Former University of Kansas men’s basketball coach Ted Owens has shared a room with current Jayhawks coach Bill Self on golfing trips as far away as Scotland and Ireland.
“He is a special friend,” the 88-year-old Owens said of the man 34 years Owens’ junior, quickly adding, “he’d be a better roommate if he’d get in earlier.”
Owens, a native of Hollis, Okla., couldn’t resist cracking a little joke about Self, from Okmulgee, Okla., who on Friday night will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Owens, of course, is planning on attending the event at Springfield Symphony Hall in recognition of his good friend, who will be one of 11 individuals enshrined in the Class of 2017. Self will be the 20th person affiliated with KU basketball to enter the shrine in Massachusetts.
“Bill is the complete package. He’s all you’d want in a coach,” Owens said in a serious tone. “First of all, he is a great communicator. He can talk to anybody. He has remained a great friend to his high school friends and you know he has a great love of family and love of his players and assistant coaches.
“If a coach has been fired or something, Bill has jumped in and given him new life: Kyle Keller (former KU staff member was hired by Self after he lost his job at Oklahoma State, now is head coach at Stephen F. Austin), Doc (Sadler, former KU staff member was hired by Self after he was fired at Nebraska; now is head coach at Southern Miss) and all those guys.
“He is a thoughtful caring guy, but he has great discipline with his team and he does it in a way that every single guy on the team knows he really cares about them.
“He has just continued to grow and grow every year. He adds a little something to his system and makes it better. He’s a great teacher, a great recruiter. He communicates well with the fans and with the people at the university.”
Owens is most impressed with Self’s loyalty to his players, who have helped him to a career record of 623-193, which includes 13 straight conference titles at Kansas, where Self has completed 14 seasons.
“I’m glad so many of his players are involved,” said Owens, impressed that Self will have about 50 former players in attendance on Friday night. The proceedings will begin at 6:30 p.m. Central time on NBA TV. A Hall of Fame Red Carpet show will begin at 5:30 p.m.
“Bill and I have always shared a feeling about our players, the absolute importance of the players. The fact a lot of his players are going to be there is heartwarming, plus his family and (people from) his roots. I know some of his early-day friends will be there. That means a lot to me that he never forgets his family and friends and never forgets his players.”
Owens has known Self since the former point guard starred for Edmond (Okla.) Memorial High School in the late 1970s. Owens, KU coach at the time didn’t need a lead guard, thus didn’t pursue Self on the recruiting trail.
“He’s always on my back about it (not recruiting him),” Owens joked of Self, who attended Oklahoma State and thus competed against Owens’ KU teams.
“My last game at Kansas … Bill played in the game,” Owens said of KU’s 90-83 loss to the Cowboys in the semifinals of the Big Eight Tournament on March 11, 1983 in Kemper Arena. “Bill was a very good player. We go back a long time. Over the years, when he was thinking about the ORU job (Self coached at Oral Roberts from 1993-97) he called me and we talked about it. When he became the Kansas coach (in 2003), he called me that day. He called not just me, but Larry (Brown) and Roy (Williams) and the other coaches who had been there.”
Owens has attended many KU games both at Allen Fieldhouse and on the road during the Self era.
“I had the good fortune of being there in San Antonio. That was incredible,” Owens said of KU’s run to the 2008 national title which included a Final Four semifinal win over North Carolina and title win over Memphis in overtime.
“I also was at the regional in Detroit. It was such a relief,” Owens added of an Elite Eight win over Davidson that sent Self to his first Final Four as a head coach. “The hardest games in the world to win are the ones everybody expects you to win. We are playing Davidson in the regional final and everybody thinks you are automatically going to win. As we know there are no automatics in sports.
“The relief Bill had to have had to get that off his shoulders,” Owens added of the 59-57 win over the Steph Curry-led Davidson Wildcats. “All of a sudden we’re in the Final Four. I think going into the North Carolina game (84-66 semifinal win) we were loose, free and determined and if I remember correctly we missed a dunk that would have put us up 30 at one time in the game. They made a little run after that.
“That Memphis game (75-68 overtime win) is just a game you’ll never forget — down nine with not too long to go in the game (last two minutes). Everything had to go right and it did. They had to miss free throws and we had to take advantage. I kind of knew when Mario (Chalmers) hit the tying basket (three to force OT) there was no way they’d beat us in overtime. The momentum had totally swung. That was a great moment in Kansas basketball history,” Owens added. “Everybody talks about Mario’s shot, but the little guy from Chicago (Sherron Collins) … he got Mario open. He penetrated and gave off to him. It was spectacular.”
Owens says everything about Friday’s Hall event will be special.
“Bill is so deserving,” Owens said. “I’m really happy for Bill and his family.”
As to the answer of which coach is the better golfer, Owens cracked: “When you are 88, I only remember the times I win. I don’t remember losing.”