Sports fandom has its legends. One of the best was Maryland lawyer Robin Picker, a fan of the NBA's Washington Bullets who used to sit behind the visiting teams and heckle the opposition in creative, side-splitting ways. He's best well known, though, for reading aloud passages of "Jordan Rules" to Michael Jordan and "Maverick" to Phil Jackson during the game - and getting ejected from the stands numerous times.
Snappy dresser and Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self has inadvertently set himself up for such a situation this Thursday - should an enterprising young Lehigh fan be able to pick up a copy of Bill Self's uncontroversial 2008 autobiography At Home in the Phog.
Say what you will about Mr. Self, he hasn't been shy about tooting his own horn. There's no doubting his success, but is it possible that the guy who offered "an inside look at his journey into becoming one of the game's most respected and most sought-after coaches" might be overlooking a specific NCAA tournament game tomorrow? (more)
Now, I know something about celebrity coaches. I've long stated my views on John Calipari, and they haven't changed that much since he oozed his trail of slime over to Kentucky. I've lived in the state of Connecticut where Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma left the pantheon of demi-gods and went to the level of gods long ago. I live not that far from Villanova, where Rollie Massimino, Fran Dunphy and Jay Wright are household words.
Now Bill Self no doubt has a lot to be proud of lately at Kansas. He's won a string of Big XII titles, won one NCAA championship, and has had success pretty much everywhere he's been. First as a player at Oklahoma State, then as a coach in the NCAA ranks, starting locally at Oral Roberts, leapfrogging to Tulsa, jumping to Illinois, and finally ending up at Kansas.
But like many coaches that are known as "great recruiters", there does seem to be that bit of super-seriousness - that extra self-congratulatory air - in evidence.
Just look at his Wikipedia page for starters. It's OK that the page talks about his success at Illinois, but is it really necessary to say that he was "largely responsible for the recruitment of the 2005 Fighting Illini team which won the Big Ten title" and also would have gotten Charlie Villanueva had a tornado not happened during his official visit? That team was not coached by Self, who had left by that time: it was Bruce Weber, who brought that team to the NCAA finals. (Illinois fans are still pretty peeved about that whole business.)
And check this out from the Wichita Eagle, talking about getting his kids to play at a "magic level":
Self learned the ways of basketball magic for three seasons as an assistant under Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State from 1990-93 and has clung to the pursuit of that romantic ideal ever since.
"We talk about that every day," Self said. "Coach Sutton used to say this all the time: Your magic level is where your energy and your enthusiasm and your focus and concentration all come together to give you the best chance. Those are the days you are probably gonna enjoy coaching them, and more than likely you're going to play well."
One of the reasons Self is in love with the magic level is that, when you're there, you don't have to make shots to win.
"That's the thing about being at that magic level," Self said. "If you're really turned up, you can get to shooters a little quicker.
Maybe invoking Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State may not have been such a hot idea - who had been kicked out of Kentucky several years earlier for NCAA violations. (And who's at Kentucky now?)
While Self's title run was indeed impressive, his other tournament appearances haven't exactly been the stuff of legend. Losses to massive underdogs Bucknell and Bradley in the first round, one Sweet 16 elimination (UCLA) and one Elite 8 knockout (Michigan State). This is the stuff of literary legend?
If you look at Self's record objectively, it reads like one where the Jayhawks have won a lot of Big XII championships - but only once have gotten to the level where Mike Kryzewski, Jim Calhoun, and Dean Smith sit. He has one more first round upset to a non-power conference than national championship. You could almost go as far as to say that this NCAA tournament could go as far as putting his name alongside the giants of NCAA head coaches - for all the right (Final Four appearances) or wrong (early round knockouts) reasons.
Still, though Self doesn't have the same arrogance of a Calipari. Coach Self has been saying the right things about Lehigh. He's "impressed" with freshman G C.J. McCollum, for starters. “Fans may not remember this ... Indiana had a kid 20 years ago named Jay Edwards, slender, good sized, 6-foot-3, was long and could shoot it and play combo guard. He reminds me so much (of Edwards), and Jay was a pro,” he said.
And why not throw some love Lehigh's way? With his stable of Mr. Basketball's, like senior G Sherrod Collins, freshman G Xavier Henry, junior C Cole Aldrich and sophomore F Marcus Morris - all averaging double figures in scoring, too, so they can mix and match depending on the situation - he can afford to be magnanimous. And looking over his roster just shows so many players that can sub in, like freshman G Tyshawn Taylor, that can step up if Collins or Henry have an off night.
The love continued in the pre-game press conference, too. “We’re coming in approaching this just like we do most any other game as far as what we need to do to play well for ourselves and – we think Lehigh is very capable. There’s no question about that,” he said. “They’ve got a great player that can go get 30 any night and he’s got help, too.”
OK, so he's not Calipari at all. (He'd have been hard pressed to say anything nice about a Patriot League player, let alone twice.)
Self may have respect for Lehigh, but it's questionable whether he wants his kids to have to reach a "magic level" against the 16 seed in the tournament. For Lehigh fans - despite the fact that Self is saying all the right things - it's worth hoping that maybe he's thinking secretly that Kansas needs to only bring their "C" game to Oklahoma City. If Lehigh makes Self need to request a "magic level" from his players to win - maybe, just maybe, the Mountain Hawks can shock the world.
And there's at least one Lehigh player that happens to agree with coach Self. "He’s a very smart man,” McCollum said once informed of his comments that he could score 30 against the Jayhawks.