Bill Self was the first member of Kansas’ basketball traveling party to exit the black Arrow Stage Lines bus that pulled in front of the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center at 4:54 p.m. Wednesday — well in advance of Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament contest at BOK Center.
“It was the most comfortable four-hour bus trip I’ve ever been on, sitting in a seat that doesn’t lean back and looking straight above watching television. I was glad it was over. It was fine, though,” said Self, KU’s coach, of the trip from Allen Fieldhouse to Tulsa, a city clearly dear to his heart.
A hometown hero in Okmulgee, Okla., where he was born, an icon in Edmond, Okla., where he starred at point guard in high school, and in Stillwater where he both played and coached at Oklahoma State, Self is also beloved in Tulsa.
It’s where he coached Oral Roberts for four years and Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane for three seasons encompassing 1993 to 2000.
“I love Tulsa,” said Self.
His Jayhawks (28-4) will play UC Davis (23-12) at 5:50 p.m. Friday at BOK Center. The winner will meet either Miami or Michigan State in the second round Sunday.
“Tulsa is obviously a place that is very fond to us (Self family members). We always look forward to going back. Although this one will not be social at all, we still have a lot of great friends here,” said Self, who took Tulsa to two NCAA Tournaments in his three seasons as head coach, including a berth in the Elite Eight in 2000, and Oral Roberts to the NIT in 1997, his fourth year at the school.
“I’d much rather be in Tulsa than Oklahoma City because we haven’t played very well in Oklahoma City. We actually played well in Tulsa last time here.”
In 2011, KU beat Boston University 72-53 and Illinois 73-59 at BOK Center. The Jayhawks advanced to the San Antonio Regional, where they beat Richmond and lost to VCU.
The Jayhawks beat Lehigh and lost to Northern Iowa in Oklahoma City in 2010 and also dropped a first-round game there to Bucknell in 2005.
“It is I guess where we started,” Self said of his college head coaching career beginning in Tulsa. “We saw the full gamut. We went from losing 18 in a row to winning 31 of our last 38 at ORU to being an average team at best our first year at Tulsa. A couple of years later we made a pretty good run to the Elite Eight.”
Self said location doesn’t guarantee success for the Jayhawks, yet, win or lose, the team is where it wants to be.
“Our guys did have a good year to put themselves in a situation to play in geographically in a good area for us,” Self said. “Tulsa is only about a 3 1/2 -hour drive. We’re staying in the Midwest. Whoever is fortunate enough to win a couple of games gets a chance to play in Kansas City. You’d think that would be a bonus for us.
“I think our guys are excited. We’ve been seeded high several times (seven No. 1 seeds in 11 years). We have played up to expectations a few, certainly haven’t played up to expectations more than we wish to count. Hopefully, this is a year we go in with a free mind and certainly a focus that has been better than in some years past.”
The Jayhawks will hold a shootaround that is open to the public from 4:25 to 5:05 p.m. Thursday at BOK Center after practicing at an undisclosed location.
KU senior forward Landen Lucas is hoping to see a lot of fans at the shootaround, but especially for Friday’s game — and if KU wins, Sunday’s battle against either Michigan State or Miami.
“Hopefully we’ve got a lot of Kansas fans out in Tulsa cheering us on,” Lucas said. “And the biggest thing about getting the seed that we got is that we get to play in Kansas City (March 23 in the Sweet 16 if KU wins two games in Tulsa). Our fans are great, especially helping us when we’re going on runs or maybe coming back in the game. So we’re all looking forward to playing in front of them and seeing them out there.”
The Jayhawks played three games in the tourney in Tulsa during the Ted Owens era. KU defeated Creighton (55-54) and Oral Roberts (93-90) to advance to the 1974 Final Four in Greensboro, N.C., where KU placed fourth. In 1975, KU lost to Notre Dame 77-71 in a first-round game, also at Oral Roberts’ Mabee Center.
“I’ve got a ton of friends here,” Self said. “I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see very many of ’em. I’m sure some will swing by practice, which will be good to see them. Tulsa is a good town. I think this is a good venue, too (BOK). I Iike the facility. It kind of reminds me of Sprint Center in some ways. It’s a nice venue.”
Scouting the opponent
The Jayhawks were to watch the first half of Wednesday’s play-in game between UC Davis and North Carolina Central at the team hotel and the second half while eating dinner at an undisclosed location. The team was to meet at 10 p.m. at the team hotel to receive the first scouting report on KU’s upcoming opponent.
“UC Davis is very disciplined,” Self said before the game. “They can really guard. They can score but they don’t play real fast. N.C. Central plays a little faster. They are very sound, too. Two different styles, not anything we haven’t seen. It’s probably a game in which we need to create some pace no matter who we are playing.”
Of his players watching the play-in game, Self said: “I think some will watch it as a basketball game. Some will watch with a scouting eye. The freshmen probably will say, ‘That’s a nice play,’or ‘he’s pretty athletic.’ Frank (Mason) will say, ‘Man you see how they score? They run this action a lot.’ That kind of stuff.”
Team good to go in NCAAs
Self said the Jayhawks are healthy entering the NCAAs.
“Everybody’s practiced this week. Nobody’s sick,” Self said. “We’ve practiced pretty hard this week. We haven’t looked great but we’ve gone pretty hard. I know our guys will be ready to play. That doesn’t always guarantee you’ll make shots. I know we’ll be ready to play.”
Azubuike still healing
Self said there’s no way Udoka Azubuike, who had left wrist surgery in January, would make a miraculous appearance in the NCAAs. Self said screws in the wrist will come out in a month.
The Jayhawks are staying at the same hotel they stayed at in 2011, when they won two games in Tulsa.
“We were assigned this hotel. The highest seed in this particular bracket got this hotel,” Self said. “We stayed here a few times before. We played pretty well in Tulsa last time. Hopefully it’ll be a repeat performance.”