From Assisting at Kansas to 2x NCAA Champion, How Bill Self Has Become One of the Best in Business

Published 11/27/2023, 12:20 PM EST

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The Kansas Jayhawks have started the season with a 5-1 record. Though they were the favorites to win the Maui Invitational, they finished at third place. But that does not take away the fact that they’re the best team in the NCAA and a force to reckon with. Behind their bedazzling performances is a head coach who gave his all to them. 

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Today, Bill Self is a name with many followers. But he started off as an assistant in the KU and slowly moved up the ranks to be the best. A detailed look into his history.

The Early Years

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Self got his first coaching job under the University of Kansas head coach Larry Brown. But he did not remain long at the university serving them for 1985-86 season before joining the Oklahoma State University under Leonard Hamilton. His initial coaching positions were that of an assistant and gave him a glimpse of his future roles. 

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He was first appointed as the head coach at the Oral Roberts in 1993. The team could only cruise to six victories during his first season, followed by an improved record of 21-7 in his fourth. This also marked their first National Invitation Tournament appearance since 1983-84.

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Self spent the next three years from 1998-2000 with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, propelling them to two consecutive NCAA tournament shows in 1999 and 2000. Furthermore, he helped them land their first Elite Eight appearance.

The Oklahoma-born was then declared the head coach for the Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team in 2000. He led the Lon Kruger’s men to a 27-8 record that made them the number 1 seeded team in the NCAA tournament. He provided the impetus for them to reach the Elite Eight eventually losing to the tournament finalists Arizona. In the next two seasons, the Illini advanced to the Sweet Sixteen ultimately failing to the Kansas in 2002 and the Notre Dame in 2003.

Self is credited with having recruited a majority of the 2005 Illinois team that went on to win the Big Ten title. The team had a record 37-2 tally and emerged as the runners-up to the North Carolina. However, things had just begun to be in his favor since he was then assigned his longest coaching stint.

Coming into his Own

The 2003-07 were the years of chaos for the Kansas. It were the years that paved the way for much of the glory that was to come later. In his first year, Self led the Kansas to the Elite Eight where they lost to the Georgia Tech.

They started the 2005-06 season as an unranked preseason polls team, but finished sixth in the conference. They also ended their 31-game winning streak over the Kansas State. They, however, picked up from there and won against the Oklahoma. They ended the season as a number 4 seeded team, concluding the year with a first-round loss to the Bradley.

In February 2007, Self grabbed his 300th career win by decimating the Missouri 92-74. The Kansas had a 27-4 tally at the end of the regular season, ranking #2 in the AP polls. They also made it to the Elite Eight, losing to the No. 2 UCLA.

The Jayhawks began the 2008-09 season with two future NBA players – Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris. Self helped the team to a 27-8 record and a display in the Sweet Sixteen.

The coach lifted the silverware for the first time in the 2008 NCAA season. He has been one of the top-ranked coaches since then being inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.

By the 2021-22 season, Self had the 18th most wins among the coaches and 4th most among the active head coaches. He’s also the second-winningest coach in the Kansas history only next to Phog Allen. He led the KU to 2 championship titles in 2008 and 2022.

The 2012 Naismith College Coach of the Year has a spectacular record of 292-16 at the Allen Fieldhouse and has piled on three home victory streaks of more than 30 wins. He also has the 11th-best all-time 69-game streak. 

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Another important fact to note is that the Kansas hasn’t ever lost more than 3 consecutive games under Self and has recruited prominent players such as Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Xavier Henry, Andrew Wiggins, Cliff Alexander, and Wayne Selden Jr under him. 

The 2x AP College Coach of the Year has used the tactic of a high-low motion offense and a pressing man-to-man defense. However, not all of Self’s career has been exceptional. He has drawn criticism from all quarters for having a meager 4-7 record in the Elite Eight.

He has bettered his coaching tactics since then providing the impetus to Kansas for 9 elite eight appearances in his 19 seasons at the KU. He again led the Kansas to a NCAA title in 2022 and was also the highest-paid coach for the 2021-22 season making approximately $10,184,282.

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Watch This Story: Sending Shockwaves in The Basketball World, Know 18YO MiLaysia Fulwiley’s Story

Self’s career has been a study for emerging coaches to formulate tactics and for basketball aficionados to understand how to make the most of life and adjust to its highs and lows.

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Written by:

Ritvan Pande

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One take at a time

Ritvan Pande is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. He covers Perspectives and Classics as the expert in the longform coverage. Inspired by the fabled Chicago Bulls trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Ritvan captures the staggering court encounters in the same competitive style.
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Edited by:

Bilal Handoo

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