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March 31, 2017
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Few.
Q. I have a question, how big of an impact has Donny Daniels had on you and the program and also with guards like Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews?
COACH FEW: Donny's had an enormous impact on our program. I mean, I believe this is Donny's fifth Final Four, I think which is amazing on three different staffs. I don't know if anybody's ever been able to do that in the history of college ball. Just the experiences he's accrued, the people that he's worked for and the knowledge that he's came about overall in the years in the business have been incredibly valuable not just for on-the-floor stuff, but just how to operate as a program and recruiting obviously and then just a real positive, positive person. It's great to have positivity sometimes. I have a tendency to not be the most positive person you've ever been around during the season. So it's nice to have Donny.
Q. First time on this big stage. There's on-court challenges, there are off-the-court challenges. What is the biggest challenge for you as a coach bringing players here for the first time?
COACH FEW: I think just, I believe, finding the right balance. I don't think you should -- for someone who is 18 to 22 years old, doing it for the first time, maybe the last time in a lot of instances, you know -- haul them 50 miles away and keep them sequestered in a hotel. I think they should be able to enjoy this. I think they should be able to experience it. It's an amazing, amazing event.
And then just from our perspective, the Gonzaga perspective, I can't tell you the outpouring and the support and all the people that are coming from all over the world, literally all over the world, to come watch us this weekend, and a lot of former players and colleagues of mine and college roommates. And these are people that I want my players to see and shake their hand and talk to them a little bit, because it's part of the whole journey.
And then that being said, then you've got the process. We'll walk off this podium here and pretty much be done with the media. And then we get a great session of getting shots and things up on the actual rims where we get to play tomorrow and then we'll go to a private practice and really finish off the game plan. They've been fantastic all year about just laser focus.
Q. How much do you know about the Gamecocks? You guys play on the West Coast; they play on the East Coast. I've watched a lot of your games, but it's usually late at night on the east.
COACH FEW: At this point?
COACH FEW: I think we know a lot. We started Sunday at 1:00 our time or something. And my staff's unbelievable about accruing information, both analytically and just with our eyes and with our feel, and I kind of let them handle the analytical side of things, and then I just kind of focus in on the things I see and the things I feel.
So we've studied them a lot. And just very impressed with their -- obviously everybody knows their defense, but also impressed, they've offensively been very good in this tournament and a little bit like Xavier in that way. We faced a really, really hot team in Xavier. We faced a really hot player in Bluiett. Thornwell is a really, really hot player right now, as well as the other guys that seem to be playing as good as they've played all year together. And then just the intensity, the physicality, the athleticism that they bring on the glass is a real concern.
Q. For your institution and your fan base, how good does it feel to provide an experience like this for them?
COACH FEW: It's just been unbelievable. I don't know that I could put it into words. We had a great little get-together last night with former players, former coaches, all the colleagues that I've met 28 years in the business, just kind of hunting and pecking and doing what you do, you know, as a college assistant. And as a college head coach, you get a lot of help along the way and meet a lot of great people.
So the fact that -- I still am amazed how emotionally it hits you when you see all these people rallying into town from all over the place, wishing you well but also just coming in to see your team and support them. It's a pretty powerful emotion.
Q. There's some news this week that Wichita State is exploring a move to the American Conference. Did you guys ever have an opportunity to change conferences? And do you think that you would have been able to build the same level of success? Would it have been easier or harder if you had been in a different conference?
COACH FEW: I think the last part of that question is just speculative. I don't know how you could possibly -- I know the current product, for lack of a better term, that we put out there on the floor could match up in any conference very favorably. Not to say that we'd win every game, but we could certainly compete in any conference and do very, very well for ourselves, with this team and many of the teams I've had.
So how that would play out, I don't know. With your seeding and all that, with the analytics, it's a tough call. But I do know we'd be fine just with on-the-court stuff. As far as talk -- I know there was talks, there has been talks, I think they've mostly been informal and it's above my intellectual grade and status grade or whatever. I'm just kind of the old ball coach.
Q. Obviously you guys are as aggressive as you can be non-conference scheduling every single year. Over the years, how have you sort of tried to target your approach and what games to actually take on, how many times you go on the road? And have you hit a sweet spot with where you are in scheduling?
COACH FEW: Yeah, definitely. Again, it's obviously with the advent over the last 10, 12 years, information you get from the Jerry Palms and Lunardis and just the analytics that are available to kind of assess your team. I've also been one of those guys that once the brackets came up and the players got excited and ran over to go call all their moms and dads, I would always listen to what the chairman of the committee said after the brackets, that little five-minute talk about why this guy got in and why these guys didn't and why. And we really honed in on that.
Our scheduling has been great for probably the last 10 or 12 years. And if anything we've kind of had to be very, very protective of it. We've had -- almost any home game that we've ever wanted, not all of them, obviously, there's a couple that we haven't, but we've had some great home and home series with some really strong teams. So it's a balance of, we want a couple home-and-homes, which are harder and harder to get this day and age, but we've also then ventured out to the neutral deals that are readily available thanks to ESPN and CBS and all the events. And then certainly the Maui -- next year we're in the PK80 which is just as good a tournament as probably --
Q. Where is that?
COACH FEW: Portland, Phil Knight, Nike. It's probably the greatest tournament ever created, it's what they're trying to pull off. We're not lacking that. If anything, sometimes we have to back it off a little bit, not beat ourselves up too bad.
Q. All the analytics suggest this is the best defense you've ever had. Would you, A, agree with that? And if so, why?
COACH FEW: I would agree with that. And just for several reasons. The rim protection that we have this year is different than anything we've been able to put out there. We got the bulk, the strength, size of Karnowski which allows us to not have to double team. So then we're not forced into rotations. But then we also can combine that with the athleticism, the shot blocking of Zach Collins. Killian Tillie helps.
And I'm telling you, the guy that probably makes the biggest difference for us is Johnathan Williams III. He can guard one through five. Very comfortable with him guarding the best perimeter on the team or best forward on the team. And then the other night we got in massive foul trouble, we had to move him to the five. He was in the middle of our zone and he was guarding the other center the other night. So just to have somebody that versatile and you're so comfortable with, you can switch ball screens and things like that, it makes a heck of a difference.
Q. I wanted to know what it means to you -- I mean, we've seen Gonzaga get close. We have followed this program, I think the country is really enthralled by a school that's not part of the major conferences to make it this far. What does it mean for you to finally get to this point?
COACH FEW: I think I've been most -- and a little bit surprised and shocked -- just emotionally how much I've been moved because of, like I said earlier, just the amount of former players and colleagues and even friends of mine that date back 25 years ago that are coming in from all over basically the world for this weekend to watch us. I mean, it's crazy. It's crazy, and it's really cool.
And so it's more about just the joy you feel when you see those former players, how proud they are of the school they went to, the program they played for. Obviously seeing how happy my guys are and just the looks on their faces for all the -- I had no idea some of the stuff goes on for these Final Four teams. I mean, the way they take care of you here is just mindboggling. And they truly make it a lifetime experience. It's been great stuff.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the student-athletes from Gonzaga, Josh Perkins and Jordan Mathews are joining us.
Q. We were talking about the survival camp you did in the preseason?
COACH FEW: I don't know that it was survival.
Q. You would probably call it camping?
COACH FEW: I don't know that I would call it camping. I'd call it like soft -- soft travel in the wilderness, something along those lines.
Q. That's what I wanted to ask, what did you learn about your guys?
COACH FEW: How soft they were. (Laughter) And it concerned me greatly at that time. I had no idea we were going to end up here based on my observations then. I would have put a lot of money that it wouldn't have happened. But, yeah, just amazing that they would be so frightful of being out in God's country, in the dark where there's absolutely nothing that could do anything to them, but yet they have no issues wandering the streets of South Chicago or Los Angeles at night. Yeah, crazy, crazy. Guys throwing up because they aren't eating -- they're eating little camp food and stuff.
Q. Can Josh speak to that?
JOSH PERKINS: The guys went on a little night walk, and I was one of the guys who stuck back in the tent. I was real comfortable doing that. But like he said, I'm more comfortable walking the streets than I would be out in the wilderness.
COACH FEW: The night walk was basically maybe 25 yards (laughter) down to the lake, and it's being described as this epic journey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was not that. And it was on a nice kind of groomed dirt trail. So, yeah, not my usual outdoor experience. But it helped. I'm telling you, it was unbelievable how -- the unwritten story for this team is just how they assimilated so quickly with so many new faces. And that little 48 hours really truly helped us.
Q. Mark, was this designed as a bonding experience? How did you come up with the idea of it?
COACH FEW: I have always been one of those guys, you know, our chemistry always seems to just magically come together at Gonzaga, and we just kind of do it our own way. So I always fought it, these little get-together, team building, all this stuff that's organized. But our strength and conditioning coach, Travis Knight, has a wonderful feel for the guys, and he's really studied just team and growth and leadership and servant leadership and things like that.
And we also got some help from Delta Force, a former Delta Force guy who was really good at kind of pulling things out of the guys and challenging them. And it was big. It truly was big, because it set us on the path that we needed to go on. We had all these guys coming from different entities with maybe different ideas and different needs, and it kind of unified these guys. But Josh probably needs to speak to it more than I do and really pulled them together.
JOSH PERKINS: Yeah, I just think like the overall message of the trip was to sacrifice. There was a lot of guys, like Coach said, that was coming in from different backgrounds, being the best player on their team from the team coming back. I just knew we had a lot of good pieces, and if we bought in for the same prize and gave it up for each other, the sky was the limit. And we're speaking to that right now.
COACH FEW: Ladies and gentlemen here's one of the Zag camp-out MVPs. Boy, was this guy a warrior out in the woods.
THE MODERATOR: Jordan, do you want to comment on your camp experience?
JORDAN MATHEWS: Yeah, I'm a big-time camper, contrary to what Coach said. I did throw up out there, some peanut butter and jelly, but other than that it was fun. The mosquitos weren't that bad, but once we realized we were out there with head lamps and stuff, I wanted to get back to LA really bad. But it was nice. It was good to be out there.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the philosophy of Gonzaga, with the players? And more specifically, if the opportunity to redshirt is there you're not afraid to do it. You build players up and prepare them for their future and the future with the Zags as well.
COACH FEW: We've had a great run of redshirting some of our players, probably more so in the early stages of the program. But it's all about communication and it's all about kind of the culture and believing in the culture. It's a culture of player development. And if you find somebody, I think, like in Jordan's case, just loves to work. He loves to put his time in and he just wants a plan and he wants some people that will work with him. And it's a great.
That's what fits at Gonzaga. Nigel is very much like that. Johnathan Williams is very much like that. When we find these guys and they find us, I mean, it just works perfectly. But the communication line has to be open. The expectations gotta all line up with what the player wants and what we feel like where they're at within the program. And then you make those decisions on redshirting them.
Kelly Olynyk made probably one of the most mature decisions I've ever seen in my whole career was to get halfway through and say, hey, I've got to flip a switch here or something. I don't like where I'm going. I have to kind of reinvent myself. And he did it and it was him and Travis Knight and the assistants and all of us kind of getting here and figuring it out.
Q. What are some of the specifics, in general, do you see from the players that take that redshirt year and then they come back, what are they like on the floor?
COACH FEW: They're usually a more mature player. Physically they usually do a great job, again with our strength and conditioning, Coach Trav, changing their bodies. Kelly really, really changed his body. A lot of the freshmen that come in and redshirt change their bodies. And I think sometimes it just gives you -- in Kelly's case he was able to sit and kind of watch things from a coaching perspective. And I had him charting things. He'd start getting pissed at the players for not blocking out and not running the right set or defensive rotation.
And I knew when you started seeing that, you're like, okay, we're getting somewhere because, KO, this is what we used to get on you about. And he was one of the smartest players I've ever coached. So just that. I mean, it takes on kind of its own growth mode with each individual player.
Q. Josh and Jordan, I don't mean to suggest that Gonzaga is small town, but there's a great scene in the film Hoosiers when the small team from Hickory comes into this big arena for the state championship and they're in awe of the arena. And then the coach, played by Gene Hackman, stops them and they measure the height of the basket and a few other things to remind them that it's just the same as their gym in Hickory, when it comes to the floor. When you guys got here, was there any moment of awe like that, or are you able for being here for the first time to really focus on the task at hand?
JORDAN MATHEWS: I think that's who we've been all year. We've never really been in awe. We've relished moments and we really enjoyed them, but we've always taken the task at hand and focused on our details because we do know the rim is still ten feet high or it should be.
So we have the ability to just lock in and focus on what we need to focus on and let the rest take care of itself. Now it's big out there. It's going to be a lot of fun, but South Carolina and North Carolina and Oregon all have to play on the same venue. So as long as we focus on our details, what Gonzaga is going to do, we've always been fine.
JOSH PERKINS: Yeah, Jordan took the answer right out of my mouth, to be real honest. But we've just got to focus on things we can control and that's coming to play every day. We're soaking it in, for sure, but we've got to take it one game at a time and be ready to go.
COACH FEW: I would just say that I don't think any teams are used to playing in domes like this. Carolina got, what, two games last year 365 days ago. But we bounce around playing in big, neutral situations. We were in the Staples this year, so the guys are used to the big arenas like that.
I guess my bigger question is which one of our guys is playing the assistant coach. Hopefully that's not the impression of Tommy Lloyd or B-Mike or something. Remember that guy? (Laughter). Shooter, was that his name? Shooter was a good guy, man. (Laughter). I've got a warm spot for guys like Shooter.
Q. How difficult of a player is Przem to officiate, for referees, and how big of an impact can that have on your games depending on how it's going?
COACH FEW: You have to ask probably the officials. I have had them at times during his career come by and say, yeah, he's a hard one to officiate.
What I will say is he -- it hasn't just been this last year or so where we've seen so much, I think such a better job by the officials refereeing vertical contests. He's been great at that literally his whole career. Almost like, I don't want to say he invented it, but he was just so adept.
These guys can say in practice, he just -- used to be just standing there and they'd run into him and just fall down on their finishes. And then when they started saying, no, he's got to jump, especially in the charge circle, he's really, really good at it.
And I think he's fundamental. I think the other thing that he's very underrated for, very underrated for, is his ball screen coverage. His feet are a lot better than people realize.
We've even switched ball screens with him late, and he's very intuitive and got a great feel. And I think the first time you hit him, when I watch games, it's the first time a guy comes down the floor either on offense or defense and feels him and hits him, it's usually an eye-opener for that particular player.
Q. Grand Canyon University here in Phoenix has said that they want to build their program in the way that Gonzaga has over the years. What does that say about your program and what advice would you have for them?
COACH FEW: First of all, they don't need any advice. They've got the best leadership two guys I've ever been around. They have Jerry Colangelo, who is a friend of mine and I admire at the utmost level.
I've been able to luckily be a part of USA Basketball for the last five, seven years. And I mean, what an impressive man and just reputation and leader that he is.
And then also I've also had the opportunity to be around Dan Majerle with some USA Basketball stuff and just out on the road recruiting and actually saw him last night. And they got the perfect guy for running it.
To me, they are a little bit of a sleeping giant with what they've got going there. And the thing that I see is they have that growth mindset that Gonzaga has had during this whole run and so definitely on the rise.
Q. When did you know that you had such a fearless shot-maker in Jordan, and what do you think goes into that that allows him to be that way?
COACH FEW: I call him Big Shot Bob. I can't remember, was that Bob, who was that guy in the NBA Finals. Robert Horry. Unbelievable.
I call him Big Shot Bob. I think he's always looks at me like what the heck are you talking about? I get that look from him a lot, by the way. Yeah, he's not afraid. He's not afraid of the moment.
The great thing I love about Jordan is he's got a very, very short memory. And so he's not one of those guys, that if he misses two or three or four jumpers, he's mumbling to himself and it affects the rest of his game. We've had games this year where I think he hasn't maybe started out that great. And then as the moment got bigger and it was time, I mean, he just stepped up and hit the big shots.
So I don't know if that is from his mom or being a coach's kid or just from -- I mean, he's a worker. And he's put his time in. And I always say that to all our guys: If you put your time in, then you're comfortable with missing big shots, because you know you've done everything you can to ensure your success. And you just live with the results.
And just the other day, it was going down the stretch against West Virginia, and I had to turn and get on the assistants: We've got to get Jordan back in there, I know he's going to make a big shot. He's going to make a big shot. So we got him in there, and he did. So he deserves all the credit.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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