Tyler Self admits he might become a bit emotional walking onto James Naismith Court with his dad, Bill, and mom, Cindy, amid a shower of flowers tossed his way during Senior Night introductions before Monday’s Kansas-Oklahoma game at Allen Fieldhouse.
Self, a fifth-year senior guard out of Lawrence’s Free State High, could conceivably break down and cry after the contest while delivering a short speech to 16,300 fans sure to stay in their seats to hear comments from KU’s outgoing players.
He is 100 percent sure about only one thing: He will be fully focused for the 8 p.m. tipoff as he makes his first — and last — start as a Jayhawk.
“I doubt it’ll be the same as my other appearances,” Self said. He has played 86 minutes in 42 games in his college career, usually entering after fans chant his name near the end of lopsided victories.
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“Getting to start will be a special moment I’m sure. It’ll be a bittersweet moment,” Self added of opening with fellow seniors Landen Lucas and Frank Mason in their final home games at KU. “But everybody will be ready to go. I don’t think any of us seniors would want to go out with anything but a win on our last night. I’m pretty sure everybody will be jacked up, ready to play.”
KU coach Bill Self said Tyler, per Senior Night tradition, will start next to Mason and Lucas, as well as freshman Josh Jackson and junior Devonté Graham. Regular starter Svi Mykhailiuk will come off the bench on this one, special occasion.
“I’m excited, but it’s kind of sad since it’ll definitely be the last home game I’ll be part of,” said Self, who has scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting and dished out three assists against six turnovers in 10 games in his senior season. For his career, he’s scored 14 points with 10 assists, 19 turnovers and seven rebounds.
Senior Night can definitely be sad for the honorees, who on occasion, shed tears.
Last year, for instance Jamari Traylor broke down and wept during his Senior Night speech.
“I haven’t really thought about it yet. I could see it happening, especially during the speeches,” Tyler said of one or more members of the senior trio sobbing.
When asked which senior would be most likely to succumb to emotion, he said, “I don’t know. I could. I possibly could. I don’t know.”
Tyler Self said it’s been a joy being in the same class as forward Lucas, from Portland, Ore., as well as guard Mason, from Petersburg, Va.
“I think we have a little bit of everything in this class,” Tyler said. “Everybody kind of brings something different to the table. As a senior I’ve tried to step up and lead and coach the young guys as much as I can, bring my experience and knowledge to the team and help move them along as quickly as possible, try to get everybody ready for the biggest stage.”
Self and Lucas are roommates who both graduated last May and are pursuing master’s in business administration.
“Landen is a smart kid who definitely understands the game and the way we try to play here. Every day he’s trying to help the younger guys see it through his eyes,” Tyler said.
Mason, a lock for Big 12 player of the year and strong candidate for national player of the year, “has been unbelievable not only scoring the ball but leading our team. He’s done everything he can to help us win. It seems every time we need a big shot he’s there to make one,” Tyler stated.
Self pinpointed one thing he’ll remember the most about both Mason and Lucas.
“When Frank hit that game-winner against Duke, that was a pretty special moment,” Self said of Mason’s converting at the end of KU’s 77-75 win over Duke on Nov. 15 in New York. “It was kind of big for our team (which is 26-3 overall and 14-2 in the Big 12, compared to Oklahoma’s 10-18, 4-12 mark). I think it could have been a turning point either way that game after the way the first one went (an overtime loss to Indiana). I think him stepping up there set the tone for our season.
“One of my favorite memories from practice with Landen,” Self continued, “was when he and Tarik Black (former KU center now in the NBA) were getting into it one day. It was kind of a heavyweight battle going back and forth.”
Mason and Lucas have their memories of Tyler Self, whose main contributions have come during practice when leading the scout team.
“He’s a great kid, somebody I’ve enjoyed being with,” Lucas said. “To go through five years with him has been awesome.”
“He contributes a lot, works hard at practice, helps us get better,” Mason said. “When his opportunity comes to get out there in the game, he’ll be ready. I can’t wait for that opportunity to come for him (Monday).”
As far as future opportunities, Self said he’s not yet decided if he wants to become a coach, like his father, or remain in basketball in some other capacity. Lucas and Mason have designs on playing pro ball, but Tyler is through after this season.
“I get asked about that more and more as this season is winding down. It’s something I kind of want to wait and feel out after the season is over, just give the rest of this year my all then go from there,” he said.
He desperately wants a national championship to cap a career in which he’s had no regrets.
“It’s been a demanding five years,” Tyler said. “It’s kind of worn on my body, but it’s nothing I’d ever change. Having the opportunity to run through this tunnel, play in the fieldhouse and be a member of the team … I’d do it again if I could.
“I knew it was different (from high school) the first time I played pick-up in the summer coming in. Everybody is an athlete. Everybody is strong. Everybody is talented. It wasn’t shocking to me by any means, but I could easily tell the difference in the change of pace, change of style, change of athlete.”
Not as physically gifted as the scholarship players, walk-on Tyler has undoubtedly contributed, his dad says.
“He’s actually my all-time favorite player, although we’ve had some good ones,” Bill Self said. “He graduated, stuck around a fifth year to work on his MBA. He’s been a great teammate. He’s put his stamp on the program.
“This place means a lot to Tyler,” Self added. “This is all he knows. This is what he’s grown up on. Landen … the way he’s grown, and Frank to come from where he has been to now, it will be a fun night. I think it’ll be one of the best Senior Nights we’ve had and we’ve had a lot of great ones. I think there will be a lot of emotion in the building.”
The postgame speeches will be short, Bill said.
“Tyler … he can’t go more than three or four (minutes),” Bill said with a laugh.
Mason, who has said he wishes his college career could go on indefinitely, may be too emotional to speak for long.
“I”m not ready,” Mason said of his career soon coming to an end. “I’m not ready. I’m just enjoying the last few days before Monday gets here, taking it day by day. Whatever happens Monday …” he added, his voice trailing off.
One of KU’s more quotable players, Lucas noted: “Maybe I’ll use it more as a thank you to the people who’ve helped me.
“If you want to sum up a career, maybe write a book later on,” he added with a laugh.
Yes, there will be laughter as well as tears Monday night.
Everybody’s wondering what Tyler will say about his dad.
“It’s been an incredible experience getting to hang out with my dad every day while also playing basketball for Kansas,” Tyler said. “It’s awesome and something we’ve enjoyed. We came into it trying to have a player/coach relationship. Off the court it’s father/son. I think it’s worked well.”
Dad actually has a softer side, Tyler said.
“I think most outsiders see how intense he can be at games. In the film room, locker room, on the court he’s a player’s coach. He’s built relationships with all the guys,” he said.
Including his son, his “all-time favorite Kansas player.”