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March 27, 2019

Leonard Hamilton

Trent Forrest

Mfiondu Kabangele

Terance Mann

Anaheim, California

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Coach Leonard Hamilton of Florida State University. Coach, welcome to Anaheim. We're going to open it up with a statement and then we will go to questions. Coach?

LEONDARD HAMILTON: This team has found a way all year long to deal with adversity. It seems as though with each challenge we have, we grow stronger as a result of it.

Obviously everyone knows that this team, we had a tragedy last week, but I think our guys have regrouped. It's been very challenging, but our guys are focused, and we're hopeful that how we represent ourselves will be a reflection of the respect we have Mike Cofer and the Cofer family. We have to find, way -- you know, when you're dealing with things like this you never know exactly what's the right thing to do. But I think for the most part our guys have grown and we have turned our attention to the game preparation as it relates to Gonzaga. We know they're an outstanding team. I think we refocus and we're looking forward to the game tomorrow.

Q. Just wondering in your years as a coach if you've dealt with a player tragedy or another tragedy like this while having a team in the tournament?
LEONDARD HAMILTON: Not while having a team in the tournament. But we have had -- anytime you work with young people and families and teams -- people from all walks of life you go through this from time to time, but not during a tournament like this. Life sometimes gives you those types of curve balls that you've just got to learn how to adjust and deal with the best you can.

Q. Mark Few said after your chapter 1 of this series last year, that it's harder than you would think to play 11 guys that many minutes. I was not wondering what are the general worries that a coach might have both obvious and less obvious about doing that worries that you've clearly overcome.
LEONDARD HAMILTON: My journey as a coach I've always had programs that we had to build. Obviously that was in the Big Eight conference and I took the job at the University of Miami and they were independent with no conference affiliation and we immediately joined the Big East with Syracuse, Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova. So it would be foolish for me to think that I was going to show up getting the same level of players that I was competing against. So we had to develop a system that allowed us to compete.

We feel that we need to win games by committee, to have the full sum of all of our parts working together to be successful. That's the culture that we have tried to create and that's pretty much why we do what we do. I'm in a conference now, the ACC with some of the most rich tradition, successful basketball programs in the history of college basketball, 75, 80 years of successful tradition ahead of us.

I'm probably not going to necessarily catch up with those types of numbers, when you think North Carolina, the third winningest program in college basketball, Duke is 4th, Syracuse is fifth, Notre Dame is 9th, Louisville is 14th North Carolina State is 25th, and it goes on and on and on in our league. So what we try to do is have good players that play extremely hard and play unselfish and we've created a culture where they cheer for one another and, for instance, the other night, we came to me begging me not to put him back in the game because he wanted Christ to have minutes, so I put Mfiondu back in the game and he faked I say like he was tired so Christ could get more minutes. Last year, Mfiondu was playing well and Phil was a senior and I asked Phil to give him a blow and he didn't want to in the game because he wanted Mfiondu to have a level of success. That's one of the reasons why our kids share playing time. They share the ball and we hold each other accountable from an effort standpoint and that's just been our philosophy and that's the best way we feel that we can compete in the conference where you have what you call a lot of the "Blue Bloods."

Q. Coach, was there any chance of Phil coming out to Anaheim before what happened with his family based on his injury?
LEONDARD HAMILTON: I think Phil wanted to come to Anaheim. But we flew from Hartford to Atlanta and sat down with his parents and the arrangements and the responsibilities that he had as a family, they just felt it was best for him to be there and be part of the arrangements and everything. He had planned to come back and come out with us and come back. But at that time, he didn't know what the arrangements were. He didn't have an idea because no one told him. Once they sat down as a family and discussed it, it became obvious that the best thing for him to do was to sacrifice being out here with his teammates and take care of the family business, and I agree with him.

Q. Leonard, you mentioned that you were uncertain about kinda how to go about addressing, you know, this with your team. Just wondering if you can elaborate on maybe just what your guiding principles might have been that led you to handle it?
LEONDARD HAMILTON: We are very fortunate we have a sports psychologist that visits with us from time to time, Dr. Joseph Carr, and he happened to be with us during this period. He really, really helped us. Because that's part of what they do.

Obviously it was a very emotional period there in the locker room and there is no way to describe that, the emotions of his teammates and Phil. But once we got back to the hotel we made arrangements for Phil and then we met as a team and as a staff, about an hour and a half going over all the emotions that go along with dealing with a situation like this. Just to see whether or not we could not allow some things to develop that we had not talked about and discussed.

We had a very, very good session with the staff and all the team members and everybody involved let by Dr. Carr. We got a lot of things off our chest, kids talked about and shared their experiences, and I think it did a lot to bring us somewhat back into the right focus. You never really know when you're dealing with those types of things how it manifests itself in different responses. We've been in communication with Phil, and I'm sure his teammates have, too.

We think we did the right thing. Grief appears, raises its ugly head sometimes in different forms. I hope we have addressed it properly.

Q. Coach, I know the thing with Phil seems to be overshadowing a lot, but before that, what do you think the biggest sorta difference between last year's team and this year's team is a year later?
LEONDARD HAMILTON: We've had a lot of different types of challenges this year. Phil had a stress fracture early in the year and missed, I don't know, 10 or 12 games early, then when he came back he had some issues just getting back on top of his game.

Terance had a bone bruise. MJ bumped his knee. We had a lot of things going on that most teams go through, but it kept us from not getting into a flow. We had five new players that had not played at this level before. We had to get them integrated into a rotation and a system.

We kinda sputtered a little bit, but it seems as though with each challenge and each responsibility that we've had, we kinda improved, grew, matured a little bit and I think we come into this tournament in a pretty good place with the exception of dealing with the grief.

Our kids cheer for each other. They understand the way we have to play with who we are in order for us to be successful. This is a tremendous challenge coming to the west coast and playing against the No. 1 program on the west coast. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Coach Few has been able to do. When you take into consideration that no one has had the level of success that he's enjoyed at Gonzaga since John Wooden, and that's high cotton, that's high company to be in. No one on the west coast has enjoyed that level of success since Coach Wooden was here and we all know he was the most dominant figure in college basketball since the beginning of the game, and the Coach Few is number two. He has a culture. They have a system and we know it's going to be a tremendous challenge.

Q. Leonard, how much does familiarity help at this stage that you played Gonzaga last year and as far as guarding Hachimura would you have the same strategy as you had against Murray State that you did against Morant?
LEONDARD HAMILTON: The difference in Gonzaga and Murray they have a few other guys other than Hachimura that are really, really good so we have to prepare for the whole team because they are five guys on the floor capable of putting up big numbers. I think you've seen that during the course of the year. It's obvious that Morant was an outstanding player, but his supporting cast is not as good as Gonzaga's supporting cast. They are very, very good and we're going to have to be better. They are going to be more familiar with us and we will be more familiar with them. The team that's going to be successful is the team that comes the closest to being who they are and each playing up to their potential. We have a system. They have one. They're not going to change very much and neither are we. It's going to be one this time of year, regardless of who you play it's going to be in the Sweet 16. It's going to be a challenging game and hopefully we are prepared for it.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Hamilton.

All right. We are joined by Trent Forrest, Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann. Questions for our student-athletes?

Q. Terance, have you had a chance to talk to Phil the last couple of days and just how is he doing?
TERANCE MANN: Yeah, I talked to him. He's doing a lot better. He just kinda wished us luck, told us he will be watching, just talking about the game and what our game plan was.

Q. Just to start with Terance, you guys faced Xavier in the tournament last year and there was a familiarity level there from the year before. With Gonzaga, how much does familiarity help facing them last year?
TERANCE MANN: I think it definitely helps because you faced the team the year before in the same round with the same type of feeling, Sweet 16. Last year's game definitely will help us a lot in terms of reference points for our game plan.

MFIONDU KABENGELE: I feel like with this team and Gonzaga, you know, the stars aligned for and you say we kind of saw the match-up lining up on Selection Sunday. We understand their offense and they understand our offense and defense, so it's going to be exciting to be a part of it and go out there tomorrow.

TRENT FORREST: Last year playing with Xavier the familiarity helped us a lot. We kind of understood what they were going to do, so I think for this year it will be the same with Gonzaga. We will know what they are trying to do and we will be familiarized with it.

Q. Trent, week-to-week in the ACC you guys have to learn how to deal with the ups and downs because of the competition and that seems to have made you tougher in this tournament the last couple of years. Could you just describe what that weekly grind is like?
TRENT FORREST: It's very tough. I mean, each week you're playing a top-25 team in the country and if not, you're playing a team that will end up in the tournament.

I feel like just with that competition level it prepares us very well for tournaments like this where we have to have one day and two-day turn around where we have to play another good team and a better team after that. So I feel like the ACC prepares us well having quick turnaround where we have to focus on another good team.

Q. Last year, right before the game Killian Tillie got scratched with an injury and he's back this year and Brandon Clarke with his emergence. How different to you guys does this team look preparing than the team you played last year?
TERANCE MANN: I think they're definitely more athletic with both of them in. Killian Tillie stretches the floor a lot with his ability to shoot the jump shot and his three ball, so it's definitely a different look than last year. Brandon Clarke's athleticism is crazy, and he's going to challenge everything at the rim. So it's going to be a whole different game defensively and offensively.

MFIONDU KABENGELE: With those additions of those guys it makes things deeper. They can play with more bodies and play a faster pace than they were used to playing, and they are not going to wear down as easily as other teams. We understand that, but to have Killian Tillie and Brandon Clarke because of their athleticism they match-up with us bigs and they defend well. So it's going to be a tough challenge tomorrow.

TRENT FORREST: Adding those two guys they add more athleticism and more length and size to their team. So across the board they're going to match-up identical to how we like to play and how we have our players with length and size. So it's going to be a good match-up with adding those two guys.

Q. Mfiondu, I know Canada is a big country, but did you know Brandon Clarke? Play against him? Play with him? Any connection to him through growing up?
MFIONDU KABENGELE: I'm from Ontario, Canada, which is east and he was on the west coast and I never had an opportunity to see him and when I came through college he came out of nowhere. I'm proud he's a fellow Canadian and he's playing really well. Sorry.

Q. Worth a shot.
Q. Terance, those of us who watched the game in Staples last year know how bitter of a loss that was and how tough a loss that was not getting to the Final Four. Did you watch it last year or turn your back on it after such a tough loss?
TERANCE MANN: Yeah, I didn't watch it.

Q. Mfiondu?
MFIONDU KABENGELE: I did watch it. I'm not going to lie. I did watch it, but I didn't enjoy it.

TRENT FORREST: I watched it as well. It definitely hurt because we know we were so close to being there, but you still want to see what he goes on. So I would say it was all right.

THE MODERATOR: Have you been to California before? Been to Anaheim before?

TRENT FORREST: This is probably my third our fourth time coming to California and I have family that lives 15 minutes away, so it's a good time.

MFIONDU KABENGELE: It's a beautiful city, Anaheim.

Q. Terance, I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about your personal philosophy on defense. How you approach trying to lock down a guy and how that plays into this team's bigger defensive identity?
TERANCE MANN: Well, we just try to pressure the ball, get after dudes, make people work, not make it easy for them to get to their spots on the offensive end. In terms of the bigger defensive philosophy like I said as a team we're not letting people get to their normal spots by pressuring the ball and make it difficult for them to get to the rim and when they do get to the rim you got guys like him contesting it.

Q. Is that something you have always, since you were a kid, always put emphasis on? Or is that something you've learned through Coach Ham?
TRENT FORREST: Definitely learned through Coach Ham. When you are growing up a lot of people care about scoring the ball and offense and stuff like that. But when you get to Florida State you learn fast the only way you're going to get on the court is defense.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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