LAWRENCE — When Kansas coach Bill Self took over at Illinois in 2000, he inherited a talented and muscled-up roster that was perfectly constructed to play Big Ten basketball. It was the ideal situation for a coach entering his first major job, and Self had former Illinois coach Lon Kruger to thank.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
“We were slow,” Self said. “But we were big, and we were tough. He left us some guys.”
Kruger, who had left Illinois to coach the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, will bring his latest program into Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday when the Oklahoma Sooners face Kansas at 3 p.m. Oklahoma, 13-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12, has been one of the league’s surprise teams this season. And Kruger, in his second season in Norman, is positioned to take his fifth school to the NCAA Tournament. He has accomplished the feat at K-State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.
“Consistency,” Self said. “He’s the same all the time — at least from the outside looking in. He is cool, on the bench, which I’m sure translates to practices.”
• Most coaches are loath to consider hypothetical situations, and Self is no different. But Self was asked on Thursday if he’s ever wondered how redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore could have impacted last season’s team, which finished one victory short of Self’s second national title. McLemore had to sit out the season as an academic partial qualifier, and he watched Kansas’ Final Four run from the sideline.
“We would have been deeper,” Self said, “we would have had better practices. We’d be better this year, because they would have practiced last year. There’d be a lot of things that would have made us better. But I’m not sure, at the end result, winning 32 games and playing in the national championship game, we could have done a lot better.”
But is there a little bit of Self that wishes McLemore and fellow redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor could have suited up against Kentucky in the NCAA title game? Maybe.
“It would have been fun,” Self said, “running another couple athletes out there against Kentucky.”
• Self said he watched the last 10 minutes of Texas Tech’s upset over Iowa State on Wednesday night. It was a surprising result — Texas Tech was 1-4 in the Big 12 with its only victory against winless TCU — but Self said it was a good reminder about how precious league road victories can be.
“Life on the road in our league,” Self said. “I think so many times we get hung up on maybe not looking great and winning on the road, and people think that’s a big deal. Really, any win on the road is a big deal. You look across America last night, and what happened at different venues, it was a pretty shocking night.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.