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March 19, 2016
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the Aggies from Texas A&M. Our student-athletes are D.J. Hogg, Admon Gilder, and Jalen Jones. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Jalen, I have to ask where you guys were last night, if you were here, back at the hotel, when Northern Iowa hit that shot to win and what your reaction was?
JALEN JONES: I was actually just laying down in the hotel bedroom and I was just on my phone, I kept glancing at the game. Next thing I know, dude hit the half court shot to win the game. I was like, what? I was shocked.
So you got to take your hat's off to Northern Iowa. They played their tails off yesterday against Texas and we're really looking forward to playing against them.
Q. I know it's quick study, but how much have you been able to gather about UNI?
JALEN JONES: We watched a little film on them before we came up here for practice, and know that they have beaten some top programs this year, such as North Carolina. Iowa State beat Wichita State twice. So we know they're a really good basketball team, and we're going to do a lot of work to try to beat them.
Q. D.J., can you just talk about how Tyler's progressed? I mean, you saw him in high school every game. Can you just talk about how he's progressed from there to now?
D.J. HOGG: He's a worker, so I mean it's shown every game. He works every practice, he works his hardest. So he's slowly improving every time he's on the court. It's really just showing for him.
Q. Jalen, when you see Middle Tennessee State taking on Michigan State and Northern Iowa hitting the half court shots, what message does that send to the higher seeds as far as upsets being possible of happening?
JALEN JONES: I mean, it shows you can't take any team lightly. Every team in this tournament is really good. Every night or every day you just have to be locked in and ready to go. When you see a lot of those lower seeds beat those higher seeds, it just shows you those guys play with a lot of heart and passion, and they're trying to win a National Championship just like the higher seeds. You've just got to be locked in and ready to go. It's tournament time, it's March Madness, anybody can lose.
Q. All three of you can answer this, if you would, if you want to start, D.J. Yesterday you guys had said your emotions were running a little high to start the game and that Coach was able to help you settle down. I'm just curious how he helped you settle and what did you learn from that experience in those first few minutes of the game yesterday that you will apply tomorrow?
D.J. HOGG: I mean, first March Madness game for a lot of people, so it was a little jittery. The team we played was really fast-paced. But once Coach got us in the offense and we slowed it down and brought the game to our pace, it was just like a normal game for us. We played together and played hard, so came out on top.
ADMON GILDER: It's our first time in the NCAA Tournament for most of us, so, therefore, Coach just said come out and play our game. Do what we do best and we'll be okay.
JALEN JONES: I just think the first five minutes we've got to come in more locked in and ready to go. Can't let the adrenaline or the other team control what we do. Just do what we do best and try to control the tempo early and take it from there.
Q. D.J., what can you tell us about the genesis of Tyler Davis and what he did with his body? It's hard for anybody to lose a hundred pounds. I think a lot of us would like to know the secret behind that. But he did. What do you remember about that for him to start that work ethic of what we're seeing today?
D.J. HOGG: I mean, seeing him freshman year just big. I mean 6'8", 300-something I think. It was crazy. But it's an everyday thing. It doesn't just happen overnight. It was his consistency of his work ethic and being disciplined when he eats and stuff like that.
I got to be a teammate of him on our AAU team and watched him with our trainers and stuff. His energy and work ethic just feeds off on everybody. So it's really fun being his friend and just watching how he grew.
Q. Coach Kennedy has been to the Sweet Sixteen before. I'm just wondering after he got you guys together after the excitement of last night, what was the message to you guys about moving forward and not maybe looking ahead to where you're wanting to go?
JALEN JONES: We celebrated that win last night, and he told us, hey, we can celebrate that now, and then tomorrow we've got to get ready for our opponent, which is Northern Iowa.
Now he just said, hey, we have to take it one game at a time, one possession at a time. Can't overlook anybody. So we're going to be locked in and ready to go against UNI. You've got to take those guys very seriously, they're a really good team. So he just told us to stay locked in, be ready to go, and don't overlook anybody.
Q. I know you guys had talked about this two days ago about just feeling a little lack of respect for what you guys have done all season long and coming here with something to prove. Now tomorrow you're going into a game where everybody's talking about Northern Iowa. You know, they're the darling. They're all over SportsCenter. You're seeing that shot. How does that impact you guys as, once again, you may not be getting the attention that maybe you feel you deserve? I would just like to get all of your thoughts on that, because everybody obviously is talking about the Panthers and what they were able to do last night.
D.J. HOGG: We're used to it. So it's not really like in us to always get the hype or whatever. So we just always stay together, play for each other and then hopefully come out on top. We're used to being the underdogs or not as hyped up or with all the media and stuff like that. So it's not a big deal for us.
ADMON GILDER: I think we're not going to really worry about it too much. We do best when we're under the radar. I think our senior leadership and everything coaching-wise, from freshmen, people coming off the bench, I think we just do a great job of keying in on what we have going into the game, we just abide by it.
JALEN JONES: We never really get caught up into what the other team does. We just try to go out there and play the best basketball as we can. And just like tomorrow, we'll go out there and play as hard as we can and try to come out victorious.
Q. Jalen, can you just talk, yesterday had to be frustrating for you. The win, I'm sure you're happy about it, but frustrating for you that you got the two quick fouls and the bad start and all that. Can you just talk about what was going through your mind when you were on the bench watching that first half?
JALEN JONES: I was a little disappointed in myself that I picked up two fouls early. But I was just on the sideline. I knew that the bench and the rest of my teammates would pick my energy up. So got to give a lot of credit to our bench. They came in there and played big minutes for us like they have all season.
I know this team is so balanced and we have so much depth that I'm not worried if I go to the bench and we might lose the lead. This team is well balanced and I know everybody on this team can play, and that's what they showed yesterday.
Q. For those of us who didn't follow you, you had a stretch there where you lost five out of six games. What was going on at that point? Where were you struggling and what pulled you guys out of it?
JALEN JONES: We just kind of went away from what we were doing at the beginning. We lost some of the basic things and that kind of humbled us and got us back together. We knew that, hey, everybody, any given night you can lose. So I just think what got us back going was just the coaches and everybody in the locker room staying positive and going to practice and working hard every day, trying to get back on track. So we stayed together as a unit, listened to our coaches and we got back on the right track.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, your thoughts about the game last night and today?
COACH KENNEDY: Obviously we settled down after turning the ball over and playing at the pace that Green Bay wanted us to play at, and it's probably my fault because we wanted to attack early and we got a couple lay-ups early and continued to try to do that. We got to playing too fast.
But once we slowed down and started getting Tyler the ball, it opened up a lot of things for us and fortunately we were able to play a lot of guys. I thought Tonny Trocha was really good for us, as well as Danuel House. It got us going.
Q. This being the first NCAA Tournament experience for your players, what do you think they got out of yesterday's game?
COACH KENNEDY: Hopefully we got the jitters out, especially in the beginning. I thought we were going way too fast. I thought maybe it was nerves. But that just means they care, and that's why we've been good because our guys have really paid attention to detail and bought into how we want to play. Our younger guys, I was really proud of them. They had good poise the whole game.
Q. What's been different about Danuel these last two games?
COACH KENNEDY: Just his pace on how he's playing. He's not forcing things and he's driving the ball. I think ever since we played Mississippi State and he made some big free throws to get us going, his game has improved. But more recently his shot selection has improved and his pace of how he's playing has improved.
Q. You've brought a couple teams to the NCAA Tournament as a low seed, a mid-major, now you've been in it with a high seed from a power conference. Have you noticed a difference in the way the players sort of approach the first game? Is there more pressure on you guys with the bigger name? Were you playing more free when you're the low seed and the little guy, so to speak?
COACH KENNEDY: It is different. When you're a lower seeded team, a mid-major, you come in as a coach and you're just so excited to be in the tournament. You play really loose. You want your guys to have fun.
And we tried to approach that with our team because of the pressure of being a higher seed and playing a Wisconsin-Green Bay.
I'm thankful for the experience I had of being at a Murray State and beating a higher seed Vanderbilt, and I also lost here to Oklahoma State where we played here in Oklahoma City when I was at Southeastern Louisiana. We just tried to hold the ball just to stay in the game. I just think it depends on the team.
This team that I have, because we have older guys and veterans, and we've got freshmen who have won State Championships, I think we have a unique group that we've been consistently good throughout the year for the most part all season long.
Q. Wondering if you watched the end of the Texas game last night, and if there are any lessons that could be taught to your kids after how that happened?
COACH KENNEDY: Just pray. Pray it doesn't happen to you because that's the grace of God when you make a shot like that.
And you've got to give him credit. He banked it in too. I thought Texas did a great job the whole game guarding them. And then Northern Iowa is a disciplined defensive team and very good offensive team with seniors. That was two senior ballclubs playing. Texas has a lot of seniors, so it's never over until it's over.
That's the biggest thing you learn from that game. And if you've got a chance to get one off three-quarter court, fire away. Fire a shot at it.
Q. Coach, Tyler last night talked about the new rules and maybe the way the game is officiated has helped him. I guess the way the game is played. Can you elaborate on that?
COACH KENNEDY: I hope it's helped him not reach as much and pick up cheap fouls. I think he's gotten better at that. The beginning of the year, he got in foul trouble more. Now he's done a better job of keeping his hands off of guys. I think that's probably helped him more than anything. He's bigger and stronger than most people that he plays against. He's able to get good position if he keeps his hands up and he doesn't just try to overpower them.
Q. Do you think with this group, given their relative lack of experience in the tournament, that it's easier to keep them focused or harder to keep them focused on the next game ahead and not looking ahead to the bigger picture and where they want to go?
COACH KENNEDY: I think more of how we didn't get in the tournament last year, two weeks, three weeks before the end of the season Joe Lunardi and all the gurus were talking about we're a 6 seed, a 9 seed. Then Danuel breaks his foot at Florida and we lose three games in a row, and we're the last team not to get in.
The pain of that not getting in, I think our guys really appreciate getting in. It starts with Alex Caruso because probably him and Jalen, the pressure was on those two guys last year to win one game. All we had to do was win one game and we didn't win it, and those guys remember that. And Danuel House, not getting to play, they remember that.
Q. Along those lines, you've talked about them being happy to get in, but you guys have talked about being happy to get in. You've been talking about you know you're going to win games in the tournament. There is a quiet confidence that the team has played with as well during the last half of the season. But where did that -- do you have that feeling coming into the year? Did that confidence build throughout the season?
COACH KENNEDY: Well, I don't like to take a lot of credit for anything. I think most people know that. But when we got beat by Louisiana Tech, when that game ended, I said, my first statement out was we will be in the NCAA Tournament next year. We were a tournament team this year. We came short. It was my fault and I've got to get our guys tougher and we've got to get our guys more consumed with what it takes to be a tournament team.
From then on, our guys have just bought into it. I give our leadership, our seniors credit. We weren't just trying to get in because we thought we should have gotten in last year. Houston, being the Final Four, this year being the host, our guys know that, and that was one of the first things we talked about. We've got five games left to -- well, three games left to get to Houston. But we've talked about it from day one, and I want them to have that kind of vision and that kind of dream because I believe it's possible.
Q. How has Danuel grown as a player since he came over to the program with all the stuff he went through and leaving the uncertainty of coming to a new program? How has he developed, just not on the court but off the court?
COACH KENNEDY: Number one, he's on course to get his degree. He'll finish this spring, so he's done a really good job off the court in taking that challenge and transferring in. He's a father now. He has a young daughter, a beautiful little girl that he's taken responsibility of and does a good job with her. He's just grown up, I think, more than anything.
I think recently he's realizing it's about to end, and he wants to make the most of it. And he's done a really good job of talking to the other guys and being there for the young guys and giving back not just worried about himself. So I think that's one of the biggest things he's matured in.
Q. What was your impression last night from Trocha-Morelos, and how has been his transition from coming up from Cartagena, Colombia to play at this level?
COACH KENNEDY: Well, we tried -- we didn't get him. We signed him early, and he didn't get into school for like another year because of the academic requirements at Texas A&M and him not being able to speak English. He's our best student. So he's done a tremendous job of getting stronger, not playing the year before.
Last year he had to sit out a few games for some NCAA reasons, so he never really got a good start. He's really worked hard in the spring and the summer, and like I said, he's got a great basketball IQ. He's one of the smartest basketball players I've coached ever. He's gotten stronger and his confidence has continued to grow. I thought -- when I saw him in high school, I thought he had a chance to be a pro.
Calipari, a lot of people recruited him. They came down, he had that talent. But not playing for a couple of years hurt him last year, and now he's starting to blossom.
Q. Sticking with Tonny, can you just talk about the combination of him and Tyler? They seem to work really well together, and the problems that presents for teams that really have only one big guy?
COACH KENNEDY: The thing about those two is they care about winning. They're not about stats, they're not about shooting, they just want to win. They love their teammates and that's why they play so well together. It's just Tonny wants to stretch the floor and he's a really good passer and a good shooter. Tyler knows he's a five man and he's going to post up and be around the basket. And that's what makes them a good combination. They truly like each other because they both have the same goal. They're about winning.
When I take them out, they rarely are -- I don't think they've ever been upset, which is rare in coaching a basketball team these days.
Q. How does the team develop that good of chemistry? We were just in the locker room and they were throwing peanuts at each other during interviews. But it seems like they're so loose everybody wants to -- how does that develop? Was it the trip overseas before the season started? Did that really help? In your opinion, how has this group gotten so close?
COACH KENNEDY: One, the trip overseas definitely helped. But we've got good kids. I mean, we've got good guys. I just think the culture that we've developed, it's taken us a few years of recruiting the kind of kids that fit in at Texas A&M and that can play for me.
My assistant coaches have done a great job. Kyle Keller has done a tremendous job in recruiting all these guys as well as a couple others, Coach Stansbury and Coach Rahim. But he's been with me four years and we're starting to get the best players in the state of Texas, which has taken us some time. But we've really got good kids and we've recruited the right kind of people. Thankfully they can play too. So I think that's where it starts.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports