Bill Self feels his Kansas pride soar during Hall of Fame week

Kansas coach Bill Self received "Naismith orange" jacket Thursday (Ken Davis photo)

Kansas coach Bill Self received “Naismith orange” jacket Thursday (Ken Davis photo)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – When Bill Self had fulfilled all of his obligations with the public and the media Thursday at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he took a few minutes to absorb the symbolism and emotion of this weekend’s enshrinement proceedings.

Receiving his “Naismith orange” jacket, seeing his class ring on display, signing autographs, and conducting interviews are all part of the process. But the 54-year-old coach of the Kansas Jayhawks started to demonstrate a bit of awe when he got away from the crowd and the moment became personal.

He located his portrait in the crowd of other Hall of Fame members on the ceiling of the massive domed structure known as “Center Court.” Self bragged about his picture’s location, next to legendary Kansas coach Phog Allen and women’s icon Rebecca Lobo. Three spots below was the spot long reserved for Dr. James Naismith, founder of the game and the first KU coach.

Self checking out the Hall of  Fame portraits (Ken Davis photo)

Self checking out the Hall of Fame portraits (Ken Davis photo)

Impressive company, not to mention the photos of other former KU coaches Larry Brown and Roy Williams that create a uniquely Kansas flavor to this basketball shrine. It doesn’t get much better for a coach who loves the game.

“When we [the Class of 2017] all found out in April, I think we were probably all pretty overwhelmed with this,” Self said Thursday. “This really hasn’t hit me until we actually got to Springfield. Being in this arena and looking around seeing all the portraits is something that’s very humbling. I certainly feel inadequate in some ways.”

Friday night, downtown at Symphony Hall, Self will join Lobo, George McGinnis, Tracy McGrady, Robert Hughes, Muffet McGraw, Nick Galis, Zack Clayton, Manny Jackson, Tom Jernstedt and Jerry Krause in the enshrinement celebration complete with their speeches. Self will become the 20th person with ties to KU to be enshrined in the hall.

Self likes the position of his portrait next to Phog Allen (ken Davis photo)

Self likes the position of his portrait next to Phog Allen (ken Davis photo)

Self and the others submitted the text of their speeches before arriving in Springfield. They were asked to limit their remarks to eight minutes, a task that is nearly impossible. In the crowd will be approximately 120 people from Self’s family and closest friends, including 60 former players from Oklahoma State, Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas, as well as several of his former assistant coaches. The impact of Hurricane Irma will be felt, keeping some from making the trip.

“Refining it and shortening it from 30 minutes down to eight minutes took a little bit of work,” Self said. “I’ve read it multiple times. I’ve timed it. On the plane [Wednesday] I probably read it a minimum of 10 times. . . . It’s probably not going to be very good. But it’s not because I didn’t put some effort into it.”

Self didn’t leak any details of the speech but the bullet points will most certainly include his mentors. Brown, who gave Self his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Kansas during the 1985-86 Final Four season, will be his presenter. Brown was inducted in 2002. Leonard Hamilton and Eddie Sutton are among the other key coaches in Self’s background.

Family will be prominently featured. His dad, Bill Sr., is already a part of the Hall of Fame. A recent addition to the landscape, on a plaza between the parking lot and the Hall facility, is the Naismith Coaches Circle with statues, monuments and quotes etched into a concrete base below a statue of Naismith.

Self submitted a quote from his father that reads: “Don’t worry about the mules, just load the wagon.” Self got a look at the entire display for the first time Thursday. He had sent his dad a picture when it was first installed and told him it was at the Hall.

“The Hall of Fame at KU?” Bill Sr., asked.

“No,” Self replied.

“The Hall at the Basketball Experience in Kansas City?”


“Well, where is it then?”

“It’s in The Hall of Fame. The Naismith Memorial Basketball of Fame,” Self said. “And he was just blown away by that. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a quote from [Winston] Churchill and [John] Wooden. But, hey, Bill Self, Sr., from Hitchita, Okla., you got your quote out there like everybody else did. I think it meant something to him.”

Self was visibly moved when he saw his father's quote etched in concrete at the Hall of Fame

Self was visibly moved when he saw his father’s quote etched in concrete at the Hall of Fame

Self provided a private plane to make the trip easy for his parents, his daughter Lauren (who is pregnant), son Tyler, sister Shelly and her family. His wife, Cindy, arrived Wednesday with him.

The influence of Bill Sr., on the entire family cannot be overlooked. Self calls him “the toughest guy” he has ever known.

“Dad was raised on a farm and, back then, picking cotton or whatever,” Self said. “Working 12-14 hours a day as a seventh or eighth grader is a little different from the way our children have it today. He was superintendent of schools at age 23. That didn’t happen very often. He accomplished a lot at a young age.

“He’s had something like 19 orthopedic surgeries. Not life threatening things. Something ridiculous like five or six major back surgeries. Rotator cuffs. Knees and everything else. Arthritis. It’s been unbelievable seeing him get up every day and go to work, knowing he didn’t feel well. How he carries himself is the thing that impresses me most. He didn’t let those things stand in the way of being a great provider and fighting through it.”

Bill Sr., was also a coach, so being a leader was “always in my blood,” according to the Kansas coach. And that toughness from the leader of the Self family trickled down to both Bill and Shelly, who is two years younger than her brother and just retired from teaching.

“During our younger years, we didn’t get along the best,” Bill said. “Of course, we loved each other but anything I could do, she wanted to one-up me and anything she could do, I wanted to one-up her. So we were very competitive.”

Eventually, as they grew older, that changed. That was obvious Jan. 30, 1981 when Self’s Edmond High team played a heated game against Midwest City High. With 48 seconds remaining, Self and Midwest City’s Keith Nubine engaged in a tussle over a jump ball. Both benches emptied onto the floor and the pushing and shoving moved toward the bleachers where Shelly was sitting.

“I’m sure he started it,” Self said. “But we went headfirst into the stands. He had me in a headlock but I was on top of him. Keith had a big afro haircut. They tell me [Shelly] was holding him down because she was pulling his hair. I got away from the fray and got away. My dad just mounted me when I got home. He said, ‘All I know is I think you started it and you didn’t finish it. That’s embarrassing.’ ”

Eventually, Shelly and Bill learned to have each other’s back and they have continued that way to this day. Shelly followed Bill to Oklahoma State and during her freshman year there was an incident in public where she came to his defense.

“Bill missed a free throw or something in the game that night,” Shelly said. “This guy was talking to another player I knew and said, ‘Let me tell you, that Bill Self sucks.’ I said, ‘What did you say, but didn’t give him a chance to say anything else. I went to give him the finger and hit him in the lip. It made his lip bleed but it wasn’t actually a punch.”

Both laugh about the story to this day.

“I wasn’t around,” Bill said. “I wasn’t there. All I know is it was a right jab to the jaw. I guess my family had some anger management issues also.”

The Hall of Fame has promised to correct Kansas University reference to read University of Kansas (Ken Davis photo)

The Hall of Fame has promised to correct Kansas University reference to read University of Kansas (Ken Davis photo)

Shelly said the life lesson from their father was clear.

“Our dad is pretty black and white,” she said. “Either you do it the right way or it’s wrong. He’s kind of a perfectionist. It’s the every day stuff. Take care of your business and do what you are supposed to do.”

Anyone who has ever watched a Bill Self practice knows that taking care of business and toughness are key ingredients in the daily drills. When he talks toughness, it means from the “neck up” and it impacts everything in the game of basketball.

That has led Self to 623 career victories and nine 30-win seasons. Twice he has been named AP coach of the year and he has led the Jayhawks to 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships, 14 consecutive NCAA appearances and the 2008 national championship.

In turn, that has led him to the Hall of Fame – the one named after James Naismith. And that’s a guy Self is familiar with since his office in Lawrence is on Naismith Drive.

Self has come full circle. And it feels like home.

“Maybe the majority of the history of this game, going all the way back, there are roots to Springfield and Lawrence, Kansas,” Self said. “It’s pretty impressive. In coaching, the reason you get those [accolades] is because you coach at a school where there is a great opportunity.

“I coach at KU, so we should win. I get that and I understand that. But that certainly doesn’t minimize it though.”

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