Let’s delve inside Bill Self’s glossary of terms. First let’s define the term versatile. Webster has a definition for this one. It means to be able to be used in many different ways. In the recruiting world – it’s simply multi-talented. You won’t find the phrase “combo guard” in your pocket dictionary but it is an integral part of Self’s thought process. In the recruiting world it’s defined as a player who possesses ball-handling ability– in other words they’re fully capable of getting it and taking it up the floor -- plus the player also has the skill to score.
The ultimate goal of Self’s program is to have several interchangeable perimeter players, which has been a staple at every coaching stop for the current KU coach. At Tulsa, his Elite 8 team of 2000 featured a lineup with a duo of ball-handlers. At Illinois, plenty of people scratched their heads when Self brought Luther Head, Deron Williams, and Dee Brown in -- to play together. However, few questioned that move while the trio led the Illini to the national championship game.
Self isn’t the only coach in America who has implemented combo guards. College basketball is a combo guard’s world right now and the term is used more and more in recruiting circles. Mike Krzyzewski had Jason Williams and Chris Duhon at Duke. Villanova has used Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye while Florida had Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Yes, even Kansas under Roy Williams technically played two combo guards in Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich, and those are just a few combos in college hoops today.
Self’s philosophy does not include classifying players as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on the court. “I don’t like labeling guys positions. I personally like it when guys are versatile and they’ll be multiple guys. The way I’ll look at things is I’ll play with the best three perimeter players as long as one of them has true point guard skills,” continued Self. “I’ll play with three points. I’ll play with two threes and a point. I’ll play with a one, two and a three. I’ll play with two points and a three. It makes no difference – we just need to make sure one of them has point guard skills.”
In Self’s system with his players in place, the best three perimeter players should be able to share the court with all capable of filling multiple roles.
“One thing about our kids in the last two years, we’ve been too position-oriented,” Self stated. “We had Aaron who had to have the ball in his hands, we had Keith who was a slasher, we had J.R. who was your spot up three-man.”
But that’s what happens when you inherit another coach’s players. You don’t always get exactly the type of combination you want, and up until now, Self believes KU has been too predictable. He was in a similar situation his first year at Illinois when Frank Williams needed the ball in his hands and Corey Bradford was his spot-up shooter; Self certainly didn’t have the wiggle room to implement his style of play.
“It’s ok to have guys in my opinion that all have a certain skill level, but I would love for whoever gets it, brings it; as opposed to always looking for the outlet to a certain person. That’s the reason I’m excited about this team because potentially our starting 4-man may be our best passer, and best ball-handler.”
Of course, Self is referring to McDonald’s All-American Julian Wright who certainly fits the mold of what he would like to see more of in crimson and blue. The staff’s recruiting efforts have started the ball rolling. Russell Robinson is a combo guard. Mario Chalmers is a combo guard and Wright and Micah Downs can certainly grab a rebound and bring it up the floor.
“The perfect scenario for me is to play with three guys who all have point guard skills, and one of them is big enough to defend the three. That would be the perfect scenario for me,” said Self. But why would having three point guard-types on the court at once be an advantage for Kansas? “Because positions are then more interchangeable. I do not like playing 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5,” Self reiterated. Plus it makes it more difficult for defenders to match up when more than one player can bring the ball up.
As we mentioned, there are current KU players who have the potential to star in this role but the prototypical player that exemplifies the perfect scenario is former Illinois guard Deron Williams. Deron could run the point but was certainly big enough and strong enough to guard the three presenting Self with plenty of options. Look for Wright to be his next prototypical player.
The high-low motion offense has been another signature of a Self-coached team, but last year the Jayhawks went to more of a penetrate-and-pitch style. Without having a chance to work with his newest Jayhawks, the status of the high-low offense remains in limbo.
“We don’t know exactly what we’ll do. We’ll have to study it a little closer because we haven’t worked with the freshmen yet. Absolutely we’ll do some but this team can be more of a slashing, penetrating team that will be more athletic from top to bottom,” said Self.
With athleticism, youthful exuberance, versatility, and key interchangeable parts in place, fans can expect to see differences on both ends of the floor in 2005-2006.
“There will be pressure. We’ll play faster. We’ll pressure more because help will allow us to, last year help didn’t allow us to do some things. We won’t play through one guy as much as we did last year with Wayne. I think we’ll have a lot more balance. Our leading scorer could average 12 a game.”
Which wouldn’t be a surprise since Self’s offense has typically featured a balanced attack. In his final season at Tulsa, at least 4 players scored in double-digits in 24 of 35 games.
“My leading scorer at Tulsa averaged 13 a game and we finished in the top 10 in scoring. I think that could potentially be a concern for us this year -- where are our points going to come from? I think we have guys that can score, I just think we have young scorers and who knows how they’ll react early,” Self said.