The preseason training gauntlet is instrumental to what Bill Self does. Here's why.
|CG||Sep 13|| 2||2|
Bill Self’s boot camp week has become legend. Over the years we’ve witnessed Jayhawks working at camps and hooping all summer, only to be reduced to puddles by the intensity of Self’s preseason training gauntlet. It’s amazing.
So what exactly goes into boot camp? And why is it such a staple?
Here’s what we know. We know it involves lots of running—Roy Williams’ regimen did, too, but at a level that’s basically a hungover afternoon jog, comparatively. We know that there’s not a basketball in sight at boot camp, a potent message even though it might be kind of an empty one. (Like, I’m fine with them having basketballs around, especially when considering the sloppy ball-handling moments in the recent past?? It’s the basketball team??) We know that some have puked, and it’s possible that there’s less puking now than there was in the past. It starts at 6 AM and ends loosely whenever—Aaron Miles used to sleep in his practice gear so he could snooze for 15 extra minutes. Self routinely hands out extra sessions or drills as discipline, adding a sadistic layer to the proceedings. A swimming pool might be involved.
But here’s my question—does the constant cardio line drilling of boot camp actually make a physical difference? Or is this purely a program designed for “mental toughness?”
Boot camp is a prism for how Bill Self has run the team in his tenure. Like anything, there’s pros and cons to his approach, but one of the major dynamics he’s cultivated with every team is a very coaches vs. players, “us” vs. “them” mentality. Boot camp is the first step in that division—it’s basically glorified hazing, and is mostly a group bonding experiment. It’s no mistake that Bill Self’s best teams are the tightest groups—something we can now monitor easily via IG interaction, by the way—the ones that play the hardest. While Self is a maniac, he doesn’t seem like someone who has the mental energy to manage complicated individual personal relationships with each roster member, especially when you throw social media into the mix, which he seems bad at. The development has to happen at a more macro level, and boot camp allows for that, as no one is excepted from it.
That sort of approach has backfired, at times—some elite players, ones who view KU as a temporary destination, might require a little more attention. (And I wonder if those players’ ability to sign with agents will help, or hurt, KU’s recruiting, from a purely attention-based standpoint). While the best-loved players of the Bill Self era have been the lightly-recruited, multiple-year players who bloom from bench roles into Wooden award contenders, the reality of the modern status of college hoops suggests that landing a few stars might as well be an imperative going forward.
Self’s hardass performance might not be the best fit for every player—I often fantasize about if Trae Young had committed to Kansas instead of Oklahoma, and how deeply he would have been benched from the jump, or how fast he might have transferred. Self’s formula works. But I wonder if there’s a few easy tweaks as the personality-driven elements of basketball dominate the season’s storylines. None of this is mutually exclusive, and it’s made me look at the whole operation a little bit differently.
When I was growing up, I knew New York City only through movies and books. The phrase “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!” is ubiquitous, thanks to the Sinatra joint, implying that success in New York City was more valuable than success elsewhere. But as soon as I moved to New York in 2008, I interpreted the phrase entirely differently—meaning, that if you can put up with all the bullshit and noise it takes to live in NYC and perform even the simplest errands without going insane, everything else is going to be peaceful, comparatively.
I believe Bill Self’s boot camp has a similar tension. Once you get through boot camp, the outlook of everything else is going to be relatively quiet: there might be some grueling practices, but at least you’ll be playing basketball at that point, and basketball is fun. Boot camp is the expectation leveler. With its conclusion, the season’s unique narrative can start.