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March 15, 2018
Charlotte, North Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Virginia seniors, Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall.
Q. You're the number one team in the country, the number one seed in the tournament. Does that put additional pressure on you or do you look at it more as respect?
DEVON HALL: I mean, I think all the unnecessary pressure you guys make those. We just try to get better every single day. Coach preaches that. Not really worried about the pressures or the target on our back. We know every team is going to come after us. We have to be ready.
ISAIAH WILKINS: I think he covered most of it. I just think that at this point in the year none of that even matters anymore. If you're here, you won. It's time to show up and play.
Q. Do you guys -- kind of going off what the question just asked about the number 1, would you guys say there's any added pressure or are you just kind of used to maybe being so highly ranked since you guys have been up there in the rankings throughout the season?
DEVON HALL: I think that was kind of similar to what he was asking, and I don't think there's too much added pressure. I think what really matters is what we've got going on inside the locker room and practice. To add more pressure to ourselves, I think -- I don't think it's anything that's going out inside our locker room. We want to get better as a group.
Q. Obviously it's been beaten to death you -- your team was picked to finish 6th in the ACC and clearly that didn't happen. So at what point do you think this season was the switch flipped that y'all realized that your team could really not just build something special for a tournament run but build somebody special to be the best team in the country?
ISAIAH WILKINS: I never thought or I didn't think that was our mindset at all, like we never looked at it like yeah, let's try to finish 6th. We're a confident group and we believe in each other. I mean all that. Like we said earlier, that stuff doesn't matter now and didn't matter before the season to us. It is what it is that the point.
DEVON HALL: I agree with him. I don't think our confidence wavered at any point this season. We knew maybe some bumps and bruises, but we learned as a group every single day. I think that we just had the most confidence in ourselves.
Q. Isaiah, talk about how big a surprise was it when you found out De'Andre was out and how much of a blow has it been?
ISAIAH WILKINS: We knew that he was playing hurt, guys knew that he was struggling a little bit even before that game. So it was a game-time decision for him. And he decided to play and it was huge, but it hurts and we're sad for him. I like for him to be able to play. But, at the same time, nobody -- like nobody else is going to care that he's hurt. At this point you got to step up, next man up and be ready to play. Feel bad for him, but we got ball to play.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions?
Q. Do you guys feel like the style of ball that you play is an advantage in a tournament setting like this? And I'm curious what you think about fans -- obviously not Virginia fans, but fans in general who kind of feel like it's a less fun style of basketball to watch?
DEVON HALL: I don't think we necessarily have to apologize for the way we play or try to be favored by everyone else. If you like us, then you like us. If not, I mean so be it. I think the way we play helps us win and we enjoy playing that way. We play great that way as a group. So I don't think we necessarily have to, you know, help everybody like us or make everybody like us. That's the nature of the beast.
Q. It's the dream of every college player to get to play in the NCAA Tournament. Tell me how y'all feel about getting to play.
ISAIAH WILKINS: It's exciting. You want to play ball, a lot of people come up and watch this as they play and they want the play on the stage. We're here and thankful for that for sure. Yeah, excited.
DEVON HALL: Heck of an experience. I'm looking forward to it. Should be a lot of fun. When -- like you were saying, when you're younger you watching us and to be able to play on this stage is really fun.
Q. Isaiah, have you done anything different in preparation physically for this tournament or late season as opposed to last year when you obviously missed a game?
ISAIAH WILKINS: When I was sick? No. I eat more vegetables (laughter). That's it. That's all I got for you. I'm healthy this year.
Q. Guys, having been through this a few times already, when you look back at your previous experiences, how much does it change this time of the year in terms of what you need to do, and what are the biggest keys in the single elimination kind of format?
DEVON HALL: I think preparation is really, really big when it comes to this, because you have one -- you have a couple days coming into it to prepare, and then depending on how you do, you may have one day just to prepare for it. So, I think that preparation and film and making sure you're locked in on every aspect in this setting.
ISAIAH WILKINS: I feel like we got to punch first or try to punch first at least. It's hard to play from behind in this format because everybody is revved up and ready to play.
Q. Devon, with De'Andre not available, will you expect to see more time filling that role that he played in the small lineup as the nominally the 4?
DEVON HALL: Maybe so, depending on what matchups are in or if it -- may be to our advantage, then maybe so, I'll play some 4 or maybe we may go more traditional at times. We'll see. I mean, I'm comfortable playing. I played a little bit last year, so I enjoy playing that position anyway, so --
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else?
Q. Devon, did you guys watch a lot of these games that have been held up to this point? And if so, have you learned anything?
DEVON HALL: What do you mean?
Q. The NCAA games to this point.
DEVON HALL: We were just watching Rhode Island and Oklahoma. That was a good one, went into OT. Watching the Gonzaga game in the locker room before we walked in here. This is a competitive nature -- I mean this competitive nature. Who doesn't want to play in this atmosphere. And I know every player across the country playing in this is excited right now and amped up.
Q. You guys have always been a chip on the shoulder kind of team and the program sort of been defined by the underdog mentality. How hard is that to maintain when you're a one seed and do you get a little extra bit of that now with De'Andre out and some doubters kind creeping in again?
DEVON HALL: I think it's more of us challenging each other in practice and make sure we keep our humble mindset going into the game, knowing that -- I mean any given day we don't come out to play, we can be beat. I think that we have that mindset of knowing we have to fight, be continuous and be relentless and own every possession. It definitely helps us keep that underdog mentality.
ISAIAH WILKINS: I don't think there was ever a point where we won a game or something and we all got together yes, like now we have arrived, we're here. That's not how it goes. So, we're getting after it every single day. If seeding mattered, the tournament wouldn't be a thing. Just whatever.
DEVON HALL: I think we most definitely have room to improve and we're trying to keep improving every single day. We watch so much film and we learn, you know, from each other, learn from Coach Bennett and his staff. I think the room for improvement is definitely there.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else?
Q. What are some things you as the older players are doing to calm the nerves of the younger guys?
ISAIAH WILKINS: I don't think we're a super uptight team anyway. We play around and stuff like that. Dev does a really good job of like filling the guys with confidence and things like that. We're still holding each other accountable. We played North Carolina before. It's basketball. Show up.
DEVON HALL: At the end of the day, we try to keep the guys loose and keep confidence with the team. But at the end of the day, what it boils down to the nerves get settled and it's time to really sit down and play.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else? Okay. Thank you, guys.
We're about to start with Virginia Coach, Tony Bennett. Welcome Virginia Coach, Tony Bennett.
Q. What's your reaction to De'Andre and talking to Marco he said he was taken off the green team and -- do you kind of anticipate him getting some more minutes in this game?
TONY BENNETT: I think the game will dictate that and obviously I was really discouraged for De'Andre and for us. He had a heck of a year. I thought he really developed and, you know, helped us so much with his versatility, offensively and defensively. We talked a lot about that. But that's -- you can't control the timing. Those things happen. I think there's enough in that room, and of course as the old saying goes, next man up, you step up and guys like Marco have to be ready. And just depending on how the game goes, you see how it goes but it was -- yeah, an unfortunate thing and he seems to be handling it well and I think the guys, everybody wanted him to be part of this. But we're glad he's here and we're going to have to fight like crazy to keep going.
Q. What do you see Mamadi's role now that De'Andre won't be available, and what do you anticipate from him going forward?
TONY BENNETT: The game will dictate what you do, whether you're playing more traditional. And guys like Mamadi and Marco, you mentioned Nigel, those guys who have come off the bench for us, and De'Andre before, certainly have to be ready. And with the team that we're playing and UMBC, they spread the floor and shoot the ball very well. Their 4 men can play almost like a perimeter. It will be how we're defending and how they're guarding us. You can't say until the game gets going but hope that guys like Mamadi and Nigel and Marco will seize the opportunity and the guys in the starting lineup will continue on.
Q. Tony, seeing as De'Andre hit 6 free throws in the final minute against Carolina, when did the injury occur? Was it in the Clemson game?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah. He had sprained his right wrist. I can't remember when did he that. That was taped for awhile, but in the Clemson game I think, you know, it was when he went to the basket and then he ended up playing. He had x-rays and everything was looking good. And it wasn't until when we got back and it still was bothering him and then he had an MRI, which was the definitive thing. A real slight, slight crack but on his left, and your job as the coach certainly and with these young men is to protect them. And he has such a nice future and I think De'Andre would have tried to play, but long-term that's not the wise thing. It's to get this taken care of and do it the right way and give him the best chance for a full recovery, which is certainly what we expect. But it was -- I believe it was in that Clemson game, I think when he landed.
Q. Tony, obviously you guys have been a No. 1 seed before, you've been good for a long time. Given the season you've had, how do you access the opportunity in front of your team going into this tournament? And also do you need to break through to a Final Four to kind of get rid of maybe the final narratives that hang onto your program?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I think -- well, first of all, you know, to be given a No. 1 seed it's kind of a reflection of the year that we had and that's -- it's an honor. But really what it does, it earns you the right to play one game and we've earned that right just as UMBC did and play and earn the right to get a next game. But it was a heck of a year, you know, and I think our guys -- of course every program wants to win a national championships and get a Final Four bid, those kinds of things. I was fortunate to be with my father when his program at Wisconsin went there and that was a great run. But, you know, as far as our program, I'd love it, but I know the way to do that is to lock in and say all right, earn the right to get to the next game.
There's so many good things have happened this year that won't be taken away, but how you choose to judge your program, I look in our league, look at the programs like Duke and Carolina and the national championship, they've done that. That's why we're continuing to try to knock. We got a door knocker in our locker room. Keep knocking and a step at a time. Tremendous opportunity, certainly. We received the opportunity to compete against UMBC. I told our guys maybe a month ago, I mentioned it to our media many times to not overcomplicate it. Don't worry about seedings, how far you go, what happens. Just have a mindset we're going to improve, we're going to play to win, and we're going to be ready to go. And I think that not complicating is the best way for us to have as much success as we can.
Q. We talked about this a few years ago when you guys were playing here, former Charlotte Hornet coming back. What are your memories from the city, what's it like coming back and your thoughts on it?
TONY BENNETT: This has been -- I have wonderful memories of Charlotte. It's where a couple dreams come true. Happened one -- I had a dream as I young boy that one day could I play in the NBA, and I was given that opportunity by the Hornets. Dave Twardzik, maybe he was the one in the war room saying we should draft the little lefty from Wisconsin Green Bay. But to play on that Hornets team, to be part of a playoff team and some special years here with great, great teammates was a dream come true for me. And I got to meet my wife here. She's not from here, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana but she was an assistant youth director at the church, Forest Hill that I went to. You meet your wife and get to play in the NBA -- it's more important to meet your wife, let's get that straight. Those are two pretty awesome things that happened here. And got to meet wonderful people that I was part of this community when the Charlotte Hornets, the hive was alive, the Coliseum was great. I cherish those memories and thankful where this road has taken me.
Q. Tony, a lot of players never get to play in the tournament, lot of coaches never make it to the tournament. You've done both. What does it mean to you now to get to be a coach and bring your team back to the tournament?
TONY BENNETT: It's great. When I played at Wisconsin Green Bay, you know, that was such -- we'd have to win our conference tournament and then get the chance to do that. I remember how exciting that was for our city and our university and the NCAA Tournament is amazing. The regular season championships is amazing, the conference tournament and then the NCAA Tournament. So much has been made of it and rightly so. I think it's the most exciting sporting event going, little bias of course, but to be able to do it as a player and get the perspective to watch your young men have the excitement and the opportunities to play is great and step into it in arenas like this and just gotten more coverage, more excitement, I think is wonderful.
Q. Other than the dramatic way that UMBC sort of made it into the tournament, what have you learned about them from watching the film and what are you expecting tomorrow?
TONY BENNETT: I think Coach Odom, both of us being coaches' sons, in two years what he's done with that program is terrific, how they've played and just I've been really impressed in watching them on tape. They shoot almost 40 percent, 39 percent from 3, they shoot 20 plus, make 10, and they spread the floor, their 4 man can shoot. Jairus Lyles is a heck of a player. I think he had 31 against Arizona. I didn't realize their point guard was Defensive Player of the Year. I can see it because he's quick. They really spread the floor and attack and play hard and are well coached. And that's the thing. You know, when I was at Green Bay we always talked about this. Good basketball knows no limits, knows no divisions. Doesn't matter what conference you're from, what your seeding is. Good basketball sticks and it shows. I think for them to go into Vermont and beat them in the ball they played is very good. That's -- again as I get back to like we said, you don't overcomplicate it. Try to improve and you play it to win and you just -- you prepare well and you have to prepare well to play UMBC because of their uniqueness and spacing and all of those things, run very good offense.
Q. As you may have heard Ryan Odom is a former UVA ball boy. Were you ever a ball boy?
TONY BENNETT: I was something called -- my dad was the coach at University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. I was what they called a "pointer pup." We'd go in at halftime and get to do -- actually you'll see when -- not that you guys will watch, when we go out there to warm up, we do a little ball handling routine, Pete Maravich, the ball in a circle. The pointer pups would go out there at halftime, right leg, left leg, dribble it high and low at halftime in front of the crowd. Kind of that. And a lot of times I sit right behind the bench and did some things for my dad's team. That's when Terry Porter and Brad Soderberg, one of my assistants, they were playing for my father but a pointer pickup. I know only Coach Odom when he was at UVA and Ryan was at Virginia Tech, lot of good places.
Q. I wasn't sure if you were using that as an analogy. Do you really have a door knocker back in Virginia?
TONY BENNETT: Ever since I've been coaching, not to make a big deal out of it, even at Washington State, I think we acknowledged that you just -- that's the way to touch something special. You keep knocking and sometimes the door gets slammed in your face and sometimes you knock and it opens an inch and try to put your foot and shoulder in there and keep knocking and trying to bust through that door. That's the mentality. So we had that at Washington State all my years, got a doorknocker and have it at Virginia just as a symbol. So many programs have different things. That symbolized that. As a matter of fact, I get a lot of texts from former players and lot of times "keep knocking, Coach." And I think that's a great way to describe a program that is, you know we're trying to be as blue collar as we can but pursue excellence in the better manner we know how and it's our way. It's not other ways and wherever that takes us, it takes us.
Q. Tony, as I walked in you were talking about offensively, defensively, they seem very multiple. In terms of prepping for their defense, what do you see and what's allowed them to improve on that end this season?
TONY BENNETT: Ryan is a good coach and they have some quickness and they can go down the floor and put some pressure on you, whether it's three-quarter court or make it hard for you, and then they played some good zone and again they can pressure the ball with their quickness and their versatility. You have to be ready and be sound with the ball. They turned -- I thought they turned the game around Vermont, got after it and showed them a few different looks. Very capable. And again being a coach's son you have to make your team play defense or your dad disowns you. That's one of the rules of being a coach's son.
Q. Tony, as a shooter from your background, when you look at a player like Kyle Guy, first of all, he's had a special year, but secondly is his release among the fastest that you've ever seen as a player or coach?
TONY BENNETT: Dell Curry had a pretty quick release when I played with him, just a wrist flip and off. Kyle has a very quick release, quick set-up and sometimes he can even adjust in the air. He's got live legs. Joe Harris played for us, he had a quick release. Fortunate enough to coach Klay Thompson, one of the quickest release. He really does have a quick release and again a good foot work and moves hard without the ball and sometimes he'll adjust in the air and turn a little bit which lot of guys can't. JJ Reddick could do it, Rip Hamilton. Some of those guys you watch and they have them. Kyle has that kind of foot work and ability to get it off. At his size, that's good. He gets off the floor a little more than you think. If you saw his two dunks in the ACC tournament, you know that.
Q. Tony, I know you're a man of strong faith. How has your faith been important in your coaching?
TONY BENNETT: It's for me, everybody believes what they're going to believe, but that has been my foundation in my life for so long. It gives me a peace and perspective that really helps me and guides me in terms of how to treat these young men, how to coach, how to honor the opportunity that I've been given. Because I look at being a coach as a tremendous opportunity, as a gift really to try to influence young men to be all they can be. Obviously as players, as a team and sports gives you great lessons, but if there's life lessons after. We have some pillars we talk about that are about humility, passion, unity, servanthood that I think so make for a great team. There's some life lessons in there, too. It's number one in my life. What matters most without a doubt, then my relationship with my wife and my family and then the opportunity to be with young men and coach. So, very thankful to certainly have that as my rock.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions? Last two.
Q. Tony, just to go back to the keep knocking theme. After the Syracuse game, I was there in Chicago, you kind of freaked me out with how calm you were. You didn't seem to be phased at all by what happened there. As you went into that to reform the program to have the team you have now, was that just sort of the perspective that you had to take on it was we knocked once, didn't break it down, got to go try again? Was that kind of how you thought of it?
TONY BENNETT: I think that mentality, and as the gentleman just asked, my faith helps me in situations like that to see a bigger picture and perspective. Doesn't mean it doesn't sting and you don't want to be there. That's life. You're not always going to get what you want. We were on the doorstep of perhaps advancing. And then you advance and there's always going to be what's next, what's next? Nothing is ever enough, I understand that. All these things are going to fade, but that idea of knocking after that game, we addressed how can we improve. Every tough defeat, every tough loss, I think brings incredible wisdom and that's one of our pillars about thankfulness is will you be thankful for what adversity or losing teaches you. If you're able to look at it as not enjoyable as it is and really glean from it, I think you can grow in ways you probably wouldn't grow in success. And of course after that, you look at things how to improve your program. I've been fortunate to have the right kind of guys this year no one expected us to be in this spot. But guys just have come together and they're so connected and so unified, and now we've lost a key player. So we'll have to remain that way and even more so. But that tough loss, yeah, I think it helped. But a lot of these players weren't even a part of that. Devon, right? Correct me if I'm wrong -- Isaiah -- Devon and Isaiah, get mad at me. Those guys, this is a different time, it's a different year, and I think that's important to not dwell too much on the past.
THE MODERATOR: Last question.
Q. As you've seen your team transition from the regular season to the post-season, has there been any particular player that you've seen maybe behind the sense in practice really make a post-season leap, or do you think it's just kind of continued a season long progression?
TONY BENNETT: I think it's been a season long progression. What's made this team thus far be where they've been at is that they've improved in the off-season, had good off seasons with their individual skill development and their weight room stuff. All those things have mattered, and I think collectively that's lifted them up. There's some guys with uncertainty. We were unproven. They've stepped up well. And again there's been a unique chemistry in how they've played. I think that's continued on, and it will have to obviously keep continuing for sure.
But different guys at different times, you know, De'Andre when we played at Virginia Tech, he was a catalyst like he kind of came on. Mamadi, Jack, different guys -- that's been unique about this team -- have stepped up when called upon or when needed. You can't put your finger on one guy.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports