Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: KU coach Bill Self grapples with timing of Hall of Fame selection

Bill Self answered questions at the Basketball Hall of Fame news conference on Saturday at the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz.
Bill Self answered questions at the Basketball Hall of Fame news conference on Saturday at the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. The Associated Press

When Notre Dame women’s coach Muffet McGraw got the phone call last week that she would be named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, she was instantly overcome and wanted to weep.

When seven-time NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady got the news, his eyes so gushed over with tears that he fumbled through about every app on his phone before he opened the right one to make a call to his wife.

“I never had the opportunity to play for a championship, but this is my championship,” he said.

Among others similarly moved, including former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo and current Harlem Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson, sat Kansas coach Bill Self.

Self said all the appropriate and right things, told a cool tale of learning in his car on Naismith Drive of this immortalization and certainly had respect and appreciation for the moment.

In due time, this will matter to him deeply ... as it should.

But behind the polite façade, you can be sure that this is just too soon.

Not for Self, 54, to seize a place in the Hall of Fame, for which he is abundantly qualified with a resume that includes the 2008 national title, 13 straight Big 12 Conference titles, 632 career wins at four schools (including 416 at Kansas) and a 43-18 NCAA Tournament record with nine Elite Eight appearances.

Too soon, that is, after his latest fizzle with his nemesis round: the 74-60 loss to Oregon last week at the Sprint Center.

Win that game and have his team here with a shot at a second national title — something he thinks more about than the first — and this would have been a perfect scenario.

Instead, it just accentuates what might have been, something you could see and feel in his body language when congratulations were offered.

“This is hard,” Self said.

Again.

Because he couldn’t help but flash back to last season, when he was named Associated Press national coach of the year at the Final Four in Houston days after his Jayhawks lost to Villanova in the regional final.

That one was bad, he said, but this one inflicts its own unique pain.

“Because we had a team that when we played well, we were as good as anybody,” he said. “But we also had a team that when things didn’t go well, we didn’t make shots. We had some limitations, too.

“This one’s harder. It’s not that we didn’t get here as much as that we didn’t give ourselves the best chance to get here.”

Still, Self has learned with age that he can’t be obsessed with setbacks.

Evidently referring to first-round NCAA losses to Bucknell and Bradley early in his KU career, he said he experienced moments that then seemed like “life-ending-type stuff, program-ending-type stuff.

“Then I realized that’s just a blip on the radar.”

And so he tries to remind himself now … while the last loss still is a clear and present object of frustration.

Self wasn’t alone in grappling to reconcile the conflict between personal recognition and what drives him.

McGraw’s Fighting Irish also were left stranded a game from the Final Four after a 76-75 loss to Stanford.

“It’s been really hard to celebrate because you’re constantly preaching to your team, ‘It’s all about team,’ ” said McGraw, who acknowledged she’d had to reach back to make sure she didn’t appear unhappy Saturday. “And you win an award. It’s like being the MVP of the game you lost. It’s so hard to be happy.

“It will come in September. But this was so soon.”

Too soon or not, Self being Self, he talked about how the journey hit him shortly after the news did and reflected on the way here.

That started with his parents, Margaret and Bill Sr., the former school superintendent and coach and toughest man he knows who seldom, if ever, missed work despite nearly 20 orthopedic surgeries.

He shared a dinner table with “the best role models a kid could have every night” with his sister, Shelly, so dedicated to her brother that she once rushed onto a court during one of his high school games to come to his aid during a fracas.

Heading for his degree in business at Oklahoma State, Self got the coaching bug and a life-changing break … at Kansas.

After his junior year at OSU, he worked at Larry Brown’s camp in Lawrence and banged up his knee there.

Brown felt bad and told Self, “If there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know.”

The quick-witted Self had a typically nimble response.

“I said, ‘Well, Coach, there is one thing: You can hire me next year to be a graduate assistant,’ ” Self recalled saying. “He said, ‘You’re hired.’ ”

“My career path changed in that 30 seconds.”

To one that will have enduring meaning, no matter how conflicted he feels right now.

He’s in a job, after all, he “never dreamed … could be a dream job,” something much bigger than himself that he likes to call himself a “caretaker” of.

As he considers what preceded him at Kansas, Self laughs at the notion this distinction makes him as much as a brick in the broader foundation.

“When you talk about the big scheme of things, and you’re talking about the original rules (of the game, housed adjoining Allen Fieldhouse) and … pillars of the profession … no, I get my place,” he said. “And I’m thrilled and honored, but I don’t take myself serious enough to think that I deserve a brick.”

Self, of course, is far more than a caretaker.

He’s officially a legend of the game now.

But time enough to absorb that later, with the recent past still agonizing him and looking toward the future the only way to shrug that off.

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