Tom Keegan: Final Four coaches cut from same good-guy cloth

Villanova head coach Jay Wright, left, and Kansas head coach Bill Self have a laugh in the hallway while waiting to do a joint interview on Thursday, March 29, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio — Sitting at a raised table, the Final Four head coaches talked down to media members seated in chairs, but only in a literal sense.

In a refreshing change of pace, these four coaches don’t talk down to reporters in a figurative sense.

It’s the good-guy-coaches Final Four. No lectures. No smugness. No phonies hellbent on using every second of the spotlight to push crafted images and selfish agendas.

In order, Porter Moser, John Beilein, Bill Self and Jay Wright took questions from the media Thursday inside the Alamodome, and all of them came across as grounded, happy to be there and not expecting anybody to be kissing their rings or anything else.

Ask them a question and they’ll give you an answer without condescension, without intent to belittle.

A sampling of questions and answers with Final Four head coaches, starting with Loyola of Chicago's Porter Moser:

What would you say about losing your job at Illinois State and what impact that had on your life?

“Adversity doesn’t have to define you," Moser said. "And some of the worst things that have happened in my life, starting at a young age, some of the best things have followed. And I’m proud of that and it’s become who I am. And the more you tackle adversity, the more confidence you have to face adversity.”

The first great thing for Moser after being fired by Illinois State was he was able to go to work for the late Rick Majerus at St. Louis University.

Moser was asked about the lack of facilities at Loyola. The men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s volleyball teams share one gym.

“So I had my immature stage where I (complained) about it for a long time,” Moser said. “And then I matured a little bit because the message I was always telling our guys is you've got to control what you can control. And we couldn't control it. So we'd find ways to get extra shooting in.”

Ground will be broken for the Alfie Norville Practice Gym this spring, named after a former Loyola player.

“Every Final Four we (Norville and Moser) had breakfast about this gym,” Moser said. “For the last six years, we’ve had breakfast, (saying) ‘We’ve got to get this gym.’ ”

Michigan's John Beilein has said that winning the national title isn’t the goal and reaching the Final Four isn’t the goal, so what drives him?

“The Big Ten Championship drives me," Beilein said. "That's what I think everybody in Michigan is (driven by) — if you win a Big Ten Championship in any way, then you can win a national championship.

“But after that, it's about breaks and anything can happen. But that's how I want to be judged at Michigan: Did we compete for Big Ten championships? And that's how I sort of term our success. And then when you're all done with that, that you competed for the Big Ten championship, did those kids grow, did they get better, are they better men on and off the court? That's what drives me. That's what drives me.”

Bill Self was asked about how he plans to manage the emotions of Udoka Azubuike, who is looking forward to seeing his mother for the first time since moving to the United States to improve as a basketball player.

“That's a great question, because (Azubuike) hasn't seen his mother in almost six years. And he lost his father, I think, when he was in seventh or eighth grade,” Self said. “So if you can imagine, she loved her son so much that she sent him away when he's 14 or 13 years old, because Dok, he just turned 18 years old. So how hard would that be?

“And we want to win the game, but is winning the game more important than to make sure there's not a little distraction for Dok? Of course not.”

Villanova's Jay Wright answered a question about how rewarding it is to see players develop off the court.

“Our guys want to be great players. They want to win championships,” Wright said. “They want to go to the NBA. And what we try to teach them is if you're only trying to be a good basketball player, you're not going to be the best basketball player you can be. You've got to care about what kind of student you are, what kind of person you are.

“And I think our guys understand that. And so we really spend probably more time in that area than we do on basketball because the basketball part is easy. And we do take great pride in their development as men, as students.”

Fan bases of all four schools want to win it all, naturally. Supporters of the three schools that don't win the national title can at least take solace in knowing their favorite coach didn’t lose to a jerk.

Comments

Mike Riches

I would love to keep Coach Self at Kansas for another 20 years; we are certainly blessed to have him. But if he ever decides to move on to another opportunity, I've thought for awhile that the best replacement would be Jay Wright. It would not be easy to lure him away from Nova, but I think he is an excellent coach, and stories like this just reaffirm that he is an equally great guy.

I also think he is way underpaid at Villanova. Not that you can feel too sorry for anyone making a seven-figure salary, but when Bruce Weber and Scott Drew earn more than he does, something's not right...

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Brian Leslie

Jay Wright also gets less than luminaries such as Avery Johnson and Cuonzo Martin and Shaka Smart. Villanova is a small private school, so I'm sure there is a limit on what they can pay. I agree that Wright would be the consensus current pick to replace Self (if Brad Stevens turns it down, as I think he would). Mark Few would also get consideration.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Ashwin Rao

Jay Wright, Mark Few & Bill Self are around the same age ... Self, I hope, will be around for a while, so a replacement should be about 10-20 years younger than them.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Tony Bandle

My gut feeling is that Bill Self's eventual replacement is somewhere just starting out his [or her]
coaching career and in about 5 years that name will start popping up as Bill heads toward a career ending 25 years in 2028 or so.

As I posted before, for Bill, going to three Final Fours seems to be a huge perceived difference in accomplishment as opposed to two, not unlike winning 2 NC's as opposed just 1. What would be cool would be for HCBS to be 3 for 3 getting to the Finals.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Joe Joseph

I'm interested in Tom's take on the top-four most condescending coaches in college basketball!

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

I wouldn't consider John Beilein to be a good guy coach. Good guys don't teach their teams to resort to cheap tricks like flopping to win games or fake getting punched in the nuts. (Refer to the 2013 Sweet 16)

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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