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Iona's Rick Pitino on Kansas coach Bill Self after first ever meeting: 'He doesn't have a weakness'

Iona coach Rick Pitino calls to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacob M. Langston)

Kissimmee, Fla. — After combining to coach more than 2,000 college basketball games and racking up more than 1,500 victories, Kansas coach Bill Self and Iona coach Rick Pitino finally faced one another on Sunday at HP Field House.

The first ever meeting between the two Hall of Fame coaches went to Self’s Jayhawks, who entered as a double-digit favorite and won 96-83. But the experience of coaching against each other for the first time was one that neither coach will soon forget.

“I’ve always admired him,” Pitino said of Self after Sunday’s game. “I’ve always thought he’s one of the best coaches in the game. What I admire most is, whether it’s his fast break, his offensive sets, his rebounding… he doesn’t have a weakness as a coach.”

All of those elements played key roles in Sunday’s Kansas victory. But so, too, Self said, was the fact that his roster features several highly ranked and highly sought-after prospects, many of whom Pitino’s programs have not always had the luxury of recruiting.

“When you really look at coaches, there are a lot of things that make them so effective or so special,” Self said after the victory. “But the way that his teams always competed on a very high level, and (did) it without five-star recruits, means that they develop and they get the most out of their guys.”

Iona did its best to compete with fourth-ranked Kansas on Sunday. But holes of 10 points early and 20-plus points midway through the game proved to be far too big for the Gaels to overcome. Still, there were stretches of the game, when Iona made Kansas sweat and frustrated the Jayhawks with their willingness to grind out every possession and not stop until the final horn.

“We gave everything we had,” Pitino said. “They were just much better than us.”

After spending 24 seasons coaching at Kentucky and Louisville, Pitino’s return to the college sideline at Iona takes him back to his roots at Boston University and Providence. His goal now is to build the Iona program into stalwarts the way he did with all four of those programs from the past.

“Now that I’ve faced Kansas, I’m glad we didn’t play them all those years,” said Pitino, who had coached against KU when Roy Williams was still coaching in Lawrence. “We’d like to get to the point where we have the same type of talent Kansas has. They’re tough to play against.”

Ochai jumps center

Although there was nothing new about KU’s starting lineup on Sunday, Self did employ a new wrinkle to open the game.

Instead of having 6-foot-10 forward David McCormack handle the game’s opening jump ball, Self asked 6-5 guard Ochai Agbaji to do it. Agbaji won the tip — coincidentally into the hands of McCormack — and Self said to expect more of that in the future.

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be,” he said when asked if the move was permanent. “I’ll be real honest with you. I think right now Ochai is a much better, much quicker jumper. I’d like to see David jump center, but I think Ochai’s probably better at it.”

KJ gets a crack

After playing sparingly in the first two games of the tournament (3:54 vs. North Texas and 1:19 vs. Dayton), Kansas freshman KJ Adams played 10 minutes — all in the second half — in KU’s victory over Iona.

Most of that time was spent with the 6-7, 220-pound Adams playing the 5 with four guards around him.

Related document

Box score: KU 96, Iona 83 ( .PDF )

“I was just trying to play our best big,” Self said when asked about Adams’ minutes after the victory. “Let’s just call it like it is.”

Self inserted Adams into the lineup when Iona went small and had Tyson Jolly (6-4, 205 pounds) at the 5. But when Pitino put his true big men back into the game, Self elected to see what Adams could do because he liked his effort and ability to give the Kansas defense the opportunity to switch at all five spots as needed.

“There was no strategy in it,” Self said of a predetermined plan. “KJ Adams was our best big in the second half, as far as playing the way we need to play to give us the best chance. I thought he did well.”

Hanni’s hustle

Kansas play-by-play announcer Brian Hanni worked overtime this week to lend his voice to the Kansas basketball program in Orlando and the KU football program back home in Lawrence.

On Friday evening, Hanni was at HP Field House in Kissimmee, Fla., putting the finishing touches on his call of KU’s loss to Dayton at the ESPN Events Invitational.

By Saturday, Hanni was back in Lawrence, setting up shop at Memorial Stadium to call the final KU football game of the 2021 season.

After snagging a few hours of sleep, the voice of the Jayhawks caught a 6 a.m. flight out of Kansas City and was back in Florida by 10 a.m. for the KU-Iona call.

The fun didn’t end there. Hanni was schedule to fly back to Topeka with the team after Sunday’s game and still had to get his car from KCI.

Football season is over, though, and KU’s next basketball game is not until Friday. So he’ll have a little time to rest and recover.

Tourney results

Dayton topped Belmont in Sunday’s title game, giving the Flyers a 3-0 record and some hardware to take home.

Belmont, which beat Iona in the other semifinal on Friday, fell just short, losing 63-61 to Anthony Grant’s team.

No. 10 Alabama rolled by Miami, Fla., for fifth in the last game of the event on Sunday evening to salvage a 2-1 record.

And, in the seventh-place game, North Texas (KU’s first-round opponent) knocked off Drake, 57-54, making Drake the only team to leave Orlando without a win.

Braun landed as the lone Jayhawk on the all-tournament team. He was joined by tourney MVP Malachi Smith and Daron Holmes II of Dayton, Nick MUszynski of Belmont and Iona guard Tyson Jolly.

This and that…

KU now leads the all-time series with Iona, 4-1… The win moved the Jayhawks to 104-15 following a loss in the Bill Self era… Kansas is now 5-1 all-time in the ESPN Events Invitational and 5-1 or better to start a season for the 17th time under Self… Sunday’s 46-point first half marked a season high for KU… The Jayhawks never trailed in Sunday’s victory and have now played at least 11 players in all six games this season.


Kit Duncan

Coach Self has at least one weakness. He hasn't figured out how to get his players to consistently make free throws. Iona made 8 more free throws than Kansas, shooting 77% from the line, to KU's 63%.

Though they were outplayed by Dayton, KU still could have won if they had only made 2 more free throws. 9 of 20 overall, 2 of 7 in the second half, Kansas hurt their chances to put the game away.

Free throws by nature, should be automatic for players of the caliber that KU recruits. If they can shoot and make impossible shots with hands in their face, or bodies bumping into them, why is it they miss so many when there is no pressure?

1 year ago


Bob Zielinski

Hate to contradict your point about elite recruits being automatic on the free throw line but college hoops is loaded, every season, with top recruits who often struggle at the line. If a team manages to shoot 72% on the season they are just fine.

I agree McCormack needs to play better but he has been, outside of the start to this season, very solid from the line. Jalen has missed his share in two games but everyone else on the team has been really good on free throws. I guess Self can focus on those two players making FT’s but that seems like a waste of time

1 year ago


Robert Brock

This is a LOUSY defensive team. The defense frequently breaks down and gives up easy scores. There is no excuse - it’s on Self.

1 year ago


Dale Rogers

It's not Self. It's just typical play very early in the season when there are a lot of new players learning to play with each other, regardless the name on the jerseys. It will improve, it just takes time.

1 year ago


Steve Zimmerman

Our defense is pretty good this time. Mostly they made 3pt, we can adjust later, as Dale pointed out.

1 year ago


Brian Mellor

Pitino is apparently unaware of how little Self listens to the experts in the comments section on That's apparently a big weakness and the major reason we haven't won 10 championships during his tenure as Head Coach.

1 year ago


Clarence Glasse


1 year ago


Dirk Medema

It’s always the coach’s fault.

It’s amazing to how Coach routinely works magic, whether that be by finding someone late in the recruiting process or developing the team/individuals over the course of the season.

It’s also amazing to me how some people outside the program never seem to learn and repeatedly view the program as static.

While Coach doesn’t have a weakness, the team certainly does; the front court. The good news is David really struggled to start last year and ended up playing very well down the stretch. It was nice to think there would be carryover. JWil too. At least there’s grampa Mitch and baby Zach.

Eventually the newbs will learn what Coach expects and to execute it consistently with great intensity for the entire game. Either that or we’ll move from playing 10+ to the more customary 7-8.

1 year ago


Chad Smith

McCormack's Senior Season may be living in the doghouse. Dude needs to finish at the rim, rebound and play defense. We're not asking him to take over games or be a star. Just play to your capability and hustle. If he can't do that then he'll be riding the pine all year. Experienced or not, he should know by now what Self wants from him. If he doesn't by now, then he never will. Play clemence more please.

1 year ago


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