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March 24, 2016
Q. Michael, what's this year and this run been like for you? You started your career and obviously it didn't go the way you wanted the first few years and now here you are the face of a Sweet 16 team.
MICHAEL GBINIJE: It's been a positive experience for me, personally just coming off the redshirt year, it was tough sitting out, and then had to go through position changes, as well, so it was a lot of adjusting, but everything paid off at the end, and I'm happy for this whole experience.
Q. Mark Few from Gonzaga was in here saying how funny Coach is even though we don't see that stuff. What do you guys see that would fit that description?
TREVOR COONEY: I mean, he is a funny guy, but he doesn't portray that. He has a real dry sense of humor that he'll throw little jabs or a lot of times it's poking fun at us most of the time.
Q. Trevor, talk about Michael's metamorphosis from when he got to Syracuse to now. Did you notice a big change after his sophomore year when he starts playing little to last year he obviously became a pretty good player?
TREVOR COONEY: Yeah, Michael has obviously always been a pretty good player, but I think the transition from kind of like a 3 to a 2 to a 1, and that's a big jump, especially in college at a high level, but he made that jump and that just shows a lot about him and the person that he is and the hard work that he put in.
Q. When Gonzaga has a guy like Kyle Wiltjer, 6'10" and can shoot threes, what kind of challenges does he pose when you guys are trying to zone a team?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: Like any good shooter playing against our zone, we have to make sure we know where he is every possession, and just try to run him off the spots as best we can.
TREVOR COONEY: Yeah, he's definitely a tough person to cover, but like Mike said, we have to know where he is at all times and if he's in the high post, we need to have a person there. If he steps out to the wing or to the corner, someone has got to be there to take away his shot and make it tough for him.
Q. What's different for you guys now compared to the 1-5 close to the season? What are you doing differently in the tournament that you weren't doing at the end when you were struggling?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: I think we're doing a better job on both sides of the floor. Offensively, I think we're limiting turnovers and we're getting in transition more, and on the defensive end I feel like we're doing a better job of just rebounding and it's leading to transition offense for us.
Q. Michael, do you remember who came to you with the idea to transition to a point guard, and what was your reaction?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: At the time I think Michael Carter-Williams, that team, was the team I was a part of at the time, and I just remember during practice Coach just telling me to run the point, and I kind of got thrown in the fire a little bit playing against guys like Mike and Tyler Ennis, but he has helped me to become a better player?
Q. What was your reaction? Had you ever played point guard before?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: At the beginning I was shaky. I had some silly turnovers, picked up my dribble a couple times, just -- it was different. It was a new experience for me.
Q. You guys have had a lot of ups and downs this year, strange things happening, Coach's suspension. What's the key to getting through all of that?
TREVOR COONEY: It's definitely been an interesting year, and I think things have happened that don't normally happen to a college basketball team, and I think that's just helped us prepare for the tournament and everyone just staying strong and keeping together. I think we learned a lot when Coach was gone, and I think we've grown as a team a lot, and I think that's helping us now.
Q. Michael, when Coach tells you to run the point, was it like a position change or was it kind of like, let's see what happens here? Can you elaborate more on that move to point guard?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: At the time Coach put me at the point, I didn't question what was his reasoning behind it. I was personally excited just to be able to have the ball in my hands most of the time, be able to run the offense. But it was just -- like I said, it was a weird experience at the time, but over time I just continued to get better at it, and happy that I'm playing the point now.
Q. Looking back, how much do you think that's really helped you kind of develop as a player at Syracuse?
MICHAEL GBINIJE: It's helped me a lot. Just from a basketball IQ standpoint, you've got to make sure everybody is in the right position when you're running sets. You've got to be a thinker as well as a player on the court. You know, just it helped me my basketball skills, as well.
Q. Trevor, you said that you guys learned some things when Coach was out. Exactly what were those things, and why do you think they've helped you at this time during the tournament?
TREVOR COONEY: I think we just came together as a team. I think we learned how important he is. But I mean, we were fortunate enough to have great assistant coaches that were able to step up and coaches that we trusted and coaches that have been in the system and in the program for a long time, so I mean, if it was to happen to any program, I think we had the right guys to step up and put us in the right direction.
Q. Jim, what made you move Michael over to the point guard a few years ago? He brought it up, he thinks it's been a huge part of his development. What went into that?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, the first year he was barely a forward. He wasn't really even a 2, so he worked in his first year coming in very hard on his ball handling and shooting. Then the first year he was able to play, we used him almost all at small forward and some at 2, but he didn't have point guard skills, but he worked on it, kept working on it.
Then last year he played probably a significant portion of time at the point. This year we just decided early that he was going to be the point guard. We adjusted our offense a little bit. He's not a normal true point guard, but he's gotten better and better, and he gives you a bigger presence there. I think the biggest thing he's done is his judgment has gotten much better. His ball handling has gotten much better. Also it's not crucial, but his shooting has gotten better, which helps you to get defenses up on you, stuff like that.
But he's just improved probably more or as much as any player I've ever had in terms of from coming in to now. I'd say he's the most improved player that I've had at Syracuse.
Q. What do you attribute that to?
JIM BOEHEIM: Hard work. You know, he improved his shooting, and he improved his ball handling. You know, it's hard when you -- when you're not playing that much your freshman year wherever you are. There's a reason for it. You're not quite good enough. And to go from that to being a good player, you know, that's doable. But to go from that and being a really, really good player, if we'd have won a little bit more, he would have been in the conversation for Player of the Year.
His stats are Player of the Year stats. He's got better stats than all the guys who were up there for Player of the Year. He's the best defensive player on our team, best in the league in steals, shoots at a high percentage, averages good numbers, rebounds, assists, everything. His numbers are all good. But we didn't fare good enough to get the recognition I think he deserves.
Q. Jim, you and Mark Few are friends. When did that friendship really good, and a lot of coaches are friendly, but how rare is it for two coaches to be real friends?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, we became friends a long time ago. I forget which Nike trip it was. He jumped into our card game and got his butt kicked, and he took it well. He handled it well. He took his beating like a man. We've been really friends ever since. We went fishing a couple times. He's a world-class fisherman. I can't hold a candle to him fishing-wise. He's really good. But we've been friends ever since that, and I think he's a great guy. Obviously, he's a great, great basketball coach. But he's a better person. We've had a good relationship for a long time.
Q. I was wondering if you could comment on Gonzaga's defense over the last couple of games in particular. How have they been able to shut down two pretty potent offenses here when it counts most?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, everybody talks about their offense, but you don't get to this point without playing defense, as well. Obviously they're a tremendous offensive team. That's what I think you first see when you watch them. But I think their defense has gotten better. That's why they're here. That's why they've had a tremendous tournament so far. They've beaten two really good teams.
I think everybody judges who you beat kind of like by seeds, and you just have to look at the teams; are they good teams? And they've beaten two really good teams. Seton Hall won the Big East Tournament a week before, and obviously Utah had a great year in the PAC-12. They're a very good basketball team.
Q. I heard your daughter won the state championship.
JIM BOEHEIM: Yeah, yeah, she's the only one that won in the family there.
Q. My question is about the family. I know most coaches do have their family with them when they make these tournament runs, but for you in particular with Juli and your children, what does it mean to them to make it this far, especially given all the challenges that they've seen you go through this season?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, you know, they love to come to the tournament. They always have. They've all come every year, and they're invested in it. Jimmy is in Germany right now playing on an all-star team in the Schweitzer Games, but he was there last week, Sissy was in the states, so she's missed it, she'll be here. Buddy has been at all the tournament games so far. They enjoy it. They like being around the players. They hang out and go to the gym and get some shooting in. They like that part. They want to go to the Olympics and when we took them they liked it, and then one year they couldn't shoot so they didn't want to go back. I said, well, you know, you're going to be around some pretty good guys, and they said, no, we want to shoot.
Q. Is it a little more satisfying this year just given all the challenges you guys have faced, you in particular?
JIM BOEHEIM: You know, I think the tournament always is good when you get to it, and we usually get to it, obviously because we couldn't go last year, and obviously when you miss, and we've missed before, not too many times, but the next year is always good to go.
This team, obviously there's been a lot of ups and downs this year on the basketball court. I don't really focus too much on the off-the-court stuff because every player, every team goes through that. There's always stuff that you don't know about. But what happens on the court, this team has been up and down. We started out great, played great basketball and we slipped a little bit, and lost a couple tough games. Then we started to kind of get back playing well, and we finished -- the finish is not as upsetting to me as it was to a lot of people because the five losses, three of them were at North Carolina, at Louisville and at Florida State, and most teams would lose those games. So we lost -- we were two points down at North Carolina with 40 seconds to go, and they had just beaten Miami by 20 and Pitt by 20 at home, so obviously that's a pretty good effort. And the same at Florida State, two-point game, they had just beat Notre Dame by 20 at home. So those are tough places.
You know, I'm not as upset about that as I think a lot of people are. You have to take into account -- so many times they'll say, well, this team won eight out of nine games and seven of them were against teams that were 150 or above in the metrics, whatever metrics you're using, whereas you play three teams that are in the top 20, in that area. I think all that factors in.
But I knew we had -- I always say we're not going to get in the tournament when we're close. I always say that, whether I believe it or not, but reverse psychology, which never worked the first four times I used it, but I knew we had good wins, and once the committee showed that they were looking at the kind of wins you had, I knew we had more than Vanderbilt and a couple teams who were put in early, so I knew with the two wins -- nobody had two wins in the bubbles area against two top-20 teams away from home. We were at Duke and neutral court, Texas A&M, so I knew those wins, and we had eight wins in the top 100. Not many teams had that.
I think we played eight games against the 16 that are still playing. So I think we had the schedule, and we changed that. We went from -- one year we didn't get in, we were 10-8 in the Big East and the Big East was great that year and we didn't get in because we didn't have non-conference wins, didn't play enough good non-conference games so we didn't beat anybody, so we changed our schedule and we played five or six at least good teams and gave ourselves an opportunity to win some of those games.
Q. I was wondering about at the Pitt game your comments about Tyler Roberson and about Tyler Ennis a few years ago. I was wondering if that's been brought up in recruiting against you guys and if you think those comments worked to motivate those guys?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, to me it's a positive that when I go out, I tell players, I'm going to push them, they're going to get pushed, and if they're not responding I'm going to push them harder, so I think it's a positive. His AAU coach said, that's what he signed up for. He wants to be a good player, and if he's not doing the things to get there, he's got to be pushed, and that's what I do. I don't push hard back on kids who make mistakes who turned it over, miss shots. I would never do that. But when you're not doing what you can do physically I push back really hard. I did that on -- I've done that in a number of cases over the years, whether it's Rony Seikaly or moving down to Kueth Duany. We recently won the national championship because Kueth Duany became a real physical player, and that was a push. That was a hard push for four years.
I mean, we had a kid Wendell Alexis once and I pushed him really hard. I was tougher on him than anybody now. His father came in the locker room after one game, and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. He says, Coach, you just keep doing what you're doing because he needs it, and I think it's important to push.
I didn't go out -- in my mind I didn't go off -- go out of bounds at all with Tyler Roberson, at all. I mean, my only statement was he's not -- he wouldn't play if I had anybody, and that's just a true statement. If you're not giving the maximum effort, I've never played those guys unless I had no other choice.
He's played well lately. I don't think it's because I said that. He wasn't upset about it at all. I'm not even sure he knew that I said anything bad until everybody told him. But he's played well. But he's had good games this year, but his consistency is what we've pushed for, and obviously the first game, 18 rebounds, we might not win that game if he doesn't go out and do that. In the last game he had eight rebounds in the first half, and we were only up a couple. So we needed him. And then the second half other guys picked it up.
As a coach you push guys as hard as you can. Most recruits want that, and they talk about that, and parents and AAU coaches want to know that you're going to push as hard as you can. We want to develop our players. We get a limited number of so-called McDonald's All-Americans at Syracuse, very limited compared to a lot of other schools, so over the years, we've had to develop players, we've had to push them, and much like with Mike Gbinije, I pushed Mike real hard in the beginning. Generally I only have to do that for a couple years and then they get the message, and when they don't get it by their junior year, I tend to get real upset.
I always tell those guys, if I wasn't upset, you wouldn't be playing, and if I'm not talking to you, it's because you're not playing, and I don't think you can be pushed into being what we need to have you be.
But that's all part of how you coach, what you do, and I don't think I was even a little bit off line with saying the truth. I wasn't trying to motivate him. I was just really making a statement about him, that he should be playing at a different level effort-wise, not necessarily production-wise, but effort-wise, and that's the one thing I think in coaching that a coach cannot ever accept, ever. I like the kid. I think he's a great kid.
Q. You guys haven't taken a lot of transfers. Why with Michael did you?
JIM BOEHEIM: We really needed Michael. We were down in recruiting for whatever reason. We needed a guy. We really looked at him as a two-position guy, 2 and 3. We really didn't envision him as a 1. We had a pretty good point guard coming in. We knew that. We had a good point guard. We had a good one coming in with Tyler Ennis so we really weren't thinking about the point, but we didn't have twos and threes so we thought he would be really valuable for us to get a guy that we could work with for a year and develop him. He really was just a 3, and we developed him into a 2, and we never envisioned him becoming a point guard, and if I was asked at that time if he could become a point guard, I would have said no.
But again, he's put a tremendous amount of work in, and we've kind of fit the offense to utilize his skills as a point guard. We don't do the things that we did with Michael or Tyler Ennis or Michael Carter-Williams or some of our other point guards, so it's a little different. But his development has been great.
Q. Was there a connection? Did you guys recruit Michael?
JIM BOEHEIM: Yeah, we had looked at him, and my assistant had -- is from Washington, Adrian Autry, and he had seen him a lot. I had only seen him one time and I didn't like him at all, and then he went to Duke, and I really didn't think that was -- that he was that good to be honest with you, because he couldn't shoot and he was not really a guard.
Q. If you didn't like him, what happened?
JIM BOEHEIM: Adrian liked him. Contrary to opinion, I listen to people. I have to listen to my wife. But I listened to --
Q. So Adrian convinced you?
JIM BOEHEIM: -- people, and he was very confident, and he pushed it. Sometimes assistant coaches are wrong, and sometimes I'm wrong. Recruiting is a gamble. I mean, I've thought some guys were really going to be good, and they haven't been. I thought other guys were going to be a real project. My sister lives in Washington, and she sent me a message once, what did you recruit Jeremy Grant for? What's wrong with you? He didn't make All-Met in Washington, D.C. They picked 10 guys and he didn't make it, and it was a down year. But sometimes those things turn out good. You look smart. Sometimes you recruit a guy that you think is going to be pretty good, and when you're not recruiting the top 10 or 20 players, and even in that group, guys don't turn out. But when you're recruiting somebody -- well, Tyler Lydon is a great example. He was 87. Everybody was saying, what are you doing recruiting him? Well, he wasn't in my mind -- no way he was 87. I mean, he was a top-30 player we thought, and he's certainly proven that out.
But I thought Adrian -- I believed Adrian, and we needed a guy, and we kind of needed a guy. It wasn't like we really had to be careful. We needed a guy. We kind of took a chance. Some people told me that he wouldn't make it, and I went pretty much with what Adrian thought.
I had my doubts the first year, but he really put the work in and got better.
Q. Lukey Jackson, you left him out of that subset.
JIM BOEHEIM: I never got on Lukey too much. He was good.
Q. A guy like Wiltjer --
JIM BOEHEIM: I was afraid of his father, anyway. Luke Jackson came looking for me, I wouldn't be around.
Q. A guy like Wiltjer, 6'10", can shoot threes, how big of a factor can he be on the court, especially when you're trying to find him while playing the zone?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, he's a tremendous player. Doesn't matter what defense you're playing, he's a tremendous player, and he can hurt you inside, outside, and any number of ways. He's as good as anybody against any defense because he can -- he's big, he can shoot, he can pass, he's mobile. He's as good as anybody 6'8" in the country because he can go outside and hurt you and he can go inside and hurt you.
Q. You were talking about pushing people, pushing people. What form does that take? What's your typical way you go about that?
JIM BOEHEIM: Well, mostly it's just verbal stuff, yelling and screaming and not necessarily negative, not -- I don't try to verbal abuse, it's just like pushing. We need you to do better. I never curse at a player. I never have. I mean, I threw something at a player once, but I wasn't aiming at him. And that was a long time ago. That was 30 years ago. Probably couldn't do that anymore.
But pushing players, we all do it. Trust me. Some guys don't hide it and stuff. I'm just not afraid to tell you. But our job is to push players. I don't think there's anybody that pushes themselves to their limit, with very few exceptions. I've been around a few that do. Kobe comes to mind, in terms of guys everybody knows about, and Michael in this town comes to mind, but most players don't. Most players -- and they all think they're going 100 percent. They do. There's no player that doesn't think he is. But we can show him a piece of tape where he's going 100 percent and then show him another piece of tape where he's going 60, and then they go, oh, yeah. But they don't believe that until you show them, and what they don't understand is we're watching them every minute, so we see them go hard and then we see them not so hard. So it's really an easy call. It's not like we think we may not be right. We know we're right, and we know they can produce more, and our job -- your job as a coach is to get the most out of your players. That's your job. That's by and large -- forget about all the other stuff. It's your job to get the most out of your players. We all push. We all push. There's nobody that doesn't push. Some do it a little easier and a little nicer maybe, but we all push, and that's the way players get better, and at the end of the day, they want that. Derrick Coleman told me I was pushing him too much, and he'd never come back to see me again, and he's back more than my sons are. So they understand eventually. They may not always like it while they're there, but at the end of the day, I think they have an appreciation that you're just trying to get the best out of them and to help their team win more, and their experience in college is good if they're winning and a winning program, winning team, and they advance in this tournament. They have a great experience, and when they don't get that, it's not so much fun.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports