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March 21, 2019

Johnny Dawkins

BJ Taylor

Tacko Fall

Aubrey Dawkins

Columbia, South Carolina

THE MODERATOR: We have the student-athletes from the University of Central Florida. Introducing the players, Tacko Fall, BJ Taylor, and Aubrey Dawkins. Open the floor for questions.

Q. Aubrey Dawkins, good to see you again. First time UCF gets an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament after 15 years of being away, what does this mean to you guys to be on this stage this season?
AUBREY DAWKINS: It means everything. We worked hard for this. Put in the hours, put in the practice time. It's a blessing. I'm appreciative to be here.

THE MODERATOR: My apologies on the name.


Q. Aubrey, as a player on this team who's been to the tournament, what kind of knowledge have you tried to impart on your teammates about what it's like to play in the tournament and how it's different?
AUBREY DAWKINS: We don't want to make the game any bigger than it is. It's still basketball. Just want to stay composed out there and take it possession by possession because every game is going to be grind it out. Not going to be any blowouts really. We're going to have to earn it, and that's what it's all about.

Q. When you went to the tournament with Michigan, was there something that, after it was all done, did you feel like something that surprised you, something you weren't prepared for that caught you off guard while you were in the tournament, anything like that?
AUBREY DAWKINS: Not really. Guys are going to play hard. This is biggest stage in college basketball. You know guys are going to bring it. You've just got to expect that and be ready for it.

Q. Tacko, what's it like to be here for you? I know you've been working hard to get UCF to the tournament. Now as a senior, you get a chance to play.
TACKO FALL: For me, for us, I would say it means everything. After all the hard work that we put in, everything that we've been through, all the injuries, after all this year finally being able to pull it off, especially in our senior year, we have to make it happen. We just put our heads down and say we have to make it and we made it happen but now we just can't get too happy. Like Aubrey said, we have to go out there and compete every night because every team is going to bring it.

Q. BJ, all three of you guys were injured at points last year. Now near the end of the year, you guys have all been banged up but not suffering any debilitating injuries. How big is that? How like just relieving has it been to just really kind of be able to play the entire season?
BJ TAYLOR: It's been great. Having the three of us out there the entire season, just being able to play together. We've kind of been together for three seasons now. To finally be out there and play together and stay healthy, it's been a blessing, and it's been a real joy playing with both these guys next to me. Like Tacko said, try not to get too satisfied and see how far we can take this thing.

Q. BJ, VCU, like you guys, are a team known for defense. What is your expectation of the way that game could go tomorrow?
BJ TAYLOR: I think the biggest thing, talking about VCU, is they're aggressive, and they want to press, try to get after you and speed the game up. For us, we know we have to stay composed, we have to play our game, and we have to dictate the tempo.

So that's my biggest thing, playing our game the same way we've been playing it the entire season. Usually when we've done that throughout the season, we've been successful. They're a really good basketball team. They've had a great season, and we know it's going to be a very competitive game.

Q. BJ, you mentioned yesterday about how the football team has sort of done their part to put UCF on the national map. How have you guys -- have you noticed that, since they got good, more people notice you? And what do you guys have to do to build up on that?
BJ TAYLOR: Yeah, they kind of got this thing started. With the way they've been playing the last two seasons going undefeated and only losing one game this year, they've done so much for the university and keep bringing recognition to the school. We're just trying to do our part now by reaching that level and continuing to grow the athletics program at UCF because they put us on the national stage. That's what we're trying to do here in March Madness, not just by showing up, but by winning and having a good effort out here.

Q. Tacko and BJ, can you think about what your emotions are going to be like tomorrow night? You guys have talked about this for four years, BJ for you, five. Getting to this point and now you're here, can you even imagine what you're going to both be feeling like tomorrow?
TACKO FALL: Like we said, we're very happy to have made it after all the hard work that we put in, but at the same time, we just don't want to get too happy. At the end of the day, it's a basketball game. You've got to stay locked in.

Obviously, it's a big deal. We're not going to downgrade it, but at the same time, it's still a basketball game. We've got to go out there and compete and not let our emotions take over. Just stay locked in, make sure we lead the guys, and just do our part.

BJ TAYLOR: Yeah, basically what Tacko said. We don't want to get satisfied. In the locker room, in our talks, we haven't been satisfied. We came here, not just to show up, but we want to win games. Starts with VCU tomorrow. That's our main focus right now. We're blessed to be here and honored to be here. Our goal isn't just to get here. We want to win it and make a statement.

Q. Tacko, I apologize for a little bit of a non- basketball question, but I know you talked in the past about the Muslim travel ban and how you felt about that, and then last week, of course, the horrific incident in New Zealand. I'm curious what your emotions were after hearing about that. Do you kind of embrace an opportunity to be part of a conversation about how people within the Muslim world are viewed here and elsewhere?
TACKO FALL: I mean, yeah. For me, I love the game of basketball, but it's always bigger than that. Being able to represent what we are about means a great deal to me. I was very sad when I saw what happened down in New Zealand. I thought about it a lot. But we've just got to learn how to get along. I mean, everybody -- we all pretty much are people, regardless of the religion.

Me, I grew up in Senegal. We have a lot of Muslims. We have a lot of Christians. We all get along, and that's a culture where I grew in. So I really don't see that. But at the same time, we've got to learn to love each other, and that's how I see things.

Q. Aubrey, even though you're not listed as a senior, it feels like you're a senior. When will you start thinking about what your future is?
AUBREY DAWKINS: Hopefully, in a few weeks, if we're enough fortunate to go that far. I haven't thought about it too much, not really paying attention to it. Just taking these days as they come. Trying to focus on the game in front of us, the practice in front of us, not too far in the future. I'll cross that bridge when it gets here.

THE MODERATOR: University of Central Florida head coach Johnny Dawkins.

JOHNNY DAWKINS: It's exciting to be here. Always have loved this environment. The chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament is special, and I'm just happy our players have the opportunity to experience it.

Q. Johnny, was it any different getting this group to an NCAA Tournament than maybe Stanford or during your time with Duke?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: I think they all are different. I think every time you take a team, because they all have different personnel, they all have unique challenges. This year was no different with the group that we had. Probably the biggest difference with this group is that we only had one player on the team that had any NCAA experience. So that's always tough. I thought we did a good job of kind of imparting our knowledge from our playing days, whether it's our coaching staff, who have all played, as well as myself, trying to let them know what the experience is going to be like, how we have to get there. So I think everyone did a really good job of lending that type of support to our players as we've gone through the process.

Q. Coach, we've talked about injuries in the past, and now as we get to the end of this season, guys are banged up, but you haven't suffered any debilitating injuries to star players, unlike last year. Talk about how satisfying that's been for you to coach really a full team this year.
JOHNNY DAWKINS: I wish I could explain to you how exciting that's been for us because we've battled that a lot. This season we've remained relatively healthy, and that's, I think, put us in that position. All of our guys have been able to compete most every night. When we've been healthy, we've been very competitive. I'm just really happy for our guys. Again, I look at our strength and conditioning, I look at our trainers. Those guys did an amazing job making sure we're healthy and fresh. So I think they play a major role in that, and they did a great job.

Q. Johnny, we're treated here to the biggest personality in college basketball in Zion Williamson and the biggest player in Tacko Fall. What does that do for the setting here as far as turning this into a show as much as a championship?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: I think the NCAA is always going to have some amazing story lines, and that's no different with Zion and Tacko. They both are uniquely different players, but their personalities are amazing. Zion, I haven't seen him play much, but what I have seen, he's one of the most talented basketball players I've ever seen play on the collegiate level. With Tacko, as big as he is, with his mobility, he also is a unique player at this level. He's both ends of the floor. He's dynamic. He protects the rim, shot blocking, altering shots offensively. He's really improved his skill set. He scores around the basket, doesn't need to dunk everything to score.

Both of those players, I think, in an environment like this is great because they get a chance to showcase kind of who they are during this time of their careers.

Q. We asked Aubrey about being in the tournament and what he's told his teammates about what it's like to be in the tournament. I wonder if you have told your guys about what to expect and how it's different. How do you handle yourself in a tournament, things like that.
JOHNNY DAWKINS: No, definitely. As I said earlier, we definitely talked about this experience and what to expect, and basically what we try to tell our players is just stay in the moment and enjoy this experience. This is something that you should cherish. These are hard to come by. When you have this opportunity, make the most out of it. So we kind of talked to them that way. Along the process, we talked about how to get there and how consistent we need to be in order to give ourselves a chance to be in this position.

I think all the things coming from, not just myself, but my staff. Coach Norris played in the tournament. Coach Taylor played in the tournament. We have guys who have been there before. We didn't want them to keep that knowledge a secret, to share that throughout the season, to make up for the lack of having a number of guys in the locker room that did not have that experience.

Q. Johnny, it seems like Tacko's a very interesting young man. When you guys came to Charleston a couple years ago to play in that tournament, he was very interesting to talk to. Up here, the same thing. Can you discuss his development as both a person and a player, and what do you think his future is in this game beyond college?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: Well, as a person and a player, he's one of the best human beings you're going to meet. Hands down. And I've coached a lot of terrific people, and none any better than Tacko. He's a beautiful human being. Engaging, intelligent, just -- he's funny. He has the whole gamut. He's a great young man. In basketball, I think he has a bright future. I hear the game has changed and his style of play no longer exists, but when you have a player like Tacko Fall with his personality, with who he is, in any community, he'll be one of the best people you'll ever have in the community. You want guys like that around. I know I would as a teammate or in that locker room.

I see him playing on the highest level. I don't know how and what path he's going to take, but a 7'6", 300, still has a huge upside in this game because he does. He's gotten even better this year. Throughout the season, I've seen improvement. I see him playing at the next level, and I think that's something he can accomplish because of his ability on and off the court.

Q. Coach, a lot of high school talent comes from the Central Florida area. I'm just wondering, have you used BJ's story, or will you use BJ's story when recruiting to say this is what can happen when you stay home?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: Definitely. I think that's very important. We have a talented, talented community in Florida and the Orlando area, and we want to keep those young men home and give them a viable option to play for us as opposed to going out of state and playing for other teams. BJ's a perfect example. He could have gone anywhere. He chose to stay at UCF because his dream was to do something special for his hometown team, and that's what he's been able to do. I think he's made us all proud at that university and in that community because he sacrificed and made a choice. I wouldn't even call it a sacrifice. He made a choice to be part of something special in Orlando and not elsewhere.

Q. Is there a standard within the locker room of what would make this trip to the tournament a successful trip to the tournament?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: We haven't really talked about that. The thing we want to do is we just want to stay in the moment. We have a big game coming up tomorrow versus VCU, and that's the most important thing that's on our mind right now. After that, we figure out where we are. I think getting here, there's a certain level of success just getting in this tournament and being involved in it. And then from there, we see what can happen. We see what's possible, and we'll find that out when we throw it up tomorrow.

Q. Johnny, just to follow up on the Duke angle a little bit, how appropriate is it for you to see your old team take the floor before you do and your old coach see you take the floor with your new team in a breakthrough season?
JOHNNY DAWKINS: Probably a little awkward, actually. Who could imagine that would happen? I'll be excited for them, of course. I'll be rooting for them. It's my alma mater. Of course, Coach K and I are really good friends, as well as my mentor and coach. So I'll be rooting for those guys to have a successful outcome, and then we'll be preparing for our game.

It is awkward because, like I said, I've never been in this situation before, but we'll block all those things out. Like I tell our players all the time, stay in the moment. We don't get distracted very easily. I think that's a big part of why we've been able to have consistency this year is the fact that we've always stayed in the moment. That's what we'll do. I'll practice what I preach to our players every day.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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