On Thursday afternoon, Bill Self and members of the University of Kansas men's basketball program met with the media.
Kansas head coach Bill Self
On Jeff Withey being productive in high school
"He was a highly recruited kid. We recruited him when he went to Louisville and then he decommits and goes to Arizona. Then the coaching change occurred there when Coach (Lute) Olson retired. He wasn't a McDonald's All-American, but he was certainly in everybody's top 50 or 70 players in the country. Those rankings are important, but really you should look at them three or four years later to see where they all develop. In his class, at this time, he would certainly have to be someone worthy of a McDonald's All-American award or something like that. He's a guy who averaged three minutes a game last year, so it is pretty much out of left field to become the player that he has the last week and a half. Now, it isn't out of left field for him to average nine points and six rebounds. That should be a given. If you are 7-0 and start at Kansas and average 24 minutes, how could you not average nine points and six rebounds? His performance has taken us to a whole different level."
On if Withey is the tallest player he has sent to the free throw line to shoot technical free throws
"I think he is the tallest. We had a guy at Illinois, Nick Smith, and he was 7-3 and a great free throw shooter, but we also had Derron Williams and Dee (Brown) and Luther (Head), so he (Smith) never got a chance to shoot any of them. At Baylor, we could have sent somebody else to shoot the technical free throws, but I sent him to see how he would handle it in that setting; he hit 1-for-2, in case we ever needed someone in that situation on the road because you don't practice shooting those in practice. It certainly worked out because we had him shoot them at K-State."
On how he thinks Withey and Thomas Robinson are working together now that Withey is scoring more
"I don't think Thomas' (Robinson) production is better, but I think the game is easier. I don't think Thomas played as well as what he had been playing against K-State, but K-State did a great job of putting guys around him. To me, he's passing the ball better and being more unselfish because he trusts Jeff. I think it's been really good for Thomas. As we move forward, if Jeff plays well, then teams will have to - I don't want to say pick your poison because that's not true - think about running two at Thomas all the time because that leaves Jeff all by himself."
On if the team has learned to trust Withey more
"No, I don't think so, I think he's working a little harder. Jeff's played great. I'm not going to say anything negative about him playing, anything other than great, but in the last three games he's made an awful lot of layups. If you look at all his baskets, all but two are maybe layups, which is the way we want to try and design things. That's why you run your offense is to get easy baskets, but it's not like he's catching the ball eight-feet out and backing his guy down. That's not what he's doing. He's making easy plays and guys are doing a good job of getting him the ball. To me, Jeff is impacting the game more so than on offense because he's going after the ball. The two tip-ins he got against K-State were unbelievable plays. Getting a steal and running the floor to get a dunk is an unbelievable play. That doesn't have anything to do with your offense. He's put himself in a position to score and be in the game because he's so much more aggressive going after the ball. He's not a different player than he was two weeks ago, he's just going after the ball. He didn't become a better shooter in the last three games."
On if keeping an eye on the conference standings is unspoken among the team
"No, it's not unspoken. We talk about it every day. In our room we have a board that we update the standings every day. We take great pride in looking at that stuff. Now, we don't talk about 'this team has them left'. All you do is play it one game or one week at a time. For me personally, I usually take it one week at a time. For example, we have two games this week and this is how we need to prepare. We're getting down to crunch time and everybody has five games left. It's the same thing as in a basketball game. The last four minutes of a basketball game are the most important because if you make a mistake, you don't have time to recover. Same thing with the league race, we're down to the last couple weeks. If you make a mistake now, you may not have time to come back. Last year, we lost two games and we were two games back in the league standings, but that was the first of February. If we won out, we could still win the league. If you lose a game here in the next couple weeks, it may not be enough."
On measuring a team on its conference success
"I guess people could say I'm speaking this way because of the success we've had in the league, but to me, obviously, the most important season is the postseason and the media has made it that way because 'Road to the Final Four'. That's what we hear about and publicize all the time. CBS has done a remarkable job. Bracketology, you've got guys who have become known nationally because they seed people for the tournament, which is great because it adds energy, excitement and interest. Still, I think what gets lost in the equation is your body of work. Did the (New York) Giants have a better year than the (Green Bay) Packers? They didn't have a better year, but they had a better three weeks. That's what it equates to because there is only one left standing and that's what everyone strives for. I think if you were to ask any coach that coaches in a league, they would say that your conference race is so important because that's who you have to beat every year. When I was in the Big 10, the Big 10 was a huge deal. All the kids called it 'The 10' and that was a goal for everybody, to win the league. If you win the Big 10, you're automatically going to be called one of the best in the country. The Big 12 is the same way and we take it for granted around here, but if you win our league you've automatically put yourself in a position to be considered one of the teams that maybe has a chance to cut down the nets in March. We've actually had pretty good success in the tournament. I think we've won the fourth or fifth-most games in the tournament during the time we've been here, but it hasn't been good compared to what the expectations or hopes were, going in as a one seed. I totally agree that we've underachieved in the tournament. To me, playing bad one day is awful and you hate for it to happen, but playing really well over the course of two and a half months carries a lot of value."
On the play of junior guard Elijah Johnson
"He's doing fine. He's not making shots like he can, but he's actually done a really nice job defensively in most cases. He did a really nice job on (Brady) Heslip down at Baylor. He did a nice job, for the most part, the other night on (Will) Spradling (Kansas State). He was locked up on him most of the time. He's done some good things. Elijah is not concerned at all about scoring or that kind of stuff, he just wants to win. He takes great pride in doing little things to give us the best chance to win, so I'm pleased with him. I'm still waiting for that stretch. Every player has that stretch and his hasn't come yet. I'm excited about that stretch because I know its coming."
On if Jeff Withey is in "the stretch"
"Jeff is in the stretch. Travis (Releford) was in the stretch for a second. How many schools in America, regardless of their league, has had four different players be the conference player of week? That's unbelievable to me. We have to get Travis and Elijah just getting a little bit more consistent."
On Texas Tech head coach Billy Gillispie rebuilding the program
"They are better than we were in my first year. We lost 18 in a row and that wasn't exactly playing Big 12 caliber competition. He's way ahead of where we were, but it's tough. He didn't get a chance to really recruit. By the time he got the job, most of the guys have signed or committed. It's tough, but I'm not worried about Billy getting players there. He's going to get better players there and they're going to get better. They're better than they were the first time we played them. They could have easily beat (Texas) A&M. They had the game muddied up, just the way they wanted it. They beat Oklahoma muddying it up and they'll come in here and try to muddy it up."
On describing senior guard Tyshawn Taylor's four years at Kansas
"I would say inconsistent, but for the most part, terrific. He's had a great career. There have only been three or four other players that have ever put up the numbers he has from his position at our school. Of course, he's also started for four years, so it's easy to put up numbers when you start for four years. He was the fourth-leading scorer on his high school team. He averaged 10 points on a high school team and now he's averaging 18 in the league for Kansas. That's pretty good. That's a big jump in improvement. Tyshawn is one of those kids that is very emotional, which is his one of his strengths, but if you were going to pick out one of his weaknesses, I would say that he's emotional. It makes him a much better player being the way he is, but sometimes he can get emotional in a situation where he shouldn't get emotional. That's who he is. A lot of people would say it's been a roller coaster. I don't know that I'd agree with that 'roller coaster.' I would agree that he's actually been the point guard on the team that's won an awful lot of games. The last three years with him as starting point guard, we've lost 11 games. He's as responsible for that as anybody.
I love coaching him. Is he likeable? I love him. I like kids with personality, but when you have kids with personality and that are stubborn and strong-willed, it creates confrontation. I would rather have a guy have a confrontation with me than have a guy that's soft and backs away. I like guys like that; he is my kind of guy. I don't know if I could enjoy coaching a kid more than I have enjoyed coaching him the last couple of months. I think he knows I'm enjoying coaching him, which is probably more than he's known for a period of time since he's been here. Look at the things that have gotten him in trouble: tweeting and Facebook. When you talk about guys who have had bad experiences in college, they're not really talking about those types of things. Those are things that maybe go unnoticed if you play at a place that isn't as high profile as a place like this, but he brings it on himself. He gets in his own way a lot. He has certainly matured and corrected that many times over this past year."
On Taylor getting emotional toward the end of games
"He tries too hard. He missed two free throws and he walked (at Kansas State). If he didn't have that facial expression, trust me, I had it over there on the sideline. That's also Ty. He's going to do that sometimes."
On if the team tries to simulate high-pressure free throws in practice
"I don't worry about free throws and I never have. I worry about the turnovers and that kind of stuff. We can practice that at least a little bit, but free throws are a little different. (Taylor) has to have some courage and some confidence, and he's got to step up and make them. As far as how you're going to coach him differently or what you're going to do in that area, I'm not going to try to do anything. Get off your butt and let's go shoot them and get some confidence from shooting them in practice. With free-throw shooters, guys can make free throws, then in the last four minutes they don't shoot them well. Or guys can't shoot free throws, then in the last four minutes they shoot them a lot better. Ty is one of those guys that's never going to be an 85 percent free throw shooter. That's not who he is, but he should be a guy that makes them when it counts the most because he's a winner. We just have to keep convincing him of that because I really believe he is."
On Taylor's shot selection
"I think when he shoots it less times, we're usually a better team, and when he shoots it more, it's usually when we're running crap offense and he feels like he has to do it on his own. Nineteen shots against Kansas State is too many, but he also made about three plays that if he doesn't go be aggressive and score, we may not win the game. I would say it's about balance with him. Sherron (Collins) was the same way. Sherron didn't score a lot of points in games we were going to win. He scored all his points in close games. I think Ty is one of those types of guys. I love point guards to score 12 points on seven shots and have eight assists and two turnovers, but he's a guy that may end up scoring 20 points on 17 shots. The reason he takes them is because we don't have anything going. He's the one guy that can get his own shot on the team. The number of shots (he takes) is more the situation of the game with him as much as anything else."
On if Taylor's skill set is unique compared to other point guards he has coached
"I'd say he's unique because I'm not sure I've ever coached anybody that tall, that long and that fast. Nobody had the speed he has or the courage to get in there and make plays. Everybody is different and he can be compared to a lot, but have we had a player play better since I've been here over a six-week period as a guard than Tyshawn has? That's pretty good."
On who he sees as the Big 12 Player of the Year
"I think Thomas (Robinson) is the Big 12 Player of the Year. You could make a case for Ty and for (Missouri guard Marcus) Denmon. To me, those three have distanced themselves from the other really good players in our league to have a chance to maybe be player of the year. A guy that has the chance to be National Player of the Year probably would be the safe bet to be conference player of the year, but certainly Ty, during this stretch during league play, has played as well as anybody in our league. I think Denmon has had an unbelievable year, too."
On playing Texas Tech Saturday
"I know Billy (Gillispie) well enough to know he'll muddy them up. Even when we played down there, he did a good job. It was like 16-15 with five minutes left in the first half. We set ball back a few years that first half. Of course in Manhattan, both the Jayhawks and the Wildcats set it back 15 or 20 years in that game, but I don't think winning ugly is all bad. This past Monday was a typical Big 10-type game. There were fewer possessions and it was muddied up. We still got a few easy baskets and that will be the same when we play Billy on Saturday."
On Kansas commitment Perry Ellis
"I'm most excited to coach his athletic ability. People talk about how he can shoot and play the 3, and people talk about how he can post. That kid can run and jump. Being able to see how he can play, and if he can guard a 2 or if he can guard a 5, it's going to be exciting to watch how he progresses and his athletic ability allowing him to become a great player. There are a lot of great players out there that could be really good players but their athletic ability may not allow them to be great. He's a guy whose athletic ability gives him a chance to be great."
Junior center Jeff Withey
On if he is gaining the trust of his teammates
"Thomas (Robinson) and I have been playing real well together. It's just fun playing with him because he's a great player and he's looking to pass the ball when he gets double or triple-teamed. I'm just trying to help him out."
On being named the National Player of the Week
"It's awesome, I had a lot of people text me and congratulate me, so it's a great feeling."
On if he thinks he can keep playing this well
"I definitely want to keep it up. I want to keep being aggressive and I don't want to let anyone down. I feel when I'm playing at my best, our team is unstoppable. I'm gaining the trust of my teammates and coaches."
On what makes him an effective shot blocker
"I love playing defense. I think it's a lost art, but with my upbringing and playing volleyball when I was growing up really helps me out. I love blocking shots and it's just something I do. Something I've learned is that you don't want to hit the ball far away because you don't give your team a chance to get it. If you tip it to yourself it counts as a rebound also."
On how he blocks shots and manages to stay out of foul trouble
"In the Big 12, games are really aggressive and physical. You're able to get away every now and again, but I just try to be smart about going after the ball when it's in the air."
On keeping an eye on the Big 12 standings
"We can definitely win the league. There are five more games and the league is ours if we go to work and do what we are supposed to do. We can beat out Missouri when they come here. We can win the league outright if we do what we are supposed to and play basketball like we are capable of playing. We want to win the league and that is something that we pride ourselves on."
Junior guard Elijah Johnson
On the team improving every day
"Every day I'm starting to realize that we're just as good as the teams we (KU) have had before. We have the pieces to the puzzle. We just have to put it together before it's too late."
On having more chemistry between the starters with a shorter bench
"There are some benefits to it. We get more rhythm on the court. I don't have to worry about coming out most of the time because I know I can stay in if I make mistakes. Just having that same bond as a team; that same seven, always making sure we're on the same page. The benefits are that we have the people who can actually go hard in practice every day because that's all they have. That's their game so we get their 100 percent every day. The Red Team is doing a good job of making us better. It started off not so good, but it came along. I think that their progress is showing in our progress. They're pushing us to another level right now. I appreciate it."
On Jeff Withey's emergence bringing out the point guard in him
"Definitely, people thought that Thomas (Robinson) was going to have to play the 5 a lot. People didn't think Jeff (Withey) would be able to play that long or play as good or as hard as he's playing. To be able to have T-Rob as a permanent 4 for most of the game, and having a real 5, who's 7 feet tall, blocking shots and altering shots, is definitely a plus. It makes our team go faster. It makes Thomas more comfortable at the 4, knowing that he doesn't have to be the biggest one on the court. He has back-up. Having Tyshawn, Travis, and myself at 1, 2, 3 is just a perfect puzzle. We just have to put it together."
On Withey gaining other players' trust
"Since I got here my freshman year, I've always played great with Jeff. I'm a guard that can play real well with a big. Jeff and I always connected. Even in the games we got in for the last two or three minutes a couple years ago, I would always find him for an alley-oop at least one time in those couple minutes. I've always trusted Jeff. Jeff is a good player. He understands the game. He makes smart passes. He doesn't play like he's 7 feet, and that's what is unique about his game."