Kansas coach Bill Self says he’s been thinking about next season ‘for the last month’

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The second half of this season for Kansas was the worst stretch of basketball coach Bill Self has ever had in his 21 seasons at the school.

The Jayhawks went 10-11 after after starting 13-1. A team that started the season ranked No. 1 clearly was lacking in the depth, defense and shooting departments.

“For the last month I’ve been thinking about next season, to be honest,” Self said after losing 89-68 to No. 5 Gonzaga on Saturday. “Not in the moments during the game. But obviously we had eight guys on scholarship that were healthy there late — and injuries are part of the game so that’s not an excuse — but we could have done a much better job as a staff of putting more guys out there that we could play.

“That’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time. The thing about it is in basketball, early on you can play through some things. But (over) the course of a season, there’s a grind that goes with it, and bodies get run down and injuries occur. That’s all part of it. When you don’t have as much firepower that maybe you’ve had in past years, it certainly showed this year.”

This is not surprising at all from Self. College coaches are CEOs. Most are always thinking ahead, and it’s no surprise Self has turned reflective as he’s watched his team struggle down the stretch. Self spent a lot of this season trying to convince his team that wins against Houston, Connecticut and Tennessee showed KU could beat anyone. He was playing psychiatrist, trying to pump a group very much in need of confidence with confidence.

But a week ago at the Big 12 tournament, Self told the truth at the end of his news conference.

“Guys, what are we going to take away?” Self said. “We’ll take away that we came over here on a Wednesday and the (fact that the) quarterfinal is tomorrow sucks. That’s what we’re going to take away from this.”

Self was clearly frustrated that it had gone so poorly that No. 4 Kansas — national power Kansas! — wasn’t even playing in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

And Self’s quote on Saturday took me back to 2021. Kansas had just been blitzed by USC in the Round of 32, and Self went into his postgame news conference and basically said the roster wasn’t good enough. He said he was wishing Drake had taken out USC in the first round.

“Just because it’s hard for us to match up against length and athletic ability,” Self said at the time. “That’s been the downfall of our team all year long, and I think that was probably as evident tonight as it has been in a long time.”

I asked Self that day what he could do to fix it.

“You can recruit. You can address it through recruiting. You can address it through player development. Guys, for us to be a team that really has a chance to be national contender, we need to get a little bit more athletic. We do. And we need to get a little longer and bigger and those sort of things.”

That offseason Self went on a mission to find a point guard who could create his own shots and bring some quickness to the Jayhawks. He landed Remy Martin, who ended up taking him on a wild ride but one that ultimately ended with his second national title.

This offseason Kansas needs shooting, guards who can create their own shots and depth. On Saturday, he had three defensive liabilities on the floor in Hunter Dickinson, Nick Timberlake and Johnny Furphy. Gonzaga hunted for all three and put on an offensive clinic, scoring as easily against a Self defense as you’ll ever see.

Furphy is young and has the ability to develop into a quality defender if he decides to return to Kansas. But you are not going to see Self be forced to put a defense on the floor with that many holes ever again. Self has at least two starters returning in KJ Adams and Dajuan Harris Jr. who are not really perimeter threats. It’s possible Dickinson returns as well. Self will be very intentional in looking for players to put around them who fit.

Self knows he and his staff did not do a good enough job of identifying talent that fit the roster this past year. He knows he left himself with too thin a bench.

As Self said three years ago, the way to fix it is through recruiting and development. And he knows it’s time to get to work.

Required reading

(Photo: Rob Gray / USA Today)

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