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March 18, 2015

Jacob Parker

Brad Underwood

Thomas Walkup


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Stephen F. Austin student-athletes. The floor is open for questions.

Q. Thomas, what did you take from last year that you can use for this year?
THOMAS WALKUP: Just being here is a completely different feel than any other game. That's something that you have to get used to. You have to be able to hold your composure when things get rough out there. I think that's something that you can't really be able to do without being here. So I think that's the biggest thing.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about what this means to the community. A lot of you guys are from big cities. But what it means to the city and what kind of reception you get when you get to this level.
THOMAS WALKUP: The Lumberjack fan base is incredible. We're not only representing them, but we're very close on a personal level with a ton of people, not just along with the school, that people that aren't involved with the school. They're in Nacogdoches. To be able to represent them, have them behind us with all the support they give us, is incredible.

Q. Jacob, I'm sure you've heard the whole 12 versus 5 debate. You were a 12 last year. Do you try to stay away from that talk considering y'all have the same seed, or does that cross your mind any?
JACOB PARKER: I think that doesn't really have too much effect on anything at this point in the year. Everybody that's in the tournament, everybody's record is 0-0, a fresh start. Therefore, we're just going to go out and trying to continue on to the next round, take it one game at a time.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Stephen F. Austin head coach, Brad Underwood. Coach, have you make an opening statement, then we'll open the floor to questions.

COACH UNDERWOOD: We're extremely excited to be here. We know the task at hand being a 12 seed against a 5 seed, against a very good Utah team. Larry's done an unbelievable job of reestablishing the great program that Utah is. They're very worthy of being a top-25 opponent, which they were ranked all year. They're a team that finished one or two in their conference, and deservedly so. They're a very, very talented team.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open the floor to questions.

Q. When you win 90% of your games like your guys have the last couple years, how does that mentality help even when you get to this level?
COACH UNDERWOOD: A lot. A lot. You know, we try to carry a little confidence, a little swagger. We don't worry about winning a game. We're very involved in terms of the process that leads up to a game. We try to do that every day. We have a term: we want everyday guys. We're going to show up and work hard every single day. But it gives you a little confidence. We don't get rattled, up, down, whatever. I think that speaks highly of our leadership, the character of our kids. Obviously we talk about the process more than we do winning.

Q. Any big, noticeable differences in your team this year from the one you brought last year in terms of getting on the plane, the bus as far as being in the tournament?
COACH UNDERWOOD: No. I think last year's team was a very mature team. They were a group of guys, they weren't fascinated with much. We were a very stoic team in terms of emotion. This year's team's a little more giddy, so to speak, if that's a word. I think we're a team, you know, we have better depth. We play more guys. I think everybody is truly involved and feels a part of this. But I think the leadership that we have, that we get from Thomas Walkup, Trey Pinkney, Jacob Parker, Tanner Clayton, all of that has been a help in terms of letting our new guys know what to expect.

Q. I know you played three teams in the tournament field in November, had three losses. Does that factor into how you prepare? Is that motivation? Is that just an early-season result?
COACH UNDERWOOD: For us it was a huge learning experience. We played a Northern Iowa team, 24 hours of basketball. We knew going in exactly what we were getting. We knew they were a top-25 caliber team. Got a 9-point lead. We were still searching. We had five new pieces we were still trying to mix in. I didn't know quite the rotation, how these guys were going to act. We go to Xavier, it's a 4-point game at the last media. We didn't handle their crowd very well. Had to learn from that experience. Then you turn around and you get a Baylor team that is long, athletic, plays zone. That was another learning experience. To be quite honest, had we not gotten through that experience, we wouldn't have won at Memphis. With that game tied with 8 minutes to go, 14,000 people, all that helped create a bond that our team was in need of. We were unsure early. But I think we've really grown close as a unit.

Q. Obviously Utah is much taller. How do you combat that?
COACH UNDERWOOD: They got to guard us, too. We've seen that almost every single night we go out. We've got big teams in our league. That's the reason we play some of the non-league games. I think we try to run an offense and guard in such a way that maximizes our best abilities to offset that. We've got very skilled players that pass, catch, dribble and shoot. Our five man was the leading three-point shooter in the Southland Conference this year. There's some advantages, there's some disadvantages. But I like the group we have because we're going to go out and compete and play very, very hard no matter big, small, little. Doesn't matter.

Q. It's been five years, but I'm curious about your memories of being involved in that great Kansas State-Butler game?
COACH UNDERWOOD: Boy, what a bad memory. I got to go back before that game to the Xavier game the night before because that was a very, very late game, which we got very little sleep. I think it was 1:30, 2:00 before we actually got our kids to bed that night just because of the overtimes and the media obligations. Then we had a very early morning obligation with the media, shootaround. Nobody knew then how good Gordon Hayward was going to be. I still cringe every time I think of the offensive rebound he got. We made a big run, forced an air ball. Our guy didn't block out. He made an offensive putback that made it a 4-point game. We lost to a great team. They proved that that year and the next year as well. But it was a great experience. It was a wonderful run. I was part of a very, very special game with Xavier. We beat good opponents in the first round in North Texas, then the next round with BYU.

Q. Is there a fine line between maybe that 4-13 matchup and 5-12 in terms of the competitiveness and how those outcomes have been, especially the last few years?
COACH UNDERWOOD: I don't know, that's probably a better question for you guys. You know, the 5-12 has become kind of a phenomenon. As soon as Selection Sunday happens, they talk about the number one seeds, then they immediately go to the 5-12 game. It's been great for us. The publicity has been wonderful, has been fabulous. Rightfully so, because there have been upsets. The difference between that and the 4-13, it's hard to explain. I guess I haven't studied it enough. I don't look at it as a 5-12. I look at it as Utah's our next opponent. Everybody else then can make a big deal out of that matchup. But, yeah, it's been interesting over the course of time. To me, Utah's the next opponent, and that's the one we've got to go try to figure out a way to win.

Q. You mentioned some of the opponents you played this season. Do any of them remind you of Utah?
COACH UNDERWOOD: Both Northern Iowa and Xavier have similarities. Northern Iowa is a big team, have a dominant player in Seth Tuttle. Xavier is extremely big in terms of having great size on the wings. They've got a big in the middle. It's not the first time we faced that. Baylor was a different big. Baylor had great length. But that's why we play those games. We need to experience that. It's not the first time when we get to post-season play that we've seen that kind of size. Both of those teams are very, very similar, minus Delon Wright.

Q. Besides having a great name, Thomas Walkup, can you talk about his game. With Jacob being the conference player the year before...
COACH UNDERWOOD: I'll start with Jacob. Last year's reigning conference MVP. Literally it was the focus of every scouting report of everybody we played early. His unselfishness, his leadership, his high basketball IQ, he never forced anything. If you look statistically, other than his rebounding and his minutes, every number is up from last year. But his play has allowed Thomas Walkup, and I'm going to back up with Thomas, because last year he was our tournament MVP, double-double against VCU, double-double against UCLA. Thomas Walkup is everything that college basketball, college athletes should be about. There is not a harder-working player in America than Thomas Walkup. I'll put him against anybody in terms of what he does. Every single day, his individual times, his commitment to his game is second to none. In 28 years, I've never seen anything like it. Jacob's mentality has allowed Thomas to really grow into becoming a very good player. They're best friends. They have a great relationship. They challenge each other every day. I couldn't be happier because it truly is a great story for Thomas, going through what he went through in high school with the knee injury, not being recruited, to now becoming a conference MVP and a very, very good college basketball player. Thomas is a guy that's a matchup nightmare. In the VCU game last year, if any of you saw that game, he brought the ball up the court most of the game. He's our starting power forward, our leading rebounder, he's our tough guy. He has improved in every aspect of his game. Both of those guys are terrific young men. They work extremely, extremely hard at their games and being good. I couldn't be happier to have those guys on my side. It makes my job fun every day.

Q. I don't know anything about their recruiting background, how much they were prized coming out of high school. Those kinds of kids, the kids you need to find for your program there, not the five-star guys, but guys you can turn into five-star guys, is that the secret for you, to try to find these hidden gems a little bit?
COACH UNDERWOOD: It's amazing what happens when you get high-character kids who are good players, develop and want to be good, develop a passion. And both of those young men have a great, great passion. Jacob Parker, I don't know if he's an NBA guy. He'll play overseas for a long, long time. Thomas will do the same when his career's over. It makes me happy when I can say that Jacob Parker is the winningest player in our school's history. We do anything next year, Thomas is going to pass him. To me, that's what it's about. They set a very definitive and very defined goal for themselves and they work very hard to do that. But for us to grow, we're not going to go compete with great size. So I don't want to go out and get guys that may look good in an airport, may look good in a pregame warmup, when I can get a Thomas Walkup, a Jacob Parker, Ty Charles, those type of kids who dribble, pass, shoot, very good basketball players, very high IQ, and most importantly tremendous character kids. We can go out and win basketball games with those type of kids.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.

COACH UNDERWOOD: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
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