LAWRENCE, Kan. - On Wednesday afternoon Kansas players, along with head coach Bill Self, met with members of the media in Allen Fieldhouse. As part of the weekly press conference, the Jayhawks' discussed their upcoming opponent, Howard. Self fielded questions about the addition of freshmen Jamari Traylor and Ben McLemore to the practice squad, as well as the status of his team as they near the start of the conference season.
Below are videos and a transcript of Coach Self's and select players' interviews.
Self Press Conference Part 1 of 2
Self Press Conference Part 2 of 2
E. Johnson Interview
T. Robinson Interview
T. Taylor Interview
Bill Self Press Conference December 28, 2011 Lawrence, Kan.
Head Coach Bill Self On the additions of Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor to the practice squad: "Our practice squad is actually decent. Ben and Jamari have given us a lot of energy and athleticism. I wish they could play now because they would certainly help us. Practices have been better. We practiced twice before we played Davidson and of course that didn't equate to better play. I think it will be moving forward because it's much more competitive out there."
On the eligibility status of McLemore and Traylor: "They can do everything except play in games and travel. They're cleared to go. One of them had a 3.3 (GPA) and one had a 3.2, so they did great academically. I'm really proud of them. The NCAA put some very strict stipulations on them and they blew those away, so I'm very happy for them."
On where his team stands as they prepare for the start of the conference season in a week: "This is really the last week for us and every other team in our league to really get better through practice because after that it's two games per week for everybody. There are no off weeks for anybody. It's going to be a longer grind. Before, you played one game a week so you could rest a guy for a couple days. You can't do that anymore. This will be our springboard going forward as far as getting better. I like our guys' attitude. I think we're pretty good when we play with great energy and passion. I think we get real average real fast when we don't (play with energy). Against Davidson we were a bunch of duds and really didn't have great energy against USC; we guarded them, but didn't have great energy. That's something that's correctable and I think that we'll move forward in a positive way from that."
On the team's toughness: "I think all our guys, in some way, shape or form are pretty tough. We didn't show any toughness against Davidson. We puttered around and midway through the second half when we needed stops we didn't get stops. There's a lot of teams out there that don't give the appearance of being mentally or physically tough until there are certain stretches in the game when you have to perform. In tennis you can split the points throughout the match but if you win the most important points you're going to win. If you get a chance to break serve, you've gotta break. We just didn't close (against Davidson). We didn't get stops when we had to get stops or get a good, disciplined execution on offense when we had to and I think that's also a form of toughness. Calling them out individually, I don't know if that's the right thing to do. People think that Thomas (Robinson) is tough, and he is for the most part, but there's times he's not. People think Tyshawn (Taylor) is tough, and nobody can question his physical toughness but he's not a lot of the time. Toughness is when you miss four in a row but you still want the fifth one. We just have to get better in those areas. Our team overall, when you talk about loose balls, about defensive rebounding and things that are toughness-type plays, statistically we've actually done a pretty good job this year, better than I thought we would."
On how the team meeting came about after the players returned from the holiday break: "I just wanted to welcome everybody back from Christmas. The thing about it is, I like our guys and they know I like them, but I can't coach them and let things I feel go unsaid. I can't do it. I'm much better coaching them if I can say it and it's over. But if I don't say it then it will be pent up frustration for me. I've got to say it. The thing I told them more than anything else; I've had a chance to self-evaluate our staff and our players and I just don't think we're that far off. We're a team that, if we don't bring it every night, we get really average really fast because we're not the most talented team. But we've shown that when we bring it, we're talented enough to beat anybody. It's a fine line. You can't go into conference play and can't afford not to take every possession seriously, with energy and balance, and personality and enthusiasm. Sometimes we don't do that. That's the message I wanted to get across to them. They've actually been pretty good since that meeting. I said, `Gosh, Coach must be a real jerk. He wants you to play with emotion and passion. Imagine a coach actually telling a team that. What a jerk.' Those are things that I think every coach wants his team to do."
On if he thinks the bench is where he would like it to be at this point in the season: "Our bench hasn't produced like I would like for it to, but it can moving forward."
On if that is because of the tough schedule the team has faced: "We played a lot of people against Towson, and they played pretty good, but then we had Kentucky, Georgetown, UCLA and Duke back-to-back-to-back-to-back. There's not much time, so we get back and face Florida Atlantic and South Florida and we didn't play great in those games. Then we had Long Beach, who can beat anybody and then Ohio State. So, there's just not a lot of time to get guys the minutes that we probably need them to get in order for them to have confidence. Then you have Davidson, who we played from behind the whole game. We just haven't had a lot of opportunities to do that, but I don't know if that's a total excuse. I think, in large part, guys want to play. The guys get a chance to play every day. If they really want to be out there, they get a chance to impress the coaches every day. Everybody needs game reps, but it starts in practice and we haven't done that consistently."
On if he thinks the next two games will give him the chance to use the bench more: "I won't say that because now you are saying that you're going into games thinking that. If it turns out that way, great. If it doesn't turn out that way, then no. We have to win the games."
On if the rest of the Big 12 Conference has been a surprise this season: "It's gotten mine (attention). I don't know if it's gotten ours because, to be honest with you, our team is a little different. I don't know if our guys follow it (the other Big 12 games that take place in the non-conference) as much as others. The success that Baylor has had and the success Missouri has had, to me, has been eye-opening. More-so Missouri than Baylor because I thought Baylor played a schedule to where they could have their record. Missouri, they look really good and they're playing small and they can stretch it at the 4-spots. Now, the team I think has been the most pleasant surprise is K-State. Kansas State is a double-overtime game away from being in the top 15 or top 12 and being undefeated. If you look at our first two (conference) games, they are against Kansas State and Oklahoma. I don't know what Kansas State was picked in the league, but it wasn't that high and OU was picked tied for ninth or 10th. We have to be ready to go right from the jump."
Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor On how the team meeting came about: "It was just a team meeting. We felt like we had to adjust certain things. We weren't being good teammates to each other. Not so much on the court, but a lot of things together. It was just a bunch of things that boiled down to one. Things like that get hidden away when you're winning. But when you lose a couple of games, they get brought to the light. So we just had to adjust a couple of things. The last two days, we came out and had great practices. We just want to come out here and get better every day. I think at the beginning of the season, we were really hungry because we had so much to prove. After we played a couple of games against some good teams, we felt like we had proved that so we kind of fell back a little bit. We just have to get that `hunger' back, which I think will be easy for us because Coach (Bill Self) always says it's kind of like three seasons: non-conference is one, conference is another and then the post-season (being the last). So we are about to start our second season right now and we have to get back to getting hungry and winning some games."
On if the team meeting was a defining moment: "Yeah, I think having that meeting was what we wanted it to be. It was a defining moment for us, when we said `Look, this is where we stop doing all the dumb stuff you've been doing and this is where we stop not being good teammates, not talking when we're on the court and not cheering for each other.' Just little things like that, and now we're going to be better teammates, we're going to be talking and have a lot of energy when you come here. You're going to want to work hard on both the red team and the blue team. After we had that meeting, like I said, the last two days of practice have been really good. Coach has been letting us play and hasn't been screaming a lot, so we are feeling good about ourselves."
On his Christmas, any memorable gifts: "No (I didn't have any memorable gifts). But my mom and my sisters are happy though, so that made me good. I got to go back to New Jersey for a little while; it's always good to go home for a little while. But I'm excited to be back and get back to business. This is a good time for us because we get to bond as a team, we get to be here while everyone else is away. So we spend a lot of time together now and we get to play games. We get to play games without having to go to school, which is always a plus for me."
On the upcoming `second season' of Big 12 Conference play: "The Big 12 is a really good conference right now. I think we've got two teams in the top-10, or something like that, right now. Baylor, Missouri; those are two really good teams right there. We get to see K-State in our first conference game, then an Oklahoma team that's playing really well so far this year. This conference is going to be good and I'm excited. You know, they picked us to win it early and I think we still have a good chance to do that. But we still have to continue to get better because I'm sure the other teams are working (hard), just like we are working, and they're going to be good. I'm excited for us, for this conference. I think we're going to have some really good games. It's fun to get to play a home-and-away with every team this year, so I'm excited about that as well."
Junior guard Elijah Johnson On what the focus is now that the team is back from break: "Getting back in shape. Refreshing our memory with everything since we've been gone. Taking a couple days off can take a toll on you, so we're going over everything and making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do."
On the additions to the practice squad: "We have Ben (McLemore) and Jamari (Traylor) out there now. They can make a big difference. The level of competition at practice just shot out of the roof."
On if it feels different this year with Kansas not necessarily being at the center of the basketball world: "It can feel weird, but we still know that we can come out on top because everyone knows that we aren't on top. Eventually, we'll be there."
On what he has seen from the rest of the Big 12 Conference schools so far this season: "I think the Big 12 got shook up a lot this year. It's definitely not the same from what we've seen in the past. A lot of schools have not necessarily a different program, but a different look and a different way they have to win this year, including us. It's going to be different, but we should be used to playing the same teams every year."
Junior forward Thomas Robinson On starting the next phase of the season: "I'm just trying to get better and become a better team. We all came to the conclusion that we have a good team, and now we're just trying to get back to that point."
On the meeting the team had after break: "We had a meeting where we all came together and we just wanted to figure out what our problem is. We've won a couple games since Maui, but we all know that we aren't playing the same (as they did in Maui). I think we're back on the right track."
On if getting back to that high level starts on the practice floor: "It definitely starts on the practice floor. Going into the season, we felt like we had something to prove and we wanted to do that against everybody, but we lost a little bit of that edge. Practice was unbelievable today, though, so I think we're on the right track."
On going into the last two non-conference games of the season: "Conference play is going to be tough this year because we have to play everybody twice and now, instead of getting two days off (in between games), you only get one before you are back on the road. These next two home games will be good, so we can head into conference play (on the right track)."