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And there's that word again.
The season began with controversy. In late September several Kansas basketball players got into a well-publicized fight with Kansas football players. Days later one of the team's leaders—Morningstar—was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Self admitted that it ripped him apart.
"I coached mad for three months," Self says. "I just couldn't forgive the players for doing that, for giving people a reason to question our program."
And in many ways Self has never stopped coaching mad. He's famous for being one of college basketball's nicest guys off the court, but he has always been relentless on the court. This year he has been even more so. Nothing has felt good enough. "Coach believes this team is underachieving," one Kansas insider says. "But how do you convince the best team in America that they're underachieving?"
Maybe this gets to the heart of Self's bafflement. Last Saturday, Kansas played at Missouri and played sloppy. They trailed early. Self was enraged. His face was three shades of red. He called timeout and lit into his players who have grown used to these sessions. The Jayhawks promptly scored the last 16 points of the first half. Missouri came back and cut the Kansas lead to four. The Jayhawks then went on a 17--2 run.
"We need to understand that when it comes to the tournament, you have to play every possession," Self says. "Sometimes we'll just putter around for a while and then go on a big run and put the game away and [then] putter around some more. You can't do that in the tournament. Sometimes that big run doesn't happen."
If it sounds as if Self doth protest too much, well, he doesn't hide from that. There isn't a team in America that has Kansas's combination of size, speed, shooting and experience. The Jayhawks lead the Big 12 in scoring and scoring defense, three-point field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. They can beat teams in a physical half-court game with their smothering defense. They can beat teams in a fast-paced, full-court frenzy with their depth and athleticism.
"But," Self says, and there's that word again. Maybe it's like this: After the Kansas State win—after those 13 remarkable minutes when Kansas played otherworldly basketball—this reporter asked Self what he thought about the game. He said, "I thought at times we played good. At times we really didn't."
And when asked how he could find fault with a team that had destroyed a motivated and terrific Kansas State team, he laughed a little.
"This team doesn't handle prosperity very well," Self said. "We have a chance to be a special team. But ... we have to do it. That's the thing. And I don't need to tell them how good they are. They already think they're awfully good."