TULSA — Bill Self is back.
And by all accounts, that is a good thing.
Self grew up in Edmond and played at Oklahoma State, but he began his head coaching career right here in Tulsa.
Well, about eight miles south of here, on the campus of Oral Roberts University.
That was 24 years ago now, way back in 1993. After four seasons at 81st and Lewis, he moved across town to 11th and Harvard, and coached three seasons at the University of Tulsa.
Self took over an NAIA-exiled program at ORU and built it into an NIT program. He took over a Sweet Sixteen program at TU and took it to the Elite Eight.
In seven seasons as a head coach in Tulsa, Self’s record was 129-81 (55-54 at ORU, 74-27 at TU).
At 5:50 p.m. on Friday, Self and KU take on UC Davis at 5:50 p.m. (the game is broadcast on TNT). If KU advance to Sunday, the Jayhawks face the winner of Miami and Michigan State.
Self also is 2-0 in Tulsa as a Jayhawk, having beaten Boston and Illinois during the NCAA Tournament’s last visit to the BOK Center back in 2011.
“There were a lot of fond memories,” Self said Thursday. “I loved my time at Oral Roberts. We lost 18 in a row (and went on) to win 31 of our last 38. And two of the players that we coached were at practice today, and that was great to see them.
“And then we had (former TU player) Rod Thompson come to practice also this morning, so it was great to see Rocket Rod. But they were both tremendous experiences, and not too often — I guess Ken Hayes did it as well (at ORU and TU) — but not too often do you get a chance to coach at two different universities within the same city. And I was very fortunate to be able to do that. But both places were great for us.”
* Frankly speaking: Has it been a distraction, or lot of fun, or a dream come true to be considered the front-runner for college basketball’s national player of the year award? KU senior Frank Mason has some unique perspective.
“Well, I think it’s great,” Mason said Thursday. “It’s a great accomplishment for me just to be mentioned as one of the top candidates for player of the year. But it’s not something I focus on or really think about. It just happens to have a lot of people mention and say things about it. But other than that, I don’t really think about that. I just think about ways we can get better as a team and things I can do to make sure my team is successful, and that’s really what I focus on.”
“Everybody’s been seeing it,” said junior guard Devonte’ Graham. “I think he does a great job of handling it, not letting it distract him or, you know, give him the big head or anything like that. He’s so humble with it. And from my perspective, I think it’s a great honor for him, just playing with him these three years and watching him develop as a player, and a brother. So it’s definitely a big thing for him.
“He has a great personality,” Graham added. “A lot of people think he doesn’t smile and stuff like that, but in the locker room all he does is laugh and smile and joke with us. But he’s just got that pitbull mentality, as a lot of people would say, that he leads us on and off the court. We really rally behind him with his energy on the court, defensive stuff, offensive, especially in transition when he gets on a run. We just kind of, you know, we run as he runs, and the engine goes as he goes.”
* Shake is back: Bill Self isn’t the only one making a triumphant return to Tulsa this weekend.
SMU sophomore Shake Milton hails from Owasso, a bustling, growing suburb in north Tulsa County.
Last year Milton was on the American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team. This year, averaging 13.1 points per game, he was second-team All-AAC. Milton shot 42.6 percent from 3-point range last year and 42.5 this year, and already ranks tied for ninth in school history with 131 successful 3-pointers.
“Last year you could argue that we had to play him out of position,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. “He loves to play point guard, even though he doesn’t look like one. And we played him off the ball a lot. Of course, he’s such a darn good shooter and good scorer, you can do that. But we had Nic Moore, so he didn’t have the ball in his hands. And people thought, ‘Well, we’ll have no one that can play the point this year, of course.’ And he’s just been amazing. His numbers are great.
“But it always goes way beyond the numbers. It goes into winning plays, IQ, toughness, you know, teammate, all those kind of things, and he’s an A-plus in every one. We love him.”
Milton has some familiarity with the BOK Center. As a senior at Owasso, he scored 24 points there in a 74-62 loss to Broken Arrow in the High School Hoops Showcase in January 2015.
Being back in Tulsa “is a blessing,” Milton said. “It’s something that I’m thankful for and it’s an opportunity I want to make the most of.”
Milton made 5-of-10 from 3-point range and scored 19 points in SMU’s 76-53 victory against Tulsa at the Reynold Center back on Feb. 4. As a freshman, Milton made 7-of-8 from 3 and scored a game-high 24 points in an 81-69 win at TU.
Clearly, he enjoys playing in his hometown.
“Hopefully we’ll have a big following,” Milton said. “I know a lot of people from SMU show a great amount of support when we play in Tulsa, so hopefully we’ll get a pretty big crowd on our side and hopefully that translates and helps us out.”
* Another Oklahomecoming: Oklahoma State is back in the NCAA Tournament. So is Kamari Murphy.
Unfortunately, they’re not together.
While the Cowboys open the NCAA Tournament against Michigan in Indianapolis, Murphy is leading the Miami Hurricanes against Michigan State in Tulsa on Friday.
Murphy played his first two collegiate seasons at OSU, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior from Brooklyn averaged 3.8 and 6.1 points per game in his two seasons in Stillwater. He also averaged 3.9 and 6.3 rebounds and blocked a total of 61 shots as the Cowboys made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
But he transferred to Miami and sat out the 2014-15 season, then last year, as he helped the Hurricanes to the Sweet Sixteen, Murphy averaged 5.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game along with 31 blocked shots.
This season, Murphy, a team captain who received his degree in sociology last May, is averaging career-highs of 7.3 points and 7.5 rebound along with 22 blocks. He’s also authored six double-doubles in his two seasons at Miami.
“I didn’t think I would be back any time soon,” Murphy said Thursday, “but only thing I can think about is the good times I had at Oklahoma State. We played in Tulsa a couple of times, but I just remember the cold weather, like it is now, and then in the summers, very hot breeze and stuff like that. But it feels good to be back. Thought a lot about my old friends and stuff at Oklahoma State, but I’m more focused on the games we have now.
“But definitely good memories here.”
* Big Bad John: At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Baylor junior Johnathan Motley is no Rico Gathers.
No one is, really. Gathers, now shooting for a future in the NFL after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the sixth round last year, stood 6-8 and weighed 275 pounds. He looked more like a football player than a basketball player.
Motley’s physique is much more basketball — but he’s still a physical beast. And his transformation since arriving on campus in 2013 has been remarkable.
“This is isn’t the same Johnathan Motley,” said teammate Ishmail Wainright. “That’s not him. He was 40 pounds lighter, skinny, like bones and everything and just had a little, you know, not a lot of hair but had a little bit of hair. But that’s not the (same) Johnathan Motley. … He’s a monster, like I told you in Kansas City. I told you in Kansas City he’s just a monster — Godzilla, King Kong, that doesn’t even compare. He’s a monster.”
Gathers collected 31 career point-rebound double-doubles at Baylor. Motley, a junior, has 13 double-doubles this season and 18 in his career.
Besides learning from Gathers, Motley gives credit for his emergence — and his physique — to Baylor strength coach Charlie Melton.
“He’s worked with me so much (since) my redshirt year,” Motley said. “We found days to lift weights, like every day, any chance we got we lifted weights. And I gained about 20, 30 months of muscle, sitting there about 240 right now, about six percent body fat. Just credit to hard work. Anything can be done when you work hard.”
* Drew’s take: Baylor coach Scott Drew doesn’t necessarily think his team being winless in its last two NCAA Tournament trips has much impact on this year’s group, good or bad.
“I think every experience has an impact,” Drew said, “but the best thing is when it’s personal experience, I think, especially from the players’ standpoints. The ones that were around last year or the year before, they understand the importance of each and every game. Just like when we went to the two Elite Eights, went to the Sweet Sixteen, won the NIT championship.
“I mean, that’s the beauty of March. Nothing works every time. And we’ve had a lot of success, and we’ve lost some games. So again, we’re going to control what we can control, and hopefully that’s enough.”