KU’s Bill Self on facing Mizzou: ‘It will be fun to be competitive with them again’

·6 min read
Adam Hunger/AP

Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self knows from talking to Jayhawks fans there are mixed emotions about scheduling six regular-season games against the Missouri Tigers over the next six seasons.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Why are you playing them?’ I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Why aren’t you playing them?’ the last nine years or so,” Self, KU’s 19th-year coach, said Wednesday night on his weekly Hawk Talk radio show.

The Jayhawks and Tigers, who have met 269 times throughout history, will play for the first time since the 2011-12 season — the first time since the Tigers left the Big 12 Conference for the SEC — at 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.

“I do believe this is the right thing to do,” stated Self, who softened his stance against playing MU in October of 2019 when the schools’ athletic directors, Jeff Long and Jim Sterk, announced a new, six-year, six-game series that will consist of two games in Lawrence, two in Columbia and two at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.

“It’s a good game. I know our players after playing in the rivalry — win or lose depending on what perspective you are coming from — also feel it’s the right thing to do because it’s obviously as good a game as we’ll have on our schedule from an interest standpoint,” Self added.

Self has had success as a head coach in matchups versus the Tigers. His teams went 3-0 versus MU during his three seasons at the University of Illinois. At KU, his teams have a 9-0 record vs. MU in Lawrence, 5-4 mark in Columbia and 1-0 record in Dallas.

That adds up to 18 wins, four losses.

“I’ve been fortunate to be part of 22 of them. They’ve been real, real, real high intensity,” Self said of the games. “The Illinois-Missouri rivalry was hate or dislike — borderline hate. This one is more just flat out hate, but it’s not from coaches to coaches or players to players it’s from fans to fans. That’s what makes this fun,” he added.

KU’s students certainly are fired up for Saturday’s game. They’ve been camping out since Monday.

“There’s probably the equivalent of between 2,000 and 2,500 students camping out right now,” Self said, referring to about 120 different groups of campers (with one person in each group representing 20 ticket holders).

“They are pretty excited I think,” Self added.

Self was asked on Hawk Talk when he first started to “detest Missouri.”

“I don’t,” Self said, “and Norm Stewart (former MU legend) doesn’t hate Kansas — the players or the coaches. He stirred the pot to make sure there was interest around the game. And that’s the facts.

“I don’t have one thing against anybody at Missouri, player or coach, ever,” Self added. “But it makes it more fun if people think you do. I have never said anything negative about Missouri. When they left to join the league (SEC), I said we weren’t going to play them any more. They were going to do what they’ve got to do. They were going to do what’s best for them. We’ll do what’s best for us.

“That wasn’t necessarily being cruel or anything like that,” Self continued, referring to his public stance on not playing MU. “It’s different I think with fans than it is the players. The passion is felt from the fans and trickled down to the players and the coaches. Of course we have our biggest rivals. You want to beat your biggest rivals maybe more than you want to beat anybody else. We all understand that. But when you get down to it, it’s not coach versus coach or player versus player. Those players hang out in the summer, play pickup ball, do stuff like that. That’s not what it’s about but you do want bragging rights when those things take place.”

Asked by a fan at Hawk Talk if he will “run up the score,” Self, whose team enters with a 7-1 record to MU’s 5-4 mark, said: “I just want to win the game. I can tell you it will be fun to be competitive with them again, just like I’m sure they are saying the same thing.”

Self, who said the most memorable win one of his teams has had versus MU was KU’s 87-86 overtime win over the Tigers on Feb. 25, 2012 in Allen Fieldhouse, said it didn’t take long for him as KU coach to feel “venom” from Tiger fans.

“I didn’t have to wait until the first game (during 2003-04 season, his first at KU). All I had to do was play some of my phone messages at home,” Self said of MU’s Antlers cheering section phoning Self and members of his family the week of the KU-MU games.

“Cindy (wife) is well aware of that. My parents (living in Oklahoma) didn’t have to wait until the first game. All they had to do was play their phone messages at home. I’m sure maybe their staff has felt some of that too from our fans at some point in time.

“It was pretty fun. Actually to me, I don’t think you feel the venom near as much in loud venues, You can’t hear them (fans). They won’t be able to hear anything Saturday because it’s too loud.”

Self noted he did hear insults from St. John’s fans during the Jayhawks’ 95-75 win over the Red Storm on Friday night at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York.

The fans late in the game asked him what kind of wrist watch he was wearing.

“I told ‘em it was a Timex,” Self said. “Yeah they thought that was kind of funny. That’s just what came to mind. At St. John’s I actually heard more than I’ve heard at a lot of places going back to New York which was also fun.”

As far as an update on Saturday’s game, Self told The Star after Hawk Talk he believes senior forward David McCormack’s ankle sprain suffered in the first half of Tuesday’s 78-52 win over UTEP was not serious.

“I think so,” Self said, asked if McCormack can practice leading up to the MU game. “We were off today.”

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