Posted: Wednesday October 18, 2006 4:03PM; Updated: Thursday October 19, 2006 1:27PM
Self doesn't just get good players. He also knows how to coach. Not for nothing is he the only man ever to take three schools to the Elite Eight (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas). Self is catching a little heat these days because the Jayhawks lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament the past two years, but people forget he had the Jayhawks in overtime in the 2004 Regional Finals before losing to Georgia Tech. He preaches toughness and unselfishness, and his teams have always reflected that.
Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
Finally, as demonstrated by the practice scene described above, Self is a genuinely low-maintenance guy who does not let external pressures encroach on his life. I've seen him take losses very, very hard, but unlike many of his peers, Self doesn't obsess over his setbacks or his critics. He knows his team has high expectations, but he's not going to go Lou Holtz on you and say those expectations are not warranted.
"We've been here three years and we won the league twice, but I know that at Kansas the standard isn't what you did in the league. The standard is [what you do] after the league," he said over a steak dinner at Ten restaurant in Lawrence Sunday night. "I don't mind the expectations because I know we have a lot of guys who can make plays. As a coach, my only thought is, what is our ceiling and how close can we get to it?"
After watching the Jayhawks practice on Monday and Tuesday, I can assure you their ceiling is sky high. This team is loaded with thoroughbreds; my neck is still sore from watching them press and run nonstop. KU led the nation in field-goal percentage last season, but the scary thought is this team should be even better defensively. Self is intent on pushing the pace to take advantage of his players' multifaceted skills in transition.
For instance, on the last play of Tuesday's practice, Wright, the long-armed 6-8 sophomore power forward from Chicago, ripped down a rebound, speed-dribbled to lead the fast break, faked a pass to his left, took off from the foul line and flipped in an easy layup. High ceiling, indeed.
Kansas' ability to score off its defense will be critical because if there's a question about the Jayhawks, it's their ability to score in the halfcourt. Neither Chalmers nor Robinson is what I would consider a pure point guard. (Collins is a pure point and he's really, really good, but he's still a freshman and will probably come off the bench.) This team also doesn't have a consistent scoring threat in the post, though the 6-9 Arthur could become one. Wright and Rush are good passers, but they tend to be a little too loose with the ball when running Self's offensive sets.