Travis Releford, Bill Self

Kansas’ player development is nation’s best because Bill Self is selfish?

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John Calipari has built the Kentucky program into the HOV lane for high school prospects. To avoid the traffic jam that the one-and-done rule has turned college basketball into on their road to the NBA, those that are good enough simply take Coach Cal up on his offer. Spend one season in his hardcore, high-intensity training program disguised as two semesters as a “student-athlete” and you’ll be shaking David Stern’s hand in no time.

Kentucky is the place to go if the only thing standing between you and the first round is that pesky age limit.

But along those same lines, Cal’s greatest skill is as a salesman. He convinces these kids to play for Kentucky, and he gets them to buy in to a team concept for seven months and some 30-odd games. And while there’s no doubt that those superstar freshmen have gotten better under his watch, let’s be honest: I could have coached Anthony Davis or John Wall for a year and they still would have been the top pick in their respective drafts. Cal’s most impressive feat coaching Demarcus Cousins was controlling him between the ears, not between the lines.

My point?

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Kentucky has become a factory for first round picks because of the brand that they’ve built more than as a result of the program’s ability to develop talent. In other words, they’re the nation’s best NBA holding tank; they’re not the nation’s best NBA breeding grounds.

That title belongs to Kansas and Bill Self.

Since 2007, Kansas has had 13 players drafted, eight of whom have gone in the first round. That’s before you factor in Ben McLemore, who is projected to be taken as high as No. 2 this year, and Jeff Withey, whom Draft Express currently has going late in the first round. Two more players — Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson — have spent time playing in the NBA despite going undrafted. Do the math, and 17 players from Self’s first nine recruiting classes have played in the NBA.

Not impressed yet? How about this for a stat: since Bill Self’s first recruiting class in 2004, there have only been five rotation players that he’s brought into the program that didn’t play in the NBA and that didn’t transfer out of Kansas — Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little, Rodrick Stewart and Connor Teahan.

Now, Self hasn’t exactly been recruiting D-III athletes and magically turning them into first round picks. He’s landed 10 players that Rivals has rated as five-star recruits, and Kansas always ranks near the top of the annual recruiting class rankings. Hell, he’d have the best recruiting class in the country this season — headlined by Andrew Wiggins, who will be flanked by two other five-star recruits — if it wasn’t for Kentucky.

But when you look at the numbers a little closer, six of those 10 five-star recruits entered the program between 2004 and 2006. Only two of those ten were considered one-and-done locks, and both of them — Josh Selby and Xavier Henry — ended up having disappointing seasons in Lawrence.

If Kentucky has built their brand around being the NBA’s premier layover destination, Kansas has become defined by its ability to turn those that are overlooked and underhyped into NBA players; the top 50 and top 100 recruits that don’t get at much attention nationally until they have spent a year or two in Lawrence. The Cole Aldrichs, the Morris twins, the Thomas Robinsons, the McLemores and the Witheys.

“That’s something that we take great pride in, our individual development,” Self told NBCSports.com by phone this week. “We base everything off of what NBA teams are looking for and the things that they put their players through, and our assistant coaches do an unbelievable job with that program.”

The way Self sees it, all of this success can be traced back to one, simple fact: that he’s looking out for himself?

“I’m a very selfish coach and a very selfish person in that I want to win, just like all coaches out there want to win,” he explained. “The best way you win is to put the best team on the floor, and in order to put the best team on the floor, your players have to get better.”

“The biggest thing with our program, when guys get here, they’re not good enough. They’ve gotta get better. No matter how fast you are, you’re not fast enough. No matter how quick you are, you’re not quick enough. No matter how high you jump, you don’t jump high enough. No matter what you shoot, you’ve gotta get better. The whole deal is getting better.”

Self is arguably the best coach in all of college basketball. His staff is as good as any staff in the country, and that includes a world class strength and conditioning coach. All of that makes a difference. It gives his players the best tools to develop their craft and the best teachers to learn from. But in the end, it’s really not all that different than what every program in the country is doing. There’s only so many variations of squats; how many different drills do you really need to learn how to shoot a pull-up jumper going left?

What sets Kansas apart is that the players in the program have bought into what Self is selling them.

“I would say coming from high school into Kansas, I didn’t really expect myself to be in this position of being a lottery pick, a top five pick,” McLemore told NBCSports.com this week. He was in a unique position, however. A top 50 recruit, McLemore had good enough grades to get admitted into Kansas but he didn’t qualify to play as a freshman. That meant that the entirety of his first year in Lawrence would be spent hitting the books and hitting the gym, all without the reward of playing in front of a packed Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

McLemore credited his “stick-to-it-iveness and hard work” for his success, saying that the Kansas staff not only taught him what skills he needed to work on to improve, they taught him how hard he had to work to do it. “They helped me mature a lot,” he said, “helped me better my game, each and every day. You want to learn so much in Coach Self’s system and the Kansas system. That’s what I did, I wanted to learn so much. It helps a lot, on and off the court.”

More than anything, work ethic is what is valued at Kansas. But to hear Self tell it, work ethic is one of the hardest things for him to evaluate on the recruiting trail. “When you put kids in certain environments,” he said, “then their competitive spirit will start to shine. When you put them around other people that enjoy doing the things that they’re being asked to do, it becomes more of a habit.”

It’s that environment, as much as Self’s coaching, that has fostered the development of so many Jayhawks over the years. “The names change,” he said, “but the expectations don’t.” And those expectations are what fuels the program’s fire.

Kansas has won at least a share of nine straight Big 12 regular season titles. They’ve won six Big 12 tournament titles during that stretch. There’s not a single player in the Kansas program that wants to be associated with the infamy of being on the team that snaps that streak. It’s the perfect motivational tool.

“There’s never a lackadaisical day,” Self said. “The attitude is, ‘Hey, let’s get to work’, whether it’s for 20 minutes or three hours, it makes no difference. We’ve gotta get better during that time.”

It’s a perfect storm, really.

The best coaching, the best training and a culture that’s defined by a ‘you only get out what you put in’ mentality.

That’s the secret to Kansas’ success in player development.

And to think, it all stems from a selfish head coach.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Tom Izzo challenged to help Michigan State keep NCAA streak

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Eron Harris will not score another point for Michigan State this season.

The senior guard, though, did deliver an assist to the Spartans with a tear-jerking speech after finding out his college career was over because of a season-ending knee injury .

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, still emotional a day later, said Harris provided his inspirational perspective at a team meeting Sunday by sharing his thoughts while being taken off the court at Purdue on a stretcher.

“I realized my career is over,”‘ Izzo recalled Harris saying as the coach fought back more tears. “That was … that was hard.”

It will be really difficult for the Spartans (16-11, 8-6 Big Ten) to extend their Big Ten-record NCAA tournament streak to 20 if they can’t overcome the loss of Harris, who made a team-high 43 3-pointers this season and was just one of three players scoring in double figures.

Michigan State, tied for fifth place in the conference, hosts Nebraska on Thursday night and No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday. The Spartans close the regular season on the road against Illinois and No. 24 Maryland before the Big Ten tournament, where they may need some wins to avoid missing college basketball’s showcase for the first time since 1997 when Izzo was in his second season in charge of the program.

“We only have two weeks left on the regular season and a ton to play for,” Izzo said.

He knew this season would be a struggle before it started.

Izzo was without seven players from last year’s team, including national player of the year Denzel Valentine, in the biggest turnover he’s had since 2001 when he lost as many players off his team that went to a third straight Final Four and won four straight Big Ten titles.

The Spartans, already thin in the post with Deyonta Davis’ decision to enter the NBA draft after his freshman season, took hits when 6-foot-9 seniors Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter needed knee surgeries that relegated them to the sideline this entire season.

Miles Bridges, one of the top freshmen in the country, missed seven games during the middle of the season with an ankle injury. Harris, one of just two healthy seniors, getting knocked out of the lineup just adds to the season-long list of woes that leads Izzo acknowledging this has been his most challenging season .

Senior Alvin Ellis, who started one game as a freshman and one as a sophomore, may step into the lineup to replace Harris. The guard is averaging just 6.6 points, but scored 18 last week in a win over Ohio State and a career-high 20 in the Big Ten-opening win at Minnesota.

“I’m expecting to play a bigger role,” Ellis said. “I’m trying to pick it up for (Harris).”

Izzo has always appeared to be a coach that gets the most out of his players, who rarely are ranked among the nation’s best. He also thinks tough schedules set up his teams to have success in the NCAA tournament. This season, however, a grueling schedule and a string of setbacks before the Big Ten season might end up haunting him if the team’s overall record is not good enough to get into the tournament. And, traveling the team for 13,600 miles over 22 days in November may end up being one of Izzo’s regrets when he looks back at this season.

Michigan State lost to No. 4 Arizona, No. 9 Baylor, No. 11 Kentucky and then-No. 5 Duke along with Northeastern, without Miles, a defeat that looks worse now than it did back in December because the Colonial Athletic Association team has fallen to .500 by losing nine of its last 11 games. The Spartans do have a quality win from their nonconference schedule, beating No. 25 Wichita State.

As the regular season approaches the end with just 10 healthy players on scholarship, Izzo insisted he won’t mention the school’s NCAA streak to his team.

“I haven’t put that pressure on them,” he said. “Don’t plan on putting that pressure on them.”

 

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III goes #BIFM, takes control of race

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 28:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks dribbles the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats during the game against at Rupp Arena on January 28, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: For my money, Mason solidified his standing as the National Player of the Year front runner, the guy whose award it is to lose, this week. He was the spark of a comeback from 14 points down in the final three minutes against No. 12 West Virginia and led the Jayhawks back from 12 points down – six in the final three minutes – at No. 9 Baylor on Saturday, the win that solidified what will very shortly be the 13th straight Big 12 title for Bill Self.

Against West Virginia, he had 24 points, five assists and four boards. Against Baylor, Mason played arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 23 points and eight assists in a game where the Jayhawks struggled to find offense for long stretches.

But more to the point, what Mason provides this team is more than the numbers. There’s a competitiveness and a toughness that he brings. At the risk of being too cliché for my own good, he’s a winner and a leader that will drag his teammates along with him even when they aren’t playing well. He’s not the best player on Kansas — that would be Josh Jackson — and he’s probably not even the most valuable — hello, Landen Lucas — but there is no one that is more responsible for the fact that Kansas has won nine of their 12 Big 12 wins by seven or fewer points and seven of those nine by less than five points.

Mason’s numbers are sensational — 20.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 rpg, 50.4 percent 3PT — but his numbers simply do not tell the whole story here.

#BIFM indeed.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last week, I tried to make the point that Josh Hart’s Player of the Year bid was going to die on the vine because his season was devoid of moments. That happened before Frank Mason led Kansas to wins in two thrilling comebacks, both of which were games between top ten teams that were the most important matchups of that day. Hart? Played at the same time as Kansas-Baylor on Saturday. He’ll play at the same time as Louisville-North Carolina on Wednesday. Saturday’s matchup with No. 23 Creighton would’ve drawn every eyeball in the sport … if Mo Watson Jr. hadn’t gotten hurt.

He’s a terrific player having a career-year for an awesome team. I don’t think he’s going to be the Player of the Year.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had one of his best games of the season, going for 24 points, 15 boards and five assists as the Boilermakers beat Michigan State on Saturday. I’m not sure what else there is to say about Swanigan at this point in the season. He’s the best big man in the country, and I’m not quite sure it’s all that close.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has changed the culture of the UCLA program, at least for this year, and he’s done it with his unselfishness and his ability to create offense out of nothing. But more important than that, since the comeback against Oregon, the one where UCLA game up 0.65 points-per-possession in the final 14 minutes of the game, the Bruins have allowed 0.915 PPP in wins over Oregon State and USC. They become a real title contender again when they are consistently buying in defensively like that.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss averaged 24 points and seven assists in two wins last week, including a 30-burger against San Francisco. He’s the star and the go-to-scorer of the only undefeated team in the country.

6. Luke Kennard, Duke
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
8. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: I wrote about the ACC Player of the Year race in my weekly takeaways column on Monday, but I wanted to elaborate on it.

With all due respect to Bonzie Colson, John Collins and everyone else in that league, I think there is a pretty clear-cut top three for the ACC Player of the Year race. And if I had to pick ACC Player of the Year, it would probably be Justin Jackson over Donovan Mitchell by a whisker — depending on what happens Wednesday night — with Luke Kennard in third.

But if we’re ranking for National Player of the Year, I think that Kennard is first, Jackson is behind him and Mitchell is third out of that group. Hell, having Mitchell ranked eighth overall is somewhat debatable; that’s how poor he played, at least compared to his ACC counterparts, before the start of ACC play.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils battles for a loose ball against Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

9. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ ranks fifth in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. My only issue with that: It doesn’t factor in that his foul shooting is a real problem, one that has, at times, forced him off the floor in crunch-time. That’s a pretty big concern for a guy that, in all other facets of the game, is criminally-underrated.

10. Josh Jackson, Kansas: What can’t Jackson do on a basketball court? He’s a pro shooting guard that is playing the four for Kansas. He blocks shots at the rim and gets steals on the perimeter. He’s lethal in transition. He’s a spot-up three-point shooter, he can make plays off the dribble and he’s a talented, albeit at times careless, passer. He’s tough, he’s competitive, he’s not afraid of a big moment or a big game.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that he’s been the best player for Kansas over the course of the last month or two. That’s the same Kansas team that Frank Mason III plays for.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

No. 12 West Virginia takes down Texas

MORGANTOWN, WV - FEBRUARY 20:  Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers forces a turnover against Jarrett Allen #31 of the Texas Longhorns  at the WVU Coliseum on February 20, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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West Virginia raced out to a big lead and rode out a late Texas rally as the No. 12 Mountaineers captured a 77-62 home Big 12 win on Monday night.

During a weird night that featured West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins going to his knees after his defibrillator activated during a first-half timeout, the Mountaineers shot the ball well and held on for the win. Huggins went to his knees late in the first half as his team approached him on the floor during a timeout. He returned to the sidelines to finish the first half and coached the second half with no further incident.

As for the action on the floor, the Mountaineers (22-6, 10-5) shot 42 percent from three-point range as junior guard Jevon Carter continues a solid stretch of play as he finished with 24 points. Reserve wing Lamont West also provided a great boost off the bench for the Mountaineers by dropping in six three-pointers and finishing with 23 points in 21 minutes. Elijah Macon added 10 points as well for West Virginia, continuing his strong play over the last three games.

Texas (10-18, 4-11) tried to make a late push to get back in this one but they ultimately didn’t have enough after getting down double digits. Freshman center Jarrett Allen finished with a team-high 17 points while also throwing down a huge poster dunk.

Eric Davis Jr. (14 points), Kerwin Roach Jr. (13 points) and Andrew Jones (11 points) also finished in double-figures for the Longhorns but they were only 3-for-13 from three-point range.

West Virginia has two out of three on the road for the rest of the Big 12 schedule as they have to play at TCU, at Baylor and at home against Iowa State.

If the Mountaineers can take two of three they’ll be in great position for a potential top-four seed as long as they don’t bow out early in the Big 12 tournament.

Bacon leads No. 19 Florida State to rout of Boston College

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Dwayne Bacon had 16 points and 13 Florida State players had at least four points, helping the 19th-ranked Seminoles bounce back from two straight losses with a 104-72 victory over Boston College on Monday night.

Bacon went over the 1,000-point mark for his career on a 3-pointer early in the second half after going scoreless in last Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh.

PJ Savoy added 15 points and the Seminoles’ bench accounted for 59 points. Jonathan Isaac (14 points) and Jarquez Smith (10) also scored in double figures, and FSU (22-6, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed and led by 34 (75-41) six minutes into the second half.

Kai Bowman had 24 points and Jerome Robinson 21 for Boston College (9-19, 2-13), which has lost 11 straight and 13 of its last 14.

BIG PICTURE

Boston College: The Eagles have lost 16 straight conference road games, including eight by 20 points or more. The game against Florida State started a stretch when BC plays three of its final four regular season games on the road.

Florida State: The Seminoles have reached double-digit wins in conference play for the first time since going 12-4 in 2011-12. FSU won the ACC Tournament that same season, and it was also the last time it made the NCAA Tournament.

CENTURY MARK

This was the fifth time this season the Seminoles have scored 100 or more points in a game, which is the first time that has happened since 1992-93.

It is the third time they have had two or more 100-point games in ACC play and the first since 1992-93.

UP NEXT

Boston College: The Eagles host Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies won the first game on Jan. 25, 85-79.

Florida State: The Seminoles travel to Clemson on Saturday. They beat the Tigers by 48 points (109-61) on Feb. 5.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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