KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A disheartening offseason in the rearview mirror, the first words out of Bill Self’s mouth Wednesday highlighted what’s become, for a number of reasons, arguably his most anticipated season.
“I’m probably more excited about getting to basketball this year,” Self said at Big 12 media day at Sprint Center, “than I have been in most years.”
Still, as the subsequent question-and-answer session illustrated, the off-the-court concerns facing the Kansas’ men’s basketball program — the NCAA in late September delivered a notice of allegations to the university, outlining five Level 1 violations tied to the federal government’s probe into corruption in college basketball recruiting — will permeate indefinitely.
Self again fielded several questions on the dark cloud hanging over the program, touching on everything from his relationship with disgraced Adidas-consultant-turned-key-government-witness T.J. Gassnola, to how the scandal is affecting the team’s recruiting, to his feelings about his own job security moving forward.
Perhaps most notably, Self stated KU is his lone focus.
“My legacy is the least of my concerns right now,” Self said. “I just want to do the best job I can coaching at a place that I absolutely love.”
Self didn’t address specifics relating to the charges within the notice of allegations, which used testimony and documents from the October 2018 trial of three former Adidas executives as primary evidence in its case against Self and KU.
There, Gassnola testified that neither Self nor any member of the KU coaching staff was aware of his under-the-table pay-for-play schemes with the families and guardians of Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa and others, though some have interpreted text messages between Self and Gassnola as evidence of a quid pro quo, with Adidas steering top recruits to the Jayhawks in exchange for an extension of the two sides’ apparel agreement.
Asked directly about his relationship with Gassnola, Self reiterated comments from a statement sent out after the delivery of the notice of allegations where the 17th-year KU coach said the ongoing nature of the investigation prevents him from speaking openly about the matter.
“I’m going to follow that. I’m going to stick to that,” Self said. “Certainly the things that you just asked will be answered at the appropriate time, whenever it can be answered. Certainly this is not the time for that.”
As for recruiting, KU at the moment has a pair of oral commits in the Class of 2020, including junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster (6-foot-6 forward out of Kansas City, Kan.) and prep prospect Gethro Muscadin (6-10 center out of Louisville, Ky.). That’s good for recruiting outlet Rivals’ 35th-ranked incoming class, though that number should improve as more prospects pledge to the Jayhawks.
Self said every year presents different recruiting challenges, with this go-round no different.
“Recruiting is hard regardless. When you’re recruiting at an elite level, you have obstacles each and every year that may be a little bit different to try to recruit,” Self said. “It’s something that we certainly explain out and are very transparent with everything going on. There’s not anybody that we recruit that we don’t tell them how it is, at least the way we know it to be.
“I would say it’s definitely had an impact. I will also say this: I think we’re in position to have one of our better early signing periods we’ve had in a long time. Even though it’s hard, I think we’re going to come out of it OK.”
As for his own future, Self indicated it ranks alongside legacy near the bottom of his list of concerns at the moment. Chancellor Doug Girod, athletic director Jeff Long and the basketball program “are totally aligned” on that front, Self said.
“There’s been a lot of people say certain things, which everybody is entitled to an opinion. Certainly you can’t be angry or bitter because people are writing and commenting on this because it actually has been big news in the college basketball world,” Self said. “I just know the things that have taken place thus far, obviously nobody likes to deal with it — certainly I haven’t liked it — but it’s also in a strange way motivating me probably in a way that maybe I have never been to combat this by taking care of our business on the basketball court, working with our players in a way that maybe exceeds any way I’ve ever done it.”
Senior point guard Devon Dotson sported a walking boot on his right foot and is doubtful for the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ exhibition opener against Fort Hays State at 7 p.m. Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
“He hurt it (Tuesday). I think whenever anything happens to a foot you automatically put a boot on it these days," Self said. "He probably will not play (Thursday), I wouldn’t think he would in our exhibition game. It’s a day-to-day thing. I can’t anticipate him missing more than three or four days.”
Junior Marcus Garrett is expected to start in Dotson's place.
Border War renewal feedback
KU and Missouri on Monday co-announced the renewal of the Border War — now referred to as the Border Showdown — in men’s basketball, beginning with a Dec. 22, 2020, matchup at Sprint Center and continuing at various sites through the 2025-26 campaign.
Self, who had long argued his program wouldn’t get much out of scheduling the Tigers as a nonconference opponent following Missouri’s departure to the SEC following the 2011-12 season, said that philosophy has changed based on new dynamics in scheduling.
Self said he believes feedback to the decision to reignite the rivalry has been “more positive than not positive.”
“I don’t think you can make decisions where you can please 100 percent of the people all the time,” Self said. “I know I have my reasons for wanting to do it. I think they’re very, very valid. Certainly I know that it helps Kansas.
“I’m actually excited about it. I miss the game. I miss the energy. I miss the fans’ hatred for one another, which doesn’t pass down to the coaches or players, but certainly that interest level, which is very evident by selling this place out in 41 minutes (for a charity exhibition) in 2017, I believe is something that kids go to college to play in games like that. I’m excited to get that back.”