At Thursday’s KU basketball media day, Bill Self was clearly excited about getting the 2004-05 season underway. But it also became apparent that he was glad last year – his first in charge of the Jayhawks – was behind him.
"Last year at media day, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, and I did for the most part, but certainly last year was a year of transition,” the coach said.
“A lot of things went really well, and a lot of things didn’t go so well,” he readily admitted. “I loved how we finished, although you’re never happy when you lose your last game, but certainly I loved how we finished.”
He added later, “I’ve always been a coach I thought could get close to guys. I think that that happened last year, but it didn’t happen as soon as I thought it would happen.”
Sure, switching jobs is never easy. However, unlike many of us, this most recent transition for Self meant more than learning where the coffee machine is and how to make color copies. This change was, he said, more difficult than his other moves, primarily due to the Jayhawks’ success.
He continued, “When you go from Tulsa to Illinois, you go in coaching good players – there were three NBA players in that Illinois locker room – and those players would buy into what you’re saying because you’ve done something that they wanted to do.”
“But you come in here (to Kansas) and you change everything, and those guys wonder, ‘Why are you changing? You haven’t done what we’ve done.’ Even though that’s not what they said, subconsciously, that’s what people often do when change occurs. Getting them to understand that what we (coaches) do is right and sound was a process, not just an immediate thing.”
After 15 years of a well-established Roy Williams system, the transition was difficult for the players, as well, according to senior Wayne Simien.
"Last year was a different type of year with a new coach and new players. From a leadership standpoint, it has been a lot easier. Last year, it felt as if we were all freshmen again," the 6-9 forward remembered.
Self agreed, saying, “The guys gave us a chance to coach them last year, but still, what I think is important is different than what (former KU coach) Roy (Williams) thought was important, in a lot of ways. So we had to re-adjust how we thought and by the end of the year, we were playing about as well as anybody.”
That finish included wins in nine of their last twelve games and a gutty overtime loss to a Georgia Tech in the regional final in which the Jayhawk gas tank finally hit “E.”
After struggling much of the season, that run was not only a great way for Kansas to end a transitional year but also acts as launching pad for a season in which the Jayhawks are a consensus pre-season Final Four pick.
“How we finished last year will make starting this year a lot easier than it would have been if we didn’t finish strong,” the coach commented.
He continued, “I loved how we finished, and I thought that was a springboard to this year. I couldn't be any more excited about coaching a team than I am this bunch. These guys have worked hard, they appear to be hungry, and it has a chance to be an awfully fun season around here."