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March 14, 2018
Q. For any of you, how would you describe Wes's approach to coaching, anything distinctive about the way he interacts with the guys?
FRANCIS ALONSO: Well, I can tell you he's a really great coach. Our coaching staff has done an unbelievable job, knowing the practicing in determined ways, but actually making us a better person in terms of how to approach every practice and what type of mentality we have to have since we are on the court.
But it's really helpful to have a coach, really young coach, in this case, that has been on both sides, as a coach and as a player. And also he played with a great program at UNC with the Tar Heels, and that makes things easier.
JORDY KULPER: Coach, I've had the pleasure of being with him five years. When he came to Spain to visit me, he had an image for Greensboro, and we're working every year, every day, actually, for five years to get that. And I've never been around a coach that is so intense, so consumed with the process of getting better.
But the thing I like most about his coaching style is that he's never worried about or never thinking about other teams or even actual, like, specific goals or results. We're only focused on the process. So every day we come in and the only thing we're worried about is getting better, one drill, one possession, one practice at a time. And if you keep coming to work every single day, all the results and accolades will come.
We've always thought of the Big Dance as a huge goal for us, but we're always thinking about thinking big but working small. And that was something new to me as a player, and something I really cherish that he brought to the program personally.
MARVIN SMITH, JR.: He's definitely a player's coach. He wants nothing but the best for us. And he'll do whatever for us, he'll push us to reach out to our fullest potential. That's what he wants. I can't appreciate him enough. He drives us extremely hard.
Like these guys said, he says to just come in and work every day. The results will take care of itself, but let's come in and do our part and control the things we can control. And giving our best every time we get out there on the court.
In all aspects of life he pushes us to be great men, as well. He made a promise to my mom that I would not only grow as a player but also as a man. I can honestly say that at my time here him and the rest of the coaches have helped me grow as a better player but also a better man, as well.
Q. Three-point numbers are off the charts with what you guys do. How much of a green light do you all have from him?
JORDY KULPER: : Well, when I came in as a freshman, in Spain, if I shot a jumper it was suicide in Spain. I'm happy for the problem. The big thing for ourselves is that we have incredible shooters. Right next to me is the best shooter in the country, best shooter I've seen. But the only thing we worry about is everybody on the team doing their job and working to get the highest quality shot every possession. We call it a quality shot. And that can be a post-up, it can be a 3-point shot. But our inside-out game is very strong.
If people like Francis, myself or Marvin get a good look at a 3, if we don't shoot it, that's when we hurt our team. If it's a high-quality shot we have to take it, we will. And luckily through the great confidence and positive energy that our teammates give me we're able to knock those down. But it's all about getting the highest possible quality shot.
MARVIN SMITH, JR.: We just commit to working together, get the best shot possible for the team. We work on our jump shots. And coach and our teammates trust us. We get over shots we just knock them in, not necessarily no green light, so to say. But like I said, we work extremely hard to get the best shot for the team.
Q. Francis, you played impressive defense especially during the conference tournament. Are you changing your play style at all to match Gonzaga?
MARVIN SMITH, JR.: My teammates are going to say the same thing, we are really focused on ourselves. We're going to play against a great team that has a great history at Gonzaga. And they have been good, but we're just going to do our part, as Marvin said. It's nothing special for us, being here is a great goal that we always dreamed of. But now it's just time to put the work in that we've been practicing on back in Greensboro and just do our part.
Q. Ten thousand neutral fans in there tomorrow. Your pitch to those neutral fans, why should they root for you, NC-Greensboro, and should people appreciate it?
JORDY KULPER: I feel we play basketball the way it's supposed to be played. Really hard. Defense first. We have guys really deep that give the absolute all to the program, to our school, to our city. Every time we step on the court we feel like it's the last time we'll pick up a basketball. And I feel that the passion we have for our game, for our program, for our city is contagious.
And hopefully we're able to show here in Boise, and hopefully longer in the Big Dance, what Greensboro is all about, what UNCG is all about. And I think the way we play basketball hopefully will spark some excitement for the fans that come. And I'm excited to see them come out here, it's a beautiful venue, and show what we're all about tomorrow.
Q. I'm wondering what you knew about Boise before you learned that you were going to be coming here for the tournament?
MARVIN SMITH, JR.: Only thing I knew about is the football team and the blue field. I haven't known much about it. But since I've been coming, it's a beautiful city, I've been enjoying it, the weather is pretty nice. It's better than Greensboro. It was snowing in Greensboro when he left. It's been a beautiful view here. I'm enjoying my time here.
JORDY KULPER: I've never been before. I'm from the Netherlands and my hometown team, when I grew up, I was really closely involved with the pro team we had there. And a person that I used to actually teach me some moves back in the day was Matt Bauscher who played there. I've seen a play or two. And that's probably the first time we heard of Boise State.
Looking to their program a little further, obviously, but that was the first connection I had. He's a great player, and helped me a lot, too, when I was a young kid growing up. That's only the connection I have to Boise.
FRANCIS ALONSO: Same. I'm from Spain, so it was really difficult for me to know about Boise State. But as soon as I got here this place is really beautiful. And all the people from here are really passionate about it, basketball, and I can't wait to come out there and play with a beautiful environment, absolutely.
Q. You have obviously played some games against Power Five teams. Playing a team like Virginia, playing a team like Wake, I just wonder, I know it's kind of an extrapolation, but what kind of value do you think that might provide going into a situation like this, that you have been up against those kind of teams?
FRANCIS ALONSO: To be honest with you, I think that the Virginia game really helped us a lot in terms of how to view, how badly was the defense and how much it does to the game. And I think my teammates are going to agree with this, since that game we changed our mentality and how to approach our defense and how to approach every possession.
And absolutely that happens a lot at this time of the year, because all the teams we're going to play here are going to be top teams and good defensive teams. So we're going to match their level of defense.
JORDY KULPER: Yeah, I mean when you're playing them there are certain weaknesses we can exploit as a team, but when you get to this everybody is so really good. And also they always say that what travels is defense and rebounding, it's been our identity all year. And to be honest, we're all committed, we're all talking, getting one stop at a time. I'll take our defense against any team in the nation.
And I'm seriously excited for the opportunity to go up against a great team like Gonzaga tomorrow and show them what our defense is all about.
Q. Kind of a two-part question. What is your first memory about seeing Gonzaga playing basketball? And with them in the Mid-Major and you in the Mid-Major, is this something you strive to be going against a program like this?
MARVIN SMITH, JR.: I just remember Gonzaga basketball, I mean they've always been a good team. I followed college basketball since I was young. I've always known them to be a good team; pretty good guard play and can shoot the ball pretty well.
Going against them, I mean, yeah, it's a good opportunity to stop shots. They are a major program who had success over the years and established themselves as a powerhouse Mid-Major team. And that's something that we're working to build at UNCG, that would be a time to establish ourselves as a major program.
JORDY KULPER: Yeah, what he said. Gonzaga is basically like almost an ideal blueprint for what a Mid-Major program aspires to be. And I really like that matchup, too.
Obviously we're maybe a little younger in that regard, but we're shooting towards it. So I think it's a great opportunity for us. We are both really tough teams, great rebounding teams, all-around strong defensive teams. I feel it's going to be a war out there. I feel like we're ready, and I'm sure they're ready, too, so I'm excited.
FRANCIS ALONSO: I know a lot about Gonzaga. One of the reasons why is one of my good friends back at home played here. And we still have a good relationship and are still in contact. And absolutely we talked about this program having adversities and opportunities. And I think we have a great opportunity in front of us to show what we are about.
Q. Kind of a two-part question. When I asked the kids if there was anything that they feel is particularly distinctive about your coaching style, Jordy went out of his way to talk about how you value process over results. I've heard people talk about that for years. And that luxury of looking at things that way might be more difficult. I was curious where that point of view came from. The other thing I was curious about is obviously UNCG stuck by you in some losing seasons. In these days of college basketball I wondered how rare you felt that experience is?
WES MILLER: I think it's a great question. Early on we really struggled, my first handful of years. I think as a staff we were trying to figure out who we were as coaches, what our values were as a program. And that process kind of led us to the idea that we wanted to base everything around the idea of growth. And you come in our practice facility, it says it on the wall, a big banner, just growth, one at a time.
And we just talk about that term a lot, let's just be a one-at-a-time program, one drill at a time, one practice at a time, one lift at a time, et cetera. And I think we're fortunate that we've had a group of guys now that have bought into the process, as you mentioned. And the idea of just trying to get better one day at a time.
I think we kind of got to that through some of the trials and tribulations early, so that's kind of how we developed that type of a mindset. But I don't think we have any chance to see if we could execute it or not without leadership that would allow us to work through it. And I think that's really unique now in 2018 in college athletics to have people stick behind you.
Three or four years ago there were a lot of questions, as we go out recruiting and things of that nature, we have a job the next year, try to defend and still be there. And our athletic director always stuck by us. We've had two chancellors since I've been the coach here, Linda Brady being the first and Frank Gilliam the second one, always stuck by us. That's the ace in the hole why we're here today because people have always given us a chance.
Q. Following up on the process notion, I just wondered if there's anybody in your upbringing as a player or coach, who stressed that point of view of going after process, rather than just goals?
WES MILLER: You know, I was fortunate to play for a lot of great coaches and be around a lot of great ones, Jaime Arsenal [ph], my high school coach believed in that approach. Roy Williams believed in that type of approach. I was always really impacted as a player how Coach Williams graded every player on every defensive possession, and how sometimes you could get a good grade even without getting a good result. Like you could play great defense and they just made a tough shot and you'd still get a good grade.
I remember that impacting me a lot as a player, and we bought into those type of things in the program here.
Q. I don't know if any of your guys have NCAA tournament experience as players, but I know you and your staff do. Is there anything you worry about or try to talk about in trying to handle this type of stage?
WES MILLER: No, none of our players have been in the NCAA tournament, and none of our staff have coached in the NCAA tournament, with the exception of Kyle Bankhead, who's the director of operations, who had that experience in San Diego. So this is really new for all of us, even those of us who played it in as coaches.
The first thing we try to do is just balance the idea of really enjoying this moment. I have great lifetime memories of playing in the NCAA tournament. I want our players to have those same type of experiences. But also to kind of stay true to who we are and what our values are, and that's a team that's prepared every single day, that comes in the gym and tries to get better one day at a time and hasn't been afraid of any type of moment.
Some of the experiences that we've drawn on to -- obviously it's not the NCAA tournament, but we played some really tough non-conference games. We played at Virginia early in the year, I think we learned a lot from that. We played at the NIT last year at Syracuse in a game that was nationally televised that was a big moment for our program. Even though they're not NCAA tournament experiences, but our players and staff can draw from them.
Q. You brought up Kyle Bankhead from your coaching staff. And I know he used to play for Gonzaga several years back. How big of an asset has he been for preparing for Gonzaga?
WES MILLER: Yeah, you know, kind of funny, we had a selection party, which was awesome. We had a lot of support there. And the community really has gotten behind this thing. Our selection show, when our name was called, and the kids and coaches, we all had our same reaction, we'd been waiting six days, since we won our conference tournament, to figure out who, when and where. And after about 25 seconds I think everybody in our program kind of turned and looked at Kyle, because obviously we all know he has the Gonzaga connection as a player and as a staff member there, and our players were kind of funny. They were asking who were they pulling for. And he's pretty far removed from being a part of their program.
So I do think he's been a part of our preparation process, for sure. But it's not like he's been a part of this team and been a part of their program the last couple of years. I do think he's been able to give his two cents, but it's not like we have some extra special knowledge, because he's not as familiar with this team the last couple of years as he was back when he was coaching against them at San Diego, playing, helping out in the program.
Q. Two-part question for you: Gonzaga has kind of been a staple now for a while. What was your first memory with that program? And with them being a Mid-Major like yourself, do you model your program for the type of success they've had over the years?
WES MILLER: I'm a basketball junkie, grew up idolizing the NCAA tournament, and watching games. It was funny, I did a radio interview with Dan Dickau, I walked in and laughed at myself, he's one of my first memories of Gonzaga, to say I'm a short little white guy.
I saw Dan Dickau out there running around winning games in the NCAA tournament, that's my first memories, as a young guy you look up to people like that that you can relate to.
As far as Gonzaga, I don't think any of us in college basketball think of Gonzaga as a Mid-Major, I don't think the term applies to them in any way. But I do think they're the standard for how you take your program from one level to the next for all Mid-Major programs in college basketball, is you look at what they've done over the last 30 years. And so certainly that's a name to start around there, but I wouldn't call them a Mid-Major at all.
Q. You guys scheduled Virginia, you scheduled Wake this year. Jordy talked a lot about how valuable a learning experience of having to play Virginia early in the season was. He thought it had a tumbledown effect. I know Bob McKillop has aggressively scheduled in the past. How conscious a decision was that on your part in playing Virginia and playing Wake to get these guys ready for what might be down the road?
WES MILLER: A couple of things. Really interesting that you brought up Davidson, because they were in our league when I first got the head coaching job at UNCG. We took some lumps, like everybody in the Southern Conference. But we really did look early on in how they scheduled. Because I think they have a really unique scheduling philosophy if you look at it. We have talked a lot about them as we scheduled.
As far as the experience, we've opened up the last two years with Virginia. Our first game the last two years or two years ago was Virginia at our place. And then we opened up up in Charlottesville this past year. I don't think there's any game we benefited from more than that game the last two seasons. We used that game to go to our players and say, Did you think it was hard to get a shot. And without question they say yes, because it's so difficult against them. And then we've gone through the film and showed them why. They're always in the right place in every possession. Their communication is elite. They do the little things.
So we've learned a lot from that Virginia game. And we've used it as a teaching tool, even though it hasn't been a whole lot of fun getting our tails kicked. But I do think as a Mid-Major school those tough road games early in the year against elite programs, I think you can gain confidence from them if you have success. Our win with NC State really gave us confidence moving into conference play that we could play with everybody. Or you can really learn from them if you struggle.
And I think of Virginia in that way. That we really learned a lot from that game the last two years, even though we didn't have a whole lot of success.
Q. To put your program in the spotlight a little bit, to introduce it to a lot of people that don't know about you, what do you hope people take from this? What do you want people to know about your program as they see it?
WES MILLER: Thank you. We're basketball junkies. And we've been fortunate now that we have a locker room full of guys and a staff full of guys that are just nuts about basketball. That's not always the greatest quality but it's true. I don't think our wives and families always appreciate how locked we are into hoops. We're gym rats and basketball junkies first.
I think we value competitive, junkyard dog-type guys. And I think this year you can see that when you watch our team play. We're not perfect, by any stretch. We're not consistent defensively, even though we've done some good things. We've been up and down on offense, but we value competing and really value sticking together and fighting through adversity.
So I hope people see our grit and our toughness and our togetherness when they take the floor. I hope people realize that we're just a bunch of guys that love hoops.
Q. Gonzaga is the reigning national runner up. What's it going to take to win against a team like this? And a win over a program like that would put your program on the map and take a step in the right direction, not being in the major program, kind of establishing your own brand a little bit.
WES MILLER: Well, Gonzaga presents a whole lot of challenges. We knew we wouldn't be a really high seed. So we knew whoever we played would be a great program. When Gonzaga came up on the screen you go, okay, they're not just good, they're great, like you mentioned. They played on the last day of the season last year.
As we dove into the scouting report to break them down you start to see why. They are as consistent on both ends of the ball as any team in college basketball. I want to say in offensive and defensive efficiency, they're the only team in the nation ranked in the top 20 in both. They have very few weaknesses. Their size in every position, their skill level in every position, that will be something we haven't seen in a long time, maybe since we played Virginia, and that was a long time ago.
So it's going to present challenges that we're not accustomed to. We know it will take a tremendous Goliath-like effort. But we're not afraid of the moment. We have tremendous respect for Gonzaga, we know how difficult it will be. But we have a bunch of guys that are excited for this moment, excited for the opportunity.
Q. Playing at the level you played at with the stakes you did, and I just wonder if you have any thoughts how that applies to what you're going to be doing the next 48 hours?
WES MILLER: I think there's some comfort with what the NCAA tournament is, that I've been through it. Been through an open practice. I know the idea of the media sessions and the whole nine. Outside of that I'm not so sure that my player experience has a whole lot to do with coaching. I think they're two totally different extremes.
That said, I think this is what you're asking, I always felt that coach prepared us. I always felt that he let us have fun and enjoy the moment. But I felt it was hard, he was doing every single thing he could to prepare us for everything in the NCAA tournament. I have drawn on that as I thought about preparing my team. I want to make sure they're having fun, I enjoyed it. But I want to make sure I take it as seriously as he did to prepare them for every single moment of this and I don't shortchange them. I think as a staff we've taken that approach over the last week.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports