Tulsa goes through opponents and coaches

Self is hoping to follow Richardson, T. Smith on title path, without leaving

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUSTIN, Texas -- Bill Self is coming soon to a major conference program near you -- or at least one with a national television contract.

Self is the coach at Tulsa, which wins basketball games and loses coaches. The Oklahoma college with an enrollment of 4,300 has served as a springboard for Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Steve Robinson, and Self gets nearly as many questions about his future as he does the Golden Hurricane (31-4).

"I think I've got a great job," Self said. "I remember John Calipari telling me, `If you like your president, and you like your AD, make the next job the one you're presently at. As far as whatever you need to be successful, try to get it where you are.' These people [at Tulsa] are giving me everything we need to win big.

"Although my name has come up in a lot of circles, it hasn't been a distraction, because I'm not going to allow myself to think about it, or focus on it until after the season."

Seventh-seeded Tulsa is one win away from its first NCAA tournament regional final ever. In a South Region match at the Erwin Center that sounds like a Bourbon Street promotion, the Golden Hurricane will face the Miami Hurricanes tonight.

The winner advances to Sunday's championship game against either Tennessee or North Carolina, and Bill Guthridge's job is about the only one Self hasn't been linked to in the last two seasons. His name was dropped at Missouri and Minnesota last year, and now Self has been mentioned as a possible successor to Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech.

Self moved across town from Oral Roberts in 1997, after Robinson moved to Florida State. Robinson took over the program in 1995 from Smith, who became the third black man to coach an NCAA champion two years ago, at Kentucky. The second was Richardson, who had a 119-37 record at Tulsa from 1980-85.

"Nolan Richardson made the program," Self said. "Tubby Smith did a great job of restoring it, but we always had that attitude that we can be good, and we should be good. We give our coaches every opportunity to be good. A lot of schools the size of Tulsa say they're going to do that. Tulsa backs it up."

Tulsa joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1996, but expansion backfired and the league splintered in two last year. Tulsa had been a beacon in the Missouri Valley Conference, but whatever its affiliation, it will always be the state's poor stepchild to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, members of the Big 12.

Unlike Richardson, Smith and Robinson, Self is from Oklahoma. Like Utah, it's a state that the major media outlets ignore.

"We had three teams ranked in the Top 20 for just about the whole season," Self said. "If I'm not mistaken, we're the only state to do that."

Self, 37, led Oklahoma State in assists as a senior in 1985. After a year assisting Larry Brown at Kansas, he jumped at the chance to go back to his alma mater. The new coach in Stillwater was none other than Leonard Hamilton, the man he'll match wits against tonight.

"I hired Bill without knowing him," Hamilton said. "He had such a passion for wanting to come back and help the [Oklahoma State] program. It was almost uncanny, his basketball perception at an early age. He had an ability to communicate with players. I said to myself, this guy is destined for greatness."

Hamilton said that Self's teams are fundamentally sound. He could say the same about his own, even if Miami is most often identified with the gunning of Johnny Hemsley, the senior guard from Baltimore's Southern High.

Miami is here with a 6-foot-6 center. Tulsa starts three guards, and both teams have point guards who have exceeded expectations. Vernon Jennings has twice led the Big East in assists, but he's still listed on the Miami roster as a guard/forward. Sophomore Greg Harrington's maturity allowed Self to move Tony Heard to shooting guard.

Jennings and Harrington supply an interesting contrast to the point guards in tonight's second game. Tony Harris, a consensus prep All-American coming out of Memphis, has started all but two games in his Tennessee career. North Carolina's Ed Cota is one of three players in NCAA history to reach 1,000 assists.

After the 1997-98 season, Cota had eight NCAA tournament wins to his credit. Combined, the other three programs here had 11. The Tar Heels have righted themselves at the right time, but the other three teams aren't slumping. Should Tulsa keep winning -- and lose another coach -- so be it.

"He [Self] tells us the reason he's getting attention is that we're doing so well," Harrington said. "We'd like him to stay. We think the world of him, and we're happy he's getting all this attention."

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