Self, Alt­man re­call their mod­est begin­nings

Coaches led strug­gling pro­grams into their first matchup years ago.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

Bill Self and Dana Alt­man first matched wits more than two decades ago, when Self was try­ing to turn around tiny Oral Roberts and Alt­man was at­tempt­ing the same in his first sea­son at Creighton.

The young coaches com­bined to win 17 games that sea­son. How far they’ve come. Both even­tu­ally suc­ceeded in their re­build­ing jobs, to the point they kept get­ting big­ger of­fers. Self would head off to Tulsa and Illi­nois be­fore ar­riv­ing at Kansas, where he has the top-seeded Jay­hawks one game away from his third Fi­nal Four, while Alt­man would one day land at Ore­gon, which takes on Kansas tonight.

Nei­ther coach could have imag­ined it when they faced off that Novem­ber night in 1994.

“I’ve known Bill for a very long time,” Alt­man said, point­ing out they were also as­sis­tants in the Big Eight be­fore be­com­ing head coaches. “Bill has a way of get­ting the best out of each of his team. He’s al­ways been at great pro­grams and made them bet­ter.”

This may be his best, too — bet­ter even than his 2008 na­tional ti­tle team.

The top-seeded Jay­hawks (31-5) roared into the Mid­west Re­gional fi­nal with an av­er­age vic­tory mar­gin of 30 points, dust­ing aside Big Ten cham­pion Pur­due on Thurs­day night.

Frank Ma­son III has be­come the front-run­ner for na­tional player of the year. Devonte’ Gra­ham has hit 3-point­ers at a record-set­ting rate. And star fresh­man Josh Jack­son has sur­vived off-court is­sues to send his NBA draft stock soar­ing.

Oh, and the Jay­hawks get to play No. 3 seed Ore­gon (32-5) at Sprint Cen­ter, the down­town arena that hap­pens to sit about 40 min­utes from their cam­pus in Lawrence.

“We know we have a tough game ahead of us,” Ore­gon guard Tyler Dorsey said. “They’re go­ing to have a home­court ad­van­tage. We just have to be ready, keep tak­ing it game by game.”

The Ducks have done a sub­lime job of that.

Ore­gon cruised past Iona be­fore run­ning into trou­ble. It took a heart-stop­ping fi­nal few min­utes to put away Rhode Is­land last week­end, and a missed 3-pointer by Michi­gan at the buzzer to sur­vive Thurs­day night.

But now, they sit on the precipice of their first Fi­nal Four since win­ning the 1939 ti­tle, and Alt­man is one game away from the first na­tional semi­fi­nal of his ca­reer.

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