We've Lost What's Made Us Successful

  • I’ve been wanting to make this post for a long time. This is what I’ve noticed from reading Jason King’s “Beyond the Phog” and the “Top 100 things every KU fan should know before they die.” And now that I have a break in school, here it is.

    What’s made KU so special during Bill Self’s tenure has been Coach Self’s remarkable coaching staff, and quite simply, the bond and swagger that has developed amongst his players that carried over for the first 9 seasons or so of his tenure.

    We have had so much turnover since the end of the 2013 (and even 2012) season that it’s been hard to get back to where we’ve always been. That hardened spirit you saw from Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, and Travis Releford (the list goes on), that was carryover from Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, and Darnell Jackson. That 2008 team embodied the KU spirit. Darnell Jackson said before the Final Four game against UNC, “just let your nuts hang.” That, my friends, is swagger. That’s confidence. Tell me last time you saw a KU team in the past two years play that way, especially away from AFH. Because National Championships are not won in AFH, unfortunately, they’re won on neutral floors. That carryover, that swagger, came from the first Self team with Aaron Miles and Keith Langford. They instilled it into the players that would go on to win the national championship, who in turn instilled it in the Morris twins, T-Rob, even Tyrel Reed (I’m thinking the Mizzou game when I say this). With Self’s recruiting tactics in the last couple of seasons, we’ve lost that swagger. We no longer have that continuation of passing this passion from one crop of players to the next. We’re not Kentucky. We never will be, nor would I want us to be. On the front of UK’s jerseys, it might as well say Calipari. They don’t embody anything. It doesn’t mean as much. I don’t discount their success or what Cal has been able to do, it’s commendable. But it’s not us.

    Last year made this deficiency prominent to me. After a loss last season, Nadir Tharpe said, “when I got here, there were guys that wouldn’t let us lose. There were guys that would cry in the locker room if we did lose.” He was right. He could’ve pretty much said, Tyshawn and T-Rob explicitly weren’t gonna let us lose, but you get the idea. Naadir Tharpe and Jamari Traylor are the only ones that carry over the longstanding pride in KU. Tharpe is gone (and while some might be fine with that, I’m not one of them), and Jamari Traylor quite simply doesn’t have it. Andrew Wiggins didn’t have it. Joel Embiid didn’t have it. Perry Ellis clearly doesn’t have it. Nobody on this year’s team has it. Losing that attitude has hurt KU significantly. What happened to FOE? Too Strong? Put ya shoes on? It’s gone.

    Another thing that has hurt KU significantly, which has been such a strength has been KU’s coaching staff. Losing Danny Manning and Joe Dooley hurt tremendously. But who have been their replacements? Jerrance Howard. A notorious recruiter of the Chicago-area. But that’s it. This move certainly lends itself to Self’s approach to recruiting in the past two years, but that’s it. There’ s very little “Snacks” brings to the table besides recruiting. Danny Manning turned average post players into giants. Into lottery picks. We no longer have that in our arsenal. Danny was arguably the best player KU has ever had. He knew that. The players knew that. That’s part of instilling the KU tradition. And as for Dooley, look at games from 2007, 2008, even 2012. I watched them all summer in between classes. We ran complicated schemes. Changed our offensive sets, created plays for shooters, dare I say, ran zones. As everyone noticed (except for Bill Self) last year, we could not play man-to-man in 2014. We needed to play zone. We did not, and we lost in the second round to a mediocre team. Players’ comments in the past few games about our “mechanic and robotic” scheme, are frightening. If we as fans notice it every game, don’t you think opposing coaches do too? If we continue down this path this year, we will come short of our potential again. I for one see Dooley’s departure as a possible explanation for the logic-defying ignorance we have seen from KU in the past two years.

    My problem with Bill Self is his belief that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future. If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Pardon the historical reference, but the Japanese did not change their military tactics leading up to the Second World War, because quite simply, they worked in the past. Why bother changing them? The carnage of the Pacific War was the result. When you fail to adapt, you inevitably fail. Without so many of the pieces that have held KU together in the past, and kept KU at a high level, we are treading towards a downward spiral to minimal success. And for some, a Big 12 championship is success. Not to me it isn’t. We can’t win a national championship with the status quo. We have to adapt and change our ways in terms of scheme. I’m all for recruiting players that will be around for more than a year. By all means! But as someone else pointed out, what in the hell is the point in recruiting elite wings if all you want them to do is throw the ball in the post. Hey, B-Star was great at that. Just go recruit 3 of those, a really good center, and a PG and we should be set…right? It’s not going to work out that way. Play to your strengths. Don’t treat them as a burden. Because this is college. Not high school. You choose your players. They’re not handed to you.

    This much to me is obvious.

    Happy Holidays, everyone!

  • @MoonwalkMafia

    Interesting post, you have your own opinion although I can’t say that I agree with some of it.

    If Embiid would have stayed another year he would have been that person to carry some tradition over. He had that swagger and personality that so many before him have had. It doesn’t matter with him anyway as he would have missed his Soph. year anyway being hurt. The thing with Traylor is he’s not a starter, he’s probably never going to be so his impact will never be that of the past greats you’ve listed.

    Tharpe being gone is the best thing for this program. Mason has what your referring to, and he’s a far better player than Tharpe ever was for us. Wait til Frank is a senior and leading this team like Collins did.

    Don’t give up on Ellis yet either. He’s got a chance to finish in the top 10 in scoring in the history of KU. The criticism on him is justified, he may never be the player a lot of fans want him to be. It will be nice to have a Sr starter next year though. That is important and can’t ever be unappreciated. He’s not a vocal leader, maybe it will take becoming a Sr for him to realize his importance to a young team.

    The coaching aspect, its hard to replace Manning and Dooley. Actually probably darn right impossible when those guys took Head Coaching gigs. You have to give Howard time to become the assistant Self thinks he can be. Without him we don’t get Alexander and he still has a chance to help this team reach its potential. Dooley & Danny were ingrained in this program, Howard hasn’t had that chance yet.

  • @MoonwalkMafia

    Wow! Where you been hiding out?

    I really agree with your entire post, except the part about Naa. I was the very last guy to throw him under the bus, but when I did, I did.

    Lots of good material there.

    I’ve been wondering about Snacks, too. Maybe he helped us land Cliff, but if we had Danny still, wouldn’t we have landed Cliff and Myles?

    KU’s reputation as “Big Man U” is on the line with Cliff. We had the rep of being a school that developed bigs, but that was when Danny was with us. What about now? Other teams surely use that against us while fighting for bigs we are after. Cliff was “all world” in HS and he still doesn’t even start, and sometimes we go a long time without him getting minutes.

    I know Cliff is a great recruit if we were looking for a guy in the middle of the pack that might hang around for 3 to 4 years, but his rep has him leaving this year and he doesn’t look anything at all ready for the NBA or even to be a premiere big in D1 this year. If he leaves early, without ever giving us quality minutes, then gets drafted in the second round and flounders at the next level, he will be our biggest post bust since Self has arrived here.

    There is a lot riding on Cliff’s progress and his decisions.

    Meanwhile, the earth stays in motion. Players like Willie Cauley-Stein are getting headlines and we didn’t even recruit him in our own State, just half an hour from the campus. Maybe he should have been a target instead of Landen? Or maybe we just don’t have the ability to develop bigs like we did when Danny was here.

    So if we don’t have an edge recruiting and developing bigs anymore, why the heck would we ever focus on a hi/lo offense again?

    Personally, I want to see Self ditch the hi/lo for a more progressive offense and one that helps us recruit better guards. I’d rather be guard-heavy than post-heavy. Doesn’t mean I don’t want good post players, but I feel like guard play influences winning in March more than post play. I think UCONN is a testament to that.

    It was our guard play in '08 that made the difference.

  • @drgnslayr was Danny here last year? You forget about Embiid?

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    I didn’t forget the big guy. But how much credit do we give Snacks for developing JoJo?

    JoJo brought the gift with him. Even our coaching staff often commented how surprised they were to see some of his moves.

    We had little to do with his improvement. Look at how good he became in the 3 years he played basketball before we got him? He went from zero to becoming a huge recruiting score.

    I think he would have improved about the same if we dropped him on the North Pole with a basketball, a rim and a DVD TV/player with a stack of Olajuwon DVDs and came back a year later to take him to the NBA draft. Might not have been drafted 3rd… but he would have brought game with him.

    Kansas taking credit for developing Embiid is like Kentucky taking credit for developing the Unibrow.

  • @drgnslayr I give credit to Roberts.

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    I give Roberts all the credit in the world from bringing him to Kansas. Roberts isn’t a big man coach.

  • @drgnslayr Because Roberts works with the big men, he’s close to Embiid, who will miss his sixth straight game with a back injury but is hoping to make it back next week if Kansas advances.

    Google him if you still don’t believe me.

  • @BeddieKU23 Thanks for the reply!

    Embiid didn’t stay another year though. End of discussion. He perpetuates the problem.

    I miss Tharpe because he would be so helpful this year. I don’t care about his mistake. It was the most ill-advised selfie ever, but I’ve made too many mistakes to cast stones.

    Ellis is what he is. He’s not going to change and if he does it’s only for a game or two. Remember how in the UK game, Perry was terrorized for ALWAYS trying to lay the ball up? Then in the next few games, you saw Perry throw it down with authority. That was learning. That was a positive sign. Where is that now? Perry will be a senior next year and will still take orders from underclassmen. Do you ever remember the Morris twins doing that? He’s a good player. But he is what he is. He’s not going to be barking orders ever at KU. He’ll finish with good numbers, sure. But numbers and record books mean very little to me when they don’t get you to the Final Four.

    I wasn’t saying that they were replaceable. As you said, they’re damn near impossible to replace. The problem is their replacements were recruiting-focused hiers. Not X’s and O’s. Self needs those kind of coaches. Not ones that will help him catch up to UK.

  • @MoonwalkMafia I agree with numerous points. But I would be so quick to generalize KU players that didn’t make it to the final four.

    “numbers and record books mean very little to me when they don’t get you to the Final Four.” Lafrentz, Pierce, Vaughn, and Simien (Got hurt for the end of the year) all never made it to the final four. Those guys had cojones the size of watermelons. But you are right. For the most part, the players like Robinson, Collison, Taylor, and Jackson always found a way to win.

    Good post!

  • @MoonwalkMafia

    “Remember how in the UK game, Perry was terrorized for ALWAYS trying to lay the ball up? Then in the next few games, you saw Perry throw it down with authority. That was learning.”

    I think you are on to a very big point here.

    Most guys can “learn” a change of behavior and carry it out for a short while only.

    You can see that happening right now, big time. It’s the New Year and everyone and their dog has made another New Year’s resolution that they won’t keep more than a week or two. All the health clubs prey on the masses for this by signing them up for a year or two on what will end up being a “ghost” membership.

    It is the rare person that can make big changes and keep them permanently.

    Jeff Withey is a guy I put up there. I remember when he was just a skinny twig in the breeze when he came to Kansas. He worked his butt off and put on some weight and lots of strength. He went through a big character change during that period. Remember “fat lip” Withey? The guy got sick of being punched around and he toughened up. It’s amazing that he is able to make a dime in the NBA when thinking back to what he was when he came to Kansas.

    I hope Cliff is being educated on how hard players like Jeff and TRob worked during their stay in Lawrence, and just how much they evolved over that time. And I hope Perry realizes that he can make a deep-rooted behavioral change if he really wants it bad enough. He needs a sense of urgency, and I’ve never seen Perry maintain that sense of urgency. In some ways he is just too methodical and laid back.

  • @drgnslayr As far as “Big Man U” is concerned I think it is hard to compare our past success with what Cliff is going to do this year. The Morris Twins, TRob, D. Arthur, D. Jackson, Cole, Jeff Withey…all of these guys took years to develop. I think only Arthur was a huge impact player in even his sophomore year. The Twins were very good as sophomores but it was really their junior year that it all came together. Same with Withey and the same with TRob. Maybe those days are over but KU has been “Big Man U” based on actually developing players and not just getting top 10 recruits and letting them do their thing.

    Is Danny Manning no longer on the bench a problem? Yes, of course. But we still have Bill Self and JoJo last year was the quickest development of a big man I have personally ever seen.

  • @MoonwalkMafia said:

    I miss Tharpe

    Nice posts! I agree with some of the others here though, Tharpe was a liability last year. But then again, who knows what he might have brought this year?

    And this ‘who knows’ thing is what I’m holding on to right now. Things can change quickly in sports:

    “He (Oubre) went from probably being the guy that looked the least ready a month ago to now he looks like he’s by far the most advanced,” Self said. “That’s the way it is with young kids. Sometimes the light comes on at different times. I’ve said, when the light comes on, I don’t see it coming off. "

    Who knows what this team might be like if the light comes on, and stays on, for Alexander and/or others? We beat some pretty good teams on the road already this year in some scrappy games, so I think the potential is there for some serious balling in the next few months.

    Likewise, there is the potential for the wheels to completely fall off the bus like they did with Temple and almost did with Kent State.

    I wonder if it might partly be that there is a new landscape in college basketball (for the elite programs anyways) and Self is just doing what he can to stay competitive given these new changes? If you don’t try and recruit at least some of the best players at positions you’re weak at… who do you try and recruit?

    I admit I agree with nearly all of your points (except for Tharpe), but to say with finality that we’ve lost what’s made us successful when we are 10-2 after a tough road schedule and not yet even started with conference play… might that not be a just a wee bit premature?

  • @MoonwalkMafia Great post. Well thought out and goes right to the core of Kansas basketball – I love your quote, “When you fail to adapt, you inevitably fail.”

    Could not have said it better.

    I am truly fine with Self’s “system.” He just has to recruit and sign the players that fit the system. If circumstances dictate that he can’t get those guys, or they leave early, then he has to adapt – or as you say, he’ll “inevitably fail.”

    This season’s team is not the square peg, round hole team of last season. But it has an obvious skill set that is not the preferred skill Self likes to rely upon. And an inside-out game seems largely futile. It really seems sometimes that the entire KU world sees this, except for coach Self.

    I am very encouraged by Oubre’s emergence. That could change the entire dynamic.

    Now, your Tharpe-love? Personally, I think his mere presence would have been an anchor on this team. He was a pouter by nature, and we wouldn’t have landed Graham. I’m still quite satisfied by his departure.

  • @HighEliteMajor Thanks HEM. Maybe I should rephrase: given this season’s circumstances, I miss Tharpe. Of course this is hindsight. But again, it’s my issue of the carryover from the past that makes me a little more sympathetic to Tharpe. He was our lone bridge to the past. That was more or less my point with the ‘I don’t hate Tharpe’ sentiment.

    @JhawkAlum Oh, of course not. My point wasn’t that. It’s just like the Big 12 titles. They’re great, but they’re not National Championships. I used the Morris twins repeatedly in my points. They embodied the swagger and psyche that I was trying to highlight. Zero Final Fours though.

    The point is Perry is our best player. But if all he’s good for is putting up 30 against some nobody team, all to be held scoreless against Texas, he’s not doing what we need him to do. I truly understand your point though.

  • Great thread. Thanks @MoonwalkMafia.

    I’m with everyone else regarding Tharpe. I understand your point about past teams and their swagger, but Tharpe wasn’t a bridge to them simply because he played with some of those guys. To be a bridge you have to bring some of that over. Tharpe didn’t last year. Maybe he would have this year, but I doubt it. And as @HighEliteMajor said, if Tharpe stayed we wouldn’t have landed Graham. As a freshman, Graham looks to be more skilled and have that swagger. Him and Mason both have it. I shudder to think of where this team would be if Tharpe was still here blocking Mason of his playing time.

    I think it’s too early to write off Howard as being a one-trick pony. Or to write off the current staff in general as not being able to develop bigs. They haven’t had the raw materials yet to make that judgement. You say Danny turned “average” post players into giants and lottery picks. I’m curious who you are referring to as these “average” players. None of the bigs Danny developed into pros were 3-star players. Darnell may be the most “average” player you’re referring to, but he was a 4-star, mid-50s ranked player coming out of high school. Shady was a 5-star. The Morris Twins, TRob, and Withey 4-star mid-30s ranked. Cole was a McD’s all-American. Danny didn’t have to make due with the Landon Lucases and Jamari Traylors of the world. When this staff has a stable 4-star mid-30 guys to work with, I think then we can pass judgement. Right now, we just have Ellis. And Cliff. Even if Ellis doesn’t meet our expectations, or make it in the league, one player is not a sufficient sample size. I think most of us think Cliff is more of a lock for the league regardless of when he comes out or how much he develops this year.

    So this really goes back to something you mentioned and others have pointed out in the past, and that is the OAD merry-go-round. It’s difficult to judge a staff’s ability to develop talent when that talent is only around for a year. They get no credit for JoJo. If Cliff leaves after this year, they’ll get little-to-no credit for him. But when those types of players are mainstays in the starting line-up, it becomes more difficult to recruit the players ranked 20-50, Danny’s bread and butter as far as developing players.

  • @MoonwalkMafia

    We have lost the way it WAS; that happens every 10-15 years.

    The way it was was 3-4 year players being recruited by a hot young coach with a Nike lean at a Nike school that had serious recruiting charisma and signed players to be coached up by a great staff, and game coached by a guy who had still not seen everything but was a quick study with a new “play it any way they want” philosophy that knocked’em dead. And his dharma then coincided with the summer game and the summer game accepted him.

    Now it is some OADs/TADs in transition to all OAD/TADs valved by adidas, which apparently can’t valve as many as Nike can, but what can be valved is being coached up for shorter times by an equally good staff, and game coached by a guy who is missing his QA guy for tendencies, but who is now super experienced and among the three wiliest coaches in the game. Alas, now it appears his dharma conflicts with some of the summer game, especially since his friend/colleague Norm Roberts reputedly got run by summer gamers in the grande apple, and he (Self) likely lost respect for some of them and some reputedly don’t valve him all the local players they might.

    In short, life without Nike appears very, very, very complicated on many, many, many levels of a coach’s activities. Not impossible. But more difficult, despite all the extra Franklins from adidas.

    The program continually has to be rewritten and debugged until the whole Big Shoe dynamic can be reconciled, so that absurd talent asymmetries with Nike-Duke, Nike-UK, and Nike-UA are resolved.

    When Self came to KU, what was hoped was that he could smooth out the every other year recruiting pattern that emerged under Nike Roy; that he would recruit the whole country and get just a few more guys than Roy got, and coach them to play tougher.

    He has mostly done that.

    Now the expectations are very different. Now they are concrete and specific. A KU coach now has to have as many OAD/TADs as UK, Duke and UA, in order to compete on the same level. Nothing else much matters. Notice how everyone has quit talking about KU graduating guys? No point in selling that angle any more, since a migration is under way toward more and more OAD/TADs that by definition don’t graduate.

    Nevertheless, we have not lost what has made us successful.

    What makes us successful is The Legacy and continually working the problems and finding the next successful formula, business model, what have you. Self in mid life is retrofitting the whole program from recruiting model, to way of relating to players and media, to signing Fratello-Hill Eurasian players, to exactly what contributes to winning, and throwing a lot of old junk over board, as he goes. And he is still winning in the high 20s with conference titles, as he retrofits and waits for the critical new housing to enable adidas lean recruiting and it at least appears waiting for adidas either to valve more OADs to that housing, or go Nike as the adidas five year deal winds down.

    Notice that Self is giving no speeches this season about being a good team player for adidas. No more uniform talk either.

    Now, we are hearing the sounds of silence from a coach that has only 3 OAD/TADs and the TAD appears increasingly a 3AD, while John Calipari has 10, Coach K has 9, and comical little Stumpy Miller has almost that many.

    You can almost hear Self and adidas-Rick Pitino, who has spoken out on the shoeco recruiting asymmetries, thinking: “Show me the OADs,” the way Jerry Maguire’s client once shouted “show me the money.”

    Show me the OADs!

    Self is actually doing another great job this year, despite all our ideas about what he ought to be doing differently.

    Bottom line: he is 10-2 after a rough pre conference RPI, and could be 11-2 going into the conference with a team that Roy Williams, or Billy Donovan would be .500 with. Stumpy Miller might have only two wins.

    Self is working the problems.

    And he’s got a lot of them to work.

    But that has always kept us successful before.

    And I expect it will again.

    Rock Chalk!

    (Note: all opining and speculation.)

  • Nice take!

    Maybe we are still trying to find our New Way to be Successful. I think last year we planned to build our team around a 3 (Wigs). But, as the season developed, we realized that we could build our team around Embiid. I am wondering if HCBS is still evaluating this year on who he should build his team around, a 3 (KO) or a 4.5 (CA). I think when his mind is set, a new Team will emerge and we will live or die with it. It may takes a bit longer this year due to inconsistency.

    I am not sure if my observation is correct, i think Timberwolves is clearly building a Team around Wigs and with all the resources a NBA team has, we have lately seen a more consistent Wigs (Shooting % and Production). It took MIN about 30 games to do that.

    Given the same criterias, we are 12 games in and we have 2 Options (KO and CA), I sure hope 1 of the 2 will emerge. The level of talents is not like Wigs and Embiid; so, it maybe time consuming for HCBS to do his job this time round. RCJH!

  • @MoonwalkMafia great post dude. Spot on too. That continuity of strength and swagger found in past KU teams has been filtered out by the OAD era. KU lost that battle to UK, Duke, Arizona. You are doubly right about the 07-08 team. They were a veritable wolf pack. With the recruiting losses and the coaching changes we’ve seen at KU, it does not appear to be likely to see that “swagger” return in the near future. It sucks.

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