- Jason King
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Six weeks after his team finished a somewhat-surprising season with a march to the NCAA title game, Kansas coach Bill Self ducked out of Lawrence last weekend for a vacation with a couple of buddies.
Destination: Cabo San Lucas.
“It wasn’t awful,” Self said of his trip. “I promise you that.”
It was tough for staff members not to be jealous of Self when he returned to work at Allen Fieldhouse Monday, tanned, refreshed and relaxed.
Self is glad he snuck the trip in when he could. The Jayhawks hosted a recruit on Monday and Tuesday, Self’s basketball camps are slated for next month, and most of July will be spent on the road recruiting.
Kansas has won eight straight Big 12 titles and averaged a national-best 33 wins over the past six seasons. As difficult as it’s been to reach that level of excellence, Self knows maintaining it will be even tougher.
“We’ve set the bar pretty high around here,” he said.
Self spent some time Tuesday answering questions from ESPN.com.
What sort of feedback have you received since your march to the NCAA title game?
Bill Self: From recruits, the [response] has been positive. We probably won’t know as much from them until the November signing period, because that’s when we’ll hopefully capitalize on our run to the finals. I think the fans are excited around here. Everyone is disappointed we lost to [Kentucky] but, on the flip side, I think this is a team that really got a lot further than everyone probably anticipated we would have. So with that, everyone thinks it was a great campaign.
You’ve won eight straight Big 12 titles and have been to four Elite Eights and two Final Fours since arriving at Kansas. How confident are you that next season’s team can continue that trend of high-level success?
BS: They told me the other day that we’ve averaged 33 wins over the last six years. So the past teams have set the bar pretty high. I never thought this past year’s team would get to 32 [wins], to be honest -- especially with the way we started. I don’t see how in the world, playing in the Big 12, that next year’s team can get to that level. But players do rise up to the challenge around here. We lost two great players in Thomas [Robinson] and Tyshawn [Taylor]. We’re going to have to have some guys step up and some newcomers step up and be good for us. But I do like our guys. I think we’ll have a chance to be a pretty good team.
Since you mentioned newcomers, Ben McLemore, who redshirted last season, has received a lot of hype of the last 12 months. Is he as good as advertised?
BS: From an athletic standpoint, he’s about as impressive of a kid as we’ve had. He’s got great feet. He could be a good defender. There aren’t too many guys that can score that want to be told they could be a great defender. But he could be. He could be a terrific defender. We think he’s going to be really good. We think Jamari Traylor is going to be really good, too. But these guys don’t know what they’re doing. Even though they’ve been here for a semester practicing with us, it’s still going to be all brand new to them. But they both have a chance to impact this program in a big way, and I would anticipate it being next year.
As good of a season as he had last year, what can center Jeff Withey do to enhance his game even more?
BS: To me, Jeff is a guy that has probably improved about as much during the course of a season as anyone I’ve been around. He goes from being a guy who couldn’t get in the game two years ago to just barely getting in last year to now, he (owns) the all-time record in the NCAA tournament for blocked shots, and there have been some pretty good players in the NCAA tournament. Offensively, he’s got to get stronger. He’s got to get to where he’s the No. 1 option inside, whereas last year he played off of Thomas. I think he’s capable. I just think he’s got to get stronger.
Any early thoughts on the Big 12?
BS: Our league is always going to be good. Adding TCU and West Virginia offsets the loss to Texas A&M and Missouri. It gets us an opportunity to play another game in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] metroplex, and of course we get a personality coming into in the league in Huggs (Bob Huggins). Our league, basketball-wise, will not take a step backward. We’ll take a step sideways because it’s different personnel. But not a step backward. I think we’ll have a great shot to be one of the top three or four leagues in the country, as we have been, for the most part, year in and year out.
Would you like to see the Big 12 add a few more teams, or do you like it at 10?
BS: To be honest with you, I thought nine was the perfect number. Because that way you’re playing 16 league games and, in football, everybody plays eight game. But I understand the reasoning why you’d want to go to 10 or 12. Without question, I understand the reasoning. It gives you more of an appearance of stability and more of a safety net as conference realignment continues to develop. Hopefully the brakes have been put on that, at least for the short term. But I anticipate us expanding. We’ve even heard rumors here recently about a school from the ACC (Florida State) potentially looking to come our way. I think you’ll have more and more of that talk. Because the Big 12, at least from an appearance standpoint, is on the best footing it’s been on in a long time.
The NBA draft is less than two months away. Everyone knows Thomas Robinson will likely be a top five pick, but what about Tyshawn Taylor?
BS: We’ve been in a situation like a lot of schools have, where NBA scouts get a chance to see your guys in practice and in multiple games. There’s no telling how many (NBA) teams watched our last eight or nine games. You come away impressed [with Taylor], but once you see him in person, and in an individual workout, you’ll be even more impressed. He’s a good workout-guy. He’s good technique-wise, he’s got great fundamentals, he’ll show that he can shoot it, because he can. He just didn’t shoot it well in the tournament, but he shot it well for us, for the most part, all season long. He’s definitely a first-round talent. Whether he’s able to get in there ... that remains to be seen because of what certain teams may be looking for. But I’ve had some good players, and he’s definitely a first-round talent.