Kansas head coach Bill Self
It seems like when you play schools from smaller towns you tend to play teams that have a shot of winning their conferences. Is that by design?
"I think that goes a long ways in helping your RPI. This is a good RPI game, without question. In the Ohio Valley (Conference), I think Belmont is picked to win one side and Murray State the other. Those are the two best teams and then Southeast Missouri (State) would be the third best team based on preseason polls. I know they (Belmont) got a good team. They got a great coach (Rick Byrd). He's won 643 games at Belmont. That's a lot of games in 27 years and he can really coach.
They're kind of unique, in that, like a lot of schools that aren't from BCS conferences, you can't go out and get four big guys. They play threes at the four and twos at the three. So, that means they can stretch it from all spots and definitely create some potential matchup situations if we don't guard them right."
Moving forward, now that you have break time as far as no school, what would you look for as far as the next step with this team? Is there anything that you really hope that they improve on or maybe the next step that they want to see them take?
"Yeah, but not now. This is just a maintenance week. We took yesterday off. We'll practice today for an hour and a half or whatever or an hour and 45 and practice tomorrow. Then, I would say beginning Sunday will be more of an intense, whether it be film, whether it be whatever. We can get a lot more stuff in because there's no limitations on what you can do. I really think our teams usually get better when there's no school in session. I think we have four weeks where there's no school in session. It's the hardest time for a student-athlete because they're not with their family and friends, girlfriends and they're stuck up here. We're going twice a day and it can become a pretty monotonous time if you allow it to be."
You were saying all along how special Ben (McLemore) had the possibility to be and he got his chance to play. He's leading the team in scoring, top freshman scorer in the conference, number three overall in the conference, rebounding quite a bit. Is he showing you what you expected to see?
"Yeah, but he still hadn't played yet like he can play. Wait till he gets comfortable. That's kind of how I look at it. He's scoring the ball, which is great. I didn't think he would score this much this soon because I didn't know if he would be aggressive enough to do so. He's getting more aggressive all the time. I think that could potentially go up. He's a good rebounder, or at least has shown to be, and he's starting to understand to play better. I'm not so hung up on points as I am just being a good player and he's becoming a much better player as we go. He's unselfish but he's learning how to be aggressive being unselfish. I think his production will go up. He's one of the premier players in our league with a chance to be one of the very elite few in our league. I really believe that."
A quick follow-up on that: Could you comment on what Ben and Jamari (Traylor) did last year when they weren't able to play and the work they put in for the good academics and on the court as well to be ready to be productive this year?
A lot has been made about the reason. One reason why he's off to a good start is because he was here last year. That's a little bit overrated because he couldn't do anything with the team the first semester. And, the first semester, from August to Christmas, is when you put in all your stuff. That's when you do your individual improvement. That's when you do a lot of things. Now, he and Jamari (Traylor) certainly made the most out of the second semester working on their own and maybe doing a few of the things, but they didn't get any reps on what we do. They were the scout team. You know, they ran shell offense. Ben led the country in shot attempts in scoring playing shell offense, which he was really proud of when he never had to play defense. He and Jamari didn't benefit as much as knowing what we're doing.
"I think the summer helped them out - the practice in the summer - as much as last year. The one thing they did do last year that was good, they learned how to compete playing against Tyshawn (Taylor) and Thomas (Robinson). That was good. And then, of course academically they were stellar. They spent all their time getting assistance and working with their professors and everything. That's why they have 3.0 grade point averages."
This is a little off topic, but I'm just curious how much you've talked to Larry Brown and kept tabs on what he's done? They're off to an eight and one start down there.
"I've talked to him. I've talked to him and Jank (Tim Jankovich). The coach (Brown) watches all our games that he can. He's actually called me after a game that we labored in. He told me how good we're doing. I said, ‘did you not watch the same stuff I watched', which goes totally against how he used to be. If he's talking about his own team they're always awful. He likes his team down there. He was very positive and thinks they're going to have a nice year. He's really excited about his redshirts that get a chance to practice and he thinks that they could be pretty good and moving forward real fast."
Has he talked to you about kind of getting back into the college game? He's been away from this for a long time.
"He's talked to me about it. He's got plenty of people helping. He's got a great staff. Those guys help him. It is a little bit different. I remember the first time I saw him on the road this summer was for an 8 a.m. game. Eight a.m. games are, nobody likes going to those. Nobody likes playing in them either. I get there at 7:59, you know just in time, and he's off on his own sitting there. I don't even see him already. I seen him and said, ‘coach, you too good to sit with us coaches?' He said, ‘no man. I got to have a chair. I can't sit in the bleachers.' I said if I were you, I'd make your assistant carry that chair to every game that you go to today - as a joke. He made his assistant carry the chair every game he went to. I thought that was pretty funny because nobody does that. I think after doing it as long as him, he probably deserves the right to sit in a chair rather than bleachers."
Coach, we're about eight games into the season, about at the quarter pole. Where would you compare this team right now compared to where last year's team was at this time?
"I don't think we're as good because I don't think we're seasoned. Last year's team at this time had already played Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, and Georgetown and we haven't played that type of schedule (this season). At least last year's team, even though we didn't perform great, you knew that they were battle tested and tough. This year's team hasn't had that yet.
"I would say when we play well compared to when we played well in the past, this year's team ranks right up there. We just haven't done it consistently. We've been an average team except for spurts. In like the Colorado game, I thought we were good for 40 minutes.
"I would put us behind, but I'm not sure that's a surprise to anybody. That doesn't mean we can't keep moving forward. We need to develop a little bit more toughness. The only way I think you do that is through scheduling. Of course, we have some tough games coming up."
Why did the team look so much better in the last game?
"I think the biggest reason was energy level. I think the place was juiced and I think our guys fed off of that. I think they played like they were having fun. I think our energy level was excellent. I really believe that Travis (Releford) and Kevin (Young) keyed that whole thing from an energy standpoint. They were really good."
Has this been a team where the energy level has varied a little bit based on who you're playing?
"Maybe, but I don't know if it's based on who we're playing. I think it's based more on our personalities. If you look at our personalities of our team, really Kevin (Young) is really the only one that has natural energy. The other guys are just out there. You lose Thomas (Robinson) who had that and you lose Tyshawn (Taylor) who had that. The (Morris) twins brought that and Sherron (Collins) brought that in a lot of ways. We just don't have those types of personalities that we've had in the past that are just natural guys that basically feed other guys emotion or energy or what not.
"I think we make a conscious effort to do so. I think that kind of ran through our team. But, we're going to have to do that more regular than what we thought. We're going to have to make a conscious effort because it just doesn't quite come as natural. And, that doesn't have anything to do with playing hard. It just has something to do with getting out of your comfort zone and showing that. Kevin and Travis - to me - are the only ones that do that consistently for us.
It seems like the building is different too.
"Let's be real. We've got 16,000 people at every game. They want to get excited. So, we've got to do some things to help them get excited. That (the Colorado game) had a conference feel to it. That was our first real game at home - so to speak, from a fan's standpoint."
Even if you tell your kids that Belmont is really good, is it just human nature or playing out of a place like Kansas, it's hard to get up for a...
"I don't think so. I don't buy that at all. I think the reason you get up is you enjoy playing and enjoy playing well and enjoy beating people. Belmont can beat us. I'm telling you, they could beat us. They can stretch it. They can take advantage of ball screen matchups and things like that. They're superbly coached. But to me, the deal is, we've got to get better every day. We shouldn't play based on - from an emotions standpoint - based on who we're playing.
"You only get so many times to run out of the tunnel. That seniors' numbers are dwindling. There's no next year. Those guys should make sure that at least getting into the Christmas holidays and past that, that we can't pass up any opportunities. I think we'll do a pretty good job with that."
Do you think Belmont, if they had a different name would people think that this may be one of the best nonconference games you're going to play at home?
"When we scheduled them I thought it would be one of the very best nonconference games that we play at home this year, without question - maybe, arguably, the toughest one. Going into the year, I didn't know Colorado would be 19th in the country. Temple obviously has a good team. We played Richmond in the Sweet 16. But to me, Belmont may have been the game that nobody would think about that could be as hard as any non-conference game we play. If Belmont played in our league, they'd have success. They would."
Are you thinking about the break and what it could do for Perry Ellis?
"I think Perry has done some good things. In practice he's done some good things. He actually played pretty well against Colorado. He had two points and one rebound but he played well and he was more aggressive in some ways. It just didn't happen to fall his way that day. Perry's minutes are going to continue to go up if he stays aggressive and keeps trying to get out of his comfort zone to be aggressive. He's certainly done that in practice."
Does he think too much?
"Yeah he does but most freshmen do. Most freshmen think too much but he cares. He's conscientious. The best athletes are the ones that have no memory, the ones that don't think. You know, I don't know if that's exactly how you raise your child - to don't think and don't have a memory and I can't remember anything bad I ever did. I don't know if that's how you raise your child, but if you can raise your child where they remember that and somehow when they get between the lines they automatically forget, those are the best guys. We've got a lot of thinkers, but they're getting better."