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Self approaching win No. 500

By DAVE SKRETTA

Associated Press

LAWRENCE -- It was hard to tell whether the question from the side of the room was intended as a joke, and even Kansas coach Bill Self had to smile when it floated toward the podium.

The ninth-ranked Jayhawks had just dusted TCU at Allen Fieldhouse, giving Self win No. 499, and he was asked whether he would prefer to reach the 500 milestone at home or on the road.

"That's really not a very good question," Self said with his trademark grin.

That's because the next one is on the road.

The Jayhawks head to Iowa State on Monday night, and there will be more on the line in Hilton Coliseum than another benchmark in Self's impressive coaching career. Kansas (23-4, 11-3) is tied for the Big 12 lead with rival Kansas State with only four games left, and any stumble along the way would jeopardize their unprecedented streak of eight consecutive conference championships.

So, yes, Self would prefer that his 500th win came on the road.

"If we could have a road win Monday, that would put us in the best of positions, because we have two of our last three at home," he said. "The league race won't be won or lost on Monday, but it will certainly give us a chance."

Self has downplayed his pursuit of 500 wins for weeks. He swats away such questions about as effectively as 7-foot senior Jeff Withey blocks shots -- and deflects any follow-ups about as easily as senior guard Travis Releford knocks away passes on the perimeter.

One of the reasons may be that the milestone isn't all that elite: There are already more than 50 members of the club, though it encompasses some of the all-time greats. Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight top the list, and it includes Phog Allen and Roy Williams, a pair of coaches who helped to establish and nurture the Kansas basketball tradition.

And Self would rather win championships.

"You go back through the years, he holds so many current records," Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said. "If you were to ask him, though, he'd probably keep it inside."

Along with eight straight regular-season Big 12 titles, Self has guided Kansas to five Big 12 tournament titles. He won two regular-season Big Ten championships and the league tournament when he was at Illinois, and two regular-season WAC championships when he was at Tulsa.

He guided the Jayhawks to their fifth national championship in 2008 and nearly won another last season, when Kansas made the title game against Kentucky.

His winning percentage of .755 is among the best in college basketball.

"He's always going to be humble and take those things in stride," Zenger said, "but there are only a handful of guys in the country who can come close to comparing numbers with him."

That's why Zenger has kept him among the best-compensated coaches in the country.

He restructured Self's contract in September to extend it through the 2021-22 season and built in a raise to $3.857 million per year. The deal includes also several bonus provisions that, in an average season, should push his compensation over the $4 million mark.

For all the success and money, Self still has the same easygoing charm and self-deprecating sense of humor that he had as a young coach.

He's also willing to help out anybody in need.

Just this past week, when a snowstorm dumped more than a foot on Lawrence, Self not only helped to dig out the car of Doc Sadler, his director of basketball operations, but also assisted a couple other stranded motorists -- some of them students.

One of the loudest roars before every home game occurs when Self walks onto the floor of Allen Fieldhouse, blowing into his hands just briefly -- one of his many superstitions.

"What an incredible run he's had, and what I appreciate is he makes us feel -- all my guys and the previous eras -- he makes us feel a part of it," said former coach Ted Owens, who led Kansas to a pair of Final Fours in the 1970s. "I'm grateful for that."

His former players often express their gratitude, too.

Mario Chalmers -- whose buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer helped to deliver Self his national title -- returned a couple of weeks ago to have his jersey retired. The Miami Heat point guard recalled how he didn't get along well with Self as a freshman and even thought about transferring. But he stuck it out and became one of the most cherished players in the program's history.

Chalmers said that Self has changed a bit, even in the last five years. He's a little less intense, a little better at understanding the personalities of the guys on the team.

"He's a lot different than he was with us," Chalmers said.

But make no mistake: He's still plenty passionate.

His current group of players will attest to that.

And while they chase yet another conference championship, and just maybe another national title, they insist that they have a vested interest in seeing their coach win his 500th game.

"We want that for him also," said Withey, who transferred to Kansas from Arizona. "He's done a lot for us, so if we can get that win for him, that means a lot to us and him."