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March 15, 2017
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Hamilton as well as Dwayne, Xavier, Jonathan, and Michael. We'll ask Coach Hamilton to make an opening statement. If you'd please raise your hand and direct your questions to somebody specific so we know who should answer.
LEONARD HAMILTON: Obviously, we're tremendously excited about having the opportunity to participate in this edition of the NCAA Tournament. Some people are saying this is as good a field as it has been for a number of years.
We know that, when you look throughout the country, that there will be -- the challenge is to stay focused and not allow yourself to get too far past the moment because of the enormous reputation of the NCAA.
Our guys have worked very hard. I think they're very focused. I feel very confident as we move into this tournament that our kids are excited about it, and we expect them to play very well.
Q. I'd like to address this to Michael and Xavier because you've been with Coach Hamilton the longest. Michael, let's go first. In what ways has Coach Hamilton made you a better basketball player and a better person?
MICHAEL OJO: I would say maybe yelling at everybody at practice every day. But he's taken a lot of pride to teach rather than just instruct, you know. He wants to get his message across very well. He's very detailed in everything that he does, and he wants you to get everything in detail. He wants you to do exactly what he's trying to teach you.
So he's done a good job keeping that relationship, not just as a coach, but as a father figure.
THE MODERATOR: And you asked that of Xavier?
XAVIER RATHAN-MAYES: Since I've gotten to Florida State, Coach Ham has been like a father to me. He's mentored me in as many ways as possible. He's done a great job of communicating things that need to be communicated to me, whether it's in a good tone or a bad tone, and I know that he has my best interests at heart at all times.
He's done such a great job of allowing me to mature on the court, play through my mistakes, and that's helped me become a better person.
Everything that I've gone through at Florida State and my successes and our team's successes is put on Coach Ham because of just the person and the father figure that he's been to all of us.
Q. Jonathan, when you were a sophomore at Barron Collier, the school 20 minutes away went to the Sweet 16. Can you talk about what that meant to you and the journey you made since you were that little 6'3" kid coming off the bench at Barron Collier as a guard. Can you talk about what it meant to you because that was your home school, and what you did to get here today.
JONATHAN ISAAC: When I was at Barron Collier, I didn't really think about college that much. So I wasn't really into watching college basketball. I didn't even know what was going on at FGCU. But of course I heard about it being in Naples, and the historic run they were making for that school. So it was really exciting around Naples at that time.
I didn't think I was going to play college basketball at that point when I was at Barron Collier. It's been a fun ride. I'm glad to be here.
Q. Who do you have to thank the most for getting you in this position right now?
JONATHAN ISAAC: First and foremost I would thank God. Got to thank my mother. Got to thank my AAU coach at that time, Bora Batur. I played on Estero Elite. Maybe my Barron Collier high school coach, Coach Rader.
Q. Dwayne, what advantage is it to play in Orlando? You should have thousands of fans here for you tomorrow night. What advantage is that going to be?
DWAYNE BACON: I think for both of us because we're both from Florida. I think we'll have a slight little bit more people, but I feel like they'll have a lot of people as well because I think they're closer than we are actually.
Q. Are you looking forward to that energy?
DWAYNE BACON: Oh, yeah, definitely. We're excited to play, like Coach Ham said. I'm sure they're excited to play us. We just want to go out and do what we've been doing the majority of the year.
Q. Xavier, how much do you enjoy playing point guard now after that adjustment period?
XAVIER RATHAN-MAYES: I enjoy it a lot. I got three pros hanging on both sides of me. So it makes my job a lot easier knowing that I got a guy like Bacon on one wing, John on the other, and a guy like Ojo who can dominate the paint on any given night.
It's been a process for me learning the point guard position, coming from high school playing the two all my life. But I think I've gotten the hang of it now. I love being in the position that I am, being one of the leaders on the team, and I'm just embracing this journey, this run that we're on, and hopefully we can continue that.
Q. Dwayne and Xavier, you guys had that incredible run through January, where you beat Notre Dame, beat Louisville, beat Duke. 7-6 the last 13 games. How do you explain the differences between the way you were playing then and the way you were playing down the stretch during the regular season?
DWAYNE BACON: I would say people adjust. A lot of teams we played earlier didn't quite know how we played. We had a whole new team, a lot of new players. So I feel like later in the season they had time to adjust to where we played them before, some we even didn't but they could watch a lot of film on what we did in previous games earlier in the season.
I feel like now it's a new season. There's a lot of teams that we haven't played. All they have is the film. They haven't really played against us, and how our tempo is and what we can do. They haven't really seen us in person.
XAVIER RATHAN-MAYES: I think that stretch of games that we went on there, I think our mindset was hunting people. We were trying to earn our respect as a program and as a group of guys. I think we did a really good job of going out there and performing at a high level each and every night.
It's a long season. We had our ups and downs. We went through a little tough stretch down there towards the end of the season, but I feel like in the later part of the season, we really picked it back up. In this last week of preparation we've had, I think we got that mindset back that we started with.
Hopefully, we can go out there tomorrow night and play like we played in that last section of January.
Q. This is for Coach: Jonathan, is this about what you expected out of him? How has his development been this season? How long do you think you're going to be able to keep him? I'm hearing NBA stuff already.
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, first thing that Jonathan possesses some unusual intangibles that don't always necessarily show up in the statistical column or at least the really public eye. He's extremely unselfish. He's a cerebral player. He thinks the games through. He tries to play the game the right way. He doesn't hold on to the ball. He's into trying to do everything we can to try to help his team win.
And sometimes people have always said, would you like for him to be more aggressive? Well, we want him to develop at his own pace. Sure, we want him -- and I'm comfortable with it. Defensively, he takes challenges. He blocks shots. He rebounds. He's as concerned about making the pass to the guy who makes the pass, to the guy who gives the assist. And he's not all hung up in statistics.
So I think what's going to happen is as he continues to grow and get stronger and more physical and gain more experience. Those intangibles going to allow him to take his unbelievably God-given talent and excel at maybe even a higher rate than what people normally would because of how he approaches the game.
I'm extremely pleased with where he is. I didn't have a preconceived place that I wanted him to be in because he affects the game in so many ways that most guys are most concerned about the statistical part, but I've watched him grow in terms of not allowing himself to get caught up in the hoopla and maintaining the focus that will allow him to be whatever his team needs at that time for us to win.
I'm confident that there's no question that his best basketball is ahead of him. We try to stay away from those conversations that you guys have about how long he's going to be in school and all of that. That normally takes care of itself. Right now we're in the NCAA Tournament, and I think that's all we need to focus on right now.
Q. Coach, I'd like your thoughts on this, but if we could start with Jonathan: FGCU is one of the premier teams in the nation when it comes to scoring in the paint. How will your length combat that?
JONATHAN ISAAC: I don't think my length is going to do much by itself, but I think this team's length, which is the second-longest team in the country, third-longest team if you put it to NBA teams. I think that's our strength, being long, and blocking shots and altering shots. I think that's exactly what we're going to do.
We've had games where we've dominated the paint, and we've had games where we've been dominated in the paint. We've just got to take it for what it is and go at it like we usually do.
LEONARD HAMILTON: I try not to get into the philosophical part of what if. We have a tremendous amount of respect for this team. They're one of the top teams in America in different areas. We realize they are who they are. They play to their strengths. We play to our strengths. They'll be familiar with us. We'll be familiar with them.
We're going to try to play to the best of our ability to who we are, and I'm sure they're going to try to do the same thing. Hopefully, that will be enough for us to win.
Q. Coach, if you and Dwayne could speak to this, what is it that impresses you the most about FGCU specifically?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I think they're extremely athletic. They play in sync. They read each other very well. If you make a defensive mistake, they have the ability to have an unselfish spirit where they move the ball. They attack off the dribble. They attack off the lob. They make the extra pass defensively. They're very sound. They play with an extreme amount of energy and toughness.
They have basically dominated their league. They are very well-coached and always seem to be together and connected as a team. I thought they execute very well, and we won't be overlooking them.
DWAYNE BACON: I think one thing to me is just that they're super competitive. They go hard at everything they do, and they don't back down from challenges. I think they played Baylor to a close game. I think they played Michigan State and lost by one. Those are two high-level schools that they played to the wire, and I'm sure they'll come out and do the same with us.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about the importance of getting Dwayne back this year.
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, I think Dwayne made that decision on his own. Dwayne is extremely bright, very good student. He thinks things through. That was a decision he made because he felt that there was some things he wanted to accomplish as a college player, and there were areas of his game that he felt he could get better in.
I felt not many guys think things through and have that level of maturity to not get caught up in the hoopla that goes along with that situation, as it exists. Sometimes it's more excitement involved with the process and a lot of what ifs, and I thought he did a very good job of just analyzing and thinking it through and coming to the conclusion of what was best for him at that time and not best for what people thought other people thought. Not very many people make mature decisions.
Any time you have a scenario that's been created where you have more youngsters, undergraduates, applying for the NBA Draft than you have positions for them to be drafted in, we've created a false situation that I don't know how we're going to come back from. But Dwayne didn't allow himself to get caught up in that scenario, and he's to be commended for that.
Q. Leonard, I suppose it would be true that, if Michael had not had a knee injury last year, that he would not be able to play in the NCAA Tournament. But I'm wondering, if he hadn't gotten hurt last year, do you think that would have made the difference in you guys getting there last year? And what does it say about the fact he faces that situation, rehabs, comes back, and here he is in his first tournament.
LEONARD HAMILTON: I don't mean to be disrespectful, but the "what if he didn't get hurt" and that scenario, I try not to get caught up in things that we really have no control over. I think Michael had an opportunity -- unfortunately, he was injured, and maybe had he not been injured last year, we would have been a much better basketball team. And had he graduated, I probably would have gone out and recruited someone else.
But because he was back, we were very confident he could come back to help us. I have no way of being able to judge what if and what if. But I am pleased he's back. He graduated last year. He's going to have his master's degree. And when he gets through, he will have had opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament. He's been a tremendous leader, an ambassador for our basketball program. He could run for student body president and probably win by a landslide. He's one of the most popular guys on campus.
And he has been such a representative of FSU and the Seminole Nation that I'm just so pleased to have him with the progress he's made as an individual as much as a basketball player.
Unfortunately, he didn't play with us last year, but I'm extremely happy he's on our team this year, and I think he's going to do well in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Coach, what led you to believe that Xavier could be such an effective point guard? By his own admission, he was a two guy.
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, there's no question that he has the physical capabilities of being whatever position he wants to play. We needed him to be a point guard.
The transition that a guy has to make from being an off-guard to a guy who understands how to be the coach on the floor, learn how to communicate with his teammates, to be responsible for understanding all the different parts of the system, offensively and defensively, is a tremendous undertaking. You're going to make some mistakes. You're going to go through a process of development.
We have tried to allow him to play through some of his mistakes, and we've corrected him. So a lot has gone in through the process, and he's at a point now where he leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio, which is a tremendous compliment in itself when you think about the quality of players we have in the ACC.
I think it's been challenging for him because you have to almost change your mindset to be a guy who embraces and enjoys and gets excited about those things, running the team and making decisions away from being a guy who has to score a lot of points for your team to win.
All these guys come to us as being the best players on their high school team or whatever school they're playing with. So it's a different scenario where they now have to learn to play together and play to each other's strengths. It's not easy, and I think he's fought through it, and I think he's in a pretty good spot, pretty good place.
Q. This is for Dwayne: Las Vegas clearly doesn't think this way, but a lot of the talking heads, a lot of the gurus seem to have FGCU a trendy pick. Little chip on your shoulders for that, do you think, coming in?
DWAYNE BACON: They're going to say what they want to say. I feel like we don't buy into it as a team. I feel like we just don't go out and play like we've been playing all year. There's a lot of games this year the talking heads have had us to lose by a certain amount or had us to not do certain things. I feel like we proved them wrong a majority of the year, and I feel like it's no different for this game.
Q. Question for Jonathan: So you started playing your high school ball in Naples. Throughout high school, you grew ten inches. Talk about that growth spurt and how it's partially responsible for your diverse skill set.
JONATHAN ISAAC: I don't think it was ten inches. That's a lot. The growth spurt, it was tough for me, constantly having to adjust. Always aching and in pain. But it's been a fun ride to be able to be where I am today, standing 6'10", and still have kind of my guard skill set. So, yes, it's been cool.
Q. Playing off the question a couple questions ago, with respect to FGCU coming in with a certain set of expectations that you might not expect of a seed that high.
LEONARD HAMILTON: Be more specific about your expectations.
Q. Expectations that in Vegas they could give a better game than a 14 seed might typically be expected to give, and maybe some of that comes from what they did in the Tournament several years ago. I know it's a different team than it is now, but does it feel unique preparing for a 14 seed that enters with a bit of mystique about them, if you want to call it that?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We don't have a mystique about them. There's nothing mysterious about them at all. They're a good basketball team. They have proven that they deserve a similar respect. I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about with Vegas expectations. I don't pay any attention to it. I don't read it. I don't acknowledge it. I'm not really concerned about it.
Those things, there's so many different things you can get caught up in if you want to, but the most important thing is that we have to stay focused on just preparing. We have to worry about those errors that we can control, and that's the practice, our focus, our execution, our ability to communicate one another.
Sure, I've heard one or two guys make statements on the television predicting upsets for all over the country. That's kind of what they do. You're on TV, you got to make yourself interesting. You say things sometimes that maybe you just want to create the conversation we're having here by making certain statements. It doesn't really matter. When the ball is thrown up, then that's when you figure out what you're capable of doing. That's really the only thing we're concerned with. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to your question. We're not going to allow ourselves to get caught up in all the other conversations.
That's one thing good about college basketball, and the interesting thing about college basketball is that sometimes the best teams don't always win. We want to make sure we are mentally and emotionally engaged, so physically we can go out and be at our very best. That's what we're trying to do. That's out of respect for Florida Gulf Coast as much as anything else.
Q. Coach, Xavier talked about having a mentality of hunting people. When you guys had that brutal stretch that included playing six consecutive ranked teams, when you guys were a little bit sluggish after that, did you sense the mental letdown that he was talking about, and do you feel like the team now has the fire back as you get ready for the Tournament?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I do feel our team has fire, there's no doubt about that. I do feel it was a very emotional period for our guys, a little bit more than at the time I realized we were going through it. Only human nature will allow you, when you go through a period when the media is dubbing this "the Gauntlet", that's never been done, no team has ever really gone through a stretch of playing this many ranked teams, there was a lot of hoopla. I'm sure it's hard sometimes to tune out all the noise.
And we probably did have an emotional pause there for a minute, but a lot of it had to do with the quality of the teams we were playing. We were playing in a league that everybody was prepared for you. So now you're getting everybody's best shot when you're sitting there ranked in the top ten in the country. A lot of it was the quality of the opponents we played against, and probably some of it was that we weren't quite as sound in those individual games.
But I think we bounced back from that. I think we're in a good place now. We'll put that in the past and let's see what we can do about the present.
Q. Xavier, has it sunk in you're about to play in the NCAA Tournament? What does that mean? What are those emotions? How do you keep yourself, I don't know, calm when you have to wait until 9:30 to play?
XAVIER RATHAN-MAYES: I don't think it's completely sunk in yet. But it's an exciting time for all of us to finally be back in NCAA Tournament. I remember after we had our watch party the other day, me and Phil were talking about the season that we came off of freshman year, where we were 18-16 or something like that, to the point we're at now in the NCAA Tournament as a 3 seed.
It's an exciting time for our program, exciting time for all our guys. And we're just looking forward to getting out there tomorrow, having our ball thrown up, and playing to the best of our ability like we know how to.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports