Bill Self watches KU Jayhawks’ rappelling adventure in downtown Lawrence

By Gary Bedore

Per doctor’s orders, Bill Self watched from ground level as Kansas men’s basketball staff members Kurtis Townsend and Jeremy Case, as well as former Jayhawks guard Jeff Hawkins, rappelled down the seven-story 888 Lofts building Saturday morning in downtown Lawrence.

“I wasn’t scared but I would have been nervous. I’d have been plenty nervous going into it,” Self, KU’s 16th-year head coach, said after watching the three Jayhawks successfully descend the south side of the luxury apartments as part of an “Over the Edge” fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club.

Self had hernia surgery recently and was unable to take part first-hand.

“I tried to paddleboard not too long ago. It was easy for everybody else. I kept falling off,” he said. “If I couldn’t do that, I don’t know if I’d have been able to keep my footing near enough to do this.”

KU assistant coach Townsend was the first Jayhawk to attempt the rappelling just after 11 a.m. on a sun-baked Saturday. Townsend crouched on the rooftop, facing north, unwilling to step back to begin rappelling for what seemed like a full minute.

“I was scared. She (technician) said, ‘Just jump back to the other building.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’’’ Townsend said of his exchange with an “Over the Edge” rappelling expert, encouraging him to take the first step back. “I didn’t trust. I didn’t know the girl. I didn’t know if my wife hired her or upped my insurance last night. She kept saying, ‘Put your feet over the edge and jump back.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Townsend said the only reason he finally stepped back and used rope to both walk — and at times slide — down the building was: “My legs started wobbling. I couldn’t hold myself up like that. I said, ‘I better go before my legs give out or cramp.”

Townsend was relieved to be finished with the much-anticipated rappelling adventure.

“Let’s just say I tossed and turned in my sleep more than I did before the Duke game (in NCAA Elite Eight last year),” Townsend said.

KU video coordinator Case followed Townsend, next in line to rappel. He’d planned on “racing” Hawkins, but the two were not allowed to rappel at the same time for safety reasons. Case’s seven-story rappelling experience went without a hitch, except for his stopping halfway down the building for what appeared to be an attempt to regain his footing.

Former KU guard Hawkins was last Jayhawk to participate. His body careened to the left just after he took his first step off the roof.

“He lost his balance early,” Self said of Hawkins, who played at KU from 2003-06. Case played from 2004-08.

“It kind of worried me a little bit,” Self said. “Maybe ‘Hawk’ has had to scale out of a second-floor building before or something like that. He knew he could scale right down to the next floor and get back on track. I hope he was never sneaking out of a hotel room after curfew or something back when I coached him.”

Hawkins’ young son, Maverick, shared the public address microphone with KU radio play-by-play announcer Brian Hanni during his dad’s descent and bellowed, “Stop being a scaredy cat” as Jeff walked/slid gingerly down the building.

At one point, Hawkins rested his right foot on an apartment balcony as he descended.

“I’m with coach Self,” Townsend cracked. “I thought ‘Hawk’ was trying to get in that guy’s apartment building. We used to call him ‘The Hamburglar’ when he played for us.”

Each participant Saturday was in charge of raising $1,000 from friends to support their rappelling efforts for the Boys and Girls Club. Self decided to raise $10,000 and was involved in a good-natured competition with Anna Stubblefield, the Lawrence school district’s deputy superintendent, whose goal was $10,001.

“I met her. I said, ‘That’s one contest I hope I lose.’ I hope they did raise a lot of money. It’s such a good cause,” Self said.

Self on this year’s KU team

Self on Saturday also talked about his 2018-19 Jayhawks team after the first week of the 2018-19 school year.

“I’ve not been with them much because of this (minor hernia repair) situation,” Self said. “I was with them Thursday. I thought they looked good. Our conditioning is awful, which you’d anticipate it’d be. I’ve said it hundreds of times already and I’ll say it some more: We’ve got a lot of really nice players. Unless we have a couple guys kind of emerge as knockdown shooters, nice players can be guarded pretty easily. We’ve got to find some guys who can consistently stretch it.”

Self said this year’s Boot Camp conditioning program will start Sept. 17. It will conclude Sept. 26-27, when a group of Marines bring “The Program” to KU. The Marines will run the Jayhawks through rigorous drills for two days leading up to the Sept. 28 Late Night in the Phog. The Marines last worked with KU basketball players in September 2014 when then-freshman Devonté Graham was named “The Program” MVP.

Townsend lauds leaders

KU assistant Townsend was asked if any Jayhawks stood out as leaders a week into the semester.

“Doke (Udoka Azubuike) is doing a good job and Lagerald (Vick) has become more vocal,” Townsend said. “The Lawson brothers (Dedric, K.J.) have both been through it. They’re pretty talkative. We don’t have a real leader yet. It’ll come.”

More from this section