Self feels right at home with Jayhawks

In first year in Lawrence, he has Kansas unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in country

National notebook

December 05, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The honeymoon between Bill Self and Kansas could be a long one.

Given the bitter parting last spring between former Jayhawks coach Roy Williams and the team's fans and some of its players, whoever showed up in Lawrence was likely to be well-received.

Given Self's laid-back personality off the court and his team's fast start on the floor this season (3-0, including a win over then-No. 3 Michigan State), the transition has been even smoother than most thought it might be.

A No. 1 ranking, which Kansas received Monday after the top four teams lost last week, certainly doesn't hurt.

"[This] early, I don't think anybody deserves it, but if anyone has to have it, it might as well be us," Self said Tuesday on the Big 12 teleconference call. "I don't know if it's good or bad. Heck, I've never been ranked that high before. I see it as positive. ... It forces your guys to play with a little more of a bull's-eye on your back and makes you a little bit tougher."

A year ago, the Jayhawks were being questioned for their toughness. After coming into the season ranked second behind Arizona, Kansas split its first six games. It was written in this space that, aside from UCLA, Kansas was the most disappointing team in the country.

Williams used that criticism as motivation for his team's ride all the way to the Final Four, where the Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in the championship game. When Williams left for North Carolina less than two weeks later, Kansas hired Self from Illinois.

"Sometimes when there's change, you have to put your stamp on some things," said Self, who had been a graduate assistant under Larry Brown when the Jayhawks won the NCAA championship in 1988. "I think we've done that in a small, almost immaterial variety of ways such as the floor or our locker rooms."

There were some who didn't think putting a giant-sized Jayhawks emblem in the middle of the floor at Allen Fieldhouse -- replacing a much smaller state map -- was such a great idea. There will be others who won't like it when the Jayhawks break out those bright red road uniforms Self has on order.

"We're not going to please everybody all the time, not at a place where so many people care about Kansas basketball is a guy going to make a decision and have everybody be happy with it," Self said. "We're going to do what we feel is best for our program, and hopefully the majority will feel the same way."

Lefty's legacy

One of the worst defeats Georgia State suffered during Lefty Driesell's 5 1/2 -year tenure at the little Atlanta school was a 27-point drilling at Tulsa four years ago. The return game came Monday night, and payback couldn't have been any sweeter for the Bulldogs.

Playing without two of its leading scorers, Georgia State upset the Golden Hurricane, 72-67, in Duluth, Ga.

Michael Perry, who was promoted to head coach when Driesell suddenly retired last January, said he used the two games against Tulsa to see how far the program has come. A year after losing to Tulsa, Georgia State made the NCAA tournament for the first time. The Bulldogs were 14-15 last season.

"I have heard our president quote me saying, `We can play anybody in the country now,' " Perry said. "When we came in here seven years ago, that was the long-term goal. This [the most recent win] showed not only our players, but the coaches, too, where we want to be at.

"Tulsa is not in a major conference, but they're a big-time basketball program. Like a Gonzaga. That was one of the things Lefty showed us. He said that you didn't have to be in a big-time conference to have a big-time basketball program."

Storm clouds

Many didn't like it when St. John's changed its nickname from the politically incorrect Redmen to the Red Storm a few years back. The new moniker has never seemed a more appropriate nickname than it does now.

Maybe they should be called the Red-faced Storm.

If a season-opening home loss to lowly Fairfield wasn't a clue as to how this season might go, then an 81-64 defeat to Hofstra in Queens on Tuesday night might be. It was the worst on-campus loss in 43 years.

That it came against a team called The Pride (formerly the Flying Dutchmen) was also fitting, since that is something St. John's seems to have little of these days. "We should all be disgraced," said senior guard Andre Stanley.

The two losses were also sandwiched around another embarrassing incident: the indefinite suspension of senior guard Willie Shaw, who, along with former star Marcus Hatten (Mervo), was charged with marijuana possession after a recent traffic stop.

Things have gone downhill rather quickly for St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, who was considered a savior after leading the Red Storm to the Sweet 16 in his first season (1998-99). They played twice more in the NCAA tournament and won the National Invitation Tournament last season.

Jarvis has not helped his own cause, asking for a contract extension (which wasn't given) after last season and then complaining this week to a local radio station about a lack of commitment from the school in terms of a budget and on-campus facility.

"A coach is a teacher," said Jarvis, whose 1-3 team plays at Duke tomorrow. "I have proven it over the years, and I will prove it again. But I can't do it by myself, and I don't intend to."

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