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March 14, 2018

Avery Johnson

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

COACH JOHNSON: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Obviously, we're excited to have an opportunity to play against a terrific team. And Virginia Tech, Coach Buzz Williams, has done a phenomenal job with his team.

Obviously they have some experience at participating in this tournament, and they have experience that we just don't have. But they are good-looking team. We've had a chance to break them down over the last several days, and they do a great job of spreading the floor, shooting the three, handling the ball, packing in their defense, especially against isolation situations.

So, they know what they're doing, and obviously we all take pride in the conferences that we participate in. We know the SEC has done a great job putting eight teams in, and their conference had a bunch of teams to make it to the tournament. I think you got two really good teams that are going to be playing, trying to impress their will on each other.

But we are excited to be here. We talked about now that the excitement probably is worn off of being here -- we got on the plane, came in last night, we practiced a little bit this afternoon. Now let's play ball and see if we can give ourselves a chance to win this game.

Q. Avery, Donta, his status with the concussion, is he cleared out of -- was he in a protocol or anything?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah. He was. Right now he's day-to-day. He hasn't been able to do much in practice. He did a little bit today, but now we have to see how he recovers. So he will be a game-time decision. I just think right now, it's probably 60/40. I'm more concerned about the 40 than I am the 60. And as you can tell in our last game, when you don't have somebody like Donta, that's an all-SEC defensive player, then the guy that he assigned to guard, he'll make seven threes on you, and he'll 20-plus points instead of normal 5 or 7 points.

Q. Talk about how special it is to share this moment with your son?
COACH JOHNSON: It's special because I didn't want Avery to transfer to Alabama. I talked to Coach Kennedy at Texas A&M about it. I said keep him. He needs to be on his own. But several coaches called that had an opportunity to coach their kids -- or maybe I ran into them at an AU tournament. They said man, this is a no-brainer. A.J., you should allow A.J. to transfer. I thought about it, talked to my wife about it, talked to A.J. about it. And he transferred and it's been great.

I don't know if he'll say it's been great because I'm really hard on him, even sometime when I'm trying to get a message to somebody on the team, I'll use him. But he's been great. He's been a great leader, good role model for our players. A.J. has been around a lot of basketball. So the bright lights of NCAA Tournament is not going to do anything to him. He's seen a lot of basketball.

I think it's very gratifying for him for us to make the tournament, because had he been on A&M's team -- you know, two years ago they went to the Sweet 16 -- and a lot of guys he played with at high school or at A&M. It's great for our family. I like it better when he makes a three and don't turn the ball over.

Q. Avery, curious about your experience as a player and obviously so many years on the bench. When it comes to Collin's performance, how he played last week obviously getting national headlines. He's such a fantastic player, but when you get ready to play in this first NCAA Tournament game, do you have perhaps -- I don't know if concern is the right word. But you don't want to allow your other players to think Collin is just going to save the day. What do you try import about we can't rely on Collin to go Superman and get us into the second round?
COACH JOHNSON: That's a great question. We're 9-9 against teams that's in the Tournament. On the left side, when we win, the ball moves, people move, we're very good on both ends of the floor. But on the other side, when we lose, it's basically a one-man wrecking crew, because all we do is pass the ball to Collin and expect him to be some superhero. He may get his numbers, but Alabama loses.

When we're good, we're balanced. We have three, four, sometimes four guys in double figures. Which is Dazon, Braxton Key, Petty. A lot of guys make plays for us. We have a little bit more of a balanced inside-out game. We're going to stay on the left side. We know we're playing against a team, that if you don't have balance, if you think you can walk into this arena tomorrow and beat Virginia Tech with just one player, it's not happening.

So they understand it. When we went to St. Louis last week for the SEC tournament, it was -- that's what we were preaching. During our losing streak, it's one guy. He's the only guy to have any type of success offensively, and we're standing around watching him. So hopefully we have a little bit more balance, because that makes us a better team.

Q. You mentioned how Virginia Tech lately likes to keep teams out of the lane in terms of their defensive approach. Do you feel like that's okay, in terms of if they want to have you beat them with three, if that's in your repertoire. Are you okay with that approach?
COACH JOHNSON: I think we have to be ready to make plays, whatever those plays are, whether a drive, whether a pass. Catch-and-shoot three, offensive rebound, whatever it is. When I'm watching them on film, Bo, Justin, Robinson, Bibbs, they do a good job of playing zone. Wilson, you know, they made a change obviously in their lineup with Wilson being in now. He's helped them tremendously defensively. Buzz does a great job with his defense man. Does a great job with his defense. His defense tells the story.

He's saying something about he likes my story. Whatever that means. I know there's a lot of mushy stuff coaches say about each other this time of year, but his defense tells the story. And our players better understand the story of how their defense functions, and we better understand it quickly because they'll embarrass you defensively if you don't attack in the right way.

Q. Buzz was talking about you. He had some nice words of respect about, I guess your relationship through the years. He was a Mavs fan growing up. I want to hear your side of things about how you communicate through the years, your professional relationship and such?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it's good. He's a guy that I've leaned on for, you know, some different types of information, especially when it's specific to college coaching, or even hiring coaches. He's given me some great insight on it and advice. So he's -- and I'm not going to let you guys in on everything we talk about, but he's been very helpful.

He's a good friend, loves his family. But fortunately, we've got to play a game, and we got to play our best against the teams that we have a lot of respect for. But when you come into college -- for as many years that I spent in the NBA, I don't know everything. I know the ball is still round, basket is still ten feet.

But there's a lot of intricacies to the craft of coaching in college, and some of it I had to learn and learn the hard way. And here we are in year three of our program of where we wanted to be, and guys like Buzz and Coach Kennedy at Texas A&M, Coach Anderson at Arkansas, a lot of the guy, a few of the guys that I have great relationships with, they've been very helpful.

Q. John Petty was saying in the locker room that he didn't really liked the way the team was able to focus in St. Louis. Felt like his back was up against the wall. Do you feel in a tournament like this the game might have the same feeling?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah. As much as we've lost this year, we feel that way. We already lost enough games. I told them before we got on the plane in St. Louis, I know they all love NBA. It's a seven game of a seven-game series. You win or go home. I just told them the first two games in, I know you only take it one game at a time and that's what we say in these press conferences.

I just told them if we don't win the first two games, we're out. Fortunately Collin's shot went in after we had a 10- or 11-point lead, and I was starting to feel good about our team, and we went back to our old self of turning the ball over. Fortunately our shot went in and we came out and had an outstanding game against a team that was tied in the best record in our conference and had a dominant performance.

Unfortunately Donta got hurt. We didn't have him for the next game against a team that was clicking at the time. I think this is a good place for our team. They understand if we don't run hard on the break, if we don't have great spacing, a lot of the things that, areas that we've malfunctioned and especially during our losing streak, they understand there's no tomorrow. So I think this is a great place for our team and the timing is good.

Q. You alluded to this, but what are some of the biggest differences coaching this level and coaching in the NBA, and also, just you were a good soldier for -- during the time of transition at the Nets. How do you look at that experience you had there?
COACH JOHNSON: I don't look at that experience at all. I don't look at that experience at all. First -- I was happy when I walked in this press conference. That experience I don't remember. The Mavericks experience was great. No. I'm just joking, I'm just joking.

I think more than anything you got to be patient. You're dealing with young men who are all, by the way, doing extremely well in the classroom. I know we want to win games. I know it's all about the business of basketball, but we have some outstanding young men that are doing extremely well, whether it's Collin or Herb Jones. They are making us proud the way they compete in the classroom and how they represent us in the community.

A lot of times, bad news travels fast, so a lot of times when they are doing great in the classroom or in the community, you don't hear those things. I just think in terms of coaching the kids, we wear a lot of different hats. Practices are longer, they lean on us to be father figures and teachers and mentors. We're responsible for them 24 hours a day.

You know, we get a chance to spend more time with them in practices. Fortunately, they are able to come over, from time to time, per NCAA rules to have dinner at my house, and my wife loves cooking for them. And they love her cooking. So, it's just the time and the intimacy that you have with the young men to try to shape their lives. And hopefully, whether some have next-level talent, or some are going to be professors at Alabama or own their own businesses or, you know, hopefully have their own families one day, hopefully I've modeled -- I've been a positive role model to set an example for them, whatever they do in the future of their lives. So, I like that part of it.

Q. I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit. Which is harder, college or NBA and why?
COACH JOHNSON: I just -- I don't know if "harder" is the word. I think the college coaching is different, because you're responsible for a longer period of time for your student-athletes. Basically, in an NBA situation, they come, they practice for two hours and then go home. Some are married, some aren't. But really and truly, you're not really as concerned, because you're waiting maybe to reconvene with them the next day, if you don't have a game.

But when I wake up in the morning, I'm thinking about, okay, who's in their 8:00 classes? What are they going to have for breakfast? What are they going to have for lunch? What time is our practice. Practices are mainly three hours during the regular season and then okay, study hall. Who is on time for study hall? After study hall, what are they going to have for dinner? What time is curfew? So, you know, it's just a lot of time -- a lot of my time throughout the day is spent thinking about my players, and I think that's the main difference.

Q. People say that NBA guys go college, a lot of them can't handle it because the college games are more intense. Then the NBA season, it's 28 games with the travel. How do you feel about that when people say NBA guys can't make it in college most of the time?
COACH JOHNSON: Here's my answer to that, Jeff. My NBA career was about hard work, tenacity, perseverance, fighting adversity, failures, not final. So, I think that might be relegated to the guy that's drafted in the first round. And maybe, you know, he's not a great communicator, or he can't communicate how he played the game and teach other players, but my whole career was about fighting and working hard. So sleeping two hours a night, that fits me perfectly fine. Okay? And trying to solve problems. And fortunately, I got a chance to work, play for, and work with some outstanding people that helped shape and mold me in the craft of coaching. My college coach, Ben Jobe, passed away March 10th last year. Unbelievable man and role model. He allowed me to coach practices in college.

Gregg Popovich, the days that we disagreed on strategies. He said you know what? If you think you know more than the coach, you coach practice. So I coached practices when I played for Pop. When I played for Don Nelson, I had a chance to go behind the scenes and spend time with the coaching staff. I was being groomed to coach even when I played, and I understood the hours and the hard work that went into it.

So, it was an easy transition for me. And then when A.J. was a recruitable student-athlete, or respectable student-athlete, I was on the circuit and going to all of the different Universities. In the back of my mind, I said if I ever became a college coach, I like this, I don't like that. I think it suits me fine, but I don't think it does for everybody that played in the league.

Q. First time Alabama has been in the NCAA in six years. What was it in year three of your reign that they were able to accomplish this?
COACH JOHNSON: We've been building in terms of this particular recruiting class. We thought that, you know, we could have some sort of continuity with Braxton and Dazon and Donta coming back. And have Riley Norris who was going to provide senior leaders for us and A.J., Jr. coming back. We thought combining all of those kid without returning players that this was the year for us to make the tournament and see if we can give ourselves a chance to advance, and that's what we talked about.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, we had a heck of a nonconference schedule, and I think that's one of the things that helped us, because at the end of the day -- going to play at Arizona, some coaches called me crazy -- going to play at Arizona and playing a lot of the teams we played, it helped us and hopefully, even though we lost, hopefully we learned something for this moment in time.

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