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March 25, 2015
MODERATOR: Joined by student-athletes from Notre Dame Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant. If you have a question for Pat or Jerian.
Q. I would like to ask each of you to take a crack at this. You know, you played a series of really big ACC games, a memorable three-game series with Duke. You look up and you've got a Missouri Valley team that's been to the Final Four, was a No. 1 seed last year, is a 7 now but with a great record. When you just look at Wichita State, how do you see it relative to its own seeding as well as, let's say, some of the Dukes and the great teams you played this year, Virginia and so on?
JERIAN GRANT: Well, they have a history of playing well in the tournament, so we know we're going to get a good game against a great team. They won their regular season so they're champions as well so we just know we've got to be ready because it's a great team.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I think for us it doesn't really matter who's in front of us in this tournament, everyone's here for a reason. I mean, I don't even really look at the conference, obviously I think we have a great conference but I think they have a fabulous team and I think when we go out and play versus them they'll be just as ready as any ACC team that we played, and it's in the Sweet 16, everyone's fighting for their lives and anything can happen, so we've got to be ready to approach this just like we do when we approach any ACC team in any ACC tournament.
Q. For both of you guys, what makes this a problematic match-up for you guys? And why is Wichita State here other than of course beating Kansas but the specifics as to what got them to this point?
JERIAN GRANT: Well, I feel like they played like teams we've seen before, they play that kind of pack-line defense that Virginia plays, whenever you have a team that plays defense like that, you know you're going to be in every game. They have some scorers on the outside, too, so just to put that defense they have with the scoring they have, I think that's definitely a tough match-up.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, they're a fabulous team. They beat a lot of teams obviously but the way they play, the style of play that they have, the toughness that they have, that's something they pride themselves on so that's as tough as any team that we've played. You look at the way Butler played, and it's a similar toughness and they have just as many if not more athletes and they're here for a reason. So we've got to take this, it's the most important game on our schedule, it's probably the most important game in Jerian's and myself's lives thus far.
Q. What was this week like for you guys? I know Mike was gone for part of the time in Florida. Just from an emotional standpoint and also a preparation standpoint, how the team handled it?
JERIAN GRANT: Well, obviously I think it was exciting. None of these guys have been here before, none of us have been here before so it was definitely exciting just to know that we're one of the 16 teams that's left and then we all watched the Wichita State versus Kansas game and we all did our own preparations and then came together as a team and really dissected the way they play.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: It was very exciting. I think one of the most, I don't know how I would describe it, the most powerful parts was the fact that we were able to at least give Coach something back, no matter the fact that it couldn't make up for what he lost but we were able to give him something that so many people around the country have made this stigma that he can't do, for not getting into March or not getting as far in March as our regular seasons have shown. For us to be the first group to give it to him and really -- especially on that tough of a day, tough of a week, shall we say, means a lot to Jerian and myself and the whole rest of the team.
Q. How would you describe the match-up that you're going to have against VanVleet? And I mean, will you be guarding him, do you expect to, and how would you just judge the difficulty of that match-up?
JERIAN GRANT: I expect probably our point guard Demetrius to start on him. Demetrius' full court pressure is great. He putting pressure on a lot of point guards, a lot of great point guards this year, and he's going to have to do it again tomorrow and I expect him to be ready.
Q. The last couple years, I don't know if you guys are real tournament types as viewers, but a couple years ago Wichita makes this Cinderella run, and last guys you guys weren't in it; they were. They played in one of the games of the tournament. Did you find yourselves watching them the last couple years as fans getting into what they were doing?
JERIAN GRANT: Yeah, I watch the tournament, I definitely do, and they've been in it the last few years, they made deep runs, they played against Kentucky last year, it was a great game. I have definetely watched the team. The team's different than they were last year, they lost some players and they play differently but still it's the same Wichita State team and we've dissected them this year, we've really gone over their sets and over their plays and stuff. It's a new team and we've learned the way they've played this year.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, definitely. I mean, as a college basketball player, as a college basketball junky, shall we say, you always watch the tournament, no matter if you're in or out of it. To see the things that they've done in March, a lot of people aspire to do that, and I think that's what everyone plays college basketball for. I think the best part about it is this year we have a chance to do some special things and we'll be playing the team that so many people have been watching in March for the last few years. So for us to get an opportunity to play versus them, and go out there and put our best foot forward farther is something that we won't take lightly.
Q. One of the words that gets tossed around when they talk about you is loyalty, and how much does that come into play when you have to make a decision to put off baseball to do something that you want to do that is important here?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: For me this university gave me a lot of opportunity, not just on the court, but off the court. My teammates, Jerian himself, a lot of people have made this experience for me one of if not the best experiences of my life. So when it came down to making a decision, there really wasn't a decision for me to make. I kind of knew the whole time in my heart I wanted to come back. I wanted to not give up on basketball, let alone on this team and this university before I thought it through. To be able to do that and to be able to have the year that we've had and to be able to put ourselves in the position to make an even deeper run in March kind of shows the exact reasons I came back, and shows that it paid off and I made the right decision.
Q. Pat, going back to the two sport thing, can you describe for us just the difference in atmosphere of being at this kind of arena, and in the NCAA Tournament and then pitching in a game, it's cold, there's hardly anyone there, and just in your heart of hearts, is there one sport that you like more than the other?
PAT CONNAUGHTON: So the beginning part, I mean, Jerian and myself know this better than anybody, the work that you put in when no one's watching often comes out when everyone's watching. So that's a little bit different in the case of two different sports but when you're on the mound and there's not many people there, it's a cold, rainy spring day in South Bend, Indiana, you can still find yourself in jams, you can still find yourself in competitive situations where you need to step up in order to put your team in position to win that game, and those games are just as important to practice and keep the pressure on, so when you get to a stage where there is people watching, even if it's a different sport, you've put yourself through some pressure situations and you've put yourself in a situation where -- the line I always like to use is winners win, no matter what it is, no matter how you affect the game, whether it's shooting, whether it's doing the little gritty things that no one likes to do, at the end of the day the most important thing is winning. If I had a sport that I liked more, I would probably be playing a single sport right now, so the way I look at it is I've been playing both of them my whole life, I don't want to burn a bridge before I see what's across that bridge, and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't give up on one before I saw it through.
Q. Jerian, I know a lot of people ask you about your dad and your uncle, but I was told that your mother is from Wichita. How much connection do you have to people back there and have you talked to her about playing the Shockers and I was wondering if you've ever even visited Wichita even?
JERIAN GRANT: I've been to Wichita a lot actually. My grandparents lived there, about five minutes down the street from campus, so I've definitely been there.
Q. Tell me about some of the visits when you were a kid, maybe the last time you were there, I know they live on Bluff, right?
JERIAN GRANT: Yeah, they do. I visited last year around this time, probably the last time I was there, just visiting some family. I have been around campus because my grandma, she works on campus, so just visiting there is pretty fun, that's pretty cool, that's where my mom's from, and we're playing against the team.
Q. Jerian, have you guys found the gear that you've played in in the tournament, the ACC tournament, have you found it again since? Have you been at that level yet?
JERIAN GRANT: No, no, we haven't. Defensively I think we have, obviously we're here for a reason. We got stops when we needed to against two great teams. I think that's the great thing about it, we can win in different ways. We don't need to score 80 points to win. We're really playing great defense right now and I think we'll find that level. We need to, to beat a Wichita State team that is really good defensively. We are going to have to score some points, but just to know that we can rely on our defense will go a long way.
Q. What does she do at Wichita State, your grandmother, what does she do?
JERIAN GRANT: I'm not sure exactly what she does but I know she's on campus a lot.
Q. Both of you, kind of describe Wichita State's defense. They had a lot of success kind of being physical especially on the perimeter, what challenges do they present?
JERIAN GRANT: I think they play a little bit like Butler's defense, it's kind of packed in, when you drive, they're really quick. We played against a team like that in Virginia, I feel like. We'll definitely go over some film with that, it's really like playing both of those teams.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: They're a great defensive team. I think when you play in a league such as the ACC you have the chance to go up against great defensive teams night in and night out, and I think obviously when you look at the regular season we lost a few of those games where teams were able to defend us, so we know what we need to do, we know what we need to improve on, we know that Wichita State's going to bring a top tier defense and we need to bring the same on the defensive end, let alone the offensive end.
Q. For both of you. Jerian, you said at some point earlier this year you said that it wasn't a joint decision for both of you to come back, but it's something you guys talked about. I was wondering how did those conversations go, and did you have to steal all of his baseballs and gloves?
JERIAN GRANT: No, I didn't have to do any of that, it was more just like we're not done here at Notre Dame. We've done some good things but we really haven't made history, we really haven't left our legacy, left our mark. That is something that both of us really wanted to do. We're not done yet, but I think we've really started to do that.
PAT CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I mean, this is my guy. We came in together, we played together, we have gone through a lot, and we have similar interests, and those interests include winning, and I think with the way that we've gone at things since freshman year, we weren't satisfied on the way last season ended, obviously myself being a captain last year and having to, you know, go through a stretch where I wasn't a good enough leader to put our team in those situations, and then to see the way Jerian felt about not being there to be able to prevent it as well, it made us that much closer in the sense that it wasn't a joint decision but at the same time there was always that half kidding, half serious, well, if you're not coming back, I'm not coming back. Let's do this together. Let's make sure that we write our own history in Notre Dame basketball as a collective one.
MODERATOR: We would like to thank Jerian and Pat for joining us in the main interview room. And we are joined now by Notre Dame head coach, Mike Brey.
COACH BREY: We're flat-out thrilled to be here in Cleveland. It was an easier ride than Pittsburgh, coming across, and we're hanging out on a different lake for a couple days but that's South Bend weather out there today, so I feel right at home. I think we have great momentum. When you look, not only at Pittsburgh, but our ACC tournament games, I just like how we've played and our toughness and I think our defense has been the key in all five of our post-season games to get us to this position. It will be truly challenged tomorrow against an excellent offensive group of Wichita State.
Q. You've talked a lot over the years about leaders you've had in your program. Where does Pat stack up and how has imbued his personality on this team?
COACH BREY: You know, I've not had anyone better. He's one of the all-timers, maybe the best I've ever had, Brian. I really felt certainly we were going to get Jerian back and you felt you could have a year to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but I felt just as strongly, maybe more strongly, that it would be Connaughton's team and voice. He has led just fabulously from June on. It's his voice, it's his demeanor, it's his tone. I really think that Jackson and Auguste were ready to be key guys because of how Pat led and talked to them. Same thing with Bonzie Colson. Same thing with Vasturia, becoming even more confident.
Q. Mike, first condolences on your mom. Can you take us through what this week has been like? I know you went down to Florida right after the game on Saturday, what was that like with your family? And how did that also, too, just from a professional standpoint affect preparation?
COACH BREY: You know, it was great. I was able to get our university playing in Pittsburgh Sunday morning and get me down to Sanford airport. My brother and sister and my parents all live within about a 10 minute radius down there and got to spend the day watching hoops with my dad, brother and sister and we sat there and scouted Wichita State, Kansas. I turned to my brother and said you've got Kansas. My sister, my dad, you've got Wichita State, give me the notes afterwards. But it was great to be with them. It was more of a tone of family together, stories about my mom, celebrating her life. Got back about 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. We weren't going to do much physically after playing until about 1:00 in the morning on Sunday morning anyways, it was a day to be off. It was a day for our guys to catch up academically because now we've missed two weeks in a row of three days of school and I was back for all our preparation on Monday. So didn't affect that. I've got a great staff, and as I've said earlier, I've got great leaders, captains that can kind of run stuff when I'm not around.
Q. Mike, first of all, did you have the cigar that you anticipated having?
COACH BREY: I did. My dad and I smoked the cigar. The great thing about getting to Orlando is 80 degrees. So my brother has a pool, we sat around during the Maryland game, my dad and I smoked a cigar out there. So had that, kicked back a little bit. Thoroughly exhausted by the time I got back on the plane to come home, but got a good night's sleep Sunday night and was ready to roll.
Q. You went against Gregg Marshall in 2007 when he was at Winthrop. Is there a thread that runs through the team you faced then and the one that you face now?
COACH BREY: I think toughness, I thought they were really a mentally and physically tough group then, good in their half-court man defense which they are now. He's really a bright coach. I've known him for a long, long time, ever since he was an assistant. You know, thoroughly impressed with what he's built at Winthrop and certainly the run they're on at Wichita.
Q. I was just curious, there's a lot of talk about Pat and baseball. Was there any doubt for you at any point what he was going to do, did you sweat it out at all?
COACH BREY: No, the great thing is Jerian maybe thought about it in December, after he left us for a day. It was, he's coming back. His dad, mom, coaches, get your butt back there, graduate, finish. And Pat's was the same way. The thing about Pat is, everyone told him leading up to the baseball draft, do not say you're coming back to play basketball, it will hurt your draft status. And his dad and him say we're not going to BS about that, we're coming back, we're going to finish this thing, Pat loves to play basketball and he's intrigued about what the NBA thinks about him. So there was never any wavering. I felt all along we would get those two guys back. I really wasn't worried. And they communicated a lot while they were away about we're going to do this thing right when we get back, and my God, have they put on a clinic in that department.
Q. Here you are, a 3-seeded ACC tournament champ playing a 7-seed from the Valley, which doesn't begin to cover what Wichita's done with these players in the last few years. I don't think Marshall could tell his players they were underdogs if he wanted to. What about you, your perspective. Do you feel a little bit like an underdog?
COACH BREY: I do. I talked to our team, I said I think there's so much out there about the Kentucky/Wichita State rematch. So our guys have seen that and certainly their NCAA Tournament success with this nucleus, we've not had that. But we did win an ACC tournament going through North Carolina and Duke on Tobacco Road, and I think that gives us, you know, confidence to play against them. But we certainly respect the heck out of them. They've been machine-like in March. But we do feel a little bit like odd man out because I keep saying, well, they'll get a shot at Kentucky and maybe they can end their undefeated season.
Q. Mike, you mentioned Wichita State's offense. What kind of things stick out about what they do?
COACH BREY: Well, they're ball screening a lot now, and early ball screens in transition. And when you have really good guards like they do, it's a bear to guard that over and over again. Now, we played against teams that play like that and we play against ourselves every day. And we ball screen a lot. We play fairly similar offensively with guards who can use ball screens and spread the floor and make shots. There's a similar style and philosophy there. But you are having to deal with that over and over and over again and I think VanVleet is so dangerous where he drags it and then goes in and makes a play and waits for an angle. He's just so good and so poised and he doesn't play too fast. He's a veteran guy who's won a lot and it shows when he plays.
Q. Mike, I'm wondering if your dad or your sister or brother are coming up for the game, and also do you find yourself having to compartmentalize a little bit this week? It's a great week for you professionally, but I'm sure it's got to be hard personally.
COACH BREY: Yeah, none of my family are going to make this trip. The great thing about it, I got my parents, they can't travel much, I actually got a plane and got them to the ACC tournament, which was awesome. Now in hindsight to do that, I think coaches are the greatest compartmentalizers in the history of the world and have to be to survive in this thing. So yeah, the great thing was Sunday or Monday to be around -- there is such a good vibe and positive energy coming off this team, it's really good for me to be around it this week and get back and be busy and teach.
Q. Coach, watching your team play first in the ACC tournament and then in the post season, what's your read? There's a school of thought out there now about conference tournaments, you know, do they punish more than they reward? I don't know if that's the case so much in the ACC as the mid majors, but your thoughts on that?
COACH BREY: Well, the one thing about the ACC and I've had to educate our fans is in 1961 the ACC made it clear and they were the first league tournament that the true champion is the tournament champion. They only in the '90s, when I was an assistant at Duke, started to identify regular season champion. So in the history of our 108 years of basketball, that was an unbelievable achievement for us, especially doing it on Tobacco Road through Duke and Carolina. I think for this team, it did not exhaust us, it did not wear us out. It gave us more confidence to get where we are now.
Q. Your mother was an Olympic athlete and a Coach. What particular lessons did she give you about perseverance which has to be part of any coach's life?
COACH BREY: She was the cruelest of competitors. Even swimming Masters in her 60s, she would talk about, she would be mad she would win three golds and a silver, and talk about why she didn't win that fourth gold. And to be around that intensity every day, maybe it wasn't the healthiest, and I'll probably need therapy later in life because of it, but I'll tell you one thing, she made me think about competing every day, and drive. And to be around an accomplished woman like that, you know, you felt -- she always made me feel like I could be special because she was, and gave me a lot of confidence. But that day to day -- there was times I didn't want to take her phone call because I knew she would want to talk about the game or the next game, and what's wrong with Zach, we've got to get Zach going. I was like, I can't take it tonight.
Q. I don't want to be the one who changes the subject away from your family twice.
COACH BREY: No, please.
Q. I'm going to ask a follow-up if I can. But first, how's your dad?
COACH BREY: My dad is good. My dad's 84. We're concerned about him now. He's got some Alzheimer's going on. He does know what happened but I think we're going to have to deal with that. And really on Sunday the discussion was with my brother and sister, now, again, they live five minutes away right there, what are we going to do with him with more full-time care. My mom took care of him, did everything for him, so that's our -- that's what we talked about Sunday and we'll continue to after the season.
Q. Back on to the court, you've had to get, I assume, really up, at least a couple times successfully for Okafor and Duke, that particular challenge, a come back against North Carolina. Did that require of you a higher gear than you've been able to find since and how do you get back to that level?
COACH BREY: Yeah, I thought we played at such a high level in Greensboro, I don't think we played that way in Pittsburgh, but we were mentally tough enough to find a way to do it. And what's been great about this group is they've been down a bunch in second halfs, ACC championship, Butler game, and they have come out of timeouts and defended six, seven possessions in a row to get us going. And that's where we've made the biggest jump. I think Demetrius Jackson has been the key because we've never had a ball pressure guy like that in my 15 year history. But they do have confidence that they can get stops to get themselves back in it and we've done it a bunch in the best league in the country.
Q. Coach, you just mentioned the toughest league in the country. How did you get this group of young kids to just stay mentally focused because you play Louisville, then Pittsburgh. Even Clemson's good. Carolina, Duke. It never ends in that league and I would think by the end of the season they might be mentally and emotionally worn down?
COACH BREY: Well, I think I've got to go back to giving a lot of credit to our leadership. Our captains setting the tone. One thing we did, we did it in the Big East and we're very successful in the regular season in the Big East is you can't get too high after wins and you can't get too low after losses. You have to have short memories, and you have to pace your team through it. I think one of the things I've learned as a veteran coach is to really shorten your practices starting in mid January. We weren't on the floor more than an hour and 15 minutes from mid January on. I have guys playing heavy minutes, so you just try to keep them fresh, like that fresh with the routine. But you're right, it comes at you all the time and tomorrow's going to be a hard game. We have been in so many hard games because of the league we're in, and we've won most of them. I just think that's something we can hang our hat on in our preparation for tomorrow.
MODERATOR: We would like to thank Coach Brey for joining us here in the main interview room.
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