Jayhawks coach Bill Self has mellowed over the years
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self has kicked out the signage on scorer's tables, tossed sweat-stained suit jackets and screamed so loudly at players and officials that his face turned beet red.
Good thing he's mellowed over the years.
These days, Self merely slams clipboards in frustration, yanks to loosen his tie and his face turns a bit scarlet when his temper starts to flare. It's a subtle change in demeanor, to be sure, but one that's noticeable to those who hang around his program on a daily basis.
''Since I've been here, I've definitely seen the changes,'' senior guard Frank Mason III said. ''I think he's mainly trusting us more and we can tell, and you know, he just wants us to compete.''
Self has always employed a tough-love approach to coaching, and he still rides his players just as hard as ever. But the sharp edges that he carried with him through Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois have been filed off, and the bitterness he tasted after defeats has become easier to handle.
They once ate at him for weeks. Now, they might just keep him up a night.
Landen Lucas has seen the changes in his coach over the years, and he traced the watershed moment to the summer of 2015. The Jayhawks anchored the U.S. team for the World University Games in South Korea, and Self was the coach. And during that trip aboard, away from the constant pressure and almost unrealistic expectations that come with coaching at Kansas, Self revealed a different side of himself.
He was a bit more loose. A bit more fun. The bond between coach and players grew just a bit tighter, the trust in each other growing just a bit more. And it remains two years later, as the No. 1 seed Jayhawks prepare to face No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday night for a spot in the Final Four.
''I think overseas was a time when, you know, it started a bit,'' Lucas said. ''Now this year, if we're playing hard and competing, he doesn't have to worry about getting on us about those things, which we've done so far in this tournament for the most part. It makes it easier when we can coach the other things and not have to worry about intangibles. This team has done pretty well with him.''
Of course, there have been times all that trust has been stretched to the limit.
There is still an ongoing rape investigation involving the men's basketball team's dormitory where five players are listed as witnesses. Devonte Graham and Carlton Bragg Jr. have had minor legal issues, and star freshman Josh Jackson served a one-game suspension for his own legal problems, including when he allegedly kicked in the taillight of a women's basketball player's car.
But the players aren't concerned they've lost Self's faith.
''Coach trusts and believes in us,'' guard Svi Mykhailiuk said, ''and lets us do our thing.''
Even Self is willing to admit he has toned things down over the years, the byproduct of age and experience. The highs are still plenty high, but the lows are no longer quite so devastating.
It has made him a better coach.
By extension, his Jayhawks are a better team.
''The biggest thing is to just go play. Don't play the game like there's - like you've got to win to go to the Final Four,'' Self said Friday, before taking the floor for practice. ''Play the game like you've got to go compete, because you have a chance to win a regional championship.
''Look in the moment,'' he said, ''and enjoy the moment.''
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