Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Self is Worth a Lot
by Jeff Herr,posted Mar 26 2012 4:40PM
In many ways this might be one of the hardest teams to root for in Bill Self’s tenure. With the exception of Thomas Robinson, every other player on this roster has come under fire this year. Early on, after 11 turnovers against Duke, fans were crying about Tyshawn Taylor needing to be benched. Elijah Johnson went through the regular season with possibly the banner of “most disappointing KU player” hanging over his head. Jeff Withey started the season hearing mostly jokes about the fact that he was actually starting at Kansas. Travis Releford was a fine player but had to red-shirt just to get a chance at playing.
For those reasons this also may make this Kansas team one of the most memorable ones. Despite all the adversity this team struggled through early in the season they’ve done something few other KU teams have.
This is the team that took the best shot of two double digit seed BCS schools and came out on top. This is the team that trailed for over 39 minutes against Purdue, but shook off the echoes of upsets past and won the game.
This is the team that had possibly its most disappointing player in Johnson be the hero against Purdue and last night against North Carolina. This is the team that only had one returning starter in Taylor who looked like he had no business doing so at multiple points through the season. Of three straight Kansas teams that have won 30+ games in a season, this is the one that has made the Final Four.
Depth is something that Self has always had as head coach of Kansas. Looking back at the roster of the 2009-2010 team Self could have fielded two top 10 teams. All-Americans Thomas Robinson and Marcus Morris came off the bench that season. Yet, they came up empty as the NCAA tournaments #1 overall seed. Losing to University of Northern Iowa brought up memories of all the upsets this Kansas team has had over the years.
Self brought in the #1 recruit in the country Josh Selby to go with many returning players that made the team a #1 overall seed in the tournament again the following season. A trip to the Elite 8 ended in heartbreak as so many have for Self. This looked like a year that KU would cruise to the Final Four as a 1-seed that didn’t have to play anybody higher than a 9 seed through the Elite Eight. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
After extending his Elite Eight record to 1-5 there was no doubt some soul searching going on for Bill Self. Surely there was probably some “why me?” in there as well. After his top three recruits became ineligible for the 2011-2012 season, Self knew it was going to take a lot to reach the absurdly high standards he has set for this program.
What last night’s victory has proved is that whatever answers Self found when he looked in the mirror were the right ones. Through all the adversity, with the least talented and least deep team of his tenure, Self has made himself a better coach.
As the head of this program he preaches learning and getting better to his players. Most coaches do. What’s rare is when a coach actually grows and develops with his team. Self can still recruit with the best of them but he may have now solidified himself as one of the best in-game coaches in the country.
Self pulling out the triangle-and-2 defense and flummoxing North Carolina was possibly his best coaching move of the tournament. KU went on a 12-0 run to end the game and sent the Tar Heels packing with a 13-point loss.
The only thing more impressive than Self’s growth as a coach this season has been the growth of his players. This tournament has seen the coming-of-age of Elijah Johnson right in front of our eyes. Taylor became a true leader after many called for him to be benched. Robinson went from role player to superstar. And Self went from great coach to elite coach. He now has earned the right to be mentioned with Mike Kryzewski,
Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun among others.
This means that there are only great things still left to come. If there was any knock on Self it was that he didn’t let his players go out and make mistakes and learn. Selby last year was often pulled after making a mistake. Many were concerned that method helped to stunt Selby’s development.
Self did not have the same luxury this year. With his shortest bench ever he had to let Taylor have his 11 turnover games. He had to let Johnson take his lumps with bad shooting. All those players are better for it and so is Self.
Self will lose the two best players from this team in Taylor and Robinson. He has a quality recruiting class coming in that can only get better with a few spring signings. Those players will be playing under a new version of Self. This will be the elite coach Self. No longer heavy with pressure and the “can’t get over the hump” stigma. If it wasn’t erased after 2008 it’s eradicated now. Self will be able to know how to manage a roster 10 deep but will also know that sometimes the best thing you can do is let them take their lumps.
Final Fours at Kansas aren’t exactly rare. With this being the 14th trip for the school it’s a baseline more than it is a goal. That’s not necessarily fair to have to deal with that every year, but if KU wants to be considered on that level, they have to play by those expectations. Now, what is rare is Kansas having a season like this. What was supposed to be a “down year,” has taken them to a Final Four and only two wins away from the true Promised Land.
This team may have been one of the most unlikely to be here, but with the growth of the coach and the players (and a couple more victories) it may end up being one of the most remembered.
This is a wonderful indepth article you wrote.It almost made me cry. These players did such a wonderful job with a very thin roster. Hats off to Self and his kids. I wish they get to go to NBA and have a wonderful life for themselves. Coach Self is such an affable, easy to talk to, not an arrogant person like some of the other coaches. He has humility which is very distinctive.