Tim Jankovich was told something on Thursday he claimed not to know. His SMU Mustangs are something of a sleeper pick to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed.
The reasoning is sound. SMU is hot, winners of 16 straight, and the Mustangs are a bit of an odd duck, starting five guys who each stand around 6-7 and play different positions.
But Jankovich, a former Kansas State guard and member of Bill Self’s first staff at Kansas, said he has no idea about what others think about his team.
“No offense to anyone in the media, but I don’t listen, watch, read, hear any single thing, so I don’t know what anyone thinks of us,” Jankovich said. “But if anyone happens to like us, it’s much appreciated.”
The same blinders-on approach works for coaching rumors. Jankovich seemed stunned to hear his name associated with other schools. But it’s there, including one job that’s not open: Kansas State.
About the time the Wildcats were falling at Oklahoma by 30 points late in the season, lists of Bruce Weber successors started appearing. Jankovich was on all of them.
Those lists have been shelved for now. Kansas State won its final two regular season games, topped Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, was the last team selected into the NCAA Tournament and beat Wake Forest in a “First Four” game. The Wildcats will meet Cincinnati on Friday.
Whether the rumors will surface when K-State’s season ends is uncertain. With the school in between athletic directors, a president new on the scene and a basketball program in the NCAA Tournament, the time doesn’t seem right for change.
If and when Kansas State seeks a new coach, Jankovich should be high on the list. Why wouldn’t he be? He joined Larry Brown’s SMU staff after spending the previous five years as Illinois State’s coach. There were four 20-plus victory seasons, all of which ended in the NIT.
Between that stint and four years as North Texas’ head coach, Jankovich’s teams had reached the conference tournament title game six times but couldn’t break through and win an NCAA Tournament bid.
Jankovich came to SMU with the idea of succeeding Brown, who left after last season in a contract dispute.
Jankovich coached the team to a 9-0 record to open last season when Brown was serving a suspension, giving him a SMU record of 39-4 headed into Friday’s first-round game in the East Regional against Southern California. The Mustangs are powered by American Athletic Conference player of the year Semi Ojeleye, the Duke transfer from Ottawa, Kan., and brother of former K-Stater Victor Ojeleye.
The years of coming tantalizingly close to the postseason paid off with this terrific season. So are the lessons Jankovich has learned from a who’s who of Heartland coaches. Besides Brown, Jankovich has coached with or under Self, Lon Kruger, Eddie Sutton and was a three-year starter for Jack Hartman.
“I’ve had the greatest teachers/mentors,” Jankovich said. “If you look at all the people I’ve worked for, I would put me up against anyone who has ever coached. It has nothing to do with me. It’s the luck.”
Asked what he took specifically from Self — they played against each other in the Big Eight, and Self hired him at Illinois before bringing him to Kansas — Jankovich said the ability to see the other side of the ball.
“He sees the game through the defensive end,” Jankovich said. “I’m always thinking offense. If we were watching an NBA game, I’d look at how they’re running their stuff, and he’d look at how it was being guarded.
“He had me put a different set of glasses on, the way I look at the game. He was great for me in a million ways.”
On several occasions, Jankovich said how fortunate he feels to coach SMU. He loves Dallas, and he’s taken his first team to the NCAA Tournament. Life is good, and more coaches at non-power five football conference schools find happiness in this environment.
Whatever the future holds, Jankovich insists he’ll be last to know about it.
“I’m so oblivious,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on in the outside world.”