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November 12, 2014

Craig Neal

TIM SIMMONS:テつ How are things going for the Lobos?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Yeah, it's going pretty good.テつ We're in a situation where we haven't had any private scrimmages.テつ We play exhibition games.テつ We're one of the few places that I think can boast about their fan base a lot, like most of the teams in this field, but we had 26,000 people at two exhibition games, which says a lot about our community and about our program.
You know, we're in kind of a state of change with nine new players.テつ Five of them will play this year, two of them will sit out and play next year, and then we have two local walk‑ons.テつ It's been an interesting few weeks, and really excited to get it going.テつ We start on Friday, and then we'll play Friday and Sunday and then we'll head to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
TIM SIMMONS:テつ Any players that have stood out for you?テつ Obviously you've got your son playing on the team, you've got Hugh Greenwood back from last year's team that won the Mountain West tournament, but highlight some of the top players on your team.
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I think you've got to start with Hugh.テつ He's a rare kid from Australia that's been a winner.テつ He's been in our backcourt for three years, and might be one of the only players that can say he's 9‑0 in the Mountain West tournament.テつ Really good player, spent a lot of time this summer with the Australian national team, and then of course my son is playing for me coming back after a pretty good freshman year after a health scare last year with an appendectomy and getting back healthy, and he's worked real hard this summer, and hopefully he'll have a good year, and then Deshawn Delaney, who's a senior that has had a really good late part of the year last year.テつ We're going to start Devon Williams at the 4 spot, which is the kid that we red‑shirted, and he's been in our program for three years.テつ He's been a pleasant surprise with his play early.テつ And then Obij Aget who's a 7'1" kid who played pretty good minutes for us last year when Alex Kirk was out for three games or two games and started, and we won those games on the road.
We've got a lot of new guys, a lot of opportunities for guys to step up and play well, a lot of opportunity for new guys.テつ I like our freshmen in Xavier Adams and Sam Logwood and Joe Furstinger, and then we have a highly regarded junior college kid that's coming back from knee surgery that hasn't done much yet in practice but hopefully we'll get a lot out of him in Jordan Goodman.
I like my team, but we've got a lot of question marks to answer.
TIM SIMMONS:テつ You'll be opening up against Boston College and then obviously got West Virginia or George Mason the second round.テつ Any thoughts on those teams?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I think the field is tremendous.テつ I think any time you get to play in an event like this and be on ESPN and get around the coaches that we get to compete against and the teams we get to compete against, I know Boston College had a change with Jim and been a big fan of his for a long time.テつ I've known him even back to his Michigan State days and then followed him and he was in the same league with us when he was at head coach at TCU.テつ His teams will play hard.テつ They'll be very disciplined, and he does a good job.テつ I know it's a change for them, so they're kind of going through the same thing.
Of course I've known Coach Huggins for several years.テつ Cullen is playing for me now, and it just feels like yesterday that we were Bobby Huggins' house around Christmas time when I was a scout for Toronto and had my family in his house and my boys were younger but now they're in college.テつ Known him for a long time, have great respect for him, consider him a dear friend.テつ And then Coach Schuett (phonetic) was at my alma mater at Georgia Tech and we were forced to play them in St.Thomas and got lucky and won on a last‑second shot.テつ He's always done a great job.テつ He's a good coach, good teams, very competitive teams, so it's going to be a tough road for us.

Q.テつ Do you like the format, two games, off a day, and then play the placement championship game on Sunday?テつ Do you like the format of the tournament?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Yeah, I do.テつ I think it's just tough any way you go.テつ You've got to play three games in a short period of time, but I think it gives the two teams‑‑ gives all the teams a little bit of break, so I do like the format.テつ I know it's going to be one of those things where you have to deal with keeping your guys focused because Puerto Rico is beautiful.テつ I was fortunate to be down there and play in the Capalaba Championship and we won the gold medal down there, and I've got some friends in Puerto Rico, and it's a great place.
We want our guys to enjoy it.テつ That's what this trip is about.テつ Have a great experience, a college experience.テつ I do like the format, though.

Q.テつ Could you name for us three coaches that you would resemble your coaching style after?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I think one of them is Coach Cremins who I played for at Georgia Tech and was at Charleston, and they're in the field this year.テつ He talked a lot about relationships with players and letting players play, and I've tried to do that and recruited that way.テつ I think the biggest thing is my father.テつ My father was a longtime high school coach for 30 years, and I learned a lot from him.テつ And then I think‑‑ I've been around a lot of coaches because I've played in a lot of different training camps in the pros and I learned a lot from Lenny Wilkens when I coached with him in Toronto just about how to handle yourself and how to be a player's coach, and with this day and age, it's a little bit different than back in the day with social media and what's going on.テつ Those are three guys that I've looked up to.テつ There's a lot of great coaches, Steve Alford helped me a lot.テつ I worked for him for a long time and grew up with him, and he taught me to be a better coach, to be a better father, to be a better man, and he's a great guy, and I learned a lot from him being with him.

Q.テつ How do you apply the word discipline to those players that you're coaching right now?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I just think we do it a certain way here.テつ We've had success for the last eight years, and we've won seven championships in six years here.テつ But I think as a program we do things differently here.テつ I don't know, we have curfew here, we have take their cell phones when they're at dinner so they're talking with each other and build chemistry.テつ We put them in a hotel the night before games, even home games, just to get them focused on what the plan is, and I think that's just a responsibility on our part mentoring them and making them young men that are responsible and disciplined. テつWe just do things differently here, and I'm sure a lot of places do things similar to us, but we kind of instill that discipline right from the get‑go, responsibility and kind of do the right thing all the time no matter what it is.テつ We've been able to do that on the floor and off the floor.

Q.テつ I'm doing a story for Basketball Times and I want to follow up on the phone comment about taking them away.テつ Is that sort of to build team chemistry and camaraderie, and that that been more difficult these last few years as Twitter and texting in general sort of has exploded among college‑aged kids?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I think you have to embrace it and deal with it, like I don't have a Twitter account and I don't have Facebook.テつ I'm kind of behind the times, but my staff monitors it.テつ I have an SID that monitors‑‑ you know, before when we first started here, we didn't allow them to have Twitter when it first started on the scene, and then now with I let them have it but we highly monitor it.テつ I think we've done a really good job with our team chemistry, and that's part of anybody's success in any of these teams that are going to play in this tournament.テつ It's always good to have a coach's son on the team that's a good teammate.テつ I mean, our guys especially, a lot of times off the floor playing paint ball, they've done some things, go‑kart racing.テつ They've done some things as a group, and it's probably the closest group we've had here as far as all 15 guys.テつ There's not very many cliques, they do everything together, and a lot of that is because some of them don't have rides and don't have cars so they rely on those guys for cars.テつ But we do take their phones, and what I mean by take their phones, if we're at a local restaurant here like Scallo's or Papadeaux, when we eat dinner as a group, we'll collect their phones so they're not sitting on Twitter or sitting on Facebook and they spend time talking to each other about what went on that day, what went on in practice, and I think it builds team chemistry.
Now, we do that at the hotel, too.テつ I don't want to say we're a little bit over the top, but I think they really have to get focused on the task at hand and know how important it is, so at 11:30 at the hotel, we take their computers, their Minis, their iPads, whatever they have that's electronic that they can get to the outside or get contact to the outside, and we usually take that from them so they can really get some good sleep or talk to their roommate about the game or get in their notebooks about the game, and it's paid off for us.テつ I think by us doing that, it's built chemistry on the floor and off the floor, and it also gets them focused on the task at hand because there is a lot of distractions now that there never was in the past with social media and all that stuff.

Q.テつ Last year you guys were so strong defensively.テつ What are the principles that you preach every year, especially obviously this year you're going to have to reinforce with so many new faces?
CRAIG NEAL:テつ Well, I think the biggest thing we've done, we've stayed the course on what our principles are, and our principles, you know, we don't like to get out‑‑ we don't pressure the ball.テつ We're not a pressure team.テつ We're not going to get out and pressure and deny you the ball.テつ We're going to play two feet above the three‑point line, and our philosophy is that you've got to guard your man for two dribbles and if you can do that, then you're going to have help.テつ We work a lot on help defense and keeping people out of the paint, and I think that's been successful.
Now, if you look at our stats over the years since we've been here, and we've basically played the same way for the whole eight years that I've been here that we've given up some pretty good three‑point percentages, but we want people‑‑ we're taking kind of the statistics and playing the numbers on we'd rather shoot them‑‑ they're not going to shoot that high of a percentage from three, and sometimes teams do, sometimes teams don't, and we play those averages.テつ We just want to keep them out of the paint.テつ We want to make them make hard twos, and then really run down the basketball, and we've been able to do that over the years.
TIM SIMMONS:テつ Coach, thank you very much.テつ We look forward to seeing you next week.テつ Safe travels, and good luck with your first two games of the regular season.

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