BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
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BILL SELF'S quest for a second national championship will begin about eight miles from where his head coaching career started.
Self helms a top-seeded Kansas basketball team that will soon arrive in downtown Tulsa for the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
In 1993, Self was a 30-year-old bespectacled rookie head coach at Oral Roberts University whose glasses apparently were rose-colored.
A real estate agent could politely describe Self's first job as a fixer-upper.
ORU had moved from NCAA Division I to NAIA and back to Division I again.
ORU was 5-22 the season before Self arrived.
And he staked his career that he could turn the program around, which had to be simultaneously exciting and frightening.
"I wasn't really scared until after I had coached there for a year because I was ignorant enough to think that, hey, we will go there and we will outwork people and we will outcoach people and all that stuff," Self said.
"That type of attitude and production led to 18 losses in a row. I learned right then, first-hand, that you have got to get some guys (read: players). I think that has probably helped mold our philosophy on how we do things as much as anything else, because you can't win without guys."
You could say a subway put Self on a fast track to jobs - Tulsa, Illinois, KU - that followed, but that would be slightly incorrect.
Self found the most important player (so says ex-ORU assistant Barry Hinson) of his four-year ORU tour of duty at a Subway sandwich shop.
Subway customer and ORU student Earl McClellan introduced himself to Self and talked himself into a walk-on tryout.
McClellan, whose personality could be an alternative energy source, won the point guard job as a freshman. ORU was 6-21 that year. But in his senior year, ORU finished the regular season 21-6 and advanced to the NIT.
It was exactly the turnaround Self promised when speaking at a campus chapel service shortly after his hiring. Self has "it" and he unleashed "it" while firing up the masses that day, according to Hinson.
"Coach could have said we're going to head to Goldie's and eat a chili cheeseburger and people would have given him a standing ovation," Hinson, now KU's director of basketball operations, said. "No matter what came out of his mouth, it was unbelievable."
But what followed was a classic case of easier said than done.
Hard work, hard knocks
Hinson said four people interviewed for the ORU job before it was awarded to Self, a former Oklahoma State player and assistant coach.
Hinson knows this because he, along with Andy Stoglin and Tim Carter, were among those interviewed. Hinson was coaching at Bishop Kelley High School and, though chronically optimistic, he knew high school coaches don't get Division I jobs.
"I went in there on the interview and basically talked about Bill Self," Hinson said.
Hinson talked himself into a job. He was hired by Self as an assistant and the young coaches threw themselves into unglamorous work, licking envelopes for season-ticket sales, scribbling handwritten letters to recruits (Hinson wrote 73 in one day) and doing yard work to make dorm areas more attractive.
Initially, Hinson was a solo act. Why? Self remained on OSU's staff through the end of an NCAA Tournament trip. It was reasoned that visibility might boost recruiting.
Self reported for full-time duty after OSU's season ended. Interpret full-time to mean all the time.
Hinson said they got to the office at 9:30 or 10 a.m. every day. People who didn't know better perhaps thought ORU hired slackers. What they didn't know was Hinson and Self routinely were in the office until 2-4 a.m.
"For four years, without a shadow of a doubt, I saw Bill Self more than I saw my wife or any member of my family," Hinson said.
All that hard labor was rewarded with a 6-6 start in their first season. They exceeded the previous season's win total by one.
It was fool's gold. ORU closed the season with a 15-game losing streak.
Hinson said a low point came before the skid. ORU went to the Indiana Classic and hoped to impress hoops-savvy Hoosier fans and then-Indiana coach Bob Knight.
ORU suffered a 48-point loss to Washington State and, the following day, suffered a 26-point defeat to a Tennessee Tech team that Indiana had beaten by 44 points.
After the losing streak was launched, Hinson said Self told his assistant coaches "you guys can't help me. We aren't going to win games. Go find me players."
Said Hinson, "I don't even think I went to the last 10 games. I went recruiting."
It was broke,so they fixed it
Problem No. 1 was ORU had players who were recruited during the NAIA-to-NCAA transition. The talent level had to be upgraded.
Problem No. 2 was holdover players from the previous regime didn't necessarily embrace change. Hinson said players butted heads with the new coaching staff not just every day, but every hour.
Problem No. 3 was there wasn't much to sell to recruits, other than facilities. ORU had no conference and hadn't produced a winning season at the NCAA Division I level since 1983-1984.
Plus, Self had to fight this when recruiting: ORU students were required to wear ties and go to chapel twice a week. Self spun that in his favor, telling parents something along the lines of "when did society determine that looking professional and having an opportunity to worship twice a week is a negative?"
Two players - twins from Bartlesville - in Self's first recruiting class didn't last long enough to make it through the first week of practice.
But the arsenal got better each year. Self's staff looked across the street to get star guard Tim Gill from Victory Christian and looked under rocks for sleeper prospects that bigger schools ignored.
ORU was the first school to check out Eduardo Najera, but he didn't stay a secret for very long and signed with Oklahoma after committing to ORU, according to Hinson.
A typo helped ORU land Rocky Walls, the Mr. Inside to Gill's Mr. Outside.
A Texas recruiting service had listed Walls as being 6-foot-2, so interest was nil. Walls was actually 6-8 and, after discovering the glitch, ORU began hot pursuit.
By Self's third season, ORU was 18-9. Early in his fourth season, the Golden Eagles upset 16th-ranked Arkansas.
"And everybody thought uh-oh, maybe these guys are getting better," Hinson said. "That was the foundation game, in my opinion, to get us back."
Self's ORU teams won 31 of their last 38 games. That got him an invitation to move to the job across town.
"ORU, from a move-on standpoint, was a graveyard," Self said. "I don't believe there was a coach who had ever left ORU of his own doing in taking another job.
"Fortunately we had some success and Tulsa popped and that was a great move for us and we had some success. (Missouri State) popped and (Hinson took that job) and Scott (Sutton) has had success and if he ever chooses to move, he will have an opportunity. But back when we were there, that wasn't the case. I think we started out 16-38 before we actually saw any positives going on."
Talk to Hinson now and he'll tell you there was never any reason to be worried.
"I knew who I was working for," Hinson said. "I watched him play in high school. His senior year he had seven buzzer-winners. I go back to the term of he just had 'it.' There are some guys that just have 'it' and you know you are going to hook your trailer up to them and go."
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389
Current Kansas coach Bill Self began his college head-coaching career at Oral Roberts, where the Golden Eagles were coming off a stint in the NAIA. His career began with a 6-6 start, followed by a 15-game losing streak. Tulsa World file