DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Norm Roberts appears to have transitioned smoothly into his acting head coach role for top-seeded Kansas despite all the day-to-day uncertainty and chatter about Bill Self's status in the NCAA Tournament.
Roberts said Friday that Self was doing well in his recovery from the heart procedure he had less than two weeks ago but that it was unknown if Self would be on the bench for Saturday's second-round West Region game against Arkansas.
The 57-year-old Roberts is Self's right-hand man, having been on Self's staff at four coaching stops. Backup guard Joseph Yesufu described Roberts as a “mirror image” of Self.
“We have been together for almost 25 years, so we probably do finish each other's sentences in basketball terms,” Roberts said.
The Jayhawks beat Howard 96-68 in the first round on Thursday. Other than Self not being with the team on the bench, the Jayhawks' routine is mostly unchanged. The staff meets with Self twice a day to prepare for the next opponent, and Self has been at all the team's practices in Des Moines.
Asked if he tries to channel Self when making in-game decisions, Roberts said he does.
“I do try to think of what he would want to do,” Roberts said. “If it's a situation of getting the ball inside, if it's a situation of trapping the ball screen, where we would want to attack. Those are things we talk about a lot before the game begins on ... what we want to do, how we want to play the game. So I just revisit that in my head and coach that way.”
Before the Jayhawks' win over Howard, Self said in an interview with the team's radio network that he is feeling stronger but that he didn't think he was to the point he could run the team during a game.
Self went to the emergency room the night of March 8, shortly after watching the Jayhawks hold a final shootaround ahead of their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. He was complaining of chest tightness and concerns with his balance. The 60-year-old had two stents placed to help treat blocked arteries.
Kansas is 3-1 in Self's absence, with the loss coming to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.
Players said Roberts is intense in practice and as competitive as Self in game situations.
“His pregame speeches get you pretty pumped up,” Kevin McCullar said. “You want to go out there and run through a brick wall sometimes.”
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, a former NBA coach, said Self allowed him to attend practices and meetings when he was looking at getting into the college game.
“Certainly we all want Coach to be as healthy as possible and to get back to coaching as quick as he can,” Musselman said. “But having said that, they’re a well-oiled machine in how they go about their business and how they execute.”