Cryo-Icing Not One, But Two Centers, While Putting a Third on Chill

  • Its not easy being a center for Bill Self.

    He feels decidedly biblical about post play.

    “In the beginning was the post man…”–Basketball Genesis 1: 1

    Its such a big job that a Selfian jargon has emerged to describe what all has to be done.

    One has to be able to stay on spots, have a motor, be able to finish, board, guard the post, body opponents, hedge defend, and kick out, all while manning-up and playing through.

    This special jargon also extends to what bigs are NOT to do and be.

    They are NOT to play like a bunch of babies.

    They are NOT to play like KU may once have played against Topeka YMCA.

    They are above all NOT to play soft!

    Commit any sin, or omit any virtue, and Self is fairly New Testament…for awhile. If you guard hard, he forgives some learning errors, and teaches. He tries this approach and that approach. He speaks parables in fractured syntax with an Okie accent. He talks of getting better and expects small miracles. He greets some coming back to the bench with love, and others with hell fire.

    But lose Self’s trust, or fail to complement another post man, or fail to give the team what it needs, and lord have mercy and some de-icing fluid for the post man’s frozen soul.

    Self’s hell for bad play is a fiery hot one where he can get up and close and personal as he screams red faced at the player he thinks might help the team reach its potential.

    But Self has a separate hell for those he cannot find a way to weave into the team’s future, or that he has lost trust in. It is a hell of cold and ice. It is a cryogenic experience at the end of the bench.

    It is where two centers now find themselves: Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot.

    Until this season, centers were in one hell, or the other, other.

    But this season Self has added a third hell; this one with a rheostat allowing him to set the temperature to cool–chill if you will.

    Carlton Bragg, the player Self once said would in time be an exceptional player, is the recipient of this new level of Self-hell.

    Bragg’s minutes appear to be dwindling.

    He is the second string center on a team that plays one post man.

    He plays, but you never know when, or how much.

    He doesn’t play much against teams that go small, because he is not quite agile enough to chase 6-7 inch guys.

    He doesn’t play much against teams with big, strong centers, because though he has put on about 40 pounds since the skinny days of last season, he is not quite strong enough to go at it with the prison bodies.

    This means Carlton Bragg is left to play long skinny centers.

    Yet Bragg has not played particularly well yet.

    And when a player has not yet played particularly well and the calendar reads second week of January, Self tends to lose a little faith.

    Self has not yet flooded Bragg’s pod with cry-fluid and turned the rheostat to “freeze.”

    Let’s just say that he has run a couple inches in the bottom of the pod and turned it to chill in case he decides to go ahead and ice him.

    Hang in there, Carlton.

    As the Beatles once sang…

    “I’ve got to admit its getting better A little better, all the time, (It can’t get no worse.)…”

    But of course it can get worse.

    Just ask Lightfoot and Coleby.

    But the important thing is: it can get better, too.

    Look at Landen.

    Carlton, its time to start doing all the things post men are supposed to do for Bill.

    You won’t like the Cryo-ice.

  • Most likely, Carlton is still trying to figure out how to do what Self and the staff are expecting of him. That coupled with a different style of play than last year and we have the confusion that Carlton is experiencing. I do think it is entirely within the realm of possibility that he figures out how he is going to go about his role. Like slayer has been saying, he is having a lot thrown at him and he needs time to digest all of it. I do not think that he is incapable of performing better nor is he inept.

    Back when I was playing, I had a situation where I switched schools and played for two different teams in as many years. With all new players, coaches, personnel and philosophies, it was hard through the first few months to get adjusted to everything. But I always played my best at the end of season in February and March and in one tournament I was co MVP.

    In short, there is no reward for starting the season well. You don’t get a bye game in the tournament or any bonus points because you didn’t lose a game in November. We saw the same thing last year with Landen. Everyone was upset with Self and called for his benching, yet he started to figure out his role in the post and made his bunnies. I will be patient with Carlton.

  • @HawkChamp 🏆 Good post!

  • @HawkChamp

    I get the impression that Bragg’s body has developed faster than his mental ability to handle it. He is still playing like he is 25 pounds lighter and a couple of inches shorter and trying to be a finesse type player. He needs to put his newly developed body to good use by banging inside.

  • @HawkChamp said:

    In short, there is no reward for starting the season well.

    Not feeling argumentative, and I do think never giving up and getting better and the tortoise and hare story are valuable, but…

    Starting well is a great advantage. I used to run Sprints in high school and we had a marvelous coach who said races have a beginning, middle and end, and if you win each third you win. Period.

    Start fast. Stay fast. Finish fast. Victory goes to the first one to finish, not the fastest one in any one third.

    He loved to talk about the guy who set a record in the last 220 but ran a very poor first 220 in a 440, and lost the race.

    Further, if you start the season strong, you get to be the starter and prove yourself, as someone the coach can build around, rather than view as a replacement and so have to sit and wait as an understudy for a shot.

    I always liked to start fast and defend a lead, rather than have to play catch up, and finish strong.

    IMHO, Bragg’s problem is things have not gone as expected and it’s exposing a chink in his mental toughness. Quite simply, he assumed he would be the starting 4 in a double Post offense, like they played last season. He would be Perry with two more inches stepping out for treys, and driving the rim, not a war horse on a low block.

    But Self shifted gears into a true 4 guard offense scheme and that put him competing with Doke as Landen’s backup, He never believed he was good enough to beat Landen, so he hasn’t been up to the challenge of taking minutes from him head to head. Self put him in a war with Landen and he pouted instead of clawing and scratching to find a way to take minutes from Landen. He will grow from this. He will be a much tougher customer once he understands it’s a dogfight, not a slot waiting for him.

    Bragg will be very good once he gets mentally tough and furiously competitive. He was neither this season. But Yoda Self has introduced him to this gap in his psyche, as a Jedi big man. Early on he probably said, “Coach, I can do the job. I’m ready. I won’t let you down. I’m big and strong and I’m not fearing any man.” To which Yoda Self likely whispered, “You will be.” And then he placed him in a head to head battle with Landen, and he folded for a time.

    This mental toughness variable is what most board rats fail to take into account for when anticipating how much players will contribute in a coming season. Look at Josh Jackson. He is a huge talent and very tough, but when Self plays through him for a few conference games against weak teams, even Josh begins to wilt under the pressure and Self has to turn things back over to Sergeant Mason. It’s not a war out there in conference, but it’s an order of magnitude more intense than any starter has ever known before.

    Bragg could not even stand the heat of competing with Landen in precon, so Self has wisely started to protect Bragg from the heat of conference games. Bragg will be brought back into the fire, but he will likely be protected much of the rest of this season.

    It’s tough out there for the newbies–beginning, middle, or end of season.

  • @jaybate-1.0 yes but thats not what Im talking about. I’m referring to the media love for teams that have quick starts and look “march ready”. After Maui, Bilas was saying that Carolina was farther along than last years team was at the same point. But what does that give you? Do you get a trophy for that? As long as you dont rack up a bunch of losses, it doesnt hurt to have a steady upward trajectory and stay under the radar.

    I want a strong start as much as anybody, but our most successful teams in March (08, 12, and to an extent last year) all improved throughout the year and got better and better. The 09 team could be another example of a team that improved and was a few plays away from the elite eight. The 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 teams did not really have that same trajectory. So, to me at least, it seems that Bill’s teams perform the best in march after they steadily gain cohesiveness during the course of the season.

  • @jaybate-1.0 i like that saying but it’s hardly true in most sports. Over half the teams in this league will go to the NCAAs. I always told my my team to get a 1% better ever day. In most high-schools here in KS everyone gets to substate anyways, win when it matters. I’m okay playing good early but not many teams regress as the season goes on most improve, I think we are better than the team that lost to Indiana. Just my 2 cents.

  • @HawkChamp

    Actually it is what you’re talking about. You just don’t realize it yet. 😄

    Everyone that keeps practicing and playing gets better and better. It’s a process towards achieving one’s potential. But some teams have way more potential than others. And some teams get an injury, or get cold at the end and it obscures their progress toward their own potential.

    The phase at the end you are talking about is significantly driven by uncontrollable variables;I.e., teams getting a hot shooting hand for six games, teams being healthy at the right time, and teams getting good match ups and a favorable whistle.

    It’s a misperception that teams find themselves at the end of seasons, or fail to keep getting better and so get surpassed. They all get better but have varying amounts of talent and injuries, and luck with refs. OU is making the best of a tough situation. They are getting better, like everyone else is. But they just don’t have enough talent to make a run. Indiana had holes that didn’t show in a single game. They are getting better. They just aren’t good enough.

    Start fast. Stay fast. Finish fast.

    Wooden advocated no highs and no lows. Prepare and play the same for every game. The opponent doesn’t matter. Practice, practice, practice. We are the only thing we can control. Be able to be at your best, whenever you need it, first game, or last. You play as you practice, so practice the UCLA way from the first second of practice. Don’t start slow. START! He would have altered my saying as follows.

    Start quick. Stay quick. Finish quick.

    Quick, not fast.

    It worked for him.

    It has worked for me in my endeavors.

    I’m a true believer.

  • @jaybate-1.0 No, I understand exactly what you are saying and what you are proposing, while nice, does not seem to be what occurs at the university of Kansas during their most successful post seasons. There is no denying the 2009 and 2012 teams improved and were playing great at the right time. Teams and individuals can get better over the course of a year and is determined by their potential. Look at Carolina. Have they steadily improved since Maui? The eye test says no. It is always a good idea to be playing your best at the end of the year. Team chemistry and synergy should improve as well and reach a high level at the right time.

    Again, your argument makes sense on paper and is true for some teams of course, but Selfs teams do best when they start slow and put it all together in March. I am not arguing whether it has or hasnt worked for you in your personal life or how it has worked in mine but just commenting on the overall trend under Self.

  • @kjayhawks

    The trick is to develop the habit of winning.

    This is the greatest single edge, outside of talent, there is in sport.

    But Wooden went beyond winning.

    He said winning is not the yard stick to measure by.

    The yardstick to use is playing to one’s potential. Play to one’s potential and one wins regardless of the scoreboard. He said it was Impossible to beat someone with more talent that played to their potential. But it was often possible to beat teams by us playing to our potential, while they failed to play to their potential, whatever it was.

    And his players knew that over a season their potential would grow with practice.

    Thus, the habit to try to create and strengthen was playing to one’s potential, not winning. Thus from the first practice players were expected to play to their potential and the wins would take care of themselves.

    Overconfidence from winning streaks was almost never an issue with a Wooden team, because they focused on what they could control, not what they could not. 5 wins or 25 wins did not matter by definition.

    To build the strongest habit of winning, you have to start playing to your potential, however limited it may be in the beginning, keep doing it, and finish doing it.

    The habit builds startlingconcentration.

    Wooden the coach built toward conference and post season.

    But the players were expected to play to their potential from the start.

    Put another way: play to your potential to start, keep playing to your potential to the end, and in between add potential!

  • @HawkChamp

    No, I’ve had this discussion many times in work situations. And those that talk about paper don’t understand yet.

    But that’s ok, everyone is free to find there own path.

  • “…but Selfs teams do best when they start slow and put it all together in March.”–@HawkChamp

    Self wins 83% of the games, thus by definition he starts fast, stays fast and finishes fast.

    Self starts with a simplified version of his offense and defense and adds to both over the season.

    So do all the other coaches and teams that I can recall.

    But all other teams do not win 83%.

    Part of this has to do with talent.

    But I argue that a greater driver is Self establishes sooner and more accurately how his team can play to realize more of their potential sooner. This gives them an early edge and they spend more time developing what works incrementally. This gift/skill of Self’s also enables him to diagnose effective responses to unforeseen events (i.e., injuries, players not developing as expected, transfers, etc.) faster than most coaches. As a result, KU spends less time searching for fixes that are dead ends and more time practicing what works. Self has a remarkable knack for figuring out “next”. He isn’t perfect, but his batting average at not fixing what ain’t broke and fixing what is is impressive. I get the feeling Self has the season pretty well schemed out correctly BEFORE the first practice. The gear shifting only occurs when the unexpected happens.

  • @jaybate-1.0 starts fast - it depends on what you think is fast. Did we start fast this year? In 2012? In 2009? I certainly hope that we have not seen the best from this team and that it will come down the road. Everything else I agree with in terms of the process and how they practice.

  • @HawkChamp

    I agree UNC has not been the same since Maui. Getting back Pinson is big for them and when he gets comfortable in their rotation they could possibly get back to that level.

    For KU, I don’t think we’ve had a game where we could say start to finish great 40 minutes. Hasn’t happened yet in my opinion. That’s either a good thing, to be 15-1 and still haven’t even played our best basketball yet or the inconsistencies from half to half are going to start catching up with this team. Will be interesting to monitor over the next few weeks when the heart of the schedule is here and this team is forced to find its true identity.

  • @HawkChamp

    Relative to other teams, which is the only standard that matters, we have started fast every season of Self’s tenure. All that dampens the starts occasionally is facing a few talented, experienced teams early, and we happen to be green. But even then Self is trying get out of the blocks fast. One of the secrets to Self winning many of his consecutive titles is his team’s jumping out to substantial early leads in conference races by picking up early road wins when other teams are playing it too close to the vest. He does it often.

  • I think one can argue that starting out too well is a disadvantage.

    First… you have your guys playing in a groove, so all opponents start scouting you more carefully. Opponents have the entire year to figure out the right strategy to take you down. They watch previous game tapes and usually they find a way to compete.

    Second… if you are playing very well now why would you change what you are doing? The old adage; “don’t fix what isn’t broken” seems to be applicable here. If you aren’t changing what you are doing, are you also continuing to improve? Maybe… maybe not.

    Third… later on, teams figure you out and then what? Obviously you have to make changes. So you may not be starting from scratch, but you may need to make wholesale changes. Now you are mid-season to late-season and you are applying a new strategy? Sounds risky… while other teams have spent all year trying to master and improve their strategy that wasn’t fine-tuned early on.

    Fourth… early strong performance means getting ranked high. I’m not certain, but it seems like it is a jinx for us to be ranked #1. Our guys get too focused on the ranking instead of playing.

    Fifth… fan expectations climb to the point of being unhealthy. If you want to see what complete fan sickness looks like (concerning expectations) try Googling “Alabama football fans”… especially now after they blew the NC game. Pure disease.

    I’m sure there are more points to be made in both directions. I’m not saying I don’t want us to be better right now. But looking at this through the “Riverboat Gambler’s eyes” I don’t think he minds not showing everything we can do this early in the season.

    I don’t know what to think about being “good” early on. I am very happy when we get out to a quick start in league play. This year seems to be going like most of the last 12 years… we get out early and we stick around the top until the end and finish on top.

    I do know what to think about finishing strong. I care a lot more that we finish strong in March, then start out good in November.

  • @drgnslayr

    You have helped to clarify this issue by viewing it through a strategic lens instead of an operational one, if you can apply those terms here.

    By operational, I mean how do you learn to play well? What is the optimal process/operation for helping one learn to play well? Start fast/stay fast/finish fast (Operational–practice at getting up on edge makes one better and better at getting up on the edge), or stay under the radar screen by playing at some intentionally suboptimal level early, so as to come on like gang busters later and surprise your opponents down the stretch?

    I reckon Self does some of both, now that you and some others make me think of it.

    As I have long asserted, he sends them out flat some games, and lets them labor for a win. Sometimes he sends them out with less than his best possible offensive schemes to make them learn to find ways to win with defense, and improvising on offense. And so on.

    Taking both into account, it appears Self tries always to find a way to win, even when sub optimizing. For instance, after having let his team labor for 30 minutes of a game, it is not unusual for him to call a time out with between 7-10 to go, and finally give them some stuff to run that works quite well.

    So: plays players big minutes, and make them play through injuries, and bails them out down the stretches of games, in order to win as much as possible, and so instill the “habit” of winning and the swag that comes with it.

    At the same time, he is willing to contrive sub-optimal performances and risk losses, in order to develop his teams in certain ways.

    All I can say is he has it down to a pretty refined science of tight rope walking betwixt playing to win and playing to develop, because he wins 83% of the time.

  • @jaybate-1.0

    I was writing only in theory.

    You raise good points.

    How do you get players to throttle down? Even if they could, what risks would come from that? Maybe they can’t throttle up later. Maybe they are prone to injuries when only playing a “fake game.”

    I meant my post to describe a natural situation where it just works out that way. Players don’t intentionally play at a lower level, they just aren’t developed enough to play at a a higher level.

  • So… start fast, stay fast, finish fast. In my opinion we basically have a starting 4 that can do this. Mason, Graham, Jackson and Lucas can stay fast and finish fast. But Svi is in a distant second tier, and everyone else is in a third tier.

    All of our starting 4 has won games for us. Heck, Graham won games in his freshman year with defense and ball handling. Jackson is the first swing postman since… Kevin Young… and he has won us a game or two. Lucas has rebounded and defended us to a couple wins. Mason probably won us the last game (among others obviously).

    My question for these other guys is “when are you going to win us a game?” Or better yet “how are you going to win us a game.” I suppose you could count Svi’s game winner with an asterisk as he had been playing pretty poor defense that game. Lagerald Vick, when are you going to use your athleticism to give us 5 steals and 3 blocked shots in 25 minutes?

    I don’t really know where to start with Carlton. I know he’s happy guy, and people like that. But he might need to be a little sad right now. Some self-reflection and a resetting of his personal expectations.

    In any case, I’m not so concerned about being #1 right now. It’s clear some of our role players must improve their play if we are to be a championship squad.

  • @betterfireE

    I enjoyed your take and your challenge to some of the players is probably close to what Self is saying to them. He probably picks a different player each game and says: you’ve been looking pretty good in practice; this could be a good matchup for you; this could be your night to break out. Be ready.

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