Bill Self recreated his own Hilton Magic on Monday.
With the help of Elijah Johnson’s prodigious performance and one badly missed charge call at the end of regulation, Self’s Jayhawks devastated revenge-minded Iowa State for a second time this season, outlasting the Cyclones, 108-96, in a topsy-turvy overtime thriller in Ames. The improbable comeback win, enabled by an equally improbable individual effort, snapped Iowa State’s 22-game home winning streak at Hilton Coliseum and pulled KU even with in-state pseudo-rival Kansas State atop the Big 12 standings in one fell swoop.
It also earned Self an indelible place in college basketball lore.
The Kansas head basketball honcho became the ninth-fastest coach to 500 wins, joining a fraternity that includes three Big 12 leaders (West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger’s and Texas’s Rick Barnes) and 18 active Division-I coaches in all. Even Phog Allen needed more than 662 games — the number it took Self — to eclipse the 500 plateau.
But forget half a millenium. More than 50 coaches have scaled that mountain.
Self has a puncher’s chance of doubling that win total before his career is over.
The 50-year-old coach has averaged 33 wins per season over each of the past six, more than anyone else in the game today. Mirroring that torrid pace for the next 15 years — which would require a whole lot more magic than a one-trick Hilton act — would put him in the neighborhood of 1,000 wins by age 65.
Since his humble beginnings at Oral Roberts some 20 years ago, Self has boosted his winning rate at each successive stop. Just one-game over .500 during his four-year stay at the Southland Conference school (his Golden Eagles teams improved over each of the four seasons), Self’s winning percentage spiked at Tulsa (.733), rose again at Illinois (.764) and jolted at Kansas (.837), where he’s spent the last decade in charge.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the man whom Self could theoretically, but not realistically chase down atop the all-time D-I coaching wins list, is a full percentage point behind Self in winning percentage since Self arrived in Lawrence. Provided he continues coaching well into his 60s, Self stands the best chance of anyone — national darling Brad Stevens among them — of challenging Coach K for the top spot on the mountain. Still, Krzyzewski is setting the pace and could put the record out of reach with another five years of coaching at his current level.
Perhaps an even better tribute to Self’s career than Monday’s milestone moment is his ongoing monopolization of the Big 12. Self’s Jayhawks have won eight consecutive regular-season Big 12 titles and taken home five league tournament trophies during that span. Thanks to the team’s overtime win in Ames, Kansas can notch its ninth-straight regular season crown by winning its remaining three games.
Inspired by one mythical coaching legacy, the Jayhawks are in control of their own destiny once again, even after a night when Hilton mystique was supposed to foil their fate. Welcome to another day at the office of a man with 499 similar stories to tell.