For all he’s accomplished—a national championship, three Final Fours, 10 Elite Eights and 15 Big 12 titles—Bill Self is always quick to give others credit. It’s just the way he was raised—both as a kid, and as a coach.
But when you consider all the success, it’s worth wondering how a self-described “average” college basketball player ended up becoming one of the best college hoops coaches of his era. So, what made Self such a successful coach? Or rather—who helped shape him into a Hall of Famer?
The list of names is long, and includes some of the all-time greats. How did R.C. Buford inadvertently get him into coaching? What roles did Larry Brown, Eddie Sutton and Leonard Hamilton play? And what has he learned from all of them that’s enabled him to be so successful?
This week on The Jayhawker podcast we take you on a tour of all the mentors who shaped Self and learn how a Hall of Fame coaching career was constructed. For Self, the lessons began as a child watching his hero – his father, Bill Self Sr.
“I wanted to please my dad,” Self recalled. “I saw how he reacted with people. I saw how he communicated with people. I thought he was a ridiculously straight shooter.”
Self’s father was a successful high school coach of boys and girls basketball in Oklahoma before a three-decade career as a school administrator. Self Sr. not only taught his son how to communicate with others, he and his wife, Margaret, also made sure their son’s interest in basketball was fueled from a early age.
“They nailed a real basketball goal to the bathroom door so I could practice putting the ball in the hoop at age one or two,” described Self. “Then from fourth grade on, all I can remember was a ball in my hands.”
Self’s passion for hoops led to countless hours shooting in the family driveway and ultimately, earning Oklahoma High School Player of the Year honors in 1981. That distinction caught the attention of Oklahoma State – the dream school for the Edmond Memorial High star.
“Not till after the season did Oklahoma State come calling,” remembered Self. “I had some other schools flirt but nobody definite, except smaller schools. I was going to go to Oklahoma Christian College and then OSU came and all they had to do was just say ‘hi’ and it was over. That was my school.”
Self’s host on his OSU campus tour was a walk-on named R.C. Buford – now a five-time NBA world champion and twice-over NBA executive of the year as general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. A special friendship was born that weekend and one that would lead Self to a career-altering opportunity with Larry Brown at Kansas.
Three seasons deep in his playing career at Oklahoma State, Buford invited Self to help coach at Larry Brown’s basketball camp at Kansas. His interactions with the future Hall of Fame coach that summer helped launch him on his own path to the hoops Hall. And it all started with a bold ask at the end of camp week.
Hear Self relive that exchange with Brown and all that followed it for a young coach whose meteoric rise to coaching stardom was about to begin. Learn about all the coaches that helped him along the way to becoming one of the greatest in his industry.
Self was, indeed, built by legends. And now, he’s become one. His legendary story is far from finished, but the opening chapters are as fascinating as they are impressive. Listen to the start of Bill Self’s story on this week’s edition of The Jayhawker.