LAWRENCE — Bill Self believes he's identified at least one silver lining in the dark cloud hovering over the Kansas men’s basketball program.
Speaking Thursday on the heels of the Jayhawks’ first official practice and for the first time since the NCAA delivered a notice of allegations to the university outlining five Level 1 violations and a lack of institutional control charge now facing the program, Self said he doesn’t believe the prolonged process — KU has 90 days to respond, and subsequent rulings and appeals could push a resolution well beyond the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign — will interfere with his players’ focus.
And in a somewhat surprising remark, Self argued at least one potential positive could come from the situation.
“I see it as being a gift to me from a personal standpoint," Self said, "in that it will motivate me in a pretty competitive way.”
Testimony and documents at last October’s trial of three individuals in the federal government’s probe into corruption in college basketball connected Adidas fixer TJ Gassnola and consultant Merl Code, among others, to various pay-for-play schemes, including completed or discussed payments to parents or guardians of top-tier recruits Billy Preston, Zion Williamson and Silvio De Sousa in an attempt to steer them to Adidas-sponsored KU.
Preston, whose mother Nicole Player was alleged to have received upward of $90,000 from Gassnola, committed to KU but was voluntarily withheld from action and never played an official contest for the Jayhawks. Williamson, whose commitment Code said in a wiretapped phone conversation with KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend hinged on his father’s request for “opportunities from an occupational perspective,” “cash in the pocket” and housing, ended up going to Duke. De Sousa, whose guardian Fenny Falmagne allegedly received $2,500 from Gassnola with another $20,000 payment scheduled but never completed, committed to KU and joined the 2017-18 team at midseason but was withheld at the outset of his sophomore season, then ruled ineligible by the NCAA — though De Sousa won an appeal in May that granted him immediate eligibility.
Each player’s name is redacted in KU’s release of the notice of allegations.
“None, none of our players that we have in our program are involved. No matter what anybody says, none of them are involved,” Self said. “But I do think it could become (a distraction) if I’m not very mature about it. And so I plan on being very mature on this, and I plan on coaching this team harder and better than any team I’ve had here at Kansas.”
At some point after reports surfaced Friday of the NCAA’s imminent delivery of notice of allegations but before Monday's development, Self gathered his players and informed them of the situation. He didn’t, however, give them “a pep talk” on blocking out distractions, a move that he said would’ve been premature considering the season opener is still more than a month away.
“I do think this: They know that we’ve got this. I mean, they do,” Self said of his players. “They’re not involved. If they’re not involved, there’s no reason they should burn any energy thinking about this.”
Self said he doesn’t anticipate the matter to take away from his time spent coaching this particular group.
“I think attorneys are hired to do that stuff,” Self said. “I’m not saying that it won’t cross my mind, but that’s not my job at all, to prepare or anything like that. My time is probably as open as it has been at any point in time. I’ve always found some way to occupy my time, and I certainly don’t think that will be any different this time or this year.”
If Self has a heightened concern about potential recruiting implications, he didn’t show it Thursday.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been concerned about recruiting challenges I think for the last 27 years I’ve been a head coach,” Self said. “I mean, every place has its own challenges. Now this gives us some unique challenges that also we can somehow look at them as opportunities too, but sure, that’s always going to be an issue. But in the past when you’ve gone against Kentucky and (North) Carolina and Duke and Michigan State or UCLA or whoever to get the players you’re recruiting, they’re all challenges.
“So certainly we’ve got our hands full with this, but we’ll end up I think having a very good recruiting class.”
Asked what he'd tell any KU supporter worried about what lies ahead, Self looked to the more immediate future, stating he has a “terrific basketball team” deserving of support.
“People always can be concerned about the future in all areas or avenues, depending on what’s happening with anybody personally in their life,” Self said. “They can be concerned about the future, which I think that can certainly be the case here, but I don’t think it should take away one bit from what’s getting ready to happen this year, and that’s putting a team on the floor that’s going to be awfully fun to watch and support.”