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March 17, 2016

Javan Felix

Isaiah Taylor

Shaka Smart

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the Longhorns from Texas, our student-athletes Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix. Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Could you sum up for us what it's been like playing for your new coach, Shaka Smart, and give us some words to describe him both as a person and as a coach?
ISAIAH TAYLOR: He's been great so far. He's just been really enthusiastic, and he's a real, genuine person. He cares about you on and off the court, and I think that's something that we respect the most about him this year, especially coming in.

Whenever you get a new coach, you can be kind of skeptical about what he brings to the team and what his values are. With Coach Smart and his staff, they've done a great job and instilling their core values inside us. I think that's how we got his respect and he gained our respect.

JAVAN FELIX: Yeah, just to hit off what Isaiah said, he's been great for us. He's come in and since day one he's been very energetic, very enthusiastic. And he showed his care for us on and off the court, and that's carried over onto the court and us playing in games. It just makes it easier for us to give it all we have and lay it all out on the line for him. That's something that he's been consistent with since day one. That's something that is one of the things that we hang our hat on. It's been great so far.

Q. Isaiah, how much video have you watched of Wes Washpun, and what do you anticipate with that match-up specifically?
ISAIAH TAYLOR: I mean, so far we know he's an athletic point guard. He drives a lot. He's a strong, left-handed driver, and he can also pull up for the jumper. We know that he's a good player.

Coach, back at VCU, said he played against him a bunch of times, so he has the blueprints to what they do and the things that they run. We know that he's a good player and it should be a good match-up.

Q. With that, Isaiah, what do you want to try to stop that or do defensively to work against the things he does do well?
ISAIAH TAYLOR: I think just especially take away his left-hand. We know he's a good left-hand driver and he can finish above the rim. So just contesting his shots at the rim, making him take a lot of contested two-point shots and giving him nothing easy in transition.

Q. Just want to look ahead here a little bit. If you guys win and A&M wins, you'll face them. We know that there's been a little bit of bad blood between the two schools, maybe not with you guys personally, but what will it mean to you if you guys do get to face A&M in the next round?
JAVAN FELIX: I think it would mean a lot, especially since we lost to them early on in the season. But that's not really our focus right now. We're just looking at Northern Iowa because we know they're a really good team and we know they're hungry. They want to get back to where they were last year and probably even go further. So we're looking at Northern Iowa and the good things that they do. That's the match-up that we're putting everything into right now.

Q. With who Northern Iowa has beaten this year, does that make you pay attention a little closer, that you know they're capable of doing stuff like that?
JAVAN FELIX: It doesn't make you pay attention a little closer, you just know they're a good team. At this point in the year, anybody can beat anybody, and we know that. Us, as older guys on the team, we're just trying to make sure that we put everything we have into this one game. If we're fortunate enough to win this game, then we're going to put everything we have into the next game. We're just taking it game by game.

As far as them beating the good teams that they've beaten this year, we noticed that, but you can't just look at them and overlook them.

Q. Isaiah, how much schematically do you think Coach Smart has been able to install his system compared to what he had at VCU? That usually takes time, but how much do you think he's installed of what he wants?
ISAIAH TAYLOR: Well, when Coach Smart first came on campus, he already told us he's not going to force anything upon us. We know they press a lot, almost on every possession at VCU. They have havoc defense, and they push a lot in transition. I think that's something that we would like to carry over here at Texas, especially pushing transition. We don't press every possession like they did at VCU, but we do it every so often just to keep it effective because we have more bigs here than they had at VCU.

Q. Just following up on Coach Smart again, he believes in high intensity training. Was there any kind of culture shock when he got there of the things he wanted you guys to do to get ready to play?
JAVAN FELIX: I would say the culture shock pretty much was the conditioning side when he first got here, because we did really different things. Like I'm sure you've heard about the Navy Seal training that we do in the preseason, and that was something really different, but it was also fun. It just got us ready mentally and physically for the fast pace that we like to play and practice at, just anything that we might have come our way that we would have to overcome. So it was fun.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, your thoughts about tomorrow's game?

COACH SMART: I'm excited about the game. Great opportunity. Northern Iowa has a great team. Played them three times when I was at VCU, and they were all really competitive games. We're going to have to make sure we do a great job on their three-point shooting. And obviously on Wes Washpun, he's a terrific player.

Q. Has your first season at Texas been what you expected? Has it been more challenging? Difficult? How would you describe it?
COACH SMART: I didn't really expect anything because I knew it was going to be different than anything that I expected. So kind of like the first year at VCU, there's a lot of stuff that comes up that maybe you didn't anticipate and you just have to do a good job responding, whether it's on the court or off the court.

We had a really tough injury at the end of December that made us make a big adjustment. And things happen, so you've just got to keep rolling. It's been a really good learning experience this year.

Q. Coach, because you've faced UNI before, you've seen different lineups in the way Coach Jacobson has had to adjust year to year. What are the hallmarks, though, when you think of Jacobson and Northern Iowa? What are the hallmarks you see in their program?
COACH SMART: I think he's one of the best coaches in the country, and I've got a lot of respect for him. I think sometimes coaches receive a certain level of national attention based on different factors, but I think he's one of the best. If you look at what he's done at Northern Iowa, it really speaks for itself.

But the hallmarks of their team every year, this will be the fourth time that we've played them with our coaching staff. They always have great shooting. They always have really good guard play, so their guards can make plays for each other and for the rest of their guys. Then on the defensive end, they're phenomenal with providing help. I heard somebody describe them as five guys guarding the basketball, and that's what you want to do. Because you can't score without the ball. I just think he gets those guys to play really, really well together.

You mentioned different lineups, that will be a good story line tomorrow night because they can go really, really small and then at times we might be big, and it will be a question of is that something we can use to our advantage or is that an advantage to them? The thing that's scary from a coaching standpoint, when they're small, they can all shoot, every single guy.

Q. You guys have had, I think, five wins over top 25 opponents. You've had some really great wins. You've also had a couple of head-scratching losses. What did you do really well in the five wins? And what did you not do well in the losses that you can put your fingers on?
COACH SMART: Yeah, I would say to put it really simply, we played to win in those wins and we played not to lose in the losses. I think most teams, but particularly our team for whatever reason, we played with avoidance. When we play not to mess up or not to lose, we're bad, we're a bad team. You've got to go play to win. You've got to let it rip.

In those wins you're talking about, particularly when we played North Carolina or when we played West Virginia or when we played Oklahoma at home, we were going up against somebody that our guys really wanted to beat and most people on the outside didn't expect us to beat. So there was a real approach, goal and mindset that we wanted to go after it. So the challenge is no matter who the opponent is in the NCAA Tournament, it's going to be a really good team, and we have to go after it. We have to go to play and attack and play to win. So we'll see if we can do that tomorrow night.

Q. I saw you had mentioned that Cameron Ridley is most likely to play, and you want him to play about 20 minutes. Given Northern Iowa's propensity to go small, what do you anticipate his role being in the first 25 minutes?
COACH SMART: I go by what the athletic trainer and doctor says. So I'm not guaranteeing he'll play that much. It's based on two things: his availability and how the game is going. And you're exactly right, when they go small, I mean, it's challenging to kind of figure out how you want to defend them because they put Carlson at the 5, and he can shoot, he can drive. He's a good athlete. And then everyone else out there can shoot as well. So if he and our other big guys our playing a lot and they're playing smaller, then our bigs are going to have to really move and get out on the floor and defend.

Q. I know you're focused on your own team here, but I wonder if you might take a minute to talk about the job Will's done at VCU and to see them kind of stay consistent this season.
COACH SMART: Yeah, he's done a great job. I'm not surprised at all that he's done a great job. He hit the ground running when he got to Chattanooga and he did a phenomenal job there for two years. He's always -- ever since I met him over ten years ago, he's always been the most prepared person that I've ever been around. That's why the minute I got the job at VCU, he was the first call I made.

Now, with him being the head coach at VCU, it's not surprising at all how much success that they've had, and I think that they will continue to have success and even take that program to a higher level. So I'm just happy for those guys. I'm happy for Mel and Mo, and those guys that have been around there and made that program their own. Because when those guys came in, they were just young guys and it was Darius Theus' program, and Briante Weber's program, and Treveon Graham's program, and now it's theirs and that's the exciting thing.

Q. A follow-up to that. To what extent do you keep in touch with those players you just mentioned and have you had any contact with them yet or will you this weekend?
COACH SMART: Yeah, I keep in touch with them somewhat. It's always kind of an unwritten thing in coaching that you don't mess too much with other people's players, but this situation is a little different because Will and I worked together. But at the same time, I want to be respectful and Will's their coach, so I don't want to cross any lines.

Like when Mel broke the three-point record, I sent him a text congratulating him. When Mo graduated, I sent him a text. Sometimes I've hit JeQuan or Johnny just to check in with them, Mike Gilmore. But those guys are guys that they play for Will now and that's their leadership. But at the same time, I'm really proud of them and excited to see them do really good things. I think they've got a chance to definitely make some noise here in Oklahoma City, and I know those guys will have the right mindset to do so.

Q. Not to re-plow old ground, but you had many opportunities to go a number of places when you were at VCU and you didn't. What was it about Texas that finally got you out of Richmond?
COACH SMART: That's a longer answer probably than we have time for, but there's a lot of factors that went into it. I think sometimes it's situational in terms of the time that you're talking about. For instance, I was telling somebody the other day, a lot of people were surprised that I didn't leave right after we went to the Final Four. But there was no way I would have ever left right when we went to the Final Four. That team did such a special thing and those guys, there's no way I would have left at that time. But that's just an example of sometimes it's more about the timing and the situation and the people than anything else.

It was a tough decision. There's great, great people there at VCU. If I was ever going to leave, it was always going to be leaving a great group of guys because that's what we had there. But between my wife and myself, we made that tough decision. It's one of those things that I think a big deal gets made of it in our profession, but people change jobs. A lot of professions.

I'm just proud of those guys and I'm happy for Will and his staff that they've been able to continue the success.

Q. What are maybe some of the differences that you've noticed in year one kind of going from a so-called mid-major conference to a power conference? How have things changed maybe in how you have to approach things?
COACH SMART: Good question. Not a lot. I mean, I think the Atlantic 10 is a really good conference, and the Big 12 is a really good conference. In the Big 12, there's more games against quote-unquote ranked teams or teams that get national attention, so that maybe changes your team's approach, your players' approach a little bit.

But the same things go into winning at VCU that go into winning at Texas. You try to create a group of guys that's connected around a common goal. At VCU we had some guys over the years that did that as well as anyone I've been around, so that's what we're trying to create at Texas.

But it doesn't really -- it's not a huge difference in terms of -- first of all, I don't think VCU is mid-major, but in terms of going from one place to the other.

Q. We talked about the whole mid-major thing. What insight can you give your team in the fact that you are playing a team that's perceived to be a mid-major and has a chance to knock you guys off now?
COACH SMART: Yeah, I think the seeding goes out the window. Anyone that doesn't believe that, then they learn the hard way. Yale just beat Baylor. Our guys, we happen to be in our meeting room earlier today when UNC Wilmington was playing Duke and we just watched the first half. We didn't watch the second half. In the first half, UNC Wilmington was arguably outplaying Duke. I think they were up 3 at the half. And our guys, just shocks them because I think people grow up filling out brackets and they're used to in a match-up like that picking a quote-unquote obvious winner. But there is no such thing this time of year.

Hopefully our guys understand Northern Iowa's a dangerous team. You look at them, they've won 12 out of the last 13 games. They're defending at an extremely high level and they can shoot at every spot. So hopefully, if you really look closely, you realize it's not about what league the team came from, it's about what they do on the court.

Q. How fitting you and I go out together, Shaka. Other than you had the Final Four which is a tremendous memory of VCU, what other memories stand out, not just about the basketball but the way the city embraced you and your wife?
COACH SMART: Oh, I mean, there are so many great memories. Maya and I talk about that all the time.

Basketball-wise, it was actually a year after the Final Four that was my favorite team because we were not very good to start the year. We had lost a lot of guys and I think that team was the best example of a truly connected group of guys with the best leadership of any team I've been around, with Brad Burgess and Darius Theus.

And then off the court, just, I mean, VCU, it's a special place from the standpoint of the connection between the fans and the city, and the team. And it's really a two-way thing. It doesn't just go one way. It's not like people on the outside of the program, just the way that they felt about the team. It was also the guys on the team, the way they felt about the fans. So, it's hard to explain to people that aren't around there, but it still is a very unique place and it's something that I really appreciated having the opportunity to be around for six years. There were times that I felt like I would never leave just because of that, because I know it's not that way everywhere.

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