KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bill Self has a lot of equity built up with the media. That goodwill comes in handy during these (sort of) troubling times.
Kansas’ coach patiently answers questions with insightful answers. He playfully spars with the media crew that covers the top-ranked program. In that sense, he is John Calipari without the baggage.
Self might be the only $4 million coach you could call up for a drink in the middle of the offseason and he’d accept. He is that good of a guy.
It shouldn’t have been surprising, then, it wasn’t until Sunday that a national sports columnist weighed in, questioning what kind of ship Kansas’ veteran coach has been running lately.
Self -- and the No. 1 Jayhawks -- have gotten the benefit of the doubt during a series of mostly minor crimes and misdemeanors that have tarnished the Jayhawks’ rep.
Suddenly, though, there has been plenty of opportunity to at least question Self’s ship of (basketball) jewels. The nation’s No. 1 team has all but clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs heading into this week’s Big 12 tournament.
But that’s not the entire story.
“It’s one of those situations where one or two things start happening, the spotlight gets bigger,” senior forward Landen Lucas said. “Everybody starts focusing on it. Then small things that usually go unnoticed get bigger.”
Whatever the situation is, it is out in the open on a national stage this week. Standout freshman Josh Jackson was suspended Wednesday for Thursday’s Big 12 tournament opener. Jackson was docked for backing into a parked car and fleeing the scene.
“He didn’t tell me about it until Monday,” Self said.
Doesn’t sound like much, but all the sudden it is. Jackson already is facing misdemeanor charges for kicking the car of a women’s basketball player outside a Lawrence bar in December. The charges were announced Feb. 24.
If Jackson had owned up to the latest incident when it happened (Feb. 2), would he have rid himself of the latest scrutiny/embarrassment at the Big 12’s premier event? In the nine games since Feb. 2, Jackson averaged 16 points while the Jayhawks clinched a 13th consecutive Big 12 title.
Why was it up to Jackson to notify his coach of a more-than-insignificant traffic violation in the first place?
Yeah, in one sense, it looks like death by a thousand fender benders. (Guard Devonte Graham was arrested after a game last month for missing a court appearance for an unpaid ticket.) Kids being kids and all that. Except that now, you can’t discuss No. 1 KU in totality without mentioning the off-the-court stuff.
And there is a lot of it lately.
• Five players are listed as witnesses of a reported December rape of a 16-year old in a campus residence hall. KU campus police continue to investigate.
Self reminded reporters at the time being a witness can mean “a person who potentially provides information whether an eyewitness or not.”
• During that rape investigation, police discovered drug paraphernalia they say belonged to KU forward Carlton Bragg. Bragg was suspended for three games, his second suspension of the season.
A battery charge against him was dropped following the December suspension.
• A university investigation found it “likely” KU guard Lagerald Vick committed domestic violence in December 2015. The Kansas City Star reported Vick was accused of hitting that same women’s player in the arm multiple times and kicking her in the face.
Vick was not charged with a crime. The newspaper also reported KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access recommended Vick be placed on school probation for two years. It is not known if Vick was ever put on probation.
Self is among the KU officials who cite privacy laws in not being able to discuss the situation.
• Jackson’s alleged car kicking came after the women’s player, McKenzie Calvert, had thrown a drink in the face of Vick, according to The Star.
There was a bad look for Self last week when he credited his players for overcoming those “distractions” this season. He credited Jackson for being a fine “ambassador” for KU.
Self was reminded Wednesday in a private moment that those distractions have been mostly self-inflicted.
“I think almost all of it is self-inflicted,” Self admitted to CBS Sports. “This would never, ever be an issue if he [Jackson] didn’t have a prior issue.”
Point being, Self’s equity with the media comes in handy right about now. It remains hard to declare this a program coloring outside the lines. Over his 14 seasons, Self’s Kansas teams have endured precious few incidents.
If this were Calipari it might be easy to pile on. The Kentucky coach’s reputation precedes him. But it’s not only “OK” to question KU’s off-court character at the moment, it may be required.
You can’t talk about the Jayhawks at the moment unless you talk about what has happened off the court.
“There’s already a big enough spotlight on us, there’s already eyes on us,” Lucas said. “It’s kind of like a glass house with everybody. We already kind of have that understanding.”
All of it likely will be over in 3 1/2 weeks. At that point, either the Jayhawks will be eliminated from the NCAA Tournament or finishing up the Final Four.
Either way, Jackson will be off to the NBA. Lucas and others will have graduated. Their basketball accomplishments will be chiseled in stone at KU. Perhaps the Lawrence traffic court docket will be a bit less clogged, too.
“That’s what coach has kind of been harping on. There’s no reason to let it carry on to the court,” Lucas said. “When you’re on it, it’s a whole different world. It’s a nice little escape for us.”