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March 28, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Duke student-athletes, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, to be followed by head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Questions for the student-athletes?
Q. RJ, you and Nickeil both being from Toronto, do you consider this a showcase for Canadian basketball in any way?
RJ BARRETT: It's definitely great going up against Nickeil, growing up playing against each other and definitely showing that Canada has some good players and that we're on the rise.
Q. Zion, you had to sit there at the Cassell Coliseum and watch your team lose to Virginia Tech last month. How much will you enjoy getting to play in the rematch tomorrow? And how much of a difference do you think you can make?
ZION WILLIAMSON: I'm going to enjoy playing the rematch because it was very unfortunate to see my brothers lose, even though they battled really hard. And I'm just glad to be able to go to war with them.
I think I bring a lot to the table obviously. And Virginia Tech is a great team. So they won that game. That's not taking nothing away from them. I think it's going to be a battle.
Q. Zion, you can talk about the game with Tacko Fall. But at the end of the game it was an unfortunate ending for you guys and for the play that you made to get the tip and went to RJ for the game-winning shot, could you talk about the emotions that went in such a short period of time in that last game?
ZION WILLIAMSON: It was a lot of emotions, but I mean I think the main thing we both felt was just confidence, because, like I said, at the two-minute mark, Coack K looked at us and said, you guys are built for this moment.
And we were just confident in what we were going to do. So I got the and-1, but I missed the free throw and he followed up for a tip-in.
Q. Anything to add, RJ?
RJ BARRETT: Just confidence. At the end of the game you're not thinking about anything else but winning. And that's why we're able to make those game-winning plays.
Q. Zion, how would you describe the last handful of months for you from the start of the season to now? Could you ever have pictured how everything would have happened for you?
ZION WILLIAMSON: I didn't picture how things would happen for me. I kind of pictured how things would happen for the team, because that's why I feel like players come to Duke, they have a winning history. You want to be part of a great season.
The season has gone very well, even though we faced a lot of adversity, but I think the season has exceeded my expectations with how well it's gone.
Q. You talked about guys who come to Duke for the winning history. When you got hurt, there was talk from people that he should not come back and play, that you're probably going to be the No. 1 pick, that you should just get healthy and prepare for the draft. What made you want to come back when you probably didn't necessarily need to risk it health-wise?
ZION WILLIAMSON: A lot of things. For starters, I love basketball. I'm not just going to sit out and watch my brothers play. And the other thing is I made a commitment when I decided to come to Duke. So I felt like I wouldn't have been honoring that commitment if I would have just been selfish and say I'm done for the season.
And I feel like I just owe it to them. They were out there battling each game. They'd be, like, we're out here fighting for you. So it meant a lot to me. So I was just ready to get back out there with them.
Q. RJ, what do you think is most improved in your game over the course of this season with Duke? And I'm just curious, how much did you know about Zion before you decided to go to Duke?
RJ BARRETT: I'd say I've improved everything. I try to improve everything every day because it's not one area that I'm perfect at. So I try to work on everything.
And Zion, I just remember one time I was on Twitter and I saw him have this crazy dunk. I really didn't know much. But especially as last year was going along, started to become friends, started to talk a little bit. And definitely saw the things he was able to do. So I was excited to come here and play with him.
Q. Zion, you talked about kind of players coming to Duke at this point wanting to win. How do you handle the expectation of you're the favorite in the tournament, you're the No. 1 seed, you get the scare against UCF? How do you handle those expectations? And how might that UCF game being so close help you guys?
ZION WILLIAMSON: I'll start with the UCF part. The UCF part, that's just March Madness. I think we should know based on the history of March Madness that doesn't matter what the ranking is. The game is completely different, it's different stakes now.
And for like the winning history, I think -- what was the exact question for the winning --
Q. How do you handle the expectations of the pressure of knowing it's Duke and knowing that you guys -- everybody expects you to go to a Final Four and that sort of stuff.
ZION WILLIAMSON: We've got to thank Coach K for that. He's been doing this since before I was born. He's handled being on top for a long time. So I think coming here, I mean he gives us the best advice on how to handle this and like what to do.
Q. In terms of the social media thing, everybody knows your Instagram and Twitter have taken off. And I think Duke's have also. What do you think about all that? And did you notice, it kind of started when you had the dunk in Canada from the foul line, like, Duke's social media took off? What do you remember about that dunk and what do you think about all the social media stuff going crazy?
ZION WILLIAMSON: What I remember about that dunk is I liked it, but then I also didn't like it because -- that's why I really haven't done it since -- because RJ literally took off from the free throw line like two seconds before me, but people wasn't giving him credit for that. And I didn't want to be the guy to take away light from other players.
And I said when people started giving my teammates the respect that they deserve, then I guess I'll start doing more stuff like that. But it hasn't really changed.
Q. What about Duke and [inaudible]?
ZION WILLIAMSON: The social media for Duke? I wasn't surprised at all. I think they were already No. 1 with social media anyway. For myself I don't really pay a lot of attention to it. I honestly don't post a lot because I'm just focused on trying to win.
Q. I read that your mother was a pretty good athlete herself. How would you describe the impact she's had in your life?
ZION WILLIAMSON: My mom has had the ultimate impact in my life. Without her I would not be in this situation right now. My mom has done so much for me to even be here. I can't even say a lot of it on camera. But without her I would not be here.
Through ups and downs she was there for me. When people said I couldn't do certain things, like go to college for basketball or hopefully have a chance to go to the NBA, she was the first one there for me saying, like, if you work hard, do the right thing you can do it. So she has the ultimate impact on my life.
Q. RJ, when you think back to the Virginia Tech game last month, what does your team need to do better offensively and defensively to have a different outcome on Friday?
RJ BARRETT: We battled hard. Zion was out. I was sick in the first half, didn't really play much. But to still be right there at the end was great for us. So I felt like we battled tough and they just made more winning plays than us at the end.
Just to clean up a couple of areas and they have, you know, one of their key guys back and we have our key guy back. So it's going to be fun.
Q. How do the veteran players on this team, the sophomores and juniors and seniors, been able to lift you guys up in tough situations and get you where you are now?
ZION WILLIAMSON: They've been able to lift us up a lot, like, even the walk-ons, Brennan and Michael Buckmire, because they've been here, they know what to expect, they know rankings don't matter out here. This is March Madness; whoever wants it more that day, for those 40 minutes, that's the team that's going to win.
RJ BARRETT: All the upperclassmen bring energy. They bring energy, effort. They definitely help us to be able to have more confidence and to be able to do what we do and like you said they've been in these battles before.
They tell us to keep going and they have our backs and it's amazing to see.
Q. RJ, what is it like to play with Zion and all the attention he gets? And do you follow him on social media?
RJ BARRETT: The question is, I think the question you should be asking me is how do I get him to follow me. (Laughter).
It's definitely a lot of fun playing with him. He does some amazing stuff. In the UCF game, I think somebody was guarding me, I couldn't see. I just threw the ball up anywhere and he just jumped up and got it. It's definitely great to play with.
And he does so many things on the court that people don't really appreciate enough. But definitely fun guy to be around.
Q. Do you feel that playing a close game like you did against UCF, does it help you a little more for the next game as opposed to your game where you guys just blow them out of the water?
ZION WILLIAMSON: I think every game, honestly, helps because as you saw from the first game against North Dakota State, the final score didn't reflect on how that game actually went. Like they were a great team. The game was very close at first.
And Coach was looking at us, like, this is March Madness. Like, this is what goes on.
And in the UCF game, I mean, it was a tough game. And I mean they brought everything. They played their hearts out, honestly. For us to win that game, it meant a lot. I think it showed our will and how much we want to win. And I think we learned from like each game.
Q. Zion, what's been most enjoyable for you this season? There seems like there's been immense amount of pressure on you. Did you feel a responsibility that you have to have a monster game every game in order to win?
ZION WILLIAMSON: Not at all. I don't really feel the pressure. And for the monster game, I don't feel the pressure to have that every game because we have a lot of talented players on this team. So like we just move the ball and attack. And whoever has the hot hand, that's who is going to have the monster night.
And we just -- honestly, for us, we don't really care who has that monster night, because we're just going to be happy for that person. And we all have the same thing on our mind. And that's winning.
Q. Have you talked to any former Duke players about what it would mean to get to the Final Four and win a title? It's only been two freshmen-led teams in the one-and-done era -- the Duke team a few years ago and Kentucky -- that have won it all. Have you at all thought about it or talked to anyone about what the meaning of being the last team standing in March would be?
ZION WILLIAMSON: Well, I think that's another great thing about coming to Duke, because all the assistant coaches have went to the championship game. And they tell us the stories about how they had to battle. I think each of them probably came in like No. 1 seed.
But it was a battle to get there because, I mean, March Madness is probably the perfect name for it. It's whoever wants it, that's who is going to get it.
Q. It's funny to watch you guys watch the other one answer questions. You both laugh at each other a lot. What's your relationship like away from all of this as friends and as teammates, when you're not sitting here in front of us or together?
RJ BARRETT: Just like you said, just watching us laugh at each other answer your questions. It's funny, because I know like what he's thinking and what he's about to say before he says it.
But, I mean, it's just great to have somebody you can relate to off the court. And I watch everything that he goes through and what goes on with him. And definitely kind of he's helped me a lot. And just amazing to have a brother like that.
ZION WILLIAMSON: I love him. He's my brother. (Laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We're excited to be in the Sweet 16 and especially being up here, great basketball country. And our guys are, I think, a little bit fresher than they were last week.
Marques has continued to improve. He won't be wearing a brace on his knee for the game tomorrow. We're still not sure of Jack, Jack White. That will be more doubtful than probable. But we'll make a decision on that -- on that tomorrow.
Any questions that you might have?
Q. Your defense is turning people over, but it seems like a football team. I asked this to Buzz Williams. Your turnovers turn into scores. It's like interceptions that lead to touchdowns. I notice you're pressing a lot. Can you tell us, is that a thing you have them gambling in the passing lane a little more?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Not so much gambling but because of the pressure that Tre can put on a ball -- it won't happen as much tomorrow night because you can't do that to them because they can handle it so well. But for a lot of teams we're able to push their offense a little bit further out and that makes passes longer, passing lanes longer. And then one of our strengths is our lateral quickness and length. And it has all the makings of a good defensive team, which overall we've been a really good one.
Q. This is arguably one of your most talented teams ever.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Ever? How old are you? (Laughter).
I just want to know how long "ever" is for you. (Laughter) no offense, but ever is a long time.
Q. As a coach, how do you handle such a young team but a team with such high expectations from day one into today as the favorite?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, one, we have a great group of kids. We are talented. We're young. The two kids who were just up here, they're 18. Both of them are 18 years old. So you have to make sure that you're adapting to coaching a young group at this time in civilization, and not four years ago or five years ago. And these guys have been really good to adapt to.
Our program has incredibly high expectations from within and from without. And that's good. And so if we succeed, we succeed famously. And if we do not succeed, we have tried to succeed famously. And I like that aspect of our program immensely.
Q. Looking back to last month's game in Blacksburg, what would you like to see your team do better offensively and defensively to have a different outcome tomorrow? And how much of a different game are you expecting the fact that you'll have Zion and they'll have Justin Robinson back?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I think it will be somewhat similar because we're both really good defensively. And adding two of the best players in Zion and Justin will only make it better.
I don't know how much you get from that game. I'd like to have one more, like, cover the corner, you know, on penetration so we don't give Outlaw an open 3. I'd like to hit one more shot.
But overall they played a little bit better than we did. And they're really good. And I said at that time, I thought Buzz really did as good a job as anybody in our league coaching.
And they're veterans. They're together. They play -- they don't beat themselves. They do not beat themselves. And I really thought, at the end of the season, that there are five teams from our conference that could win the whole thing and the five that I thought are here, are in the Sweet 16.
Q. There's been so many unique aspects to this season for you guys. There's the Zion thing, which is its own thing. You've overcome injuries to several key players, including him. Three one-point wins in a month. A lot going on. How would you describe this journey to right now?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, terrific. And I feel lucky to be on it with these kids, because they put you in a position to win. And, look, from the start to the end we've kind of been "the team." I'm not saying we're the best team, but we're the team that somebody has -- a lot of people have said they need to beat us.
That's a good position, but there's a lot going on for whoever that team is. And these kids have handled it really well. And I do think we're fresher right now, though, that -- the ACC Tournament, getting Zion back, really was phenomenal. You play Syracuse, Carolina and Florida State in three games. It's a gauntlet.
And I didn't think we were as good in Columbia and as fresh as -- and obviously Central Florida was fantastic. But we've been trying since then to get fresher, and I think we are fresher.
Q. Coach, when you talk about being fresher and being rejuvenated, do you think having a game like that for your young players is a good thing, because it shows how tenuous this can be?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: You know, look, there's pressure on us all the time. And if you like pressure or -- just play, just play. The fact I thought our guys were very resilient in the last couple of minutes of the game for young kids especially. Actually Johnny and I talked about it after the game; Johnny Dawkins and I talked about it. And then I called him the next day just to check on him. We talked for a long time.
And they gave us a knockout blow with all those shots. And boom, boom, boom, boom. And for the most part, forget about Xs and Os, calls or whatever, you're going to be knocked out. And our guys weren't. And that says a lot for these kids. And it says a lot for them.
This has been a really good group. And winning any game but that game in the NCAA obviously is huge.
Q. Given the 24/7 news cycle, social media, the pressure of being a No. 1 seed and with Zion projected to be the No. 1 pick eventually, what impresses you what stands out about how Zion has handled all of that on and off the court?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Everything. Everything. This kid is just one of a kind. He's certainly a special basketball player. But as a youngster, he has a maturity -- it's uncommon. It really is uncommon. And how humble he is and how fresh, exciting. It's exquisite, just the best. And it's been an honor for me to be with him on this journey.
Q. Cam's shooting percentage isn't as high as some other guys on the team, yet he's made some big shots this year -- Florida State, Louisville, last Sunday. How have you seen him handle the ups and downs of this season to be able to stay confident to make those big shots when he hasn't had a great year shooting?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Actually, I think for anybody, if you keep bringing cumulative with you into the moment, you're not very smart. And so, whatever, good or bad, you've got to get rid of it. And so in the last few games, actually, Cam has shot very well. And he stays confident because he is confident and we're confident in him. And we have confidence in him.
But that's why, I know you all get involved with so many stats and whatever, but you have to be who you are in the moment you're in, not the moment you were in. And that's what we try to get across to our kids; just play this moment and don't worry about what's happened.
Q. I think there were 24 Canadians when the tournament started, including RJ and Nickeil here. Can you just say a little something about what you've seen over the years development of Canadian basketball? And how special can RJ be in kind of the history of that group?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: RJ can be as good as anybody coming from Canada. Obviously his dad now runs, just took over -- actually Steve Nash said he was running it anyway. No, it's been like an invasion of talent. And not just of talent but character.
Like RJ is -- again, he should still be in high school. He reclassified. And for him to have the maturity and talent to play at this level and what he's done, he's scored about 800 points. And he's been with us the whole time. He's the one kid that hasn't been injured.
No, fantastic, just fantastic. And we're getting so many more and more players from Canada in the NBA and in the NCAA.
Q. Do you get a sense that more basketball fans have embraced this Duke team because of Zion or maybe the freshmen but specifically Zion, than any of the great teams you've had?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I'll let someone -- I don't really pay attention to fans embracing us, because we have our fans. And we have people who don't want us to win. And for me to get caught up in what percentage or whatever, I'm just glad that people are attentive to what we do. And if they're attentive to what we do, it must be that we're pretty good at doing it.
But this group is a group that can be liked by a lot -- if you like basketball, you should like these kids. Whether you like me or not, that's another question.
Q. Another question about Cam Reddish. What areas have you seen the most improvement in him since the season began and what attributes do you like about him?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, no, he's just going to be a constantly growing player. He's a young player. He's got talent. He's a great kid, coachable. He's improved tremendously defensively. And a toughness, just to be able to handle the rigors of this level of schedule.
And he's going to keep getting better. Even Zion and RJ, these guys aren't as good as they're going to be. They're in the process of becoming. And when you have a young team, it's not who they are when they're 23 and you look back, boy, you had those guys. No, we have them now and they're becoming.
And that's my job is to help them keep getting better and keep learning about the game. And Cam's been a great kid to coach.
Q. You've obviously had a long association with Nike throughout your career. I'm curious if you have any reaction to Nike grassroots and EYBL being involved in the latest set of federal --
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No.
Q. And there was an intimation by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer --
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, I have -- no, there's nothing there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports