When Kansas basketball coach Bill Self travels to a high school gym or AAU facility to check out a can’t miss, one-and-done type prospect, he doesn’t necessarily care if that blue-chip recruit dominates the game.
“If you are going to watch someone (that is) obvious … if you are going to watch ‘Wiggs’ play, if he’s good that day, great. If he’s not any good, he’s still great. It’s not that big a deal — how a ‘Wiggs’ or a Josh plays for example,” Self said of former KU guard turned Minnesota Timberwolves standout Andrew Wiggins and current Jayhawk freshman guard Josh Jackson.
They both arrived at KU as the No. 1-rated prospects in their respective recruiting classes.
“You will try to recruit those guys regardless,” Self added.
It’s some of the other guys — the ones who may or may not play basketball for a living — that make talent evaluators like Self concentrate on every single movement.
“I think a lot of coaches feel this way. You want to see a guy play great when you are recruiting him because you can can see where his ceiling is,” Self said recently while explaining his recruiting philosophy on his Hawk Talk radio show.
“You want to see him play average so you can kind of see who he is. You want to see him play very poor so you can see how tough he is and what he is willing to do to help his team win when things aren’t going his way.”
He named names of players he monitored closely on the recruiting trail.
“Let’s use an example — Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson, Mitch Lightfoot, Devonté Graham. When you are recruiting guys like that, that aren’t the obvious … those things are what’s really important,” Self said of intangibles in those players who were ranked Nos. 70, 24, 107 and 36 in their respective recruiting classes.
He cited addtional gems who played for coach Larry Brown at KU — ones that were true finds in recruiting.
“Everybody remembers Jeff Gueldner when he played for KU in ’88 when they won the national championship. Could KU have had a chance to win the championship if he was not on that team? The answer would be no,” Self said. “But the whole thing was how many schools was Jeff actually recruited by? Would KU have had a chance if Chris Piper was not on that team? No, but how many schools was Piper recruited by?”
The answer in both cases? Not very many.
“There are guys you can project and evaluate to help your team win, but those are the guys you need to see play when they are really good and not any good, because you can see if they’ve got a good attitude and if they are tough and all those things,” Self said.
Some things Self looks for when he recruits?
“Seeing a kid’s attitude and how badly he wants to work and win,” Self said. “When things do not go well, does his body language change? Does he become selfish? Does he pout, complain about the officials? All those things play into whether or not you want him to be a part of what you are trying to do.”
Self recalls attending several high school games of former KU guard Tyrel Reed ,who graduated from Burlington High and was ranked No. 109 in the recruiting Class of 2007.
“The first time I saw Tyrel Reed play … everybody said, ‘He’s the best shooter. The best shooter. He never misses.’ He missed five free throws the first time I go see him play,” Self said. “He had not missed five free throws his whole career. You could see with Tyrel his face never changed. He played his tail off every possession.
“Darnell Jackson (No. 54 in recruiting Class of 2004) was another one who also comes to mind, playing with a smile on his face all time,” Self said of the Midwest City, Okla., native.
“To me, he was one of those guys … you could deal with a little moodiness, but they need to be really, really good if you are going to deal with a little moodiness. If you are moody and not one of those (one-and-done) type guys, you need to breathe oxygen into the room when you walk in as opposed to suck it out of the room. Those are important characteristics in a putting a team together.”
Reed, a 6-4 guard, turned out to be one of Self’s favorite players.
“The best athlete we’ve had as far as just raw athletic ability since I’ve been here without question is Tyrel Reed,” Self said. “Better than Brandon Rush. Better than ‘Wiggs.’ When you talk about combining everything — strength, first step, sliding, straight-line sprint, all these things.
“Tyrel in four years lost one sprint and that was to Tyshawn (Taylor) once and Tyshawn is the fastest kid we’ve had play here,” Self added of Taylor, who plays pro ball in Israel. Reed is a physical therapist.
“How how come Tyshawn couldn’t beat Tyrel? Because Tyrel wouldn’t let him beat him. You know how hard Tyrel had to run every time to beat Tyshawn?
“We’d tell him all the time: ‘Tyshawn I thought you were an athlete. Gosh, you let Tyrel beat you.’ Tyshawn would try, but Tyrel would not let it happen, except one time he got him. Tyrel was a little bit different than anybody else we’ve had in that area.”
Of course, Taylor also was a hit at KU after arriving as the No. 77 rated player in the Class of 2008 from New Jersey.
“Tyrel was probably the best athlete that nobody would think about, but the toughest athlete physically that nobody would think about would be Tyshawn,” Self said. “People wouldn’t equate Tyshawn with that. He was a lot like (Allen) Iverson in the regard he’d give up his body driving in there. He kept coming back for more all the time. It may take him a while to get up to come back for more, kind of like Frank (Mason, KU senior who arrived as No. 76 recruit in Class of 2013).
“Frank you can put in that category too, without question. Tyshawn … some of the stuff he did and also Frank, some of the stuff they do is unbelievable when you watch it on tape. Their body takes a beating and they keep coming back.”
The bottom line is KU has signed a batch of top ten players and some role players, too, in Self’s 14 years.
“Athletic ability is the first thing to look at. How explosive, how quick twitch, fast might not be the right word, how explosive a first step, first jump, second jump, ability to slide, those things,” Self said. “The next thing to me is can they shoot? I didn’t say score, but can they shoot? In a perfect world I would rather have a great athlete who is a great shooter rather than great athlete who is a great scorer. It’s easier to teach somebody how to score than it is to teach somebody how to shoot. The last thing is if they are tough.”
Self enjoys recruiting, and it’s especially fun for him to find diamonds in the rough, so to speak — players who help his teams win a lot of games.
“When you walk in and say, ‘There’s LeBron.’ Everybody knows he’s great and can play anywhere. (Guys like) Devonté … I wouldn’t trade those guys for anybody,” Self said.