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College Basketball commentary with Seth Davis

Davis_seth
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  • 12:37 PM ET  10.19
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Whenever a college basketball team gets sucked into a media maelstrom, the coach usually calls one of four plays from his public relations playbook:

1.    Blame the media.
2.    Declare his players off-limits to the media.
3.    Allow the media to have access to his players, but declare the scandal off-limits. "Basketball-related questions only, please."
4.    See play number 1.

That's why I have been so impressed with the way Kansas coach Bill Self and his players have conducted themselves in the wake of their Lost September. As we all know from our reading, the Jayhawks embarrassed their university last month by getting into a rumble with members of KU's football team. Sophomore forward Tyshawn Taylor was the worst offender, not only dislocating his thumb in the fight but by essentially breaking the story on his Facebook page with childish language. A week later, junior guard Brady Morningstar was arrested on suspicion of DWI. Self suspended him from the team for the first semester.

A few days after the fight story broke, Self paraded Taylor plus his two best players, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, in front of the cameras to apologize. Last Thursday, KU held its annual media day followed by its Late Night at the Phog festivities Friday night. If ever a coach was going to dip into the aforementioned playbook, this was the time. After all, they had already answered lots of questions about the incidents. What more was there to say?

Instead, Self made all his players available to the media and set no ground rules. And guess what happened: The players said all the right things. Here's Morningstar to the Lawrence Journal-World: "I'm upset with my decisions. I made a tough mistake, something nobody should ever do. I've got to live with it, be a man about it, take your medicine and move on." And here's Taylor to Gary Parrish of cbssports.com about his Facebook posts: "When it came out, I couldn't really say anything because it really was all right there, and I understand why people took it the way they took it…. It comes with the territory of being an athlete at this level, and I didn't realize it before."

Now, I'm sure that if Self and his players could say everything they really thought, they would argue that their side of the story never fully got out, and that they were treated unfairly as the incident got blown out of proportion. And maybe they'd be right. Still, the fact is all those events were set in motion by their irresponsible behavior. Their willingness to publicly acknowledge that and take on all questioners doesn't mean everything is solved. But it is a good first step.

"I'm not going to hide my guys," Self told me by telephone Saturday afternoon. "I told them, you like it when people write good stuff about you. Well, you have to take the bad with the good when you screw up. You have to sit there and take it because we brought it on ourselves. Don't blame anybody else."

Self is also smart enough to recognize that this situation is, as he put it, "a teaching opportunity." Said Self, "I do think our guys have learned. You can't be selfish and immature, whether or not you get caught. Maybe we'll be more disciplined and responsible than if all this hadn't happened."

Self also told me that he has not coached his players on what to say. "I want them to be themselves. I told them, here's our parameters, here's our focus. If you're going to be on this team, you have to fess up."

Self's commitment to transparency has its limits. He said he will discipline his players internally, but he will not reveal what those penalties are except to say his guys will not have the same "freedoms" they had before. During a skit Friday night, Self joked that at least now he knows his players "have a little fight" in them. It was a clever line, but Self needs to be careful not to make too much light out of a serious situation.

I'm sure Self's players would like to believe these incidents are behind them, but the reality is the Jayhawks probably have not heard the last of these questions. Every time they hit the road, they will encounter a fresh batch of reporters. And heaven forbid something else comes up that leaks a little more blood in the waters.

Believe it or not, I do not believe the world revolves entirely around the media. (Just mostly.) But I've always thought the manner in which a coach and his players deal with the media offers a useful window into their modus operandi. Are they suspicious and conspiratorial, or are they reasonable and fair? Last week, Kansas demonstrated that it wants to go with the latter approach. We'll see how well they hold up, but for the time being, give Self a little credit for calling the right plays.

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