was a one-possession game against Georgia Tech.
I just know there's a fine line between moving on and not. Every possession matters. That's why coaches stress it from October 15th or whatever, that one missed blockout, one missed assignment, one not carrying out a screen, setting up your man one time, difference between winning and losing. Such a fine line. But they all hurt. I mean, they all hurt. I don't know which one hurts the most.
Q. Coach, going back the last two years --
COACH SELF: You're stuck on two years, geez (smiling).
Q. I'm sure you guys are sick of it, but do you sense a difference in your team's psyche since getting past the first weekend? Are they more relaxed? Did you guys talk about it during the season?
COACH SELF: You got to understand also, this team had nothing to do with the Bucknell loss. I don't think we scored a point in that game, this team. Then last year we were a team that really played well beyond their years. You're starting three freshmen and two sophomores, tie for the league tournament, all that stuff, basically operated under the radar. We knew going into the tournament that this was going to be a different feel than what they had experienced, and it was, and we didn't handle it real well.
I think that this year our goal was not to win the first round. That wasn't our goal. Not that it was in years past, but we did sense -- I think there was more of a sense of urgency this year to prepare to make sure that didn't happen. Then I think after we got off to a good start against Niagara, maybe there was a burden lifted. I know with me personally, I felt pretty good at halftime - a lot better than I did before the start of the game. Maybe the players felt the same way. I don't know. We didn't talk about it. We didn't talk about, We got to do this, if we don't, you know, sky's falling. We didn't talk like that. All we talked about was doing what we need to do to be successful.
Q. Do you notice anything different with them now in terms of being more relaxed?
COACH SELF: Not really. They were pretty relaxed in Chicago. Hopefully they're the same way now. They're kind of young and green. I don't think they really know better, to be honest.
Q. Ben Howland said Larry Brown will probably be rooting for you tomorrow since the connection is there. Do you think he'll be a little torn since he coached for both schools?
COACH SELF: I haven't talked to Larry about it. But since we're probably the ones getting him the tickets, I think he should be for Kansas (smiling).
Knowing Coach, he won't cheer either way. I mean, I only worked for him for a year, but he's really proud of both places. I think UCLA was a place he loved, and I know Kansas was as well. He's been a couple places. He's got some things to judge it against.
I think he may secretly be involved trying to cheer on one team or another, but I don't really see him being actively involved.
Q. Have you talked to him about this game?
COACH SELF: No. In the last 36 hours or 12 hours?
COACH SELF: No, I haven't, so...
Q. This team gives the appearance of being pretty good at taking things in stride, limiting distractions, is that true? If so, where does that come from?
COACH SELF: I'll say that I'm proud of how they've handled this year. I think it's been a pretty tight locker room. I think they've kept things in-house. They respect each other enough to know that nothing leaves the locker room ever. I believe that from a distraction standpoint it's been limited. We haven't had many issues we've had to deal with academically, socially, anything like that. I'm not saying we don't deal with things. We do just like everybody else. But the guys I think see that there's something bigger out there, and we all need to take care of our own business to give us the best chance. I sense this about the tournament, too. It's easy to get distracted. I'm not saying we won't or we haven't been, but I think it's been kept as a minimal.
Q. Both you and UCLA recruit high-profile high school players. A lot of those kids like to score, do flashy things in high school. Both UCLA and like last night, you played really good defense. What is the biggest challenge in taking those kind of high school players that like to score, teaching them to play defense?
COACH SELF: I think the biggest thing you have to do, you have to win. I think when you win, it's easier to buy in. Of course, Ben came into a situation where they went from -- of course, it's always been a fabulous program, but they went from being a little bit down to winning close to immediately, and the players bought into what he thought was important to win, and all of a sudden guys like this attention, guys like playing in games that count, guys like playing on national TV.
I don't think there's any recruit out there that may say, I want to play this way or that way. But when you say, You get a chance to play here with these guys, win big, have a chance to win championships, I think they will take that, the competitive guys would, over, You can shoot it whenever you want to. Most of the kids that are out there, they do want to win.
The best AAU players in the country want to win. They may want to win doing it their way, but usually when they get to a school, you can't do it everyone's way. Everyone has to buy in. Everyone has to meet halfway, so to speak. We're fortunate we have a group that hasn't fought me at all in that regard. I'm sure Ben feels the same way.
Q. How did Rodrick Stewart stay on board despite limited playing time?
COACH SELF: I told the team afterwards, you know, it's because of his attitude. His attitude has been fabulous. He works as hard as anybody in practice. He was ready. The reason he was ready is because he prepared to be ready through practice and his attitude. If he had been moping around, that would not have happened last night. We're all big believers of that.
He deserves the credit for staying upbeat, staying focused, really being a team guy. It's tough for Rod. Rod leaves a school that's in the Sweet 16 also, could have been playing with his brother. He chose to do this. He knew we had good players when he got here. I think he's impacting our team right now, even though it's probably not the minutes he wants. But I know he's happy the way he's getting the opportunity to impact it at least on pretty much a gamely basis now.
Q. In order to put a stamp on a program like Kansas, do you need to get to the Final Four? Do you need to get to the Final Four to get some of your fan base and sportswriters like myself to quit talking about Roy Williams?
COACH SELF: I don't mind you talking about Roy. Roy did great things for the university for a long time. My goal cannot be to quit talking about Roy. I mean, my goal is for us to be as good as we can be. If I was so hung up on Roy, I should have never came to Kansas. If I feel like I got to compete with what he did, I think what we should do is be as good as we can be on a yearly basis.
I think it would help obviously to get to the Final Four. But it's not going to help because I want fans to feel differently about me. It would help because it would be great for our school, be great for the kids I'm coaching.
Q. In addition to limiting distractions, this team seems pretty relaxed. Times will a lot of times reflect their coaches. Does this team reflect you on the court?
COACH SELF: They were somewhat polite. I'm not that relaxed, certainly not in practice. But, you know, I don't feel uptight. I do think teams can feed off either coach on how things can set 'em off and things like that.
I don't feel uptight, but I do feel a sense of urgency, and I want them to feel that as well. I think there's that magic level in there where you're loose but you're really focused and intent because you understand the magnitude of it. I hope that's where we're at.
Q. Coach, can you just speak to on a personal level what it would mean for you to make the Final Four? What does that mean for you?
COACH SELF: Well, I think it would -- it would mean a ton to me. If we ever got there, it would mean even more to have a chance to win it. But it would mean a ton personally because we've been real close and haven't got it done.
I'm jealous of the guys that get there. I mean, not jealous to the point that I wished everybody lost and nobody got there. But I'm jealous to the point that, you know, I want to be in that same arena. But it's not about me. It's not. It's about our team. To have an opportunity to take a team there would just I think be an unbelievably special thing, especially when it's something that you dreamed of for a long, long time.
Q. How do the pressures and expectations at Illinois compare with Kansas?
COACH SELF: I would say there's pressure and expectations at both places, because both are great programs. But when I went to Illinois, Illinois hadn't been to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 10 years or 12 years or something like that. We had some success off the bat.
You know, I probably got a little bit of a hall pass, so to speak, that first year or two.
Hey, there's pressure at both places. The more you win, the more pressure there is. You know, it's a double-edged sword. You got to win. But once you do, the expectations rise even more.
But I would say it's more so at Kansas. Expectations are probably higher at Kansas. At least when I was at Illinois. Maybe that's changed. I can't speak for them, but that's probably how I see it now.
Q. Those of us in Kansas have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to UCLA probably. We want to say our basketball heritage is the greatest. Head-to-head we don't match up, with their 11 championships and Kansas has never beaten them in the NCAA tournament. If it's not about you, are you carrying the pride of the state out there tomorrow?
COACH SELF: I guess. I didn't know we never beat them in the tournament. How many times did we play?
COACH SELF: Four? We're overdue. But, you know, I don't look at it like we're carrying the pride of the state. I know our state takes great pride in what we're doing right now. That's the way it should be.
If you try to somehow statistically skew the numbers that, you know, our program is equal to UCLA's, you'd have a hard time even doing that, talking about numbers. Numbers itself don't lie. They've won 11. I don't know, Kentucky has won seven, if I'm not mistaken. After that, there's a pretty big falloff. Maybe Indiana five. They stand alone as far as being the winningest college program, if you think championships is what wins as opposed to just individual games.
Q. There have been several questions in here about distractions, have there been a lot of wild distractions in San Jose? How is it going for you? Funny stuff that happened? Have you gotten out to see the town?
COACH SELF: No, I don't think we have. We're staying at a great place. There's a little walk area there by the Fairmont. I think our players, they act like it's the first time they ever saw a horse when the police was riding around on 'em earlier. Guys, you live in Kansas!
But, no, there hasn't been any distractions in that regard.
Q. Personality-wise, is there anything coach that you patent yourself after or this is just Bill Self?
COACH SELF: No, I don't. I think all the old coaches that I've talked to that's been doing it a long time say you got to be yourself in this profession to be successful. I can't be somebody else. This is who I am. Sometimes I wish I was different, like everybody does, and do certain things different. I've stolen from everybody. I've stolen ideas and plays and everything, but all coaches do that. Don't think they don't. But I haven't tried to steal someone else's attitude or the way he works the sideline or anything like that. That's just me.
Q. Growing up in Oklahoma, watching UCLA on TV when John Wooden was coaching, can you remember those days at all?
COACH SELF: I'm not that old. I'm a young guy (smiling).
Q. I know you were a kid at the time. Just your thoughts on that stretch growing up. Did it have any kind of impact on you? Have you met the man?
COACH SELF: I've met Coach. I don't know him like Ben knows him. I had a chance to spend a weekend with Coach in 2003. We stayed in contact since then. He's amazing. You can talk about meeting the president of the United States, people that you feel like are important. To me, we were meeting royalty. I certainly feel that way about him. The way he conducted his business and still does in such a classy, humble way is remarkable to me when he's accomplished so much.
Be honest, though, I didn't get a chance -- I didn't know Alcindor. When I really started watching college ball, UCLA, was probably during the Walton era. Of course, they were all fabulous.
Q. Do you have any recollection of the '78 game between KU and UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Ray Townsend would have been a senior, Darnell Valentine, John Douglas.
COACH SELF: No, I have no recollection. I remember Kentucky and Duke in the finals. I don't remember a first-round game. I guess I can go ask Kurtis to clue me in since Raymond is his brother.
Q. Are you allowing Larry Keating into your coach's meeting to discuss strategy for tomorrow's game or not?
COACH SELF: We don't allow Larry into any of our meetings ever (smiling). No, we're not.
What a great deal for their family because they obviously play a huge role in our athletic department. Their son is on his way to becoming a head coach very shortly, done a great job at UCLA. I'm sure it will be a mixed emotional day for them. Larry wouldn't do that to begin with.
Q. With each of these regional finals, has there been a learning curve at all? Have you tried to keep everything the same?
COACH SELF: I would say from a learning curve, every team's different. How you handle one team, some teams you need to be loose with, some teams you don't. Every team is different.
We're just going to keep doing it the same way we've been doing it. Coaching that Illinois team with Frank, Serge, Griff, Arch, all that stuff, it's a little bit different than coaching this team. Not saying better; just different. Whatever we've been doing has worked fairly well so far, so we don't deviate from that.
Q. Could you tell me the genesis of your boot camp, how it may have evolved over the years.
COACH SELF: As a bad player and very slow when I played, I hated, despised pre-season conditioning. Oh, God, it was the worst thing ever. I thought the season was too long to begin with. Instead of having six or eight weeks of pre-season conditioning, we have two weeks. We lift, we do some extra things. Our strength coach handles a lot. We have two weeks where anything can go, anything. We have different goals that we want to make within the two-week period. Everybody has to make it or it doesn't count, and the boot camp continues.
But it's tough, a tough two weeks. Mainly it's just a mental grind on our players. It gets them in shape good enough to practice. It also gets their feet in shape, which I think is important going into practice. But mainly you can always draw from that, saying this is nothing. We've gone through tougher than this.
Basically it's evolved a little bit, but we pretty much, you know, stayed the course on how we do things. I think the players take great pride in it, to be honest with you.
Q. Have you done it your entire coaching career?
COACH SELF: Done it my head coaching career since I got the job at Oral Roberts, we started doing that.
Q. You talk about your school's tradition. The 1952 Kansas team, they beat Santa Clara in the Final Four. Those Santa Clara guys are talking about that game. Do you ever meet any of those guys from the '52 team?
COACH SELF: Our '52 team just got together for the Nebraska game on February 3rd, 6th, something like that. All of them came back. Clyde Lovellette was the only one still living that wasn't able to attend because it was a blizzard up north. They had receptions, a great time. I went out and hung out with them, heard a few stories, that kind of stuff.
It's pretty cool. It's pretty cool, yeah. Coach Smith talked to our team.
Q. What is the most effective thing about the way UCLA doubles the post? Which one of your post guys do you think is probably best equipped to pass out of it or kind of get the offensive going out of it?
COACH SELF: I think the most effective thing is that they're there on the catch and they're physical in their traps. They sprint out of their traps very, very, very well. Like you think something's open. It's kind of like that old adage, show 'em a passing lane and take it away. They're very good at giving the appearance something is open, then taking it away.
They're very well-drilled in that. That's something obviously Ben thinks is important because they do it about as well as anybody.
Q. Which guys?
COACH SELF: In that 40-minute practice, we probably didn't get great at it. But we've been working on different things all year long, getting better at it. To be honest, I think all our post guys are equipped to handle it. It's not always going to be a scoring play on how you handle it, but I think they're equipped to handle it.
Q. UCLA, Pittsburgh, Southern Illinois, their image is as great defensive teams, yours is more of an offensive team. Why do you think that is?
COACH SELF: As a coach, I couldn't disagree with you more. I think who we are, we're a defensive team. So many times people get hung up on defense being how many points your opponents score. Really it should be points per possession because some teams have more possessions in the game than other team versus possessions in the game.
Last year we led the country in field goal percentage defense, and this year we're right there. I don't know what we are, two or three or something like that. We get a lot of deflections, a lot of steals. We take great pride in that. I think our defense has led to us scoring more points because we've been able to get out and run off our defense.
As a coach, I would say we're better defensively than we are offensively. Other people may not think that, but that's what I would take great pride in.
Q. The image is otherwise, even though that's true.
COACH SELF: At Kansas our image early in the season, Oh God, they can guard but can't score. Then we start scoring. Now they're a great offensive team, and whatever.
Whatever the image is doesn't matter to us as players and coaches. We believe that we have to guard first.
Q. You mentioned talking about how you'd been in the Elite 8 before. Is there anything you take away from being in this position a few times and not succeeding in how you approach it? You said you don't change who you are. Anything you take away from that?
COACH SELF: I think coaches always look to try to improve on certain things. I ask them, are we practicing too long, too short, how do we keep their legs fresh, do we get them out of the hotel. We don't want them to go stir crazy in the hotel. A lot of things like that.
But as far as game preparation, it will not change. We're not going to change who we are in a span of 24 hours and all of a sudden be prepared to be a great team. We have to rely on what we do best. So we'll just stick to that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH SELF: Thanks, guys.
End of FastScripts