Bill Self: 'We've got to pour ourselves into these kids more than we ever have'

Kansas head coach Bill Self yells during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Kansas head coach Bill Self yells during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) by Associated Press

A year ago, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self talked openly about being more motivated than ever before to lead a team and put all of his focus into coaching basketball as the NCAA’s case against the program swirled around him.

While the NCAA case remains ongoing, Self has identified another element of KU’s current reality to rally around this year.

“It’s been a different 18 months,” Self recently said while talking with assistants Jerrance Howard and Norm Roberts on the “Grill with Bill” video series put out by Kansas Athletics. “I’m not saying bad, just different. What I think we’ve got to do is pour ourselves into these kids more than we ever have.”

After leading the Jayhawks to a 28-3 record and the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament that never happened, Self was expressed his appreciation for the way last season’s squad handled the distractions around the program.

“Let’s just call it like it is. This year’s team carried their coach,” Self said during a March edition of The Jayhawker podcast.

So it should come as no surprise that he’s eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to return the favor this year. The fact that the upcoming season will have so much uncertainty attached to it — from the social unrest and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — only increases Self’s ability to pick his players up this time around.

“Think about last year (and) questions about the NCAA and this, this and this,” Self recalled during the recent sit-down with his assistants. “They handled that beautifully. It was no factor. But think about that and now you’ve got all the social things going on, which need to be talked about and addressed, and then you’ve got COVID and stuff going on. We need to dive in to them, more than ever, to make sure we help them.”

Throughout the cancelation of last season’s postseason, coaches talked about how tough and resilient their players were. Disappointment was everywhere, but the coaches seemed to know that, in short order, the players would return to their normal lives, with friends, family, video games, workouts and, of course, basketball taking center stage.

So simply getting back to playing the game they love with their teammates will go a long way toward carrying the current Jayhawks through these unusual times.

It all began in early August, when the players returned to campus for the first time in months. And it moved into high gear on Monday, when the Jayhawks jumped into Day 1 of their annual boot camp conditioning grind.

The intensity and excitement will only grow from here.

Self and his coaches, along with the players, have said that while this season will be like all the others in that the Jayhawks will be gunning to win championships. But it also will be different because of their plans and goals to impact change and help bring equality and unity to KU’s campus and the Lawrence community.

Winning basketball games might not seem like that big of a part of it. But in a hoops-crazed town like this, it sure can’t hurt. And Self believes the Jayhawks, while different, have a chance to be pretty darn good during the 2020-21 season, as well.

“I don’t know that we can be as good as we were last year,” Self said during the “Grill with Bill” episode. “Because obviously we lost two great players (Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson) plus Isaiah (Moss) was a great piece. … (But) if we can get our big guys, primarily Dave (McCormack), to defend in a way where he is a paint protector, I actually think we can be better offensively. I think we’ll score easier from all five spots than we did last year.”

KU’s first official practice is set for Oct. 14 and the earliest the Jayhawks can open the 2020-21 season is Nov. 25.

KU’s schedule is still being finalized and it sounds like the Jayhawks may be slated to start the first week of December.