KU basketball’s Bill Self: NCAA ’had no choice’ but to cancel tournament

Matt Galloway
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said Tuesday that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he believes the sport will be played this fall, though he added it "may not be as we know it."

LAWRENCE — Working almost exclusively from home for the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Self came to a realization.

Or, perhaps more accurately, the 57-year-old Kansas basketball coach had a previous belief reinforced.

“I have realized this, and I’m sure other people have too: That I don’t think retirement is for me, because I mean, I miss going to work,” Self said Tuesday. “... It’s been an unwanted vacation in a lot of ways.”

Speaking at the first installment of his “Hawk Talk” radio program since the NCAA canceled its postseason tournament March 12, Self outlined the immediate path ahead for the Jayhawks — and explained why a picture of a more distant future remains murky.

KU’s players are eligible to return for voluntary workouts July 6, but Self and his fellow coaches can’t directly work with them until July 20. With that in mind, and given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, Self said he would spend the rest of his Tuesday night speaking with players and their parents about the safest and most efficient road forward.

That may include a more delayed return to campus, Self acknowledged.

“I think there’s still some concerns about bringing ’em back, but we’re going to discuss that to see if the risks certainly are less than the rewards,” Self said. “… It’s just a strategy that’s unknown. How do we limit exposure as much as possible and still get done what we want to do? We’re going to talk about that (Tuesday night) and have a decision on that soon.”

Jayhawk players have remotely received various workout information from strength coach Ramsey Nijem, though Self noted KU’s coaches are prohibited from watching the players during this time period.

Self said he believes his players have improved over the last three-plus months, noting that he’s heard good things about individual workouts and dedication to improving offseason areas of emphasis.

“But I would rather have our hands on ’em so that way we would know exactly what they’re working on,” Self continued. “I think there’s some good things going on there, but basically you have to trust them and they have to care enough and be disciplined enough to want to do it.”

That certainly wasn’t a problem for last year’s team.

Those Jayhawks, who finished the abbreviated season with a 28-3 record, were all but a lock to receive the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed until March Madness was wiped away.

Self revealed Tuesday that he didn’t actually get the opportunity to deliver that news to his players — the inverse was actually true, with players learning of the NCAA Tournament’s cancellation via news reports, then sending a wave of questions in Self’s direction.

Self isn’t second-guessing the NCAA’s decision to shut everything down.

“You know, maybe if we knew then what we know now about putting people in a bubble, doing some things, maybe there’s a chance (we could’ve played),” Self said. “But I really thought the NCAA had no choice but to do what they did. I thought that was the right decision. Certainly it was at the expense of 68 teams that were going to make the tournament, and we probably had as good a shot as anybody. But there’s things bigger than basketball, and this is certainly much bigger. Even though our players were disappointed, I thought they handled it very maturely, to be honest with you.”

Uncertainty looms over the upcoming campaign, scheduled to tip off against Kentucky on Nov. 10 in Chicago.

The team’s season ticket deadline is June 30, and the athletic department has taken several steps to ease the burden on fans — it’s created five new pricing tiers, extended payment plans and implemented a ticket assurance policy that provides insurance to buyers in the event home games are played at a limited capacity or without fans.

“Our fans have been so good to us for so many years. And now heartache’s come and hardships come and the dollar may not stretch quite as well as it used to for so many,” Self said. “With that being said, whatever we’re generating from a ticket standpoint, you cut that in half or even by a third, that’s so significant. So we hope that everybody will still — I don’t even think you’re taking a chance, because there’s a safety net for you — but we hope everybody still can look to the future even though we know it may be difficult right now.”

Self believes the sport will be played, though he added it “may not be as we know it.”

“You’re working with the unknown of, what are you really preparing for, and when are you preparing for it? Because right now we don’t know what’s going on,” Self said. “We know maybe just as much as we did back on March 12, to be honest. Very fluid. Hopefully some things kind of become clearer as students start coming back to campus.”