Saturday Kansas takes on Texas in the final home game of the 2012 season. That means it's senior night, a night that Kansas traditional gives the starting nod to the seniors, celebrates the four to five year commitment that players have made to the program and sends them out with a win.
On Thursday Bill Self reflected on the senior group of players, Thomas Robinson and the player of the year race, Texas and winning the league title in the first year of the full round robin. Also weighing in are the three seniors, Tyshawn Taylor, Conner Teahan and Jordan Juenemann
Kansas head coach Bill Self
On his relationship with senior guard Tyshawn Taylor:
"My relationship with Ty has been good. He can frustrate you, but I'm sure I frustrated my mother and my father, and my kids frustrate me. That goes with the territory at times. He's meant about as much to our program as anybody that's been here four years. He, without question, is one of the premiere players in America and one of the best guards in the country. He's deserves All-American consideration. He only needs nine hours this semester to graduate, so he'll finish up easily in May and walk on graduation day. He's been good. He's emotional, at times too emotional, but that's one of his biggest assets as well. He's meant a lot to me, personally. I thought about that this morning. I usually don't get emotional about certain things, but I could see myself getting emotional about him because of how far he's come and some obstacles he's had to deal with. For him to improve as much as he has is pretty good. It hasn't always been easy for him because he's felt the weight of all the Kansas fans on his back, and maybe rightfully so, but I think he's turned everybody with his play and his actions this year.
"I just read a great article about (Baylor sophomore) Perry Jones. It goes through a bunch of things and showed you a different side of a kid that's going through a lot. Tyshawn has gone through a lot, too. He's got a side to him that nobody knows about. He hasn't had it easy by any stretch. He's overcome a lot. He had the best mentor a kid could have when he was young. If he hadn't have had that mentoring, he probably would have never had a chance to go to school. Since he's been here, he's done what you hope every kid would do. He's going to graduate, he's been a part of something bigger than himself, he's given himself to this place and he's going to leave out of here beloved. He's had a great career, it just hasn't always been smooth getting to the end result. It's been pretty amazing to me."
On being a more prominent role player this season:
"Tyshawn has always been the type of kid that always wanted it to be his team. He always wanted to have more of a role in people's minds, but that's not easy to do when you have the twins (Marcus and Markieff Morris), you've got Cole (Aldrich) and you've got Sherron (Collins) running around here. It wasn't going to be that way. This year, with those guys gone, he's embraced that and I think he's really liked it a lot. It seems to me the more he's been given freedom and the more he's been given a role, the more he's embraced it and the more unselfish he's become. It's been fun to watch."
On if he ever had a chance to leave early for the NBA:
"The only time that he could've ever considered (leaving)-and it would've been a bone-headed move-would be after his freshman year. The decision would've had to have been made before he played USA Basketball. He goes on the USA Basketball deal and he's arguably as good a player as they had on their team, so it's too late to make that decision because the date has come and gone. Because of that, he had-in his mind-been anointed a bigger role than what he actually had and that's why he struggled his sophomore year. He still had Cole, Sherron, the twins and all those cats around here and no matter how you looked at it, he was still your fifth option. We had X (Xavier Henry) that year, too, so he could've been the sixth offensive option on a good team. I think that the system, the way it's set up, has benefitted Ty the way it was intended to benefit him. You get better every year, your stock is elevated every year, you have a bigger role every year, and then when you leave, you're as prepared as you can be. I don't think he could leave out of here being more prepared than what he is to take the next step."
On the race for National Player of the Year:
"I think it's a two-horse race, without question, and they're both thoroughbreds. Thomas (Robinson) you could make a good case for, but if I was being totally objective, I think you could make a good case for (Kentucky freshman) Anthony (Davis) as well. Anthony impacts the game in a variety of ways, in some ways more than Thomas does, but his supporting cast is so strong that he has not received the attention that Thomas has. To me, when you scout Kansas, you're going to say, ‘We have to keep Robinson out of certain areas, we're going to double him when he catches the ball and we're going to send two guys to block him out. We're going to do a lot of things to eliminate his good touches.' You can't do that with Kentucky because they're all balanced. I used to get in arguments all the time growing up about who was better: (Larry) Bird or Magic (Johnson). To me, Magic made everybody else around him so much better, but he could still throw it to the captain and he could get 30 points any night. The difference to me is that if I were guarding the Lakers would be ‘How do we eliminated Kareem's easy touches as opposed to keeping the ball out of Magic's hands.' When you played the Celtics, every defense was designed to slow Bird down. That's how I saw the difference. That doesn't mean one is better than the other, but I always saw that defenses are designed to stop him and that' how I look at Thomas. Defenses are designed to stop Thomas. At Kentucky-this is a compliment to their whole team-it's hard when you've got (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist, (Doron) Lamb and all these other dudes that can make plays and go for 20 or 25 points a night. With that being said, Anthony Davis will be the number one pick, but as a college player this year, I really believe Thomas has had the best year."
On Tyshawn Taylor being left off the Naismith mid-season watch list:
"Oh yeah, that's a snub. No question. If Tyshawn Taylor is not one of the best 15 players in the country, that's unbelievable to me."
On who should win Big 12 player of the year:
"That would be a coin flip. For the conference player of the year, you could make the case that Tyshawn has had every bit the conference season that Thomas has. I still think defenses are designed to stop Thomas and it's easier for Ty to get the ball. For the course of the whole season I would definitely say Thomas, but I would love to see them be (Co-Big 12 Players of the Year). You can make a case for (Missouri's Marcus) Denmon, too. We have seen him on maybe his two best nights, but he was so good. To me it's those three that should finish one, two and three. If you just look at the conference season though, I don't think I could pick one over the other. I think they both have been equally important.
On this conference championship compared to others:
"I think there are three (that stick out most). The year when we started out 1-2 in the league and Texas beat us by 30 and we come back and tie them, then we win the tournament. That is one that I will always remember. After we lose all those guys (2008-09) and we catch a break, because Blake [Griffin] got a concussion when we played at OU, still that was a team that outscored them I think 50-17 during a stretch down there. To me that team, Tyshawn, Marcus and Markieff's freshman year amazed me because we went 14-2. With this one being a round robin and everyone talking about how much more difficult it would be to win a round robin, I think this one equals those two and maybe more."
On if this round robin conference season was more difficult:
"I would say yes. I thought about this too. Leagues are so cyclical. When we won it before it was the North isn't as good as the South, at least for the naysayers. Maybe we have benefited from having an 18 game schedule, because the North was so good. Four out of your top five finishers are from the North. Who knows? Overtime you add them all up and this is your record and some years you get breaks, some years you don't. I feel like we have gotten some breaks this year, no question, but we have also only had two wins under five points or less. The Texas win and the Missouri win, if I'm not mistaken. When you look around the league, a lot of teams have won a lot of games under five so I think our guys have done a pretty good job start to finish."
On if Texas brings their best game Saturday:
"They could beat us, there is no question. They could easily come in here and rock our world. When you look at Senior Nights around the country, sometimes on Senior Night you can flip it, because some guys are nervous about postgame speeches or you've got so much family in town. Certainly they could get us and it would be a nice résumé builder for them. J'Covan [Brown] always goes nuts against us so we will have to do a good job there. I hope the building is juiced and we can play off of that one last time."
On preparing for J'Covan Brown:
"I think that he is so good that he is going to get points. You just have to limit his good looks. I think in the first game he got off 26 shots, a lot of those were desperation late, so they don't really count, but we did a pretty good job on him and he still got numbers. What we have to do is eliminate transition. I have never been one, as you know because [Craig] Brackens goes for 40, Arthur Johnson goes for 38, Thomas Gardner goes for 38, [Ben] Woodside goes for 35. I have never been one to say, let's stop him, I would rather stop them. Sometimes when one guy is scoring a lot of points that is not all bad. Keaton Page, we did a bad job on him and they had 22 at half. That is how I look at it. Certainly we have to do a better job in transition. They killed us in transition defense in the second half."
On Conner Teahan's importance to the team:
"To me he holds similar value than everyone else does. He has been great for us. He is a threat and you have to guard him. I had a recruit tell me the other day when we played Missouri, he said ‘Coach go back and look at the tape and every time that Thomas got good touches on a certain block, Teahan was always on his side.' It is pretty smart for a recruit to figure that out because they can't help off of it. So when you look at value, the value isn't just him making shots, it's the value of him being on the court. I think he carries great value."
On if it was an easy decision to redshirt Teahan:
"That was easy. That was easy for him. If you want to play or not play. I told him if you are going to be in our top rotation then you should play. When you look at some of the cats that we had I don't think that was a hard decision at all.
Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor
On having Senior Night Saturday against Texas:
"It came fast, so I'm a little bit anxious about it. I'm nervous but excited at the same time."
On if he knows what he will say in his senior speech:
"No, not exactly. I'm going to start working on some stuff. I've been thinking about some stuff to write down and people to thank, but I haven't gotten it all complete yet."
On not being on the Naismith Watch List:
"It's kind of wack, but it is what it is. My numbers don't lie, so I guess they could look at that. It's cool, though. Thomas (Robinson) is about to get Player of the Year and Coach Self will get Coach of the Year, so we're good over here. We're winning."
On dealing with pressure from fans this year:
"This is the type of situation I've wanted to be in for awhile. To start off the season, it was a little bit up-and-down. It was just about getting comfortable with this team and everybody trying to understand each other, play with each other and know everybody's role. Once we got comfortable as a team and comfortable with Coach Self, I think we were a pretty good team and we started playing well. I think I was a big part of that because I'm a senior and I've been starting for four years so I have the most experience on the team. It's only right that I do my part. That's all I'm doing."
On family coming to Senior Night:
"A couple of my aunts are coming from New Jersey and Florida. I have some little cousins coming in and a couple of my homeboys coming in. It's going to be a packed house."
On if he is happy that senior Jordan Juenemann will get his first career start Saturday:
"Yeah, for sure. It is a good thing that Coach Self does that and that all the seniors get to start. I'm sure he's going to love it and I'm sure he's going to take full advantage of however long he's in there."
On if he always knew senior Conner Teahan could be a big contributor:
"For sure. We've been talking about this for a couple of years now because we knew his ability to stretch the floor and to knock down shots. Him being 6'6", he's a body that can bang around from that position. We always thought that he could play and be a competitor and a really big part of our team. He had to wait patiently for his time and I think he's taken full advantage of it."
On his career:
"When I look back it's like, ‘Woah, that went fast' but it was a long process. It's bittersweet. I'm definitely sad to be playing my last game and to be leaving. This is all I've known for four years, so it's going to be a little bit different and bittersweet."
Senior guard Conner Teahan
On playing his last game in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday:
"I really haven't thought about it too much. It's definitely going to be tough, just the whole beginning and end of the game and after the game. It's the last game I have. The five years have flown by. It's gone by way too fast. I have a lot of great memories. This place will always have a special place in my heart."
On his choice to come to KU out of high school:
"I've never regretted that at all. That is the thing I knew I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. That is to play basketball here. If I had that opportunity, regardless of what the opportunity was, I was going to take it."
On the Missouri game last Saturday:
"I think just being able to beat them on their way out (of the Big 12). I felt like I shot the ball well, but the environment and being able to play in that. That's the whole reason you come to KU, not only as a player but as myself. I wanted to be able to play in game like that and be in an atmosphere like that. It was awesome. It really was. I'll probably remember that game more than any other game I've seen or played in at KU, even at the national championship."
On the tough times throughout five years at KU:
"I knew that I loved it here. I didn't doubt my decision to come here. There were times where it was definitely hard. My family supported me. I have to give all the credit to them, not just for my dad being able to pay for my education to come here in the first place, but the way they handled my situation when I was here and the support they gave me. You couldn't ask for anything better. There were definitely times where I was down, but my parents, family and friends kept me up."
Senior guard Jordan Juenemann
On his experience over the past four years at Kansas:
"It was a blessing number one. It was a journey and a great ride. It's cool we have senior night coming up to celebrate this. My four years flew by fast. It was awesome to have the opportunity to win four conference championships and all the success that we've had. It's been great."
On his expectations coming to KU:
"I just wanted to be on the team, have a jersey and practice. Here I am four years later, and I'm going to give a speech on Saturday. I just wanted to be on the team and be part of the locker room and everything and practice for Coach Self."
On starting on Saturday:
"I'm trying not to think about it too much. Travis (Releford) was just saying ‘you're going to get to start. Are you going to shoot it?' That will be really cool to hear my name announced. Being from Kansas and being able to do that. I'm really excited and thrilled about that."