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October 10, 2018

JR Payne

Alexis Robinson

Kennedy Leonard

San Francisco, California

JR PAYNE: Well, I am thrilled to be here. I think this is our last stop of the day. This is the best room, and the Pac-12 offices, so we're thrilled to be here. I've got two fantastic seniors with me who I adore both for their play on the court and for the young women that they are. I'll let them introduce themselves.

KENNEDY LEONARD: Hello, I'm Kennedy Leonard. Anything else?

ALEXIS ROBINSON: Hi, I'm Alexis Robinson.

Q. (Off microphone.)
KENNEDY LEONARD: Yeah, I know, shocker. Still here. Last year, ladies and gentlemen. Last year.

Q. If you guys can talk about the strength of the backcourts this year around the Pac-12 and how you guys might be able to not only defend but obviously score against these. I think the level of play this year, especially with some of these great backcourts and strong front courts, as well, but in particular the backcourts?
JR PAYNE: Yeah, the conference is so strong top to bottom. But like you're saying, every team has a really great backcourt. I would stack our backcourt against anybody's, and that's saying a lot because our conference is so strong. And the reason that I say that is because the two young women here have as much experience on the court in close games and just they've been playing a lot in their three years here, and so I think that we have a great opportunity to be a big part of that strength in our conference.

But you could go down every single team in our league and talk about how great they are offensively and defensively, and I think it'll really be an exciting year in the Pac because of that guard play.

Q. For both coach and the players, I was wondering what you learned from your experience going to Italy playing some exhibition games over there, what you learned about the team, and what were some of your favorite experiences over there.
KENNEDY LEONARD: I'm going to take this one. I think just first and foremost, we learned how to be together and be a team. Obviously we had five new people who came in, and we got to experience something that not a lot of teams get to experience, especially with five newcomers. So I think just that and playing together, being together, spending time with people, 12-hour flights there and back, and whole days together, we spent every single day together. So I think just learning the ins and outs of people, not just how they play, but who they are as people, their family, that kind of stuff, it runs deeper than basketball for us, so I think that's the biggest takeaway.

JR PAYNE: I don't really have much to add to that. We always talk about the 10 practices that we got and coaches love the practice that you get before the trip to Italy, and we felt the same way, but as soon as those practices were over, we poured all of our efforts into just enjoying each other and the sights and the things we did as a team are absolutely invaluable. We could not replicate that time anywhere else, so that part of it was really special.

Q. You look at last season, and you hit a stretch run where I understand there were some losses but they were really competitive. You guys weren't getting blown out of games down the stretch. You were winning them or you were in them all the way down to the bitter end of almost every game down the stretch. Do you draw from that kind of experience, or is it more of the -- ladies, you can jump in first, then coach, or is it more that was then, this is now, we don't even think about last year?
KENNEDY LEONARD: Yeah, I know Coach J talks about it a ton, too, is something happened last year when we played Utah where we flipped a switch and all of a sudden -- I can't even tell you what the heck happened, but we all became kind of closer and we started playing good basketball, and we do, I think especially the upperclassmen, think about that and the feel and the vibe we got from that, and we're trying to replicate that this year in everything we do. Regardless of what happens on the court, off the court, we're going to come on to the court and play basketball together as a team and we're going to try to bring what happened last year, flip that switch for us and bring it into everything that we're doing this year.

Not that we're focusing on what happened last year, but we are trying to use that energy and that feeling this year for this year's team.

JR PAYNE: Yeah, I don't know what it was. I do think it started with these two right here as two of our leaders last year, and I don't know that it was anything in particular other than that they made a decision and the team followed suit. But there was a discernible difference between our basketball team of January and our basketball team of February and March.

I appreciate you saying that because I know we certainly felt it, and I think our fans in Boulder felt it, and it's nice to hear that you all felt that. We're trying to build upon that, and I think by adding a group of players that are bringing this tremendous energy and lighthearted fun about them, combined with this returning group, we have a lot of special things ahead of us.

Q. You've got your seniors here, and, man, you've got a lot of youngsters. You've got lots of youngsters --
JR PAYNE: We do?

Q. Help us understand how the young pups are going to be able to contribute right away and how some of those freshmen who are now sophomores getting the minutes last year, what we might see from them but also some of the young freshmen who might be able to contribute.
JR PAYNE: Yeah, well, that's the biggest thing I think I said to someone earlier, most people would look at a roster, 9 of 13 on your roster being underclassmen would be cause for a panic attack, but when I have these two as seniors in our backcourt, I look at it as more like, wow, are we blessed. We have great senior leadership, we have tremendous play in our seniors, and then we've got all of these young pups that are energetic, they work hard, they're really long and versatile and athletic and can do some different things. If I didn't have these two, it would be a little bit scarier, but I feel really good about our roster.

The sophomores that you're mentioning, we have four of them. Three of them played significant minutes. Annika Jank came out of the gates on fire last year. I think she had four Freshman of the Week honors in the preseason. And then Mya Hollingshed came on light and was one of our leading scorers in the last month of the season. And those two in particular I think will have a significant impact on this year's ballclub. They've played a lot coming into their sophomore year. They have a lot of minutes, and they can just do a lot of different things. They've grown.

Usually the biggest leap that we see from athletes is between their freshman and sophomore year. They kind of have figured out what is this supposed to look like, they know how to train and really work and get after it. So we've seen that in them.

And then we have five great freshmen. We have a bunch of them I could mention. Cameron Swartz is one I didn't talk about earlier that I definitely want to talk about now. She actually was the first player that committed do us. And something special about Cam, in her commitment, she had visited us several times, and she actually committed -- at the beginning and end of every single practice we have, we start holding hands and we talk about what's going on in our lives briefly and oftentimes talk about some blessings in our life and things like that, and Cam actually committed to us on the stretching circle holding hands with her future teammates, which was a really special thing.

But a lot of great talent. We signed a point guard, two wings and two post players in that class. So a lot of versatility, and I think they'll have a big impact.

Q. For the players, as Coach alluded to just a little bit ago, the two of you have played a lot of basketball together the past three years, and I think you go into your senior season having knocked down the exact same number of three-pointers over the past three years. Can you comment at all about how maybe each of you have made each other a better player? Would you be where you are now without each other? How have you helped each other over the years to become better players?
KENNEDY LEONARD: Well, my assists would be like zero if I didn't play with Lex because she makes a lot of my passes. So that's that one. I don't know, I think just being able to come in as freshmen together, you don't really have the same relationship that you do with everybody as you do who you come in with, and I think that we've been through coaches, different staffs, every single person who's been at Colorado has been turned over, from our trainer to our strength coach to all of our staff, and we're the only two who are still here from that first year. So that doesn't say something, I don't know what does, about our kind of bond and what we've been through.

Yeah, back to the assists, I would have zero. But it's Lex's turn.

ALEXIS ROBINSON: Yeah, I agree with everything that Kennedy said, and I would have no shots, obviously, because she gives me all the passes.

But yeah, just back to what Kennedy said, we've been through a lot. Like we've weathered a lot of storms. We have not had the best seasons, but each and every season we've grown and we've learned, and it's been a blessing to play for Coach J and for all the people that are in our lives now, it's really been a blessing.

Q. This is for the players. You guys are seniors, very talented. Let's say it's a year ahead right now. What do you want to say that this team, this year's team, your senior year, accomplished?
KENNEDY LEONARD: I think just for me and Lex, I think we want to leave behind a legacy. Like we just said, we've been through it, and we've gotten to the postseason once, WNIT, not the NCAA, but I think first and foremost, we want to be able to win some games this year and leave Colorado a better place than we found it when we came in.

We don't have that in our record right now, but I think by the end of the season if we can leave behind the impact we want to have on not just the game of basketball at Colorado but the people who are at Colorado, I think then we'll have left it better than we found it and we'll have done what we wanted to do since we got here.

ALEXIS ROBINSON: Yeah, like Kennedy said, obviously getting to the tournament and winning games is a big priority, but for us, like she said, we just want to leave a huge impact on the players, like I want to leave a huge impact on my teammates. That would be a really huge thing for me.

Q. JR, how has the team improved? I know you've got two very good leaders here, very experienced backcourt. You have a lot of young kids. What are you going to be known for this year?
JR PAYNE: I don't know what we'll be known for. I do know that we will be known to be a significantly better defensive team than we were a year ago because we've recruited a group of players, and players have just grown, sophomores became juniors, juniors became seniors, that have really grown in that area.

It's a huge focus for us as a program right now, and I think we have the type of personnel that's versatile enough to do a lot of different things defensively.

But like these guys said, they want to leave an impact on younger players for future generations, and I think to hear two seniors say that is pretty special, and I think it's a testament to what matters to them and to what matters to the rest of the program.

Q. I had an opportunity to meet Cam on one of her recruiting visits. I was just there covering college football, and everybody trust and believe me when I say she is special. I'm just going to leave that right there. Google, look it up on YouTube. Her film is outstanding. Coach, year three, this is the year where we get to see what you want Colorado basketball to be. What did you learn last season that is going to help you the most this season?
JR PAYNE: Yeah, something that I learned, we already touched on earlier, someone -- Tammy, I think, talked about the difference of play in the end of February or towards the end of season, and I think I sort of re-learned that you cannot place a high enough priority on the type of people and women that you want in your program and the type of emphasis that you pour into your athletes, the type of effort that they pour into each other and just being great people and really being genuine, honest, loving.

It doesn't mean it's all sunshine and roses every day, but to be in a place and an environment where we genuinely love each other and challenge each other and push each other to be the very best that we can be is -- you can't put anything on that.

So I think that that -- when they talk about where we are as a ballclub right now, it's not X's and O's, it's we've got each other's back. And yeah, we added 6'3" kids and we're bigger and longer and we can do some different things, but that's not why we're going to be successful this year. It's because we've bought into each other, and I think that's really special.

Q. Colorado football, undefeated --
JR PAYNE: Go Buffs.

Q. Nobody expected that --
JR PAYNE: We did.

Q. You guys knew because you wear the right colors, but nobody else knew. Is it that kind of tone and tenor now on campus that has helped buoyed your program as you hit the season?
JR PAYNE: Yeah, certainly. Our football team is fantastic this year, our soccer team is fantastic, our cross country team is No. 1 in the country. To be in Boulder, Colorado, right now is to be great. We're eating lunch with people that are in the top 15 in the country. We're having dinner with people that are in the top 10 in our country. We're feeling that vibe and that energy around our program and our department, it only helps raise the bar.

Q. Coach Payne was just discussing when you come together at the beginning of practice, hold hands and maybe get something off your chest or if somebody has had a good day or a bad day. What does this do for you? Could you share some examples? Whose idea was it? And maybe how that gets you to have a more effective practice when you've discussed life or any other things that are going on?
KENNEDY LEONARD: Yes, okay, so Coach J came up with the idea. She comes up with all the good ideas --

JR PAYNE: Kennedy has been my hype man all day, by the way.

KENNEDY LEONARD: Yeah, isos, one-on-one play, Coach J has got it. We stretch at the beginning of practice, and then we all come in and we all lock hands, and then Coach J usually just asks what's one thing today that you've been blessed with or that you blessed somebody else with.

So for example, the other day I think I said: I woke up this morning, and that's a blessing. Some people don't get to wake up the next day or whatever. I said that I think maybe Peanut, Sirena is her real name, Peanut, she went to Boulder Bake, it's this cookie place, and she got cookies for Ceela (phonetic), that's one of her teammates.

And I think just being able to have that kind of conversation before a practice where you're about to get after each other and you're going to go at each other's throats, to be able to have that kind of conversation where it's more about how is your day, how are you, and not more, you know, it's who you are and not what you can for the program or what you can do on the court, it's what you can do to be there for another person or who you are internally. And I think that just proves that Coach J and to all the coaches that they value more who we are than what we do for them. Lex can finish.

ALEXIS ROBINSON: I mean, that was a great answer. I think she just nailed it.

Q. What's an example?
ALEXIS ROBINSON: For me? I mean, my teammates, they recently said -- I live with Mya and Mathilde, so they said it was a blessing that I cooked them dinner last night.

Q. What did you cook?
ALEXIS ROBINSON: I cooked a little steak, potatoes, green beans, stuff like that.

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