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Pittsburg State v Kansas

Assistant coach Norm Roberts of the Kansas Jayhawks instructs Joseph Yesufu #1 during the second half against the Pittsburg State Gorillas at Allen Fieldhouse on November 3, 2022, in Lawrence, Kansas. | Source: Ed Zurga / Getty

UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. ET, March 16

Originally published on March 9

March Madness is in full effect as the University of Kansas Jayhawks prepare to defend their national title when the NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday afternoon.

Contrary to expectations, men’s head basketball coach Bill Self will miss his fourth consecutive game while he recovers from an unspecified “illness.” In his stead, Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts will guide the top-seeded team against the much lower-seed Howard University when they square off in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Kansas’ Bill Self will miss today’s NCAA Tournament game versus Howard but continues to progress well from a recent health issue, per release,” college basketball insider Jon Rothstein tweeted late Thursday morning. “Assistant Norm Roberts will serve as acting head coach today.”

Roberts previously worked as the acting head coach when he led Kansas to wins against West Virginia University and Iowa State University in the Big 12 Conference tournament last week. However, Roberts saw his Kansas team get routed in the championship game against the University of Texas on Saturday.

Kansas has provided limited information about the health status of Self and why he won’t be on the sidelines.

“Kansas Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Self will miss today’s Big 12 Tournament game as he recovers from an illness,” the university told CBS Sports in a statement last week. “Assistant Coach Norm Roberts will serve as the acting head coach. Self is doing well and receiving great care at the University of Kansas Health System.”

Roberts’ promotion to acting head coach seemingly makes him the first Black person to lead the University of Kansas men’s basketball team on an interim basis in the program’s 125-year history — again. He previously enjoyed that same status earlier this season when Self was suspended for four games after an FBI probe determined the head coach committed a series of various violations. During those four games back in November, Roberts led the Jayhawks to a perfect record.

Omaha v Kansas

Interim head coach Norm Roberts of the Kansas Jayhawks directs his team against the Omaha Mavericks in the second half of the game at Allen Fieldhouse on November 7, 2022, in Lawrence, Kansas. | Source: Ed Zurga / Getty

Who is Norm Roberts?

Roberts, 57, has a wealth of basketball coaching experience to draw upon as he embarks on his new role. But it shouldn’t be all that new, as Roberts has been by Self’s side as an assistant coach for many seasons, including two separate stints at Kansas.

The New York City native has been an assistant coach on Self’s staff since 1997, when Self was hired as the head coach at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When Self was later hired to be the head coach at the University of Tulsa, Roberts became an assistant coach there, too. When the University of Illinois hired Self in 2000, Roberts was also included in the apparent package deal. And when Kansas came calling Self three years later, Roberts signed on again.

But in 2004, after proving himself as a trusty and savvy assistant for one of the consistently top programs in the country, Roberts was hired by St. John’s University to be the head coach of the Red Storm in his hometown.

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 14 St. John's at Notre Dame

St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts and the bench react to a three-pointer during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center in Notre Dame, Indiana, on February 14, 2010. | Source: Icon Sports Wire / Getty

In the five seasons that Roberts coached at St. John’s, however, just one of his teams reached the postseason as he struggled to revive the storied basketball program. Roberts’ tenure at St. John’s came to an end in 2010 after the lone team he led to a postseason tournament barely lost 73-71 to the University of Memphis in the first round of the NIT.

Roberts was quickly hired by the University of Florida as an assistant coach in 2011 when the Gators advanced all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

But the following season, Roberts was back by Self’s side as an assistant coach at Kansas, where he’s been ever since. Now, poised to lead a highly talented team to a potentially deep run in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, depending on how quickly Self recovers.

Pittsburg State v Kansas

Assistant coach Norm Roberts of the Kansas Jayhawks listens to head coach Bill Self during post-game interviews after their 94-63 win over against the Pittsburg State Gorillas at Allen Fieldhouse on November 3, 2022, in Lawrence, Kansas. | Source: Ed Zurga / Getty

What happened to Bill Self?

Unverified reports across social media on Thursday claimed that Self, 60, suffered a heart attack. But a sports journalist with KSN News, an NBC affiliate in Wichita, reported that it was not clear if Self had a heart attack. Instead, Zack Martin reported that Self “suffered a vascular event” on Wednesday. Martin said Self was “recovering.”

Self has been the head basketball coach at the University of Kansas for the past 20 years, winning national coach of the year honors on multiple occasions while leading his teams to 16-straight regular season conference championship titles, including this current season. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.


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