AMES, Iowa — Bill Self walked past a back hallway inside Hilton Coliseum, moving toward an open area just outside the Kansas locker room. It was late on Monday night, and an on-duty police officer trailed just off his right shoulder, following him stride for stride.
This was Self in the moments after his 500th victory, an exhausting classic that included 39 points from senior guard Elijah Johnson and a108-96 victory over Iowa State in overtime. Moments earlier, he had said the milestone didn’t mean much. His kids had endured in a hostile environment. He had survived an unusual encounter with a frustrated Iowa State fan after the buzzer. And the Jayhawks, 24-3 and 12-3 in the Big 12, were still tied for first in the conference race.
As Self walked, he turned back toward a pack of onlookers.
“What a game,” he said.
When he finally arrived back outside the locker room, he turned and began to piece together the details from a chaotic night of basketball. The comebacks. The crowd. The wild momentum swings. No, Self said again, his 500th victory didn’t mean all that much. But this moment, well, he’d carry this one for a while.
“I won’t remember 400 or 300 or 200 or 100,” Self said. “But I guarantee you I’ll always remember this one, ’cause it was a good one.”
It was certainly memorable. When the horn had sounded, an unidentified Iowa State fan took umbrage with senior guard Elijah Johnson’s victory-lap dunk in the final seconds, and took a few steps toward Self on the court.
A day later, on Tuesday afternoon, Self said the incident had been overblown.
“I’ve had the court stormed on me where I was knocked into the scorer’s table,” Self said Tuesday. “It was just frustration by fans.
“There was one guy that kind of got after me, but it wasn’t close to being a confrontation or anything like that.”
According to Self, the rest of the night was rather routine. The celebration was about the same as usual. The locker room felt like normal. The Jayhawks control their own destiny in the Big 12 race, but so does Kansas State. And the Jayhawks move on with slim margin for error.
“We jumped around and acted stupid for about 15 or 20 seconds,” Self said of the post-game celebration, “but that was about it.”
Then the Jayhawks boarded a bus and braved the snowy conditions, arriving back in Lawrence at close to 4:40 a.m. on Tuesday. A few hours later, it was back to work.
Self, in his 10th season at Kansas, joined a few exclusive clubs on Monday. He became just the third coach in Kansas history to enter the 500-win club, moving alongside Phog Allen and Roy Williams. Self has made it clear that he doesn’t want to coach until he’s old and gray, but a milestone victory like No. 500 opens the mind to certain possibilities.
Self, for instance, has averaged 29.9 victories in his first nine seasons at Kansas, and that pace could move over 30 wins per campaign with a strong finish to this season. For now, Self, who has 293 wins at Kansas, would probably need to stay at KU for another decade to approach Allen’s KU record of 590 victories. But Allen’s career total — 746 victories — could be in play. And could Self, 50, also have a chance at someday hitting 800 or 900 wins?
It’s a matter of consistency and longevity, and Self has shown himself plenty capable of the former. In his first nine-plus seasons at Kansas, he has won 83.7 percent of his games, but he’s still not quite comfortable talking about himself in terms of KU history.
"I don’t see what we’ve done as a huge part of the legacy of the school,” Self said. “When I think of KU basketball … I think of Dr. (James) Naismith and I think of Phog Allen. There have been six coaches after Dr. Allen and that’s the legacy of our school.”
Self has often talked about the feeling of coaching at Kansas, of being a caretaker instead of a builder. There can be enjoyment from both roles, Self says, but in his current position, it’s hard to do much building.
The job, as much as anything, is about maintaining. And after another victory on Monday night, Self didn’t have much need for the big-picture.
“I’ll probably look back when the seasons over," Self said, "and reflect and think about how many good players we’ve had and how many people have sacrificed for us to have an opportunity to win a few games. But it really doesn’t mean much. All I really care about is this team having the best year possible and sending the seniors out in style.”