Self, Altman recall their modest beginnings
Coaches led struggling programs into their first matchup years ago.
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.