He saw up close how Brown mentored players like sophomore phenom Danny Manning and senior Calvin Thompson — both on and off the court. And Self hoped that he, too, could have a similar impact one day.
While he always dreamed of returning to Kansas as head coach, Self never realistically thought this would happen the next 17 years in stops as an assistant at Oklahoma State and head coaching jobs at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, and Illinois. But on April 21, 2003, Self’s dream became reality when he was named the eighth head coach in Kansas basketball history.
“I woke up this morning, and I’m driving to the office, and on purpose I drove up Naismith Drive,” Self said at his press conference that day. “And you know, I’ve always thought, ‘How cool would it be to office on Naismith Drive?’ And now it gets to happen.’”
Self’s dream will continue at least five more years. After three seasons at Mount Oread, Self signed a new contract Thursday that begins retroactively on April 1, 2006, and expires in March 2011. Self’s prior contract had two years remaining and was set to end on April 20, 2008. His new deal has an annual salary of $220,000, plus additional payments that bring his total compensation to just over $1.375 million per year.
About two and a half hours before KU released a statement and the contract became official, Self spoke at his noon press conference regarding the deal.
"This is something that Lew Perkins (Kansas Athletics Director) and I have been talking about for a while and I am excited about it,” Self said. “I am excited about it for a lot of reasons. We love it here at KU. We love the players in our program. We love the direction that we are going and love the people that we work with. There certainly has been a strong commitment made to the entire athletic program and basketball has benefited from that. We're excited about being a part of it for at least five more years."
Self has certainly played a big part in KU’s success the last three seasons after replacing Roy Williams in 2003. He’s posted a remarkable record 78-25 record (.757), guided KU to the NCAA Elite Eight, and won a share of the Big 12 title the past two seasons. Self has also made his mark as one of the top — if not the No. 1 recruiter — in college basketball. All Self did the last three recruiting seasons was sign a whopping six McDonald’s High School All-Americans, and that’s not including Brandon Rush, now a KU sophomore and first-team preseason All-American. Rush was ineligible for the McDonald’s team since he played at a prep school (Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina).
So what’s more for Self to accomplish at KU?
"We haven't won in the NCAA tournament like we had hoped,” he said. “If you told me before we got here that we would win the Big 12 two out of three years and finish second the other year, I would say that is pretty good. If you told me that we would lose in the first round twice, I would say that is very poor. I think our staff has done a great job recruiting and we have great kids in the program. I don't need to give myself a grade. All is know is that we're trying hard and we got all the pieces in place to move forward and the foundation has been set to be solid for a long time."
Indeed, it is. And Self know he has a team this year that can be more than solid. KU, quite simply, can be spectacular. The Jayhawks showed flashes of greatness when beating then-No. 1 Florida (82-80 in overtime) on Nov. 25 in Las Vegas. Kansas outrebounded and outhustled the Gators, and showcased their tremendous talent (like sophomore forward Julian Wright breaking the Gators’ press near midcourt and flying to the hoop for a one-handed monster dunk) to an ESPN2 audience and a flock of NBA scouts attending the game.
Finally, after two weeks of mostly soft and sluggish play since blowing out Northern Arizona, 91-57, in the season opener on Nov. 11 (KU lost to Oral Roberts, 78-71, four days later), Self’s Jayhawks rediscovered their passion against Florida. They played with energy. They played with focus. And above all, they played for the love of the game.
Although the Jayhawks still had some missed defensive assignments and blew a four-point lead in the final 17 seconds of regulation, KU took a huge step towards finding its identity. After showing no signs of letdown in whipping undermanned Dartmouth, 83-32 (lowest point total by an opponent in Allen Fieldhouse history), three days later on Tuesday, these Jayhawks appear poised for a huge month in December. It all starts this Saturday vs. DePaul (2-4) at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
Self knows, though, that KU must improve in such areas as halfcourt offense, defensive intensity, and blocking out.
"I don't think any coach would say their team is where they should be,” he said. “We're doing OK, but we still have a lot of stuff to learn and do. We will be a lot better come Christmas than we are today. I think every coach would say that. We have a lot of talent and certainly we've made some strides over the past 10 days in a positive direction, but we still have some major steps to take."
While Self hopes KU can become better offensively, he realizes this squad will hang its hat on defense.
"I don't think we'll be a team that averages 88 or 90 points a game.” Self said. “I see us being a team that focuses on making other teams play poorly. I don't think we're going to be the type of team that likes to outscore teams. If that is the case, we're going to have some bad nights. Offensively, we have some talented players, but already teams have schemed ways to slow us down and we need to make sure we're great defensively."
One player teams have had trouble shutting down is star freshman Darrell Arthur. The 6-9 forward, who had 19 points (6-of-7 FG) and nine rebounds in just 16 foul-plagued minutes against Florida (the nation’s best frontcourt), is the team’s leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and mentioned by ESPN’s Dick Vitale as one of the top five freshmen in America.
Self has been quite pleased with Arthur’s performance.
"Darrell has had a very good first seven games of his career,” said Self, who thought Rush would be the team’s top scorer. “He's been efficient maximizing his minutes and he's off to a great start. He does get a lot of easy shots, which helps him shoot over 50 percent. Big guys have a better chance to do that because so many of the shots are in tight. When you really look at Darrell and his college points, I'd say he's shooting 50 percent or close to it, which is great for a young guy. Shooting percentages can be skewed because of breakaway layups or dunks. But when it comes to backing someone up and scoring over them in the post, I'd say he's close to 50 percent, which is very good."
So now Arthur and KU head into December vs. the Blue Demons, a homecoming for Chicago natives Wright and freshman guard Sherron Collins. Self will also be returning to the state, where he led Illinois to an Elite Eight NCAA appearance and two Big 10 championships. He capped off his second year at UI in 2002 by becoming the first Big Ten coach since 1912, and just the second all-time, to lead his team to conference titles in each of his first two seasons at the school.
But when KU came calling for a new coach in 2003, well, Self just couldn’t resist. After all, this was his dream to return to Lawrence where his coaching career began under Brown. He could still hear those cheers from the Allen Fieldhouse faithful echo in his mind, and just knew it was time to come home. Self called his time at KU 20 years ago a magical experience.
He would pick Brown’s mind whenever he could that 1985-86 season, just a year after he played against his boss and Manning (a freshman) on March 2, 1985 as a senior at Oklahoma State (Self had a game-high 10 points in 24 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 88-79 win). He wanted to soak in the knowledge from the coaching genius, who is now enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Self admired Brown then, and always will.
“I used to talk to coach Brown all the time, and he amazed me because he’s been at a few places,” Self said at his introductory press conference as KU head coach in April, 2003. “Here’s a guy that played and coached at North Carolina and went to the national championship game at UCLA. And he used to tell me, ‘Those places are great, but there’s no place like Kansas.’ That’s always stuck with me. He’s been to the best, and he thought this was the best.’”
Now, Self wants to make KU the best team in the country. For the Edmond, Okla., native, there’s no place he’d rather be. Perkins and all Jayhawk fans hope he’ll be here forever.
"We are thrilled that Bill Self will be our coach for years to come," Perkins said in a statement Thursday announcing the new contract. "There's no one I'd rather have at the helm of the Kansas men's basketball program."