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March 17, 2016

Eran Ganot

Aaron Valdes

Stefan Jankovic

Roderick Bobbitt

Spokane, Washington

THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Roderick, wondered your feelings about playing against sort of your hometown opponent tomorrow and what do you know about their situation with point guard, now that Tyrone Wallace is out with a broken hand?
RODERICK BOBBITT: I'm really excited to play them. Growing up I watched them a lot, had friends that went there that I watched as well. And of course everyone's heard about the rules and it's unfortunate, because I really wanted to play against him, so I wish him a speedy recovery.

Q. Roderick, follow-up question. Knowing that they have some injuries right now on their side, how important is it that you guys are entering at this time healthy. How big is health?
RODERICK BOBBITT: It's really huge. Especially with the traveling we do, we have to make sure that everybody's feeling right and we have a great trainer that takes care of us.

Q. Jacs, can you talk about the spotlight on this moment on you guys and how much you guys are embracing that?
STEFAN JANKOVIC: It's great. I think we earned it. We have been through a lot as a team, obviously, and the core group of guys, especially, all the different coaches, all the adversity. So we're just excited, and I think we have earned it, and I think we're going to perform well tomorrow.

Q. I know you guys have been looking forward to this, but has it really sunk in now that you're here, you're on the podium, you get to walk into the arena and see all the buzz going around. Has it really hit you yet that you guys are where you are?
AARON VALDES: Yeah, I think it hit us when we got on that charter plane. We had a whole flight to ourself, it was pretty cool. We're not really a nervous group. We're excited to get out there and play. And there's just a sense of calmness about us that it's easy and relaxing for us. So we're excited to get out there and play.

Q. All three of you, what was your reaction when you found outs President Obama picked you guys as an upset over Cal.
RODERICK BOBBITT: I was excited. I hope he would pull for his hometown team, so we got to make him proud.

STEFAN JANKOVIC: I kind of expected that him being from Hawaii, so I was happy, I was excited.

AARON VALDES: Like they said, it was exciting and pretty cool that he chose us and to see our name up there.

Q. Going up against somebody like Ivan Robb, I mean, he's the same height as you, you both got the athleticism going on, you guys can play inside and out. What have you seen on tape? What's it like knowing that you're going to go against somebody that matches up with you very well? You haven't seen that much in the Big West.
STEFAN JANKOVIC: Obviously, as a competitor, I love it. This is a big stage. This is where big time players play, and he's obviously very talented. So just having that matchup is going to be good for me. It's going to raise my kind of game level up a notch. I sometimes play down to my level, this and that, so it's just exciting to play against PAC-12 and that kind of level of talent and whatnot. As a competitor, you got to love that.

Q. For all three of you, we had a chance earlier this morning to see a lot of the away contingent. They traveled down to the Big West championship. Now there's at least a couple of hundred who are going to be in attendance. Talk about the fans traveling along with you. It's not like it's a short commute. Toss it out to all three of you.
RODERICK BOBBITT: I think we have some pretty amazing fans to make that trip from Hawaii, because that flight isn't easy. And especially coming up here, I know it's not easy. Add a couple hours on to it. That support that we got in the Big West Tournament, I didn't, honestly, expect that. But it was phenomenal and it felt like we were in our arena. So to have them travel here, that's huge.

STEFAN JANKOVIC: I guess just how the season's gone and us selling out the arena and having that full fan support. And then, obviously, at the Big West, that moment we had kind of storming the court and all the fans sharing that with the State of Hawaii. So having them come up for the NCAA Tournament to share this moment and, hopefully, more moments ahead is going to be huge.

AARON VALDES: The support of the fans has been great. From the four years that I've been here until now, just seeing how much it's grown, how many fans we have, and how they follow us, it's just great for us. It's like they're on the team with us. So, when we win, it's not just for us, it's for them too.

Q. Your thoughts about Jaylen Brown and maybe matching up with a guy like that.
AARON VALDES: He's a good player, he's a lottery pick for them, or projected lottery pick, so he's going to be aggressive out there. And I'm excited to play against players like that. Kind of like Oklahoma playing against Buddy Hield, it kind of get excited for matchups like that, when you get to play top players.

Q. To all three of you, one of the great things with this team is that there's a lot of upperclassmen. Playing up against a team like Cal, who very talented across the board, but obviously, very young in some regards. How does that experience for you folks work in your advantage?
RODERICK BOBBITT: I would say it works a little bit. When it's all said and done, you still have to go out there and play, lace your shoes up, and play. So experience can be key.

This is our first time in the tournament, so we have to use what got us here. We went through a lot from last year and just from games this year having to fight back and just come together as a team. So I think most importantly that would help us.

STEFAN JANKOVIC: When you talk about experience, I would say for especially that kind of core group of guys that's been there for two or three or four years, just the stuff that we have been through, that experience alone, the adversity we faced. I think that's going to help us over pretty much any team in this tournament, because I don't think anyone's really faced what we faced.

AARON VALDES: Experience does help, but at the end of the day you still have to play the game out there and you still have to put the ball in the hoop. So, we're just going to go out there and play and do our best.

Q. For Aaron, you guys have played a variety of start times this year and probably more than anybody else in the country. This game tips at 8 a.m. Hawaii time, is there anything special you guys have needed to do or will do to try to get your bodies ready for that early of a tip time?
AARON VALDES: Not really sure. We haven't really played this early yet, so I think just waking up earlier and just stretching more and just getting your body ready for playing around that time is going to be key for us.

Q. Roderick, who from home, if anybody, has come here for you to watch tomorrow?
RODERICK BOBBITT: My father is trying to come and my brother. And then I have some friends that are also trying to come up here and be here for tomorrow.

Q. I know right now everything that happened in the off season, as far as the NCAA investigation and everything, that's obviously in your rear view. But if you could for a second, how much if anything did that give some momentum to this team knowing that hey, next year, obviously, especially for the juniors and everybody who is not seniors, it, there is no next year. Like we have to basically put it all out on the line. What did that do as far as momentum?
AARON VALDES: We found out before the Northern Iowa game in the Diamond Head Classic, so I think going into that gave us a bit of a chip on our shoulder to play hard, knowing that we were not going to have a post-season next year.

So, I think our goal this year was just to make it to that tourney and hopefully, do some damage in it. We did a great job in that tournament, keeping our heads on and not letting it distract us. So we just got to keep doing it.

STEFAN JANKOVIC: I guess it goes back, I think, Aaron tweeted after that whole announcement came out, our goal was still to make the NCAA Tournament and nothing changed. People kept asking us, next year, what are you guys going to do.

But at the end of the day, all we really can do is play for this year and make the most out of this year. So that's what we have kind of focused on.

RODERICK BOBBITT: Yeah, just to go off what they said, for us to give the fans something this year to remember for next year, since they can't go to the tournament, it will be really special. So of course we did this for ourselves, but we also did it for the island, too.

Q. To any of you, Hawaii has never won a NCAA Tournament game before. This is the fifth appearance. How much does it mean not just to get here, but to break through and actually get past the first round?
AARON VALDES: It would mean a lot. The season we have had and the stuff we had to overcome to get a win in the tournament would be big for us. That's our goal tomorrow. So we're just going to stay focused and hopefully get that win tomorrow.

STEFAN JANKOVIC: I guess just kind of adding to the special team already, obviously, a win in general in the March Madness NCAA Tournament is huge. But kind of all of the stuff we have done already, it would just be another great addition.

RODERICK BOBBITT: We didn't come to the tournament just to come. Of course we came here to win games. So, that's the main focus for us.

THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll dismiss the student-athletes and thank them and have coach in a moment.


THE MODERATOR: We'll ask coach to make a brief opening statement.

COACH GANOT: Obviously, we're very appreciative to be part of the one of the greatest events in all of sports and all the world. These guys have really sacrificed, as every team in here, to put themselves in this position. We're going to have a good time -- find a great balance between having a good time and continuing to fight and get better.

Looking forward to a tremendous challenge tomorrow against a really good Cal team, very well coached, very disciplined. Hop to share the similar foundation in terms of defending and rebounding and obviously, they're a tremendous challenge. So this is what you live for and very pleased to be here.


Q. How does it change your preparation with the news today that Tyrone Wallace be out for the game tomorrow?
COACH GANOT: Well, we have a pretty good routine about the way we go about things. Obviously, we're big on the opponent and the preparation. It always starts with us, so we're going to stick to what we do. We have been preparing. I think instead of a complete overall, obviously, it's just a little wrinkle here and there.

This is a team that is far from one dimensional and they're very talented. This is a team that's very well coached, they defend, they rebound, they share the ball, they've played without Wallace before, obviously a five game stretch where they performed.

So we're going to, obviously, look a little bit during those five games. And like I said, there's just so many points of attack they have, they can come at you and so we're going to continue to prepare for whatever we can see.

Q. We talk about, a lot, about the experience of your squad. But it's their first time up here in the big dance. How do you prepare them? You've been here, obviously, as an assistant coach before, how do you maybe temper the emotions?
COACH GANOT: Well, great question. I think that's one of the things we have done a pretty good job of always is preparing our guys. It's not just the X's and O's, it's situations, it's environment, we always want to do a good job before we get to anything of what's coming and here's things to expect.

Going into the conference tournament, going into the league play, now NCAA Tournament, I mean we have one guy who played here before and, obviously, our staff has been here before. So we did a good job of that or tried to early about, like I said earlier, of finding a balance, because this is, obviously, being in Hawaii, we have a pretty good amount of media attention as we know, and so I think that's prepared these guys. They have been in these interview situations before and they can handle that well. But this is a different deal. It's at a heightened awareness, it's -- but we talked a lot before we do anything about what to expect, what does the NCAA Tournament throw at you in terms of the media, the attention, to enjoy that, but to find the balance. And, eventually, do the best you can to get back to our routine and locking into -- losing yourself into the team, getting back to the preparation and leaning on what served us well.

But this group, we talked about it earlier, the experience, this is an experienced team. This is a battle-tested team, tournament-tested team, been on the road in neutral sites and have performed. Obviously, this is week three that we have been on the road, too, so we're actually adjusted to the Pacific time zone. But we do the best we can to make sure they know what's coming.

Q. When you were moving up through the coach ranks, when you started off as a volunteer coach and assistant coach first at Hawaii, then back at St. Mary's. Had you ever envisioned that your first year as a head coach you could or would take a team this far?
COACH GANOT: Well, you always have to have, and I think everybody does, the belief and confidence about yourself and about your team.

But when I was a volunteer, I was just trying to find another meal here and there and trying to survive. You're, obviously, when you get into the profession I think most coaches and assistants support staff tell you they want to one day run your own program. But I was never in a rush. I was very appreciative and I've said all the time, I've been very spoiled to have been around some great programs, great coaches, worked for great coaches, coached great players, great administrations. Been in two schools, obviously St. Mary's and Hawaii, and just an honor for me to -- I worked for two of the winningest coaches at their respective schools, Randy Bennett, Reilly Walsh. Worked for Bob Nash.

So it was -- I felt like I was continuing to get better and then, do you ever imagine your first year? One, it's hard to get a crack at this, and two, to be in this position and in your first year, just very appreciative. It's a humbling world, it's a humbling profession, I study the profession as much as I do the game. And it's the honor of my life to do what I love, where I love. To do it with the great State of Hawaii, how blessed am I? How blessed is my family? How blessed are we? And that's why we honor it by continuing to work hard and doing things right and go from there.

Q. You talked about being a student of the game, but nothing can really prepare you for NCAA sanctions, which is what you had to deal with pretty fresh as far as being a coach at the university. How did it, knowing that that was on the back burner and then when the news came down, how tough was it to refocus everyone and get them again just steadfast on trying to make it back to the or make it to the NCAAs?
COACH GANOT: Well it's difficult. We went from, when I got there got to Hawaii, an uncertain situation and then we went -- so we went from uncertainty to clarity, neither of which were very good. But in the meantime one of the easiest things to say, hardest things to do is to control what you can control. But we have gone a good job of that. How do you do that? It's the first thing we talk about every day before all the X's and O's and that stuff. We think every morning and every night about one our players, the people in our program, communicating with them, making sure we're on the same page, understanding what's coming, and I think these guys have done a tremendous job of staying locked into the moment. You hear me talk about that all the time or us enjoying the journey. And finding the balance between that and fighting to get better. The other stuff, it can be in the back of your mind and I would be lying if it wasn't every night things like that. But when you think about the people in your locker room and the people who sacrificed so much for our program over the close to a hundred years our program, basketball program's existed, the people and the university, the people in the state, there's always opportunity from those kind of things and it was an opportunity for us to send a message of how we can lock in and fight through adversity and get better and try to do something special. We gave ourselves the best chance and just very happy for those guys that they were rewarded for all their sacrifices.

Q. St. Mary's played Cal earlier this year, did you talk to Randy Bennett about that game and get a personal scouting report from him?
COACH GANOT: Well obviously I think you know the answer to that. But you know, I think our staff's been working around the clock to talk to as many people that have played them as well and watching as much film as we can. Obviously I talked to coach probably every other day. He's a huge influence on my life I think he's the greatest coach in the country. Someone I can lean on and talk to. Then you got guys on our staff like John Montgomery whose been at Cal, our other assistants are West Coast guys, so it's funny during the course of a season you spend most of your time watching film on yourself or the teams you're playing. It's very difficult to watch the other teams unless they're West Coast schools or a national program. Cal's both. So you got to look, you get to watch them a little built over the year, but it's funny, once you find out the name of the school you're playing, things shift pretty quick. Our guys are locking in and getting film work, we're making calls, just like Cal's making calls and everybody in this tournament. So obviously it helps that some of the closest friends have played against those guys as well and we'll see what we can do.

Q. I think we saw it at the Big West title game, the Hawaii contingent definitely out in full force. There's at least a couple of hundred folks that are going to be not a real estate in a tomorrow. And we're talking to some folks who are all gathering at restaurants and bars that they're all going to be gathered at. To see the fans travel the way that they do, what does that mean to you and are you surprised at how well the Hawaii fans have been traveling?
COACH GANOT: That's why I said it's the best place in the world. Our fans bring it. One of the things you could feel early and if you remember when we the day of the Diamond Head Classic when we heard the NCAA news, I told our guys, having been here before, this is my second stint obviously at Hawaii, so I have an appreciation and a fell for how great our fan base is and how great the people are there. More than anything, they love a group that works hard, they will they have their backs, in adverse situations, and we knew on that day that, I told them, I remember that locker room or the shoot around talk, I said you guys are going to, your locking in the moment, but I'll tell you right now, knowing the people in Hawaii, these guys are going to bring it for you tonight. And that was probably one of our best crowds to that point. It was an emotional crowd. That's just how special the people in Hawaii are. Then, obviously, doing some things over the course of the year, these guys rallying behind this group. We had two sell-outs. Now we haven't had one sell-out. We have 10,300 seat arena, beautiful arena, crown jewel of the state in the Stan Sheriff Center but we haven't had a sell-out in 14 years or so. We haven't had two sell-outs in the same year since 1998, I believe. And if they weren't sold out they were pretty dang close. So, and then it almost felt like the Stan Sheriff Center at the Honda Center. Familiar faces but sometimes have you a small contingency come, it was rocking. They stepped up. We are, we were the school 2,500 miles away, not the school within a 30 mile radius. So, just it inspires the guys and it fuels their fire. You can feel it even since that tournament in the Big West Tournament, you can feel them and it's funny, we talked about, I wonder how it's going over there, we have been on the road for three weeks. I know they're rocking over there and we're going to continue to do our best to continue to honor them with a great performance.

Q. You mentioned the experience in the Diamond Head Classic, people look at Hawaiian like you said 14 years since the last NCAA appearance, but that Diamond Head is almost like a mini NCAA when you look at the level of competition and having to play three top teams in the matter of four days. So, how much do you think that experience and then this team has already proven taking Oklahoma to the last basket, beating Northern Iowa, Auburn last year, taking Wichita State to overtime, how much do you think you guys can draw on that to help you tomorrow?
COACH GANOT: Well we can. We played some big schools and obviously I think the combination of that and playing in tournaments, this is our fourth tournament. We opened up with the Rainbow Classic, playing three games in four days and we talked about that going into the Big West Tournament. Then we go to the Diamond Head Classic three games in four days. Played Northern Iowa who was pretty good. Played at Texas Tech earlier on the road Big-12 team whose obviously in the field. And then you play Oklahoma in a turn around and probably one of the top, obviously one of the top teams in the country, one of the best coaches in the country and maybe a national Player of the Year candidate. Then you play in the third tournament we play three games in three days notice Honda Center. So, I feel like this group's lake most of the groups obviously in this field, Cal included, are battle tested, tournament tested and here we go.

THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you, coach.

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