KU’s Quentin Grimes and Bill Self on USA gold medal
Bill Self often has to get creative with his qualifiers.
The Kansas coach, every year, loads his roster with talent. There's been Andrew Wiggins, Sherron Collins, Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre, Ben McLemore, Mario Chalmers — and that's only looking at guards during a 16-year run where KU has often earned the reputation of being a big-man school.
So it's difficult for Self to compliment players in absolutes when it comes to his history with the program. A current guy might be good, but was he more athletic than Wiggins? A better shooter than Svi Mykhailiuk? More clutch than Chalmers?
This all is the context needed to fully digest one comment from Self about freshman guard Quentin Grimes on Tuesday.
"I would say he's probably as complete a guard as we've ever had," Self said.
Whoa. OK then.
Self, who spent the last three weeks with Grimes as coach of Team USA at the FIBA Americas Championships, has been impressed to say the least. The 6-foot-5 guard, according to Self, is someone who can shoot, pass, dribble and score at all three levels while showing an advanced knowledge of the game.
"As good as he is," Self said, "he's competitive enough that I think he could really be special."
I asked Self on Tuesday if Grimes was similar to any player he'd had, and he thought for a moment before saying Illinois' Deron Williams. But even then, Self noted, Williams was 6-3, while Grimes is 6-5.
"I think (Grimes) is a point guard that can play without the ball in his hands," Self said. "That's how we recruited him, and that's how I think he is even after coaching him for a while. He will have arguably the best vision on our team."
This is a rare luxury. Most of Self's wing-type players haven't come with elite ball-handling ability, so the fact that Self can tinker with a new type of skill set only seems to fire him up more.
And it all leads to this: Self looked energized Tuesday. Even following a 19-day stretch where he worked 14-plus-hour days with USA Basketball, the coach seemed eager to get 2018-19 going.
It makes sense considering the circumstances.
Self had an excellent recruiting year a season ago. He also made it through a transitional roster year, having to play with fewer bodies while three transfers sat out. (KU, for the record, went ahead and won the Big 12 and made the Final Four anyway.)
This season, though, will be different. And one could sense a bit of why when Self spoke about Grimes.
Yes, Grimes won MVP honors at the FIBA Championships, but he did so — in Self's eyes — without even playing his best. His outside shot was inconsistent, and he wasn't as involved in the offense as he will be at KU.
Self put it this way: Grimes was the best player, yet the fact that he "still hasn't scratched what he can potentially do is real exciting."
This team, with Grimes as an example, is full of potential. And because of that, Self has already started to dream on a higher ceiling — yes one better than last year, when KU earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Self, for his standards, has played shorthanded the last two seasons. He masked frontcourt and defensive weaknesses brilliantly, quickly creating a new offense and adjusting his shot-selection thoughts while winning games in more of an Iowa State-like style.
That all changes this year. Self has everything he could ever want personnel-wise, including two Big 12 player of the year candidates in Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson, a one-and-done talent in Grimes and frontcourt depth that few teams can match.
So Self will play big. He will have the league's best players. His team will likely be preseason No. 1, and it'll be difficult for him to argue against that selection.
And though Grimes is just one piece, he represents much of what is exhilarating about this particular roster.
The Jayhawks are not only good now. They also could get a whole lot better.