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March 14, 2018
COACH JONES: Well, thankful to be here. Really a blessing for our team and our program to have this opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. We are really excited about this opportunity, and we plan to enjoy the experience, enjoy the moment, and hopefully be ready to play, you know, one of the toughest teams in the country.
Q. You know, the play-in game is what it is, but when you're a team and you're coming off the excitement of the way you all won the Big South Tournament and there's a celebration, you haven't been to a tournament in a long time, is the play-in game actually for you all kind of helpful because it gets them refocused almost immediately back on basketball and the business at hand?
COACH JONES: Yeah. Good question. The best part about winning that championship that day is our students were on spring break. We got to, you know, digest it, but they also got a chance to go home, spend time with their families, enjoy it for a few days. And then when they came back toward the end of the week, we refocused on ourselves, you know, getting better with all of our fundamentals, and so forth, before we even knew who we were going to play.
Then once we figured out who we were going to play, guys got refocused yet again. There were several things that really helped our guys stay locked in on the task at hand and then playing in that game is a chance to get back on the court after a long stretch, it had been almost ten days that we had played a game. We were a little bit rusty, but once you got into it, I think that experience really helped our guys.
Q. Coach, we talked to your players last night and they talked about the fearlessness that they have even though it's one of the top teams in the country that they are going against. Have you seen that come out again especially during the stretch part of the season?
COACH JONES: Our team is really tough. There's a lot of great players, coaches, programs within the league. UNC-Asheville won the league and they gave USC all they wanted on their home court last night. It was kind of that way all year where they were really tested by the teams in our league, but we also played a tough nonconference schedule.
We got beat in the head by this same Virginia Tech team this year. Ohio State, you know, who, at the time, I think it was our first or second game of the season, no one thought they were very good. They have an excellent coach in Chris Holtmann, who was in our league, by the way, at Gardner Webb.
Our guys have been through, been battle-tested against hostile environments against good competition. They're used to this. There's more at stake. Everybody playing for a National Championship. Villanova will be hungry to try to win another National Championship. I think our guys are used to playing in a tough competition and tough venues. I think they'll be ready to play.
Q. Mike, can you tell me about the origins of the CHEESE T-shirts you guys were wearing the other night?
COACH JONES: CHEESE is something that's special to our circle. It's an acronym. I'm not going into what it means. I'll share with everybody after the season. There's a lot of leaks going out. You won't hear it from me. The leak's already out.
Like a lot of teams, we use a sports psychologist with the team throughout the season and preseason, and during some of those sessions early on, we came up with -- you know, we wanted a motto for our team, for this team, for this year, and it's something that those guys developed. And we ended up getting these little red wristbands that we all have to wear and you got to know what it means. And it's basically a commitment to this group to our circle.
Q. Can I see your wristband now?
COACH JONES: Absolutely not.
Q. Mike, you mentioned Virginia Tech. Your locker room's right next to those guys. You know, some of your players were saying that they play pick-up games with those guys. They go to the mall with those guys. How neat is that, just the way you guys representing the New River Valley, both of you in the tournament at the same time?
COACH JONES: First of all, the New River Valley, Radford, has just been so great to me and my family. It's such a special place. A lot of people don't know about it, so this gives a chance to kind of shine a light on such a special region to have two teams from that region here.
You know there will be a lot of folks that will come up. You know, during this year, there are a lot of people that come to our games that also go to Tech games and vice versa. There are people that work at Radford that live in Blacksburg. There are people that work at Virginia Tech and live in Blacksburg and work in Radford.
So the communities are interconnected and it's a basketball-rich place. The Radford Bobcats, the high school, they have great tradition. Blacksburg High School has great tradition. It's a sports area. So, to have two teams here in this region in the NCAA Tournament is very special for our area.
Q. I was talking with David, your assistant coach. Seems you have some young assistant coaches that bring a lot of energy to the table. What does that bring to you as a guy --
COACH JONES: I need it. I need it, man. I don't do the Red Bull or anything. When those guys comes juiced up in practice that gets me charged up. We have three distinct group on my coaching staff. There's myself and Coach Jirsa, we're the old dudes. We have 30-somethings in Boyden and Lind. And the 20-somethings, they know absolutely nothing, that's Coach Hartley and Coach Marino. We stick with our groups and get along really well, but also we get along well as a staff. Those guys bring a lot of energy and juice to our program and we're very grateful.
Q. Coach, if you could talk about your style. Start on offense and describe the style of offense you like to play, and on the other side, talk some defense and a little bit about how much man zone you played throughout the year and your style defensively?
COACH JONES: You look at the analytics. We play primarily man-to-man for the most part. We'll press a little bit from time to time. You know, both man and zone. We play a little bit of half Court, you know, zone, but we're primarily a man-to-man team.
On the offensive end, nothing really special. You know, we try to emphasize sharing the basketball, and, you know, being patient and making sure we got the shot that we want, but, you know, no secrets.
Q. If you could talk about your overall strengths of this team, what would you say are probably the two or three biggest strengths of your ball club. And then a couple things, when you guys have struggled the most that's sort of popped up at times of areas that you've struggled in throughout the year?
COACH JONES: You wouldn't possibly be sharing any of this with --
COACH JONES: We have a radio guy at Winthrop. It's like a challenge when he interviews me, and I get juiced up because he's trying to get a nugget out of me and I just refuse.
One time I gave him something -- one time I gave him something and I was really crushed by that. I think our strengths this year have been defense in rebounding. We made a commitment to that in the off season, as a coaching staff. Our guys bought into it. We explained to them that if we can get three possessions better defensively over the course of the year, that we could potentially compete for the championship, and those guys bought into that.
All year long, that's been a strength of ours. It's really gotten better all year long, particularly down the stretch and giving us a chance to become champions and win a game in the tournament. So, we hang our hat on that.
But obviously, this is going to be the biggest challenge we've had this year; a team that scores 87 points, it's hard to kind of shut that team down. They got so many guys that average double figures. And when you have that many guys, it's hard to figure out who you're going to shut down. So certainly going to be a challenge for us.
Weaknesses, I don't have enough time in the press conference to point out all of our weaknesses. We got a lot of them. We're a flawed team. I think our guys believe in each other. I think the circle has become stronger and stronger as the year has gone on. When you have that kind of trust and belief in each other, anything is possible.
Q. Coach, a lot of times at this time of year when teams are lower seeds, they talk about Cinderella run, and, you know, doing something special, and you actually experienced that with VCU in your run to the Final Four. Does that give you a little more credibility when you tell your kid, Look, this can be done if we do the work and the things we need to?
COACH JONES: I hope so. You know, we certainly shared that story over the seven years. It had not necessarily worked with the other six teams, but hopefully it will work with this one. We certainly talked about -- at VCU, we were a CAA team, Colonial Athletic Association team. And a lot of people -- it's been publicized that a lot of people didn't believe we belonged in the tournament at all, and then to go to the Final Four certainly is an amazing story.
But our guys believed that they could, and that is the point that we've tried to get across to our team is that anything is possible if you believe -- your belief is strong enough. And if you work hard enough -- and obviously some things have to fall your way -- but we've certainly shared the story and hope that those guys have the same level of belief in each other in what we do.
Q. Can you talk about the way you've expanded your bench, giving you more time. And if there is something that Villanova is weak in, it is their depth. Sometimes with injuries and things they don't have -- can you just talk about how important the bench play will be and could that be a key against Villanova?
COACH JONES: You know, at the beginning of the year, in the fall, there was a thing I was most worried about with our team and in today's society. There's so many transfers, and when you have 13 guys on scholarship and they're all raring and ready to go, it's kind of hard to manage that. And we certainly had our struggles throughout the year with guys that were not always happy with the amount of minutes, the role that they had, and things like that.
And we dealt with it all year long, and there were a lot of one-on-one sessions and lunches and trying to get these guys to buy into their roles. And as they became more bought in, we told them our bench was either going to be a weakness or a strength. And it can be a weakness if everybody is upset about their role; it can be a strength if everybody buys into it and understands there will be time for everyone to contribute to us winning a game.
And so as the year went on, we really embraced our depth and it's become a strength of ours. Whether or not that has impact against the team like Villanova, it's still going to be very difficult, because they play extremely hard. They're extremely disciplined on defense. They don't necessarily foul a whole lot. They are physical without fouling, so it will be hard to get to them.
Obviously, if we can do that, it's certainly better to play against a guy who averaged three points a game than a guy who averaged 11. But like I said earlier, you know, the guys that come off the bench for Villanova are probably, you know, four star or five-star players, so it's a little different than another team that maybe comes off the bench.
Q. Coach, I want to ask you about a couple of your players last night watching that game and what Travis Fields, Jr. gave you off the bench, what an incredible spark. Break down his game from last night for us, if you can. And then that dunk that Polite had and the athlete he is, just maybe give us words or phrases to describe him as a power forward, a big man in your program.
COACH JONES: Travis Fields, we recruited him out of high school, but he went to Old Dominion and walked on. And then he decided to come to us and we put him on scholarship so he's eligible to play right away. He has just been, you know, he's a tough-minded dude. He's a winner. He won three straight state championships in high school; senior year, he hit the game-winning jump shot to win the game for them. So he's used to the pressure. He's used to the moment. He's not afraid of the moment, and in the last four, five games, he's been playing his best basketball of the year.
Ed Polite, you know, very under-recruited in high school. I coached a kid at University of Georgia named Travis Leslie. He was a freak athlete like --
Is that legal? Is this legal? Are you allowed to break into a press conference like this?
Q. That's CHEESE, Coach, CHEESE?
COACH JONES: Oh, man. Can you hear me? You turn my mike off? I know we can hear them. We can always hear them. These guys -- and that was led by our assistant coach, by the way. It wasn't the 17 and 18-year-olds, it was the 30-somethings.
Ed Polite, he reminded me of Travis Leslie at the University of Georgia, freak athlete. He doesn't know how high he can jump. A lot of times we tease him about dunking on people and he won't do it. So it was fun to see. He gives off so much energy when he takes off like that. The guys get fired up. That gives them a little extra pep in their step. We would love to see him do that more.
Q. This is obviously a pretty loose group that you have here. You talk about wanting them to enjoy every moment of this at the Selection Show. Do you feel they have? Is this usual for your team?
COACH JONES: That's definitely usual for these guys. You know, when we walked out, we had a shoot-around during the championship game against Liberty, and they came out with a boom box on their shoulder, playing music, saying nobody wants us to win.
They're a wild crew, man, they're fun. We have a lot of personalities on the team, and the thing I like most and the reason we've had success, they're great guys. They are really humble, God-fearing guys, guys that love each other. And as they've gotten closer together, our team has gotten better, because they really love each other, have great relationships. That's what has allowed our team to grow as a team.
It's been a really fun group to work with, and I'm just so thankful to God that I get the chance to lead this group. It's not about the wins for us. It's about me serving these young men and making sure that they, you know, they are prepared for life after they get out of Radford. So they've been a lot of fun and made my job a lot easier.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports