LAWRENCE — For the first seven weeks, he didn’t bother to relive the disappointment. There just wasn’t a reason. Bill Self has seen just a few clips from that Monday night in New Orleans. And for now, that’s enough.
It’s been 61 days since No. 2 seed Kansas’ amazing NCAA Tournament run came to an end in a 67-59 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game at the Superdome on April 2; since the Jayhawks ran out of time, their final comeback falling a few baskets short in the waning minutes.
“I haven’t watched the game,” Self says.
To that end, the last two months have felt nothing like the aftermath of Self’s first championship-game appearance in 2008, when Mario Chalmers’ late three-pointer was perfect and KU took down Memphis in overtime for the program’s third NCAA title.
“No comparison,” Self says.
In 2008, Chalmers’ shot — and the championship — set off a wild two-month run of parades, appearances and special events. Self still calls it the busiest he’s ever been.
Four years later, Self has been reminded of one of sports’ harsh truths: The Jayhawks’ championship-game loss didn’t add many dates to his April schedule. Not many people, it seems, bother to call the runner-up.
“It’s the American way, though,” Self says. “It is. There’s only room for one first place.”
On a Wednesday morning in mid-May, Self sat in his office and reflected on the Jayhawks’ championship-game loss. Well, that might not be totally accurate. Self says he’s still proud of the run, the way that team came together. He just hasn’t managed to do much reflecting. He and his staff would love to be in that game every year, of course. But the bottom line, he says, is this run just felt different.
“I think if we’d have won it, I’d still think I wouldn’t have reflected as much,” Self says. “Because that ’08 deal was just so fresh and new, and it’d been so long since it’d happened around here — it just made it that much extra special.
“But I’ll go through a day now without even thinking about that game, where as before, I couldn’t go a minute without thinking about how good (the championship) felt.”
Self, of course, has still been plenty busy. When assistant coach Danny Manning left for Tulsa, he had to find a capable replacement, eventually persuading former assistant Norm Roberts to leave Florida and return to Kansas. He was also able to evaluate potential recruits for two weekends in April — thanks to a new NCAA rule — and those extra days should give KU’s staff a head start in forming a game plan for the July evaluation period. And Self even managed to squeeze in time for a brief vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
But now it’s June, and Self is looking toward the future. That starts with inspecting a roster that will be deeper than the one that delivered a 14th Final Four appearance this last season — but will also be young and mostly unproven.
For now, some things are obvious: Tyshawn Taylor graduated, leaving senior guard Elijah Johnson to handle the primary point-guard duties for the first time in his career.
“We owe it to him,” Self says, “to allow him to be on the ball more to prepare him for the next level.”
In addition, senior center Jeff Withey will be counted on to make up for the loss of unanimous All-American Thomas Robinson, and senior Travis Releford will return to a starting position on the wing.
After that, it’s a little murky. When the full squad reports to campus this summer, KU might have as many as eight newcomers. Guard Ben McLemore and forward Jamari Traylor will be classified as redshirt freshmen after sitting out last season as partial qualifiers, and the Jayhawks’ 2012 recruiting class could swell to six members — depending on how the last weeks of recruiting finish up.
Seattle combo guard Anrio Adams made an oral commitment to KU but probably will wait until he’s cleared by the NCAA before signing. Chicago guard Milton Doyle might also sign late.
Kansas should be well-positioned to handle the infusion of talent. Earlier this spring, KU announced plans for a trip to Europe in August. Kansas is scheduled to play four games — two in Switzerland and two in France — but it’s the extra practice time that could prove to be most useful.
In accordance with NCAA rules, the Jayhawks will be granted 10 extra practices before the trip, and Self says he plans to spread them out over a three-week period in July. It’s a scenario that’s eerily similar to the last time Kansas took a summer trip in 2008-09. Those Jayhawks, of course, were coming off a championship, and Self was trying to integrate a recruiting class that included Marcus and Markieff Morris and Taylor.
“I could see us going on this trip and Jeff, Elijah and Travis not playing a lot,” Self says. “They’ll play, but I could see them not playing a lot, just to get these other guys minutes.”
At the moment, Self has plenty of time to ponder those types of decisions. He has camps coming up. He’ll be able to watch Robinson — and likely Taylor — get taken in the NBA Draft on June 28. And he’ll be back on the recruiting trail in July.
For Self, and the rest of the KU program, it’s time to keep moving forward.
“I just hope that we can kind of chill out this summer,” Self said. “Take a great trip to Europe; it should be a fun summer.”