I’ve known Bill Self since his high school days at Edmond Memorial, when as a sophomore, he almost brought the Bulldogs back against Yukon in the 1979 5A State Championship game. What struck me about him then was his outgoing personality, unusual for most teenagers, and his thirst for knowledge about the game of basketball.
Self was back in his old stomping grounds last night to pick up the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He reminded me of his personal connection to the late superstar, having played with Wonderful Wayman for two years on the Oklahoma Rams, the outstanding AAU team that was dominant nationally in the 1980s.
“First trip we took, we drove to Las Vegas, in a 12 or 15 passenger van and the air conditioner went out. It took us 27 hours and we were actually stranded on the highway part of the time,” Self said. “I remember sitting in the seat with (future OSU teammate) Joe Atkinson and Wayman behind me, they had no place to put their legs, so they put their legs over my shoulders and I’m thinking how many more hours? I was mad I took a shower that day.”
“I remember the first game I played with Wayman, he scored four points and had two rebounds and I had 27. And after the game, it was like a reception line with the college coaches, you had Tubbs, John Thompson, everybody and not one man spoke to me. Every one of those coaches could not wait to say ‘Wayman, you were great today, you played great!’ And I thought, really? And then the next game he had about 50 points so I understood why they were all lined up. But it was fun because he was so good.”
Self was a year ahead of Tisdale and the great Oklahoma class of 1982 that also produced NBA star Mark Price among others. He was a good but not great player at Oklahoma State, and he was savvy enough to keep building the basketball connections that would take him to head coaching stints at ORU, Tulsa, Illinois and eventually Kansas, where he had spent time as an assistant to Larry Brown. He is now considered one of the top five coaches in the NCAA and has won several national coach of the year awards.
But picking up the Tisdale Humanitarian Award was something special for the Jayhawks coach and an honor that he was surprised to receive.
“First of all, they could have picked a lot of guys more deserving of a humanitarian award than me. But it does mean a lot, because first of all, happening in Oklahoma City and then having Wayman’s name on it,” said Self. “I was by no means in competition with him in anything, but I did play during the same era and I saw how he revolutionized basketball in our state. He more than anybody else. You could say Billy Tubbs and Nolan Richardson had a strong hand in doing that, but Wayman changed the whole climate of everything going on here. And to have a guy do it that was such a personality and maybe as good of an ambassador as anybody as our state has known, at least that I’m aware of, is very cool.”
Self and his wife Cindy, have been involved in numerous events that have raised money and awareness for many charities, making him a worthwhile selection for the award. I can personally attest to his willingness to get involved. Several years ago, he stepped to help me in a fundraising effort for Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, providing signed memorabilia and making a radio appearance to promote the cause. Self has never forgotten his roots and still has many close friends in Oklahoma.
Still, he is firmly entrenched at Kansas, one of the storied programs of college basketball. As much as Oklahoma State fans would love to dream that Self would give that up to return to his alma mater, that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future – and maybe not ever.