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March 14, 2018
Q. Trae, I'm curious, you have been mentioned this year with "Pistol Pete" Maravich. He was born -- he was born not far from here. So I'm curious if that name means anything to you, and also, what runs through your mind when you hear about his straight numbers, the guy averaged 42 points a game tore his career without a three-point line?
TRAE YOUNG: That's unbelievable. To even be mentioned in the same category or even the same breath with someone like "Pistol Pete" Maravich. That's a legend right there, especially in the game, the things he's able to do on the court without a three-point line was unbelievable. So, I mean, it's a blessing and honor to be mentioned in the same breath as him, like I said.
Q. This time last year you were finishing up the last high school season. Now the dream is here, you're about to play in March Madness. What does that feel like and also with the struggles down the stretch with the season. Have you been able to reset the last two days?
TRAE YOUNG: The first question, it's been crazy. This is a live shot just finishing up my high school season and getting ready for the mid All-American game. Now I'm here on the big stage of college basketball. I mean, this is a dream for me. Being the first person in our family to be in the NCAA Tournament is an honor for me. So, this is, like I said, a dream come true. I'm going to just cherish this moment, on-the-court and even off-the-court activities.
And then, yeah, this is a new season. I mean, I count the regular season as last season. We're not worried about it. Everybody is 0-0 now. Everybody in this field is capable of winning games. So, we have got to come in with the mindset of we're going to compete hard on both ends for 40 minutes, and hopefully get back to the way we were to start the season, and if we do that, we'll be okay.
Q. Trae, you've learned a difficult lesson this year that people aren't always nice. You have to learn that at a young age especially with social media. How have you handled all of that.
TRAE YOUNG: It's been different for me. I'm 19 years old. I had to mature a lot more quickly than a lot of 19-year-olds would. It's been a roller coaster year. I wouldn't go back and do anything different. I mean, these are my brothers, and we've had a roller coaster year, like I've said. I mean, we can always get better, and you -- I mean, you can always get better and you learn from your failures, so, that's all I'm doing. I'm just maturing and getting better each and every day.
Q. Jamuni and Christian, can you guys pinpoint if there was one or two things that happened to you late in the -- middle part of the season when the slide began, and what you can do to turn that around?
JAMUNI MCNEACE: That's like when the drought came, we weren't making as many shots. We shoot a lot better at home. We got to try to get more shots up the jam so we going to, like today we got to put up a whole bunch of shots to get comfortable with the environment and like the area, you know.
CHRISTIAN JAMES: I agree with him. We were on a drought for a bit. At one point in time we were knocking down a lot of threes. That happens. I score a lot of threes. But scouting reports and things like that, teams start to watch you. You have to change your game plan. So I feel like we'll get back to it. We'll definitely get back to it. We just got to stay focused and stay focused on our goal and knock down shots.
Q. Trae, there are a few -- you're one of the semi-finalists for National Player of the Year. There's a few other guys in Pittsburgh this weekend who are also up for that. Just curious, do you ever get a chance to watch any of those other guys, whether Bagley or Brunson from Villanova? What kind of stands out to you about the field this year, some of the talent in college basketball?
TRAE YOUNG: I mean, I watch college basketball even when I'm not playing. I know a lot about those guys. They are all very good players. Brunson is having a terrific year. I mean Marvin is having a terrific year. I've known Marvin since AU days, we played against them a few times when I was in high school with Michael. Yeah, no. This whole field is good.
This is one of the deepest college basketball tournaments that I have seen in the years that I've watched growing up in the tournament. So, all 68 teams good. So, there's some -- a lot of key players playing, too.
Q. For all three of you guys, the reaction you as a team saw maybe from national media to you guys getting in the tournament, did that give you a chip on your shoulder and how does that ultimately feel?
CHRISTIAN JAMES: Definitely. I would say motivated us more. It's been a rocky season for us. I feel like it's going to make us even closer. It's going to motivate us to play even harder. I just want to get that done even more.
TRAE YOUNG: Like Christian said, that's -- we see everything. We're good at blocking things out. We've been good this week on just focusing on Rhode Island. They're a very good team. Got a lot of respect for them. So we got to be ready to play. But, I mean, we do play with a chip on our shoulder, especially as of late, we haven't been playing very good.
But like I said, we all sat down, we made sure and let everybody know this is a new season, so it's 0-0, and it's a new breath of fresh air. We got to come out and play and be ready.
Q. This is for Jamuni and Christian. You guys have been with Trae the whole season, seen the ups and downs from the criticisms and everything. How have you guys handled that? How has that been part of your team? How do you approach that when you see all of the constant feedback you're getting on social media?
JAMUNI MCNEACE: Are you talking about negative or positive attention?
JAMUNI MCNEACE: He earned it. This kid's averaging more point assists than anybody in the country, so he deserves that. The negative stuff, you know, he's like one of our brothers. You talk bad about my brother, I'm going to be mad at it. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He goes up and competes and we're going to support him through anything.
CHRISTIAN JAMES: Definitely. Trae's a phenomenal player. He's going to get criticism, good with the bad. So you have to take it both ways and just keep moving. Just keep pushing forward. Phenomenal player, we've seen ups and downs and makes us want to play harder for him.
We hate to see him get negative attention, but it comes with that area of being a great player, you know? So, it just makes us want to fight harder for him as a team.
Q. Jamuni, for you, how important is rebounding in this game and what do you feel like the issues have been with rebounding with this team recently and do you feel like there's a chance to get that area turned around?
JAMUNI MCNEACE: I feel like we need all five guys coming in. We got to box up. We've been doing a lot of rebounding drillings and practice and stuff. I feel that stuff will help us. We got to focus more on rebounding and stuff rather than scoring, you know.
Q. Trae, as a follow-up to something you just said, you want to make sure everyone knows this is a new season. Did you all have a team meeting? Did you discuss that as players only? Talk a little bit more about that?
TRAE YOUNG: I mean, I think after, when you know you're in, every coach, you all have a team meeting discussing what your plan is, traveling and stuff like that. And that was one of our things that we talked about when we got together. Like I said, we're was 0-0 and we have to get back to work and especially for a good Rhode Island team.
Like I said. We got a lot of respect for them. No, we also talk, text message, stuff like that. We talk in our group messages about being focused and ready for a good Rhode Island team.
Q. Trae, I know you've talked before about guys that you look up to as far as their game like Steve Nash. In this situation, is there anyone you can study from the past like Kemba Walker, anybody you can study to try and take something from this week?
TRAE YOUNG: I mean, I'm continuously watching film, watching film, a lot of guys, a lot of point guards. I watch a lot of film, a lot of old March Madness, and the old tournament games. I remember when Kemba went off, Steph went off in the tournament. I don't picture myself just doing what they're doing. I want to be a better version of me. I don't get too involved in that. I just want to be ready to play from the first game.
Q. There was a lot of criticism of you guys making the field. Charles Barkley was one of them. Did you listen to any of that, and what do you say to those people?
TRAE YOUNG: I mean, you hear it, you hear it. Like I said, we've been good just blocking out everything and focusing on ourselves and how we can get better as a team, being prepared for them, but you definitely hear it. You see it all, but like I said, we do a good job of blocking it out.
Q. Rhode Island -- Trae, sorry. Rhode Island trotting out four senior starters. Anyone question your youth as a freshman being at a disadvantage in an environment like this. What is your response?
TRAE YOUNG: This is the end of the season. I think you have all of the experience you need coming in. I mean, each team has played 30-plus games, so, this is -- it's not like it's the beginning of the season.
So they're very good. Like I said, they've won tournament games recently so they know how to win in this environment, in this tournament. But we have some guys that have been to the Final Four two years ago and know how to win as well.
So those guys are helping me and some of the other freshmen and sophomores, giving us advice on how to play in the tournament and what to expect. So, we got some veterans and so do they, and their veterans are really good, too.
Q. Trae, in addition to that experience, one of Rhode Island's calling cards is their guard play. As a point guard, what are the unique challenges they present whether offensively or defensively?
TRAE YOUNG: Like you said, they're very guard-heavy. They have a lot of the good guards on their team. They know how to play, play well with each other, and I feel like in my eyes the guards run the NCAA Tournament. When you have good guard play, those are the teams that usually win, win down the stretch, too. So they got really good guards and we got to be ready to play and match up with them.
Q. I know you guys love this time of year, March Madness. It's -- you see it, the one shining moment, all that stuff, but for each of you, what is your favorite March Madness moment that you've seen on TV, or maybe even noticed?
JAMUNI MCNEACE: This year or all time?
Q. All time watching the tournament.
JAMUNI MCNEACE: Just watching we got to play in the Final Four our freshman year, so that's probably like the best experience I ever had. We get off the plane, it's like jets and stuff lined up, Army. That's part of the experience.
CHRISTIAN JAMES: Best moment is bonding with your brothers. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be in the tournament and just have that experience. That's the best part.
TRAE YOUNG: I mean, I've never played in it, obviously, but, I mean, I just love the joy you see on teams' faces and players' faces whenever players hit big shots, big moments. I always teared up when I see one shining moment at the championship game. So, it's just an unreal feeling that I'm here now. It's -- those type of moments that I always cherish growing up.
Q. For Jamuni and Christian. Trae's obviously a pretty unique player as a point guard. So just, can you talk about maybe just adapting to that sort of style. What are some of the things he does to open things up for you guys, and just, did it take some time to get used to that sort of style?
CHRISTIAN JAMES: Not really. You know, we kind of feed off of him. Obviously, he draws so much attention, it makes it easier for us to make plays and to score. Yeah, I would say he just draws so much attention, it's easier for everybody else to make plays around them, I would say.
JAMUNI MCNEACE: As a big man, you want a point guard that draws all your attention, so you get lobs, we can rebound, kick out, run the floor, and he can look for his man. I like playing with him. He makes it a lot easier for us. I would say.
Q. Was the plan coming in to have Trae be that much a part of the offense as far as scoring? When you were drawing up a plan for him this season was it for him to have 600 shots and 27 points a game?
COACH KRUGER: We knew it was going to be a big factor. We had the opportunity, the trip in the summer that gave us a preview. I don't think anybody expected him to do in November and December what he did. He exploded on the scene. Made shots, made plays, he did a terrific job. Obviously, a guy get those results, you adjust a little bit. Knew it was going to be a huge factor but not to the extent it turned out.
Q. Has he gotten better as the season has gone on in terms of when to shoot and when to pass? Have you seen that maturation from December to now?
COACH KRUGER: Defenses have made it tougher later. That changes everything, too because they started being much more physical with him, being more aggressive, trying to get it out of his hands earlier. Probably became a lot less efficient later than early.
But again, no one is as efficient as he was early, he did such a good job. He sets such a high bar. That changes everyone's expectations. When it doesn't quite work out as smoothly later, then you kind of get measured by what you did early and that was a pretty tough standard.
Q. To follow up a bit on that, you must watch tape not only of your opponents but your own team. I am sure you see what teams are doing to you. From the perspective of a coach from Oklahoma, but imagine you're a coach scouting what teams are doing to Oklahoma. What are they doing to you guys in the past month or so that's proven more effective?
COACH KRUGER: I don't know that they changed a lot in the last month, you know, from early on. They have obviously given Trae more attention, try to be more physical with him, trying to make him finish tough shots at the rim, maybe staying home on receivers a little bit more.
You know, the blueprint was pretty much the same game after game after game, and we got, you know, we gave a little -- we got married to making shots in November, December, early January. When you make shots, everything works pretty well; when you don't, our energy level is not quit the same. Not the ideal way we like for a team to be built, but we just haven't quite gotten away from being connected closely with making shots.
When we're making shots, things are good; when we don't, we've not done well.
Q. Lon, how big of a factor do you think it is that Rhode Island has not seen you -- it's not like a Big 12 team seeing you for a second time and scouting you all year. Do you see that as playing to your advantage, if you put yourself in your shoes what do you think they're doing?
COACH KRUGER: It goes both ways. We don't know them as well as their conference teams do either. I think they've got terrific individual talent. Coach Hurley has done a great job with them. They are attacking all of the time, defensively, offensively. But for us to know exactly what they are until we get on the floor, that will be a little bit different for us, just like for them, for them to know exactly what we're about.
So, yeah, it's different when you're playing a team that's not as familiar, not in your league, as part of the NCAA, you know, lore, if you will, but it will be different for them, but us, too.
Q. A couple questions for you, Coach, number one. You've coached a lot of guards in your coaching career. What are some of the things that make Trae unique and secondly, just kind of a piggyback off of that, seems more and more freshmen are making that earlier impact and a massive impact at that. What -- what are the big factors in that as far as what you see as a coach?
COACH KRUGER: Young people come into college today having played a lot more high level competition perhaps through the summer, through their, you know, high school team, summer league competition. I think they're more ready. They played more basketball. They played more, again, high level competition.
You know, with Trae, he's just highly skilled. He's very skilled. He's very fast. Sees the floor, good imagination, probably as much as any player we've ever had for sure, and that's, again, why he's getting the results that he's gotten.
Q. You guys saw Collin Sexton. He's here this weekend year and you saw him earlier this year. What makes him so good, kind of so unique and such, maybe a match-up difficulty?
COACH KRUGER: Well, he's awfully talented. He's extremely competitive. Got that extra gear, I think, as really good players have. He keeps the pressure on all of the time. He's attack mode all of the time. Got good size, good length. He's terrific all around.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports