Kansas' Self won't let alma mater's job opening distract as Jayhawks prep for North Carolina Print
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Thursday, 03 April 2008 12:31
NCAAB Headline News


 SAN ANTONIO (AP) -On the day Sean Sutton resigned as Oklahoma State's coach, Bill Self walked into Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins' office.
Self told Perkins what he already knew: there would be speculation that Self was a candidate to return to his alma mater.
Perkins said Thursday that Self told him: ``'I'm staying. I'm not going anyplace.'''
The only destination on Self's mind these days is the national championship game.
He's already reached another elusive goal - the Final Four. Self had been one step away four times until the Jayhawks held off Davidson on Sunday in the Midwest Region final.
Think he was relieved? When Davidson launched its last-gasp shot, Self crouched in front of his bench, as if he almost couldn't bear to watch. The shot fell harmlessly away, and Self had erased the one glaring gap on his resume.
``I don't know if it was on his back or anything, but I think it was on his mind quite a bit,'' Perkins said. ``He's been so close. I'm glad for him that he was able to break through. I don't think he lay awake at night saying, 'If I don't do this, I'm not a good coach.'''
Self's reward for breaking through is a date in the national semifinals with mighty North Carolina (36-2), the top overall seed.
As if the matchup wasn't intriguing enough, it also pits Self against his predecessor, Roy Williams, still vilified by many Jayhawks fans despite leading Kansas to four Final Fours.
``Fans will make a big deal of it,'' said Self, who is 140-32 in five seasons at Kansas.
Some Kansas fans are still mad at Williams for leaving for his alma mater. The same people might be worried about Self doing the same thing. He graduated from Oklahoma State in 1985.
The coaching merry-go-round has become a fact of Final Four life, with speculation about coaches' moves filling the idle time until tipoff. Perkins said he's not concerned.
``He's given me no indication he's leaving,'' Perkins said. ``Bill's not a phony.''
Self has made it clear he wants to stay at Kansas. The school gave Self a five-year contract extension last season, increasing his annual compensation to more than $1.3 million with a chance to make another $350,000 each year if he meets incentives.
Perkins said he and the 45-year-old Self will meet after the season to talk about a new deal - and Self stands to capitalize on his newly minted status as a Final Four coach.
Self had been agonizingly close to the Final Four four times, reaching the regional final with Tulsa in 2000, Illinois in 2001 and Kansas in 2004 and 2007.
As if Self's near-misses weren't painful enough, he had to watch from afar as Illinois went 37-1 on its way to the 2005 championship game, where it lost to North Carolina. In a case of spectacularly bad timing, Self had left Champaign - and a potential national championship roster - for Kansas in 2003.
``I really thought that that team had a chance to be special,'' Self said. ``That group of players - turned out five of those guys all played in the NBA. But it was tough watching them play, because I know I could have been a part of that.
``I just kept telling myself: 'Hey, we did it for the long run, and this is the long run,''' Self said.
The long run was bumpy at times. When Self arrived in Lawrence, the Jayhawks were coming off a title-game loss to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse. Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich had left for the NBA, and although Kansas still had talent, it took Self time to connect with his new players.
Self made it to the regional final in his first season at Kansas. But first-round NCAA tourney losses to Bucknell in 2005 and Bradley a year later didn't make him any more popular in Lawrence.
``It's different when you walk into a situation saying, 'OK, guys, this is how we're going to play and it works,' and you haven't won as much as a guy that played differently that was in there before you,'' Self said. ``So the players would maybe say, 'Why do we want to play that way? We know this other way works.' So that right there was to me the challenge: getting everyone to buy into that this was best for us.''
Self doesn't have to worry about that now. These are his Jayhawks - a talented group that is willing to share the ball and the accolades. Kansas has five players averaging between 9.2 and 13.1 points per game.
The Jayhawks like to run. That could spell trouble against the Tar Heels, who might have the most dangerous transition game in the Final Four. But Self said he won't try to slow the pace.
``We're not going to change who we are going into this,'' Self said. ``So I'm not going to tell our guys, 'Let's ratchet it down.' We've got to play. We just can't let them play the way they want to play. But we still have to play the way we want to.''
 

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