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March 19, 2015

Nemanja Djurisic

Mark Fox

Marcus Thornton


MODERATOR: We're about to start with student-athletes from University of Georgia. Who has the first question?

Q. Start with Marcus. Obviously you've been in the tournament, it's been a while for you, and the other guys I don't think have been there. You guys have won on the road, you've won 20 games, you've been in Tom tough environments. Do you think this team is prepared from the regular season to maybe take some steps in this tournament?
MARCUS THORNTON: I would certainly think so, with the success that we have had this year on the road. I just think this team is a very resilient bunch and used to be able to deal with environments that are a little bit different than our own so that will help us a little bit going forward.

Q. Marcus, you have been here before. What to you is it going to take to get over the hump, and kind of what do you remember from the last time you were here?
MARCUS THORNTON: Obviously the last time was quite a few years ago, so very different from then, but it's just going to take putting consistent play together for 40 minutes or 40-plus minutes, as we like to say, and a consistent defensive effort from all of us and us staying together the entire time.

Q. Question for both of the student-athletes that I would like you both to answer. What do you know about the Spartans and what have you heard about their propensity in the month of March to exceed any expectations, and really go on runs and is that something you think about or have heard about?
NEMANJA DJURISIC: Well, we know they're a great team, they're very well coached and they have tradition behind them and a lot of appearances in the tournament, and it's -- it comes with experience. But we're also a determined team and we're ready for a challenge, and they're a great team. But we certainly have been through some tough times and this is another road game for us, which we are very used to. Michigan State's a great team but we're up for a challenge.

MARCUS THORNTON: Michigan State is obviously a great program with a great tradition of being successful not just throughout the season, but in March, we're aware of that and we're aware of how great a coach Coach Izzo is, so it will be a great challenge for us and we're definitely looking forward to the opportunity.

Q. Marcus, you said 40 minutes plus. What do you mean by that? Is that a team slogan?
MARCUS THORNTON: 40 minutes plus is just a reference to a game, if it happens to go to overtime or something like that, so 40 plus minutes is what we like to refer to that as.

Q. For both of you, could you just break down the match-up Branden Dawson and with Michigan State's centers Schilling and Costello, what do you see from those guys, how do you see the match-ups playing out there?
NEMANJA DJURISIC: They're great down low in the post, they have great players, they're very tough, athletic. Certainly going to be a good match-up for us. But we have the size and we have the ability to guard them well and I think Marcus and myself and the rest of the big guys on our team are ready for the challenge.

MARCUS THORNTON: Yeah, I agree. The word that I think of when I see them is tough, they have a very tough bunch down there. It will be quite a match-up for us. Obviously I think they're very good players and size-wise we'll match-up pretty well. So it will be a good match-up.

Q. I'll follow up on that. Marcus, do you anticipate mostly being matched up with Dawson and do you compare yourself as a player to him in any way?
MARCUS THORNTON: You know, me and Neme and the other big guys, we'll be matched up on different guys depending on whoever gets down the court first. We're pretty interchangeable in that regard. I think Dawson's a player that's not too unlike myself, obviously a very good player and has been a consistent contributor for, I guess, four years there. So I'm looking forward to the match-up.

Q. Neme, can you just talk about what Marcus means to this team? Obviously I know you've become close friends off the court, too. What he means to the team both on and off the court?
NEMANJA DJURISIC: Well, since Marcus has been healthy, it's been a difference-maker on this team. For the past four years he's brings an incredible intensity and leadership to this team, something this team really needed. And just his presence in the paint, his ability to lead the team, his ability to play hard and tough throughout the season is really made a difference, the best two seasons, especially in the SEC. Definitely it's been an honor to play with him. Made my life easier because he brings a lot of attention to him. So just an incredible teammate for the past four years.

Q. After four years in Athens and stuff, have the fans back in Montenegro figured out the difference between Georgia the state and Georgia the country?
NEMANJA DJURISIC: I hope so, I hope so. They've been following up, especially lately with you our success, they follow more with college basketball and Georgia in general and I think they're aware of the difference at this moment especially now that we made the tournament.

Q. Marcus, I think according to what I saw, 2002 was the last Georgia victory in the NCAA Tournament. Does that weigh on you guys at all? You're playing a team that's been 18 years in a row making the field and this team struggled to make the field and hasn't won. Does that weigh on you guys?
MARCUS THORNTON: I wouldn't say that necessarily weighs on us, but this is a team that has always had the goal of winning NCAA Tournament games, we believe that we have a team that is capable of doing that so obviously that's a goal of ours and something we want to accomplish. We know that Michigan State definitely has a ton of experience, as you said, with 18 consecutive years in the field so we have a ton of respect for that and obviously that's going to be a great challenge for us but that's something we're looking forward to.

Q. Marcus, Kenny's health, he's had a lot of issues this year, but how much of an adjustment has it been to have to play without him a couple games late in the season?
MARCUS THORNTON: The type of team that we have had and consistently made something about our team special is that we've been able to fight through adversity and be resilient whether it be injuries or other situations that we've had. It's been tough but it's helped us build our character as a team and hopefully we'll and he have Kenny available and we'll go from there.

MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. We'll start with Coach Fox.

COACH FOX: ,You know, the most watched event every year in the country is the Super Bowl but nothing captivates our country like the NCAA Tournament, and we're blessed to be here and excited to play a very good Michigan State team.

MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. When you drew Michigan State in this NCAA Tournament for the first round, what was your initial reaction?
COACH FOX: Well, my initial reaction was for my -- one of one of my operations coordinator's whose uncle is Coach Izzo, so my initial thought was about him and his mom because I knew it would be a very emotional game for them. But after that, great respect for Coach Izzo, not only for the success that he's had but he's so good are for the game of college basketball. Our game needs more people like him and I was stunned that they ended up at a 7 seed. They've got a great team and I thought they would be seeded a little better than that. So we know we have our hands full.

Q. This is the first time that you guys have made the tournament in four years, so what does that mean for you and your program?
COACH FOX: For us, I came to Georgia to rebuild our team and when you get hired someplace you talk about a vision and things that you plan to accomplish and that works for only so long and eventually you have to start accomplishing them. But now we've had multiple postseasons, multiple 20 win seasons, had a couple guys go out of school early, which kind of forced us to rebuild it again but I think it just shows that our program is healthy and hopefully we can play well.

Q. Can you give an update about Kenny Gaines at all? I know you expect him to play, how does he look this week, has he recovered from that foot injury?
COACH FOX: Well, he was not cleared to practice early in the week, we let him shoot some balls yesterday and move around a little bit. So we anticipate that he'll play. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he'll continue to get a little better each day but it's not an ideal situation but he's a tough kid and he'll do the best he can.

Q. You've talked a lot about progress and getting better in increments and that kind of stuff. Obviously Georgia has an NCAA legacy, this is it the 12th time they've been there, but getting beyond that first round, getting deep into the tournament's only happened a couple times. Is this team prepared to do that now and what's it take to get to that next stage and be able to win several in a row on this stage?
COACH FOX: Well, we're not concerned with winning several, we're concerned with winning the next one. Obviously in the tournament, there's no bad teams left and we've got a great opponent in Michigan State and it's going to take us playing well at both ends. I think the one thing this year that we've had to deal with is obviously the injury situation. It's kind of made us a tougher team, it's galvanized us defensively but it's prohibited our offensive progress. We enter the tournament with the belief that we can still get better and we can still improve because we think offensively hopefully we'll have some pieces together to keep playing like we originally thought we could play earlier this year.

Q. You kind of alluded to Matt's relationship as Tom's nephew. I know you talk with your local media about it. What's your relationship with Tom Izzo and how much have you picked Matt's brain this week?
COACH FOX: My relationship is Coach Izzo is one of great respect. Obviously having coached Matt and known Coach Izzo for, I don't know, a decade or so, I can't remember when we first met. I think I coached him when I was an assistant at Kansas State, I think they came to Manhattan and played years ago, now that I think about it. I have great respect for Coach Izzo. I told our local media earlier this week that if my son was ever fortunate to play for Coach Izzo, I would stand up and cheer. He's what's good about the game. We have a football coach at Georgia named Mark Richt that's who they would want him to play for. I think most college basketball coaches feel that way about Coach Izzo. Matt obviously has been a Michigan State fan most of his life but he bleeds red and black. I think -- I'm not worried about him. I did pick his brain some this week, I'm more worried about his mom and the rest of his family, but I think they've got wonderful family and it will be a neat story for them to tell in years to come.

Q. All year so much is made of Kentucky and your league. What was it like existing in a league like that where it was sort of everybody else behind them and they were everything?
COACH FOX: I think as I look back at it, Kentucky has a great team. I mean, they have one of the best teams in the history of college basketball. You know, no one in our league can beat them. But they beat everybody else like a bass drum, too. We gave them two really good games, didn't win either one of them. I think for us it was about when you play Kentucky, you've got to give the best effort you can to have a chance to win, and then you've got to close it out and our team failed to do that. But I think Kentucky's a great representative of our league. They're very, very good and it's going to take a really hot shooting team and a very complete effort to beat them.

Q. Mark, I know on social media you guys had kind of like a dogs are dancing campaign. What was your thoughts on that in terms of embracing this moment?
COACH FOX: That really was something I thought of and it took about five minutes to do, and our managers helped get that done. But I think it's a way to build our program, I think it's a way to grow the interest in Georgia basketball, to enjoy this moment. This is a tournament kids grow up dreaming to play in and you should enjoy the experience, you should embrace the challenge in front of you, so we've tried to do that.

Q. You were asked about having -- I guess picking your brain about Izzo. I guess I read in the Jets column that Brian Gregory talked to Tom Izzo about playing Georgia. Are you worried at all there's anything he can gain from that conversation?
COACH FOX: I don't know, they've had lot of success over there in post-season play so I'm sure Coach Izzo knows how to prepare his team. I'm not sure Tech has had the same success but they've had success versus our team the last couple years, if they can get something, we're all trying to get any advantage we can get.

Q. Mark, how much, with the tournament experience you have, how much do you think a factor is tournament experience; the idea you've got one program that's used to going to the tournament versus another, where people say this was the goal to just get here?
COACH FOX: I think tournament experience is important but our goal wasn't just to get here, you know. But the experience is certainly important. Hopefully our team will have the poise to deal with the emotions of the event. It's a bigger event than they're used to, and our poise and ability to deal with that's going to be important and those teams that have experience, you know, that's probably a slight advantage.

Q. Marcus Thornton obviously has been through a lot with injuries and to get back to this point. Can you just talk about kind of what it means for him to get back here and what he's meant for the team both on and off the court?
COACH FOX: The one thing that you don't wish on anyone is injury, and he's had to deal with far more than his share. I think he played the first three years in pain and it certainly rocked his confidence not only in his game but in his body. One of the things that was really important to me personally was to see Marcus have a great year and really leave his mark on our team. Last year he won our leadership award because he just refused to let our team fail, and this year he's been a tremendous senior and I think obviously comes into the tournament playing the best basketball of his career and hopefully he'll leave a great legacy.

Q. Coach, Sunday night Kenny Gaines said there was a 4,000 percent chance that he would play in this game Friday. Just now he said it's probably 50/50 and he said he had a meeting with you and the doctors and basically said that you've got to look at your physical well being. What changed between, was that just youthful enthusiasm versus facts?
COACH FOX: Well, he obviously was very excited Sunday and the moment probably got the best of him. You know, he's doing everything he can. We got to the hotel, I don't know, 10:00 or something like night, he had treatment last night, he had it this morning before breakfast. Our trainers have done a great job trying to get him back. I anticipate that we'll be able to use him, but it's just part of the game and we have to deal with it.

Q. What about Juwan Parker, what's his availability?
COACH FOX: Juwan Parker will be dressed for the game but in all likelihood it would be an emergency use only. He's had obviously another setback and he's been through a lot.

Q. Mark, just wonder what kind of pace would you like this game to be at tomorrow?
COACH FOX: Well, we want to play as fast as we can play well. Doesn't mean that we want a track meet, but we certainly don't want a real slow game, either. I think for us it's been finding a balance with our team and playing a speed in which we're comfortable. Some nights that's a little quicker than other nights but I think we've got to find that comfort level but we want to play as fast as we can play well.

Q. Anything you can draw on being an assistant going up against Michigan State when you were at Nevada?
COACH FOX: The Nevada game was 11 years ago, I think, 10 years ago, 11 years ago. I didn't go back and look at that game. I did scout the game but the entire landscape of college basketball's changed since then, so we're not looking back much on that contest
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