LAWRENCE — There are worse things than getting older, of course. And on Thursday afternoon, as he celebrated a rather monumental birthday, Bill Self tried to take that reasonable approach.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
When you get to be on the downward half, or spiral, Self said, I guess birthdays are great because it means youre still having them.
Truth is, Self has never been high on birthdays. At least, not his own. But Self couldnt avoid the topic much on Thursday. He was turning 50 the big five-oh but couldnt even say the number.
I turned 40 this year, Self said, joking. Its embarrassing to say; but I turned 40. I used to be a young coach. Now Im one of the older coaches around.
Its important to note that things could be a whole lot worse in Selfs world. On Thursday, the sixth-ranked Jayhawks, 10-1, were still just five days removed from a signature nonconference victory over Ohio State in Columbus. And after a few days off for Christmas, KU reconvened at Allen Fieldhouse for a night practice on Wednesday before working out again on Thursday morning and then holding an annual holiday clinic in Lawrence.
The holidays provide some time for reflection. And although Self knew this Kansas team would be solid, he does admit to being pleased with the progress to this point.
The Jayhawks have won eight straight, including four games in December by an average of 25.3 points per game.
Id say Im a little pleasantly surprised, Self said. I thought we could have a good team, and Im still not sure that were terrific. I think weve caught some people on some nights where they didnt shoot the ball well.
But were further along our first-shot defense has gotten pretty good; and were sharing the ball pretty well; and guys are starting to understand where theyre gonna score from. So thats fine.
Still, Self said he wasnt expecting to wake up on Thursday and see that his team was No. 2 behind Duke in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings.
Thats a shocker to me also, he said. But its still early. Its not even the new year yet, so its still too early to put too much stock in any of that.
The Jayhawks will return to the floor against American at 7 p.m. Saturday before closing out their nonconference slate with a home game against Temple on Jan. 6. The light schedule, combined with the semester break, should give the Jayhawks plenty of time to flesh out problems and install more offense over the next two weeks. It will also give Self an opportunity to see if his team can handle success.
Hell know more soon, he says, but hes mildly concerned that this may be a group that could become complacent after so many strong performances.
I would say, probably yes, because were young, Self said. And they may start thinking theyre good, which is OK to think it but not to forget about why they are (good).
I havent been yet, but I think this is probably a group Im gonna have to be tougher on the more success we have.
Chasing Coach K
Selfs birthday and the fact hes just 14 victories away from 500 for his career led to a question Thursday about the possibility of him someday approaching Duke coach Mike Krzyzewskis record for all-wins by a Division I coach. Krzyzewski, 65, is at 938 victories and counting, and a recent Sports Illustrated story suggested that Self may have the best chance among current college coaches.
Zero, Self said. Whoever wrote that, doesnt know me very well. I dont think that Ill want to coach near that long.
In case youre wondering, Self averaged 29.8 victories during his first nine years at KU after recording 207 wins at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois. If he continues on this pace, he would surpass 900 victories right around his 65th birthday.
Junior forward Justin Wesley has returned to non-contact practice after suffering a broken pinkie on Dec. 13. Self said Wesley, who is averaging five minutes per game, should return to contact practices within a week.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.