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March 14, 2018
Q. Kyle and Admiral, when Coach Barnes took over the program, what was his message to the team about really his vision for what you guys could become?
KYLE ALEXANDER: You know, Coach Barnes is a really respected coach who comes from a great history at University of Texas, so he kind of talked to us about the stuff he expects, our standards, the stuff he brought from that program over to us, and all his visions for everything and everything he wanted us to be.
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: Yeah, just to follow what Kyle said, the biggest thing was changing the culture and instilling a program that could compete with the Kentuckys and the different winning programs in the SEC. So the biggest thing was just instilling character within the program off the floor and on the floor, and also just guys who were willing to work hard and going out and competing as hard as they can, no matter the outcome.
From that point on, we have been building that. And that's what our standard is, especially some of our characterization traits that we have is responsibility, respect and humility, things that we live by, but also playing on the floor with just guarding and competing as hard as we can, playing together, being unselfish, and remember what we're playing for. Just go out, like I said, and compete as hard as we can.
Q. Admiral, do you think it's fair to say you've got the coolest name in the NCAA Tournament, and how did you end up getting the name?
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: Well, I think it's pretty cool. To be honest with you, at first when I was younger, I didn't like it. So my parents never called me by Admiral. Believe it or not, they call me by my middle name, Donovhan. And when I was in, I think, the second grade, they ended up calling home and saying, Admiral hasn't been showing up to school for the last month. So they called home and was like, Admiral hasn't been showing up to school for the last month, and it's only because they would call Admiral in the classroom, and I wouldn't answer because at home my family and friends would call me Donovhan. So my parents had to teach me my name because I really didn't know my name was Admiral.
I got my name because my dad was in the military for 24 years. I was born in London, England. Over there, they have the Admiral Insurance like we have the General Insurance here. It was aired on infomercials over the radio. And he was like, Admiral, so my name was Admiral, so that's how that came about. Yeah, it's a pretty cool name. I didn't really like it, though, when I was younger, but I've gotten used to it now.
Q. Jordan, I think you guys led the SEC this year in defensive efficiency, how much of that is in your DNA, and how much are you going to need to rely on that to be successful in the tournament?
JORDAN BONE: Yeah, defense is big when it comes to winning games. At the beginning of the season, that was a part of our standard, just to be a hard-nosed team that played defense really efficiently, and that's going to win us a lot of games and already has this season. So we're just going to stay true to our standard, perfect it, and continue to perfect it, and continue to perfect our defense.
Q. Grant, you guys have been talking about getting here since November. Now that you're here, how does it feel? What's the mood of the team?
GRANT WILLIAMS: We're excited. We've never been a part of this. We're thankful. We're humbled to be here, and it's a blessing for the first time we can say we're in March Madness and we're participating, and we're ready to get on that court and show what we've got.
Q. Admiral, why have you surged of late? What's been different or better for you lately offensively?
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: Well, honestly, I mean, this is my first time really playing on the wing since high school. Coming into Tennessee, I was playing down low. I started at the five my freshman year, at 6'5", freshman playing at the five against a lot of talent in the SEC. But I've improved in a lot of ways, just getting comfortable at different positions.
This year I just changed my body and the way I approach the game. And the game just really has slowed down for me, and it's really a testament to my teammates really because at first it was a struggle not rebounding the ball and not defending and the little things that it takes to be a good wing player in this league.
Every day I just continued to work at it, and these guys continued to go at me, and throughout these games that we've had, especially league games, the games have started to slow down, and I just got better at doing things that I'm good at. I'm a good mid-range player, good on the block, good on the extended block and catch and shoot. So just playing towards my strengths and my teammates find me when I'm open, and they're confident in me taking certain shots and so is Coach Barnes, just continue to do what I work on, and it's been working for me.
Q. In what ways have you guys surprised yourselves this season? I'm sure you expected to be here, but what has been surprising about yourself or your team or just any of it?
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: The biggest surprise is we didn't come out to compete against Kentucky. That's the biggest surprise for me. And it wasn't something that we could put on any person. It was a team effort. That first half really surprised us. All of that work that we put in and we didn't come out as the team we know we are. It's kind of alarming because that's a big stage, the SEC championship game. It's probably going to be like what the NCAA Tournament is going to be, and we didn't come out and perform in the first half.
That kind of bothered all of us, so we've been really focused on coming out and showing who we are, and just coming out and having fun like we've been doing all season.
Q. Jordan Bowden, you kind of talked about it in the past, but do you think you guys would be the same team you are now if not for what you went through last spring with conditioning and all the extra things that Coach Barnes put you guys through?
JORDAN BOWDEN: Talking about the last spring, it was really a mental toughness for us, just things we had to go through, like the running and things. We really came together as a team, and then we went to Europe and things like that, really got close to one another and playing against those pro teams, and that's really helped us along the way now. And being in the NCAA Tournament, you can't take a game for granted. You've got to go in and play as hard as you can for as long as you can.
Q. Jordan Bowden, one of the clichÃ©s of March is guard play is really important. How do you take what you did against Arkansas on Saturday and replicate that now on this stage?
JORDAN BONE: Yeah, I mean, real easy just playing within the offense, getting to my spots, just putting consistent pressure on the defense. I mean, Arkansas, I just came out kind of hot, but I was still playing within the offense.
But to be able to take that into this tournament takes a certain level of toughness and a certain level of concentration, and I think that's something I need to improve on, so I'm going to continue to get better at that. And I mean, my teammates have faith in me, and I'm going to continue to get to my spots, continue to put pressure on defense, and hopefully the outcome is going to come out in a good way.
Q. Grant and Admiral, across the country today there's students participating in a national walk-out to protest gun violence. I wonder how you've been impacted by gun violence and if you have any strong feelings about gun control and what can be done to solve or improve the problem.
GRANT WILLIAMS: I'll take that one. Really we believe that you should be safe no matter where you go in the country. We try to stick -- let politics be politics. We aren't politicians, so we're not going to comment that much further, but we believe you should be safe no matter where you go. And we feel for those families that have been through, going through it, and we pray for them when we can, and we think about them, and that's all we can do from here.
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: Just to add to what he said, we're not politicians, but we are Americans, and we are citizens of this country, and the biggest thing for us is, like Grant said, you should be safe anywhere you go, and there should be certain regulations on guns, especially in our country, as far as we have the right to carry and bear arms. Should be a lot more regulations on it, but at the same time, you have the right to do what you please when you're bearing arms. That's one of the rights that you have, and I think in this country, we're a lot more violent because of the way we have our media, even in movies and things like that, how we portray ourselves.
We have to do a better job in that aspect as well. We have to portray safer environments in our country, not just in movies, but in commercials and different ways we advertise. We've got to be more cautious of those things and more lenient in that way, but the biggest thing is everyone wants to feel safe. We're all Americans. We're all working together to create a safe environment, and I think that's the main thing that needs to happen in mind when they're creating these regulations or rules for things.
Q. You seem like a pretty big X factor for for this team when you're playing inside. How do you get that more consistently playing to reach your potential and change things?
KYLE ALEXANDER: I think the easy answer would be it's kind of like a mindset. You've got to go into every game expecting to play well and help the team, but it's something that I've been trying to do, too, is be more consistent with it.
You know, I'm just trying to help the team as much as I can. We've got a bunch of different pieces that help contribute, and I'm just trying to contribute as much as I can towards helping the team win. But yeah, I'd probably say mindset going into every game, telling myself that I'm going to do what I'm going to do and stuff like that, so...
Q. For whoever wants to take this one, you guys were picked to finish 13th in the SEC this year. How much of a motivating factor was that for you this season?
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD: I like the 13th question. I like that. Well, the biggest thing is for us, we don't -- we've never really looked in the media or rankings or anything because we're a bunch of two and three stars sitting up here. And what we've done this year is a testament to our hard work. At the end of the day, whatever you put in, you're going to reap the blessings. We're going out to compete. We don't care what starters you have. We don't care about being on the mock draft. We don't care about any of that. Basketball is basketball. The court is 94 feet. The rim is 10 feet off the ground. And you've got to come out and you've got to compete against me. You bleed like I bleed. You get tired like I get tired.
At the end of the day, it's who wants it more. And at the end of the day, we put the work in, and why not go out and compete as hard as we can, why not want it more than the next guy. So we stick together. And at the end of the day, we'll live with the results that we come out with.
RICK BARNES: Well, it's good to be back. My thoughts are we're getting ready to play a really tough basketball team, like us, that's had a very special year. They're very, very sound in the fact that they defend well. They share the ball well, a lot of movement, certainly know how they want to play the game.
It's an early game, so we're going to have to be up and ready to go. But our guys have worked hard, and the goal from a year ago was to be part of this tournament, playing at this time in March, and we're excited to be here.
Q. Rick, I was talking to some of your players in the locker room, and one of them told a story after you were picked 13th in the league where you had a team meeting, asked the players, how many you guys think you're future pros. A bunch of guys raised their hands, and the players said your response was, "nobody else thinks that." Do you remember that, and how have you used being picked 13th as a motivational factor?
RICK BARNES: That was probably the only time I brought it up all year, honestly, because of when the polls come out. I'm sure I did that, and I said, if we're ranked good, why are we picked 13th. So I guess we're going to go out and show people you're that good.
But it wasn't something -- I don't know after that day if I ever brought it up again because what we talked about was our own standard and what we wanted to be. We go back a year ago, we were on the bubble a year ago, and Robert Hubbs got hurt, and I told this group they weren't tough enough to take up the slack when he went down. He went a guy averaging 16 points a game. After his last five, six games, he was a non-factor, scored five, six points a game, but he could hardly do anything. He was trying, but that was an experience not being able to win games in February.
And what we talked about was, again, once we got beat in the conference tournament a year ago, we went back and we had one thing in mind, and that was to find out who really wanted to be a part of this, who was going to really put both feet in and go to work.
Had a really tough spring and a good summer, then we had our foreign trip and got off to a great start in the Bahamas tournament. It's been a long time coming, it seems like, but this group of guys, they've worked hard, and they've done, obviously, much more than everybody else thought. I'm not sure if it was more than we thought because we had a standard that every night we go out, if we prepare ourselves, we think that we can win.
Q. How challenging has this quick turnaround been for the coaches and players?
RICK BARNES: It is what it is. I mean, yeah, we didn't get home until, what, 9:00 Sunday night, and obviously we played three games in three days, couldn't do anything on Monday other than get together and meet a little bit, then get back on a plane yet, practice, get back on a plane and get here. It is a quick turnaround.
But it is what it is, and you have to deal with it.
Q. Admiral said up here a few minutes ago that coming out slow against Kentucky on Sunday was maybe the most surprising thing of the season for him. What went into that slow start, and do you worry about that now that you're here this week on a similar stage?
RICK BARNES: Well, again, you can say it might be the stage. I mean, they were in a position they hadn't been in ever, playing for a tournament conference championship, and we weren't very good defensively. We weren't very good at all to start the game. But we fought back, and I told them, we're going to get back in the game. I actually told them we'd win the game. We were there to do it, and we made three poor plays on the offensive end that cost us there at the end that we just made three really poor decisions with the basketball -- or no, actually two offensive possessions, and then we gave up two big rebounds. That was four possessions. Regardless of what went on throughout the game was really the difference in the game.
While I can't -- it's the third game in three days. Kentucky had to do the same thing. But I was -- when I broke the film down to them yesterday, I showed them those things. I said, we can't be breaking down defensive assignments at the end of the game not realizing what we had done because we had done a pretty good job of that all year.
Q. The time you've been in the SEC, how have you seen the league improve, and how much did that help you guys this year finishing regular season co-champions and the increased competition, that sort of stuff? Did that sort of help you guys raise y'all's game?
RICK BARNES: Well, a year ago, we started out with this group, a lot of -- we were one of the youngest teams in the country a year ago, and we started out in Maui playing Wisconsin, Oregon to a one-possession game basically, and then losing to North Carolina in another game like that, and Gonzaga in Nashville. And I was telling people how good this league was a year ago because we had played that kind of schedule.
Obviously the teams in the tournament last year went out and did a great job. But I would go back to my first year in the league, and when Commissioner Sankey started talking about men's basketball, and when you look into the Southeastern Conference, it's an unbelievable conference when you talk about football. You talk about women's softball. You talk about gymnastics. You talk about baseball. You go to track and field. And the one sport, women's basketball. You talk about the one sport that wasn't holding its end was men's basketball. And he pretty much challenged the coaches in the league, recruit well, schedule better, and go out in the non-league and play people, hired
Dan Leibovitz come in and help, hired Mike Tranghese as a consultant, hired Mark Whitehead to get our officiating going. So a lot of credit goes there. It starts at the top, but he said you guys have to do your job. That's basically what he said. You go back and look this year, it was as competitive a league as I have ever been a part of. It was amazing the competition in our league this year. We don't play a round-robin, but every game was a tough one.
We've got, I think, the most teams in a while in the tournament. But from the time I've gotten here, I said, I think every year we should be a league that gets eight, nine teams in the league, and hopefully we can continue to build on that and be consistent with it.
Q. Two of your starters, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander, are guys that can seemingly give you anything from one night to the next. How do you handle that going into a tournament like this?
RICK BARNES: Well, it's the unknown, and you're right. I mean, we don't know. Those guys have been spectacular, and they've just gone away. They both have played enough basketball now that we should have an idea pretty much, and it shouldn't be as -- they're not going to play perfect every night, but the key word is consistency, where even on nights when they don't shoot well, they're impacting winning other ways, and Kyle normally does that. He really does.
Jordan Bone, you know, he's talented, but he's got to be able to affect the game when he's not shooting the ball well, whether it's with his defense, moving the ball, passing the ball. And Kyle, again, I would say that when we are really playing our best basketball is when he's really playing his best basketball.
Q. Wondering how Admiral compares to other players you've had in terms of obsessively working on his game. You hear about that a lot with him. And have you ever had a combo quite like those two, the way you use them, with a center, as well, often, kind of rare today?
RICK BARNES: It would go back -- the combination would be really LaMarcus is taller than any of those guys. PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge were those type players that we could interchange them in a lot of different ways around the rim. Neither one of those guys obviously would step out and shoot threes the way Admiral does.
But you know what, Admiral does work really hard. He's up there with his -- any players that -- as many players as we've coached as being one of the hardest working guys in terms of putting time in. It means a lot to him, but he is a guy that loves being in the gym and wants to get better. And as he continues to grow and can learn to keep his emotions and everything under control, he can continue to get better as a player.
Q. Rick, you went to 16 NCAA tournaments, I think, in 17 years at Texas. What's the difference going from a situation where you clearly had things going to a building sort of situation? And also real quickly, I think you're 4-0 in this building in NCAA Tournament, just the familiarity factor coming back here, does that have any special meaning to you?
RICK BARNES: Well, I mean, I love my time at the University of Texas, and I've got so many wonderful, dear friends that I'm still in touch with that I love, and I love the state of Texas. It really became home to me.
But when I got to Knoxville, Dave Hart, when he and Jon Gilbert talked about was we really want to build a program. We'd like our players to be consistent. I really appreciate when I go back to that first group of guys, we were picked I think last that year, and achieved a little bit more than everybody thought, and last year we came and we were right there, Robert Hubbs getting hurt. But we knew that this group of guys that we brought in, that was a group of guys that we almost the same blueprint we tried to use at Texas with Royal Ivey, Brian Boddicker, Brandon Muton, that group of guys, and then we added a TJ Ford. And then from there, we were able to get the program where we felt it could be. We feel like we're in that same situation at Tennessee now, where this group of guys, we lose one player off this team, and over the next two years, we only lose three off this team, and we've got some redshirts and some guys that had to have some -- well, we've got three freshmen, two of them that had to have redshirt years because of injuries. And so we've got a good nucleus, but we know we've got to continue to build it and get stronger, and you're always looking to recruit the best players in the country.
University of Tennessee, our fan base has been terrific. This year I think we finished in the top eight in the country in attendance. The last game against Georgia, the building was sold out. We were able to clinch this year. The SEC had one of those magical nights that you'll always remember. The state of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee have really gotten behind this basketball program. We appreciate that.
Q. Being back here and being in a familiar place, Big 12 country in Dallas, does it stir up nostalgia, any good memories for you, any bad memories?
RICK BARNES: Oh, I don't have to come back here to have good memories about Texas. I've got friends I talk to a lot, and my daughter still lives in Austin with my grandkids. So I don't have to come back. The way I feel about the University of Texas, I don't think that will ever leave because, again, working at the University with DeLoss Dodds, Mack Brown, Augie Garrido. And you go down the line, it was a great time. It really was. I just feel that God had another plan for me to be in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I'm thankful for the blessing that he's given me.
Maybe when everybody thought it was a bleak situation, I mean, again, I have met and made some just absolutely wonderful friends in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I'm three hours -- really two and a half the way I drive, from my hometown in North Carolina, and gotten to see my mom a little bit more than -- she's 87 now, and so that's been a good thing, too.
Like I said, I think that God had a plan for the whole thing, and I'm just thankful and blessed, to be quite honest.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports