GLENDALE, Ariz. – Charles Barkley understands how to handle critics and hecklers. The Hall of Famer once known as the Round Mound of Rebound has had his share of incidents, both on and off the basketball court. And the man who once told the world he’s not a role model, knows fans can love you one minute and hate you the next.
So Barkley picked up his phone a few days ago to get in touch with Kansas basketball coach Bill Self. Just a little advice, Barkley thought, at a time when Self could use a friendly voice.
“Barkley called me and said, ‘Don’t listen to all this nonsense,’ ” Self said Saturday at the Final Four. “I said, ‘Hey Charles, I don’t know what they’re saying.’ And then he doesn’t text back. I guess because he felt bad [for telling me].”
Self experienced both ends of the coaching gamut over the past seven days. On March 25 in Kansas City, Mo., his Jayhawks lost a virtual home game to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. That meant his team, ranked No, 1 in the nation at the end of the regular season, would not join him on this trip to Final Four.
Those given to details and statistics quickly pointed out that Self had fallen to 2-7 in Elite Eight games. He has been to two Final Fours and won the national championship at Kansas in 2008, but on social media, talk radio and some media columns, it was convenient to call Self “the choker.”
As of Saturday morning, you can also call him Hall of Famer. The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame introduced an 11-member Class of 2017 that was highlighted by Self, two-time NBA scoring champ Tracy McGrady, UConn and WNBA great Rebecca Lobo, and Notre Dame women’s coach Muffet McGraw.
Self used the Hall of Fame announcement to poke fun at himself and accepted his new honor with the humility that has become a trademark of his career at Kansas. He talked about his family and the work ethic his parents taught him as he grew up.
But he clearly missed having his team playing in Saturday’s doubleheader and he remains driven by his goal of winning a second national title.
“Last year was hard,” Self said of losing to eventual champion Villanova in the Elite Eight. “This year was hard.
“We had a team that, when we played well ,we were as good as anybody. We also had a team that when things didn’t go well, we didn’t make shots. We had limitations too. We didn’t give ourselves the best chance to get here. To me, that’s what makes this one harder.”
Self’s induction in September will be special for several reasons. It is a rarity when a nominee is voted into the hall on his first ballot but Self accomplished that. The ceremony in Springfield, Mass., will be in the building named after Dr. James Naismith, founder of the game and the first coach ever at Kansas.
The Jayhawks have only had eight coaches in their history and Self, with his 623 victories, becomes the fifth elected into the Hall. That includes the last three – Larry Brown, Roy Williams and Self.
Self was about to pull into the staff parking garage Tuesday in Lawrence, when he got a phone call from the Hall of Fame’s president and CEO John Delova. What he heard was “overwhelming.”
“Instead of pulling in, I went straight and I turned right on a road,” Self said. “I just thought of this. Right when he was talking to me, I was on Naismith Drive. I thought I was prepared either way and would have been fine either way, but I was overcome as well. I had to pull off the road.
“The thing that hit me soonest was the journey and how many people have played a significant role in helping me and putting me in this position.”
Self has spent most of time in Phoenix this week accompanying senior guard Frank Mason III on his national player of the year award tour. Mason is expected to add the Naismith Award to his collection on Sunday. His remarkable sweep of awards will make him the most highly decorated player in Kansas history. Even Danny Manning didn’t win as many in 1988.
That obviously has removed some of the sting from the loss to Oregon.
“You can’t sweat everything,” Self said. “There’s multiple things a day you could sweat. What you have to do is address it and deal with things. But you have to realize the way it is today isn’t the way it’s going to be two weeks from now or a month from now or two months from now,
“We fought through some situations at Kansas very early in my career which I thought was life-ending stuff. Program ending type of stuff. Then I realized, ‘No, it’s just a blip on the radar.’ This year was challenging for a lot of reasons. But the challenges also made it the most fun too.”
Self always checks his ego at the front door and doesn’t let it get in the way. Saturday he insisted there never will be a statue built in his honor outside Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
“No, I’d be embarrassed,” Self said.”This is big for me, but this isn’t big in the scheme of things at all. When you talk about the big scheme of things, you’re talking about the original rules [on display at KU], the guys that have come before. It’s not only pillars of all time but guys that may never be matched again.
“I get my place. I’m thrilled and honored but I don’t take myself serious enough to think I deserve a brick, let alone what they have in front of Allen Fieldhouse [for Phog Allen and Naismith].”
Self considers himself a caretaker at Kansas.
“Something that is much bigger than yourself is something I’ve always taken unbelievable pride in.”
That’s true. He said so in 2003 on the first day he drove to his new office – on Naismith Drive. And he says so even when the critics are unfairly referring to him as a choker.
“I think that goes with the territory,” Self said.
Soon he will wear the jacket that proves he is a Hall of Fame coach. And the next time he is in the Elite Eight, he hopes it will catapult Kansas to a better ending and his second national championship.
“I think I cherished  the most immediately after and the next couple of years.” he said. “I think about it, but not like I used to. I keep thinking number two is going to be sweeter than number one.”
That’s a Hall of Fame attitude, without a doubt.