Bill Self is on Hall of Fame ballot

KU Coach Bill Self

FEBRUARY 2017 – This has been a milestone season for Kansas coach Bill Self as the Jayhawks enter February chasing their 13th straight Big 12 title.

In November, Self became the winningest coach in Allen Fieldhouse history, surpassing his good friend Ted Owens. On Dec. 6, he won his 600th career game against UMKC, joining 31 other coaches in the club and becoming just the ninth-fastest coach to reach that milestone.

On Dec. 21, Self received his highest individual honor to date when he was nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The finalists for the Class of 2017 will be announced Feb. 18 during NBA All-Star Weekend, while the entire class will be unveiled on April 3 at the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona.

Bill Self’s nomination is a fitting tribute for a hard-driving and extremely successful man who has achieved much in his 24-year coaching career at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and is in his 14th year with Kansas.

A four-time national coach of the year, Bill Self has posted a 610-190 record overall, including a 403-85 mark at KU.

His 82.6 KU winning percentage ranks first among the eight Jayhawk coaches.

KU’s 12 straight Big 12 championships ranks second on the NCAA consecutive conference title list behind UCLA (13 straight from 1967-79), while Self’s Jayhawks have won more conference championships than lost home games, Self’s teams are 216-9 in Allen Fieldhouse for a mind-blowing 96.0 percent.

Bill Self has also guided his squads to two Final Fours, winning the 2008 NCAA title, been to 11 Sweet 16s and made eight Elite Eight appearances. Moreover, KU’s four straight 30-win seasons from 2009-13 are the most consecutive 30-win seasons in NCAA history.

The humble and unassuming Self said there are many coaches who are more deserving of the Hall of Fame, yet he was still honored to be recognized for what it meant to all of his players, assistant coaches and staff members who played an instrumental part in his coaching career since winning his first game at Oral Roberts on Nov. 26, 1993 against Sam Houston State 88-76.

“I certainly didn’t expect this,” Self said about his Hall of Fame nomination. “I’m proud, mainly because of the teams’ successes we’ve had in the various stops that put me in a position to be considered.”

For Self, his road to greatness and the Hall of Fame actually began while working then-KU coach Larry Brown’s camp the summer of 1984 before his senior year at Oklahoma State, where he was a tough and gritty playmaking guard for the Cowboys. Self recalled at his KU introductory press conference on April 21, 2003 how he got his lucky coaching break at that camp after injuring his knee.

“As bad as it hurt, I limped worse than it hurt, and I tried to get as much pity loving from him (Brown) as I possibly could,” Self said. “At the end of camp I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey coach, I just want to thank you for everything. This has been a remarkable week for me, even though I wasn’t an athlete here, to have the opportunity to come work,’ because I felt Kansas that one week.

“While I was saying that, I caught him at a weak moment, and he said, ‘Hey Bill, if there’s anything I can ever do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.’ Opportunity knocked right there, and I said, ‘Coach, there is one thing.’ And he said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘You can hire me next year to be your graduate assistant.’ And on the spot — I caught him off-guard — he said, ‘You’re hired.’ And that’s how I got into coaching.”

After serving as a graduate assistant at KU in 1985-86 and then as an assistant at Oklahoma State until 1993, Self got his first head-coaching job at Oral Roberts. Looking back, Self would never had dreamed he’d reach 600 wins after ORU went 6-21 during his first season, losing 15 straight games to end the year and then opening the next season with three more consecutive defeats.

“I would have thought (I’d have) 600 losses instead of wins,” Self said. “We went through a period of time when we were awful. I thought if we could just get back to .500 that would be a remarkable (feat), and those kids did. They played great. To leave Oral Roberts after four years with a winning record (55-54) I think was the most remarkable thing we’ve done in coaching considering we started out so poorly.”

After leading ORU to a 21-7 record and a NIT berth his fourth season, Self compiled a 74-27 record from 1997-2000 at Tulsa and 78-24 from 2004-93 at Illinois before taking Kansas to even greater heights the past 14 years.

“It has been a fun run with a lot of great kids and certainly a ton of great players and a great staff,” Self said.

Bill Self remains as passionate about winning and molding young men as he was when beginning his head-coaching career.

“I don’t think the candle’s anywhere close to burning out,” Self said. “It certainly is still something that burns inside all of us whether it’s KT (assistant coach Kurtis Townsend), myself or Norm (Roberts, assistant coach), who’s been here a long time. We still have that burning desire to get back and make another run at it.”

Senior guard Frank Mason presented Self with a commemorative game ball, which Self raised high with his right hand as Mason, son Tyler and other players embraced their beloved coach, after routing UMKC for his 600th victory.

They watched a tribute on the Allen Fieldhouse video board with congratulatory messages from Self’s former players at ORU, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas. From Earl McClellan at Oral Roberts, Tony Heard at Tulsa, Dee Brown at Illinois and Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers and Darnell Jackson at Kansas, all expressed unwavering admiration for Self.

“I just want to know (my wife and I) love you and are so incredibly thankful to you,” McClellan said. “In all honesty, your greatest accomplishment in my mind is not all you’ve done on the court, but all the things you’ve done off the court. You’ve had such a profound impact on my life personally. I feel like I’m a better man as a result of having you as part of my life. So thank you so much for all the lessons you taught me in those beginning stages of you as a head coach and me as a young man. I’ve continued to develop and grow and still feel like I’m on the journey, but without a shadow of a doubt, I’m a better man today because of you. I know there’s hundreds of other men who can say the exact same thing. So thank you so much on how faithful you’ve been, how consistent you’ve been. I love you, love your family. We are cheering you on.”

After all the cheers, after all the love that evening, Self reflected about winning No. 600 and what the video tribute truly meant to him.

“It’s a significant number. This is our 24th year, and to have that number, it’s pretty significant,” Self said. “(But) what’s significant to me more than anything, is to see those guys on the video board and how many players that my family have seen come through going back to ORU and losing 18 in a row and all those kids are eating at your house every week and hanging out and kind of watch them grow up to where we are now, that to me is what makes it special.

“I remember going way back to when Earl was an 18-year-old walk-on I met in a Subway shop and he asked me if he could come out. I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Now he has his own big church there in Dallas. So many of those guys have gone on to do good things, not just on the basketball court, but with their lives. Of course, the basketball court has played a big role in a lot of their lives, but that (video tribute) was really nice. I certainly didn’t anticipate that, but I was pretty moved watching those kids.”

The current Jayhawks soaked in the moment,

“It means a lot,” freshman guard Josh Jackson said. “It’s really cool to see all the guys who’s been part of this before and been here before me, and just to know that I’m a part of it now feels really good.”

Junior guard Devonte’ Graham spoke about what makes Bill Self a great coach.

“How hard he is on us. He pushes us because he knows how good we can be and he wants what is best for us, on and off the court,” Graham said. “He teaches us how to be a man and there is more to it than just basketball that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Said Roberts, who has been on Self’s staffs at all four universities, “I think one of the things about him, is he is who he is, he doesn’t try to be somebody else. I think he has a standard, a standard that he believes in, that our program believes in, that we’re going to live up to every day. He’s not afraid, and this is a big key. He is not afraid of coaching his best players. He will coach them hard, hard. He expects a lot out of them, and I think when you do that, the other players are going to respond. He’s done that over the years I’ve been there with him. He adapts to what the situation is, he’s not a guy that’s just putting a box and ‘I’m going to do it this way,’ and that is why he’s been so successful.”

For Bill Self, it’s never been about him.

“This is a team game,” he said. “There’s no ‘I.’ If you hear our players talk, I hope they always say ‘we’ or ‘us.’ You hear the assistant coaches, they should always say ‘we’ or ‘us.’ I never did anything in this game. It’s always a team effort, in anything you do, whether it’s good or maybe not even so good. I learned that from coach Brown and then with Leonard (Hamilton, former head coach at Oklahoma State) and then again with coach (Eddie) Sutton (at OSU) that ‘I’ should never be part of your vocabulary when you talk about team things.”

While basketball is a team game, Self has certainly risen to the top of his profession. And in September, he will likely be inducted alongside Brown and other legends in Springfield, Massachusetts, as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Georgia coach Mark Fox think Bill Self is most deserving.

“He’s a smart coach, one of the all-time best,” Fox said.

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Article by David Garfield.

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