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October 11, 2017
San Francisco, California
JR PAYNE: Thank you all for being here. I appreciate it. It's nice to look out and see so many now familiar faces in the room, so it's wonderful.
But we're very happy to be here. We're excited about the season that's coming up so much quicker than -- I know as a coach, it's coming up so much more quickly than I would like. These guys are probably ready for games already.
But we have a lot of new players. We have these two fantastic returners that carried a heavy load for us as sophomores and now will continue to carry an even heavier load.
So we have a brand-new team. I'm excited to share about them with you, and we're just ready to get going.
Q. Year one in the system is always a transition, and even when you try to jump start it, everyone's a freshman learning how to do stuff. What's it feel like? How do you tangibly tell the difference between last year, when everybody was learning who their coach was and their system, and then maybe this year?
KENNEDY LEONARD: I think just being able to play in it for a year, even if it's just a year, helps a ton. Obviously we have a couple new faces, a lot of new faces. But at the same time, it's a year under the same kind of structure, and we know what's coming and same plays -- don't tell anybody that, though. Different plays. Lots of different plays. Be ready.
Just the same kind of concepts I think Coach J and Coach T have kind of instilled in us so we're able to help the new people.
So, yeah, I think just having a year of experience is good. And we're kind of like sophomores in the system now, so we can try to help the freshmen and the transfers.
ALEXIS ROBINSON: I have to agree with Kennedy. It's been pretty easy so far. Sometimes us veterans will catch ourselves, like, oh, this is a pretty difficult drill. Let's be veterans. We catch ourselves doing that, and we'll be there with the new kids and kind of help them out along the way.
JR PAYNE: Yeah, it's really nice this year, we only have five returners, but we lean on these five in drill work and, like Kennedy said, in full practice. A lot of it is it's just easier when you have anyone, even if it's just a couple that know what you're doing, know the expectation of how is this drill run and, more importantly, how do we interact together, train together, and what tempo should we be training at.
So for me, it's significantly easier. Even with eight new people, it's so much easier this year.
Q. Last year, if you took, I don't know, a couple signature moments or big takeaways, what are you reflecting on from last year that you're going to take forward with you this year?
JR PAYNE: Oh, gosh, there are so many things in year one that I can reflect on. Some of them were on the court, some of them were off the court. When we had a big -- it may have been our win over Kentucky in the preseason last year, I remember sitting at the press conference table with a couple of our players, and it was probably these two, someone said, How do you beat a team like Kentucky? And one of them said, We have just bought into our roles. We feel confident in our role. We know what we're doing, and we're all doing the best we can in our role.
For me, that was a pivotal moment in our program because that's such an important part of the way we run our program.
Another big win we had or big moment was our win at Cal when they were 25th in the country, a game we weren't supposed to really even compete in, never mind win. And to take a team that, like someone said, we're basically all freshmen in a new system, and to win a game like that on the road was also very pivotal.
But advancing to postseason play, winning several postseason games, there were a lot of really great things that happened in last year's season that we can take and build on this year.
Q. Alexis, how is the rehab process going for you coming off that torn ACL? I read a couple weeks ago that you'd be ready in a couple weeks. I was wondering if you could give us a status update. And, Coach, what have you seen from Alexis as she's tried to make her way back from injury?
ALEXIS ROBINSON: Yeah, it's going pretty well. It's been an easy process, considering the timing. But, yeah, I'm looking pretty good, I think.
JR PAYNE: She's looking better than good, yeah.
ALEXIS ROBINSON: Yeah, I should hopefully be full-go here soon. But everything's going really well.
JR PAYNE: Yeah, Lexi tore her knee, and there is never a good time to tear your knee, but she tore it at the best moment of the year that she could have. The season was coming to an end, and she was able to have her surgery right away and rehab right away.
Now she's basically back. She hasn't been cleared for full court five-on-five drills, but she's playing five-on-five in the half court.
I told someone the other day when we were playing, I said, Lexi looks like she's never been hurt. She really does. I mean, she he looks like she's never been injured. She doesn't love her knee brace, so she takes it off as quickly and often as she can. But the doctors are thrilled with the way she's rehabbed, her strength, everything about it.
So I'm expecting -- as great of a season as Lexi had last year, I'm expecting an even bigger season.
Q. (Off microphone)?
JR PAYNE: Absolutely. If we had to play today, Lexi would be ready to go, yeah.
Q. I was privileged that I got to watch you guys a lot in person last year and could see the improvement. What do you think, Coach, the biggest difference from last year to this year will be?
JR PAYNE: We took a big loss in Haley Smith, our great senior last year who was just an incredible force on and off the floor. But we return a lot of firepower in these two. There aren't too many one-two punches around the country that I believe are as talented and as effective as these two young ladies up here on the court. So that's a huge, huge bonus for us.
The biggest difference from this year's team to last year's team is we're significantly bigger. We're significantly longer. So we'll be able to do a lot more things defensively than we could do last year.
So we turned people over a lot. We scored a lot off forced turnovers and things like that. But we'll be able to do that a little bit even more effectively this year.
Q. Talk a little about them. And also two of them -- I've asked some other coaches about their international players. Two of them were overseas, one via junior college, I suppose. How important was that, to get overseas players on your team?
JR PAYNE: Yeah, I think the world of recruiting has gone pretty international lately. For us, that doesn't necessarily need to be a focus, but I think the world has shrunk with the Internet and the way video can be transported and exchanged.
So the two international players you're referring to are freshmen from the Canary Islands. Sara Castro, and she's from Dakar, Senegal, but she played one year at junior college, Imatel Jop (phonetic).
So those two, we weren't necessarily looking for international players, but these two seemed to fit what we're looking for at that time. They're a great part of our program.
We have a lot of new ones. You want me to talk about all of them, or just a couple? Just a couple. Okay. Those are two of them.
One young lady that you're going to hear a lot of throughout the season is a junior college transfer from Massachusetts. Her name is Janea Bunn. She's a 6'3" forward, and she's going to be really, really good for us this year. She's a great rebounder. She's athletic, big, broad, mature player. She's played a lot of basketball. She can attack. She's going to be really good for us this year and fill in some of the empty space that we had inside.
Another young lady I'll talk about is Mya Hollingshed, a 6'3" freshman wing from Houston, Texas, who I believe is one of the more talented players I've ever recruited.
Now, it's a big step from high school to college and the pace and everything, the grind of a long season, but this gal can play, and she's going to have a big impact this year.
Q. Alexis, can you -- were you confident from the git-go that you'd be back around the season opener? And can you take us through your rehab over the summer and how exactly you approached it the last few months?
ALEXIS ROBINSON: Yeah, I was pretty confident that I'd be back. My sister had recently torn her ACL, not recently, but this past fall, and she recovered. She's my younger sister, but she's my inspiration for coming back so quickly. So I looked to her process and how things went for her, and I based myself off that.
But as far as how everything went this summer, the rehab, it seemed really fast, but it was actually pretty slow. We really weaned myself into it. And then I guess at the right time, when practice started hitting, we just started going really hard and got really aggressive with my rehab and stuff like that.
Q. As a second-year player, what kind of lessons did you learn about playing in this conference?
KENNEDY LEONARD: It's a good conference. Every night is a good game. You know you're going to get some good competition.
Fortunately, this is my third year in the Pac-12. I got to experience it as a freshman. Freshman year was a little rough for the team. But with Coach J and Coach T coming in and coaching us and everything, last year was really fun. Got to compete in every game. We won two games we probably shouldn't have won and lost some games we probably shouldn't have lost.
But I think in the third year we're upperclassmen now, so we're able to -- in the storm, in the eye of the storm, we're able to calm down those around us.
So I think that's going to be really, really vital in the middle of the season, when things might not go as we planned or as we think, to be able to be those people that our teammates can look up to and know that everything will be okay.
JR PAYNE: Yeah, my first year, in completing our first year, the biggest difference that I noticed was every single night you're going to play an opponent that's really tough, extremely well coached, very disciplined, and is going to have the capability of beating you.
But then on the flip side, we also have the ability to beat anybody as well. So I love the fact there is nowhere on our schedule that you can look at a game and circle it and go, okay, if we're struggling, we can get back on track on this night. There is no one in the Pac-12 that you can count on being able to walk in and "we can win this game for sure." So that's cool.
As a coach and as a player, a lot of these guys chose to come to the Pac-12 because they wanted to play against the best, and that's the opportunity that we get every night.
Q. I watched you guys a lot. So, Kennedy, your numbers really increased from your freshman and sophomore year. What part of your game do you want to improve on and expect to be improved this season?
KENNEDY LEONARD: I don't know if it's so much basketball-wise, but I fall a lot. I get pushed around a little bit. So this off-season I've gotten in the weight room a lot. Now I have like a little muscle definition. So I'm going to try to stay on my feet a little more.
And then obviously I'm just going to try to be a better leader as a junior and a point guard. The ball is in my hands a lot, and I have to be an extension of Coach J on the court. Keep my body language good, keep myself on my feet, and keep the teammates on their feet I think is what I'm going to try to do my best at.
Q. How about you, Alexis?
ALEXIS ROBINSON: I would definitely say different off the court. I want to be a better teammate. We have a lot of new kids, so I want to be able to set the example for them and get them through tough times, because there is a lot of struggle being student-athletes. So I want to get them through tough times on and off the court and build a relationship with them.
Q. Were Alexis's arms some of your motivation? What were you lifting at the beginning of summer, and what are you lifting now?
KENNEDY LEONARD: Me?
Q. Yeah, if you want to get specific.
KENNEDY LEONARD: Okay, the other day we did max squats, and I went from 210 to 259. And I have little legs, so they tell me that's pretty good.
My bench press, we haven't tested it yet, but last time we tested it I got 135, which is my body weight. So I don't know if that's any good, but that's what I got. My vertical has gotten higher, so that's good.
Q. What was it, and what is it now?
KENNEDY LEONARD: 26, I think. So I wasn't fat before, but I was a little chunky. So I've lost some of that chunk, and now I'm pretty lean.
JR PAYNE: For the record, Kennedy Leonard has never been chunky. But she actually has leaned out and gained a good amount of muscle.
KENNEDY LEONARD: I lost whatever was there, and now it's muscle. Yeah, I've gotten in the weight room a lot. Alexis obviously gets in the weight room a lot too.
And we were partners in the weight room this year. So my weight would be under hers, and she was like, Oh, no, you can do it. You can do this push press at 105. And I'm like, I cannot do that. And she's like, Do it, do it. I'm like, Okay.
So she's standing behind me, and I'll like shake to get it up there, you know, but I get it up there, and then she goes and throws on like 150 pounds and just slings it around like it's nothing.
So to be able to compete with each other in the weight room and lift each other up and grab our teammates and link up with them and get them pushing bigger weights I think has shown off on the basketball court, too, because we don't fall. We rebound better now. I think it's just a full cycle.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports