Tulsa one of several special places in a state full of them for KU coach Bill Self
Long before the killer recruiting class at Illinois that wound up in the national title game two years after he left and years ahead of his remarkable stretch at Kansas, where he has more conference titles than home losses, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self spent seven years building toward moments like those in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Forty miles due north of Okmulgee, a town of 12,000 people where Self and his sister, Shelly, were born, Tulsa has become as much a part of Self’s Oklahoma roots as any of the several small towns he once called home.
“I don’t remember much of it,” joked Self of his actual birth day in 1962. “We lived in a small town called Morris, which, obviously Morris didn’t have a hospital so we went 11 miles or 10 miles down the road and Shelly and I were both born there. My dad and mom were teachers and dad was a coach.”
From his days as a child in Okmulgee, Morris and Claremore, to his high school days in Edmond and college days in Stillwater, all of them combine together to make for some of Self’s favorite memories and foundational moments in the game of basketball.
“Seven years in Stillwater (as a player and coach at Oklahoma State) and then seven years in Tulsa (as a head coach at Oral Roberts and Tulsa) and we saw the full gamut,” Self recently recalled. “We go from losing 18 in a row to winning 31 of our last 38 at Oral Roberts to being an average, average team, at best, our first year at Tulsa to a couple years later (making) a pretty good run to the Elite Eight.... Tulsa is obviously a place that’s very fond to us and we always look forward to going back, although this one will not be social at all but we certainly still have a lot of great friends there.”
This week, while leading his 14th Kansas team into the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time — again as a No. 1 seed for the seventh time in the past 11 years — Self will wake up, go to bed, eat, drink, sleep and sweat in Tulsa, where his Jayhawks (28-4, ranked 3rd in the country) will take on UC Davis at 5:50 p.m. Friday and, if things go well there, will follow that up with a second-round game on Sunday against the Miami-Michigan State winner at a to-be-determined time at BOK Center.
“This is pretty much home,” Self said. “Even though I guess we spent most of our childhood years in Edmond, but still we spent a lot of time in this area.... It feels good. You know, Tulsa, I grew up, part of my youth was in Claremore, which is just down the road, and coached in Tulsa for seven years. Got a ton of friends here. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see very many of ’em but I’m sure some of ’em will swing by practice and it’ll be good to see ’em.”
Returning to Oklahoma to coach has not been all good for Self since leaving Tulsa before the 2000-01 season for Illinois. Although the Illini never played in Self’s home state during his three years leading the program, Self’s Kansas teams lost three in a row in Stillwater from 2014-16, before ending the streak with a win 12 days ago, and also have lost in Norman three times since Self took over at Kansas. Beyond that, Self is just 4-3 at Kansas in Oklahoma City, including a 1-2 record in the NCAA Tournament, with losses to Bucknell and Northern Iowa.
But Tulsa specifically has been good to Self, who led KU to two victories over Boston University and, of all teams, Illinois in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
“I love Tulsa,” Self said. “And I will tell you this; I'd much rather be in Tulsa than Oklahoma City, because we haven't played very well in Oklahoma City. We actually played well in Tulsa last time we were there.”