Bill Self's Inevitable NBA Dilemma: Chase Curiosity or History?
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
At some point in the next 10 years or so, Bill Self will have a decision to make similar to the one Mike Krzyzewski had to make in 2004 when the Lakers came calling.
Krzyzewski chose the opportunity to set records over the desire to prove himself as an NBA coach.
It's almost a given that at some point an NBA team will want Self, and Monday he gave what sounded like an honest answer when asked about the NBA during an induction ceremony to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Self told Michael Baldwin of the Oklahoman:
It hasn't really tempted me because I haven't had that many people talk to me about it. But at some point and time, sure, I think it would (tempt me). It would be great to be able to match wits with the best athletes in the world, but I'm certainly happy where I'm at. I'm not saying I never would (coach in the NBA) but I'm locked in.
Krzyzewski would probably have said the same in 2003. He was locked in. But he was at least tempted by the Lakers. Now the NBA has reason to go after Self; he's on record saying he'd consider it.
Similar to Coach K, what makes Self different than Rick Pitino or John Calipari, who both took their shots in the NBA, is that once Self gets the opportunity, he'll have accomplished more than those coaches had accomplished at the time.
Self currently has 507 wins, and he's won 228 games in the last seven years. His 197 wins from 2006-07 through 2011-12 were the most wins by a coach in a six-year time span in the history of college basketball. His March success hasn't rivaled Coach K's, but his consistency has.
That consistency makes him one of a few college coaches who have a legitimate shot at achieving something no coach has ever achieved: 1,000 wins. Krzyzewski will likely get there—he's at 957—and he recently said he plans to coach at Duke for at least three more years. Krzyzewski is 66. Self is 50.
If Self coaches for 15 more years and is somehow able to win at the pace he's won the last seven years—32.6 wins per season—he'd have 996 wins at 65.
Krzyzewski has always had comfort, and Self has that too. He's not Roy Williams with Dean Smith pulling at his heartstrings.
Self is in one of the ideal spots in college basketball. Kansas has won more games since he arrived in 2003 than any program during that time span. He has won a national championship. He just landed what might be his best recruiting class ever, headlined by Andrew Wiggins. He realizes that he's been able to achieve these things because he is at Kansas.
So, when the NBA comes calling, the question could be: What does he have left to prove? Well, history can pull at those heartstrings as much as curiosity. And you better believe Self has had those conversations with NBA people about how he would fit.
Larry Brown is a friend and mentor. In 2012, Brown followed around the Jayhawks in March and April. One of Brown's motivations that spring was to learn the current college game, setting himself up for a return to college coaching. He picked Self's brain. And it's possible Self picked Brown's brain about the NBA.
San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford is also a good friend—he sent his son Chase to Kansas as a walk-on—and one would think Self is on his short list once Gregg Popovich retires.
CBSSports.com just ran a poll of college coaches, asking which of their peers is best-equipped to make the jump to the NBA. Self was tied for third with 14 percent of the vote. One coach said of Self: "He is a corporation by himself. He is one of the few titans left that hasn't made the jump yet who could handle all the egos."
If someone had asked Brad Stevens a year ago the same question, his answer would have been similar to Self's if he was being honest. The situation in Boston was right for Stevens, and he made the jump.
But Stevens is 13 years younger than Self, and a younger man doesn't think about history as much.
Self also has incentive to stay at KU with bonuses built into his current contract that runs through 2022 the longer he stays.
"Yeah (the money is good), but the biggest thing is you will never be happy as a coach unless you know you can attract good players," Self told Baldwin. "I'm fortunate to coach at a place where the product is so good we're always going to get, at least I hope so, some pretty good players.
"I love it at Kansas, and they love basketball there. I've been very fortunate to coach at such a tradition-rich place."
That tradition brought Self to Kansas. For Kansas fans, they can hold onto hope that a chance to be the face of that tradition will keep him in Lawrence when an NBA team decides to give him his chance to bolt.
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