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March 22, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We'll get things started with Coach Jim Les in his fourth season. Bradley will face No. 1 seed Memphis tomorrow. We will open it up for questions for the head coach.
Q. When you first came to Bradley four years ago, you were pretty much thinking offense. Now this is more of a defensive oriented team. Can you talk about the transformation of the program into a very sound defensive team and what the adjustment has been for you as a coach.
COACH JIM LES: Well, when I first took over, we had talked about playing up tempo and fast-paced. Unfortunately, the idea back then was hurry up and let them score so we can get the ball back and try to outscore people.
Really, the idea is make it tough on them to score with good solid halfcourt defense, then because of that defense, because of turnovers you can create or bad shots, that's going to allow you opportunities to get out in the open floor and make plays.
I think it's just been a natural progression of me communicating what I wanted a lot better, and our guys buying into the fact that, boy, if we get after on the defensive end, coach is going to give us some freedom and opportunities to get out and play.
Those opportunities don't come if you're taking the ball out of the net.
Q. How much is it an advantage being an underdog in this situation? How do you keep your team from being overwhelmed from being an underdog?
COACH JIM LES: You know, we haven't really talked about it at all. Our guys are big fans of college basketball. I think when they're watching games, 'cause we talk about it a lot, I think they compare themselves individually to players that they see on TV maybe all the time. I know collectively we're all comparing ourselves as a team versus the teams we see on TV.
This is a competitive group. Their desire in getting into this tournament, I think what makes this tournament so appealing, is we have an opportunity on this stage to play those teams and find out where we're at.
We haven't really talked about -- all those perceptions come outside of our locker room. What really matters is how we feel about ourselves inside. We think we're an awfully good basketball team that can compete on any given night against any given team.
Q. Coach, could you talk about, how serious is Patrick about being a chef? What has he cooked for you?
COACH JIM LES: I've had a taste of his cheesecake, and I'm a cheesecake connoisseur, and it was awfully good. How serious is he? He's serious enough to be studying it every day in his classes and have an internship last summer. It's something he's always desired to do.
We encourage our kids, and Bradley is a tremendous academic institution, we talk about the basketball experience they're going to have, but that's also coupled with they're going to receive a tremendous education from one of the top private universities in the country. That's going to end up opening more doors over the course of their life than what basketball can do for them.
Q. When your guys had that slam-dunk contest at the end of practice, didn't look like they were overwhelmed. Can you talk about the collective state of mind.
COACH JIM LES: Well, originally I was awfully paranoid about it, but prior to Kansas, they'd been walking around with a quiet confidence, just a sense of business as usual. At first I was worried about it 'cause I wasn't sure if they were understanding the task at hand that we were getting ourselves into and the stage which we were approaching.
They certainly showed me. If anything, I'm probably drawing some confidence from their demeanor. We've talked about it. I want them to enjoy all this experience, attention, energy and enthusiasm that they've created. That's part of the long-lasting memory of putting themselves into this position. But also when we step between the lines, when we get into our film sessions, our meetings, it's business, it's let's remember what got us here. They've been able to separate those two instances which I think allows them to enjoy this experience a lot better.
Q. Do you have any memories about playing in this building? Did you go to any college games in northern California to stay up on the game when working as a financial analyst?
COACH JIM LES: Memories in this building? The building looks completely different than when I played here obviously since the remodel. It's only recognizable to me on the outside. My one memory was an awfully long hour and a half ride back to Sacramento, because I think I had the ball in my hands late, Chris Mullin (phonetic) stripped me near the end of a game. We were up one, they went down and scored, pretty much ended the game. I remember it being a long bus ride back to Sacramento. It's not necessarily a great memory, I should say.
What really kept me in tune with basketball was my experience in the WNBA and being an assistant coach. I had a lot of responsibilities. What I tried to do there was bring at that level, as an assistant, all the experiences I had been through as a player. As a point guard, you're expected to be the coach on the floor.
I played for some unbelievable coaches, Dick Mata, Jerry Sloan, Lennie Wilkins, Dick Versage (phonetic), my college coach. Those guys, I've taken a little bit from all of them. When I was asked to come back and get involved with the Kings organization through the Monarchs, I just brought all those experiences with me.
I loved having the dealings with the players and being able to share those things with them.
Q. Did you go to any of the college games around?
COACH JIM LES: I believe there was an NCAA tournament, first and second round, I can't remember which year.
COACH JIM LES: Yeah. But I remember going a couple years to those. It might have been one year, then skipped a year, then another. I'm a big fan of basketball, period. I love watching games at any level.
Again, if I probably would have sat on the bench next to Dick Mata, Lenny Wilkens or Jerry Sloan , people might view my experience differently. I'm not sure being a point guard is as good, maybe even better, because those guys were expecting you to run things and really communicated to me what they wanted to do. In order to survive at that level, I had to be a student of the game.
Q. You make this run to the Sweet-16. Are you at all surprised to show up and find teams from Conference USA? What does it say about college basketball today that all these non-power conferences are being represented here?
COACH JIM LES: Well, A, there's obviously tremendous parity. And, B, just because we maybe don't get as much exposure doesn't mean we're any less of a basketball team or a basketball conference. The Missouri Valley is a major basketball conference. There's tremendous coaches, outstanding players. We were rated the sixth best league in the country. We had six teams with an RPI of 40 or below. Part of the reason we've been able to get to this point is because of the preparation we had to do through a two-month rigors of going through our conference season and playing the type of basketball we had to play and experience night in and night out.
You can look back five, six years ago when scholarships got trimmed from 15 to 13. I think that also created a lot of parity across the country in terms of maybe those guys that would have went to bigger schools now were more receptive to coming to a smaller university, being the big fish in the small pond.
I also think AAU basketball, our ability to see young men and recruit and expand our recruiting base, because we didn't necessarily have the resources that the big schools have to fly to all those high schools, have the big budget. Now we can go to a big tournament in various places and see 400, 500 kids from across the country. It's leveled the playing field.
We've got guys, coaches, that are working just as hard to recruit those players. I think we have some appealing resources that kids are buying into.
Q. Do you have any history with Calipari? What do you see as the keys to beating Memphis?
COACH JIM LES: Coach Calipari and I, he probably doesn't remember, I was a counselor at the five-star camp when he was back there as a coach, running stations. I was on a barnstorming AAU team, I think the year after I was at Bradley. We went to Massachusetts and played. He had been there a year or two. You could see the type of program he was building and players he was getting in.
I have a lot of respect for him. He's been around the game for a long time. Just he's a tremendous coach. Everywhere he's gone he's won. It's an honor to have the challenge to go up against him.
Q. Amazing stat, you being up 15 when you commit fewer fouls than the opponent. How do you teach defense like that without your players getting into heavy foul situations? Will that philosophy be tested tomorrow?
COACH JIM LES: Well, our defense will be tested. The key to our defense has been being able to pressure and guard and contain the ball without fouling and allowing teams to score easy points at the free-throw line. That's just something, you know, you find out as a coach the things you stress, the things you talk about on a daily basis are the things that your team, over the course of the season, is going to get better at.
That's been from day one, we've been doing defensive drills and individual workouts. We've talked about that was going to be our bread and butter. That emphasis has carried over into I think our players' way of thinking. We've spent a lot of time in film sessions, individually and collectively as a group, talking about smart fouls and talking about letting your defense work for you rather than committing these fouls, getting in the bonus early, allowing teams to score points.
A lot of times at halftime we'll talk about our foul situation, we'll talk about at what point we put teams in the bonus just as a reminder.
I think it's just something defensively, expanding that defense to, hey, we can't foul, that's not good defense, that's just been an emphasis all season long.
Q. With a lot of teams you can look and pinpoint a guy or two guys, you have to slow them down. Can you approach Memphis that way? Are there too many?
COACH JIM LES: Too many weapons (smiling). They're just awfully talented. They're getting great production from their bench. You don't become a No. 1 seed or win 32 games by being one-dimensional or just doing one thing well. They do a number of things well. They've got a lot of guys that can go off on you and put up big numbers.
Our individual defense is going to be tested. Our team defense is going to be tested. They're an awfully good basketball team.
Q. What has the response been back home? Maybe some teammates came out of the woodwork to congratulate you. Were you heroes in the town when you came back?
COACH JIM LES: It's been great. We came back last weekend. There were a couple thousand people hanging out in the cold in an airplane hangar. The reception there was just overwhelming. We have a relationship I think that's very special and one we use in recruiting between central Illinois and where we live and our university. There's tremendous passion there for basketball. Bradley basketball is the biggest show on campus and the biggest show in our town.
To see the effect that it's had on our community has been tremendous. When our guys walk through that line of thousands of people, the cheers, the high fives, the smiles, it was overwhelming, just a pleasure to be a part of that.
Q. In building the program at Bradley, do you think some of your team and Missouri Valley teams have looked at Gonzaga and seen what a mid-major can do to become an elite program?
COACH JIM LES: There's no question. You look around. When I took the job, you look at the universities just as far as academic institutions. They are very similar. With our tradition and history that we have and with some of the resources we have and I think with an administration that understands how important basketball can be to the university, our president, our AD support us wholeheartedly. I think that's a tremendous breeding ground for doing special things.
We've talked about getting to this point and then not being content. We don't want this to be a one and done. Heck, I want to put pressure on myself to make this a yearly event, and that will trickle down to the expectation of our players having gotten a taste of this, other than our seniors. That's our focus. Why can't we do it? There's no reason. That will be our goal.
Q. I'm from Indianapolis. I'm curious, Danny Granger's decision to transfer from Bradley, I realize different coaching staff, what impact, if any, did that have? How was that received around there?
COACH JIM LES: You know, I think -- I haven't talked to Danny in a long time. The last time I really had heard Danny's name is when some NBA scouts were calling me prior to the draft to ask about him. Danny is a nice young man. He's an awfully good basketball player. I had nothing but positive things to say.
He was going through a tough period where he had been recruited to our school by another staff. When we had taken over, I just think that change was very hard for him to accept. As much as he tried, he wanted to stay, be a part of it, I think he had some other avenues pulling at him to maybe go somewhere else and stay with the ties who had recruited him.
I don't think there were any hard feelings. I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to be a part of our program. Again, we think we have some wonderful things to offer. We think we're going in the right direction. We run a first class program. I want guys who want to be here. If you don't, they're no hard feelings. I understand sometimes it doesn't work out.
He went his way. It's obviously worked out for him. He's been very successful. It's obviously been pretty good for us.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH JIM LES: Thank you. I'll stay with the guys.
THE MODERATOR: We have players from the Bradley Braves. We'll open it up for questions for the student-athletes.
Q. After you guys got beat by Wichita State in January, Coach shook up the lineup. Was that a turning point for this team? Could you talk about from the players' perspective what turned it around?
J.J. TAUAI: As far as the turning point, I think we all looked at each other and realized we needed to change some things because we'd been on a down slide at that time. I think that was our third loss.
Just as a team, I think that was a big turning point for us.
Q. (No microphone.)
J.J. TAUAI: I think for a lot of our seniors, they stepped up and took a lot of leadership roles and responsibility after those losses. I think that's what helped.
Q. Patrick, you did a tremendous job with Pittsburgh, their length. Now you have two, three guys with Memphis with incredible length. How do you deal with that kind of talent inside?
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I think you just got to play as hard as you can and keep playing like we've been playing all year.
Q. Patrick, Coach mentioned he had tried your cheesecake. Could you talk about some of the other best dishes you make and talk about your interest in becoming a chef.
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I just kind of really --
COACH JIM LES: Top Ramen noodles.
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I just really like to cook a lot. I don't know. I just made a cheesecake one day, and everybody heard about it, so they asked for some. I just kind of started handing it out. Kind of a crowd favorite, I guess.
I don't really get much of a chance to cook. I made the team a dinner once, made some chicken and cornbread, mashed potatoes. It was pretty good. That's about all I've really done.
Q. Marcellus, you seem pretty relaxed out there, but also focused. Coach said this team had a quiet confidence. Can you speak about how this team has made this run, you're able to balance being focused and relaxed out there at the same time.
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: I think just the guys' character. Like JJ said, we all looked at ourselves when we had that meeting after that Wichita loss. I think coming into this tournament, every guy, you know, believes that they have more to give maybe than they really believe. But I think we've been given all we can, and it's been working for us.
Q. Patrick, how many true seven-footers you've matched up with this year. Do you relish that when you look forward to these guys? Have there been many true seven-footers?
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I get to play against a seven-footer every day in practice with Brandyn Heemskerk. He's a big, strong boy. You always have to look for an elbow flying at your head somewhere. He catches everybody on the team with an elbow at some point in the day (laughter).
I play against him every day. It's a good challenge. He doesn't play much on the court, but his presence is there every day when I'm out there. We don't have any other seven-footers in the valley, I don't think. I think the closest is like Paul Miller at 6'10" or so.
Q. JJ, would you talk about your team's defensive philosophy and how you see it being tested tomorrow.
J.J. TAUAI: With our philosophy, we just want to get out and pressure a lot of teams, try not to foul 'em because, you know, we don't want to give away easy points at the free-throw line.
I think it's just a lot of energy, just discipline in ourselves not to foul the other teams.
Q. How about playing Memphis tomorrow?
J.J. TAUAI: They're a great athletic team. We don't want to I guess go out there being afraid of them, maybe go in a zone. We want to go out there and test our abilities and see how they match-up with no fear, I guess.
Q. Marcellus, I don't know if you've seen Sports Illustrated, but you're on the cover. What did you think? Did you see it?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: Yeah.
Q. What did you think when you saw yourself on the cover of SI?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: I thought it was a great honor, really privileged to be on the front of the cover. I don't know. Just really nice, I guess.
Q. You touched on the athletic angle a little earlier. Do you guys like playing other teams that are athletic so you know you can go and do your things offensively? Is that something you really like to do?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: Yeah, I mean, I think we just got to slow them down. They're really athletic, high-flying team. We just got to make it uncomfortable for them for 40 minutes.
J.J. TAUAI: As far as just matching up, I think we've been coming over challenges all year long. I think everybody is ready to accept this next challenge, go out there and play as hard as we can.
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I agree with both of them on that because everybody was saying we couldn't beat Kansas, they were too athletic for us, they would run right through us. We proved we can hang with them and we can put a stop to what they like to do. I think if we play like we did against Kansas and Pitt, we can pretty much stop anything they throw at us.
Q. How much did you know about the history of Bradley basketball? When did you learn it? Did you learn about it now since you're going to the Sweet-16, everybody reminded you of it?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: I'm from Peoria, so I've heard about it. I went to Hershey Hawkins, and Jim Les basketball camp when I was in grade school. Plus my coach, he coached at Bradley for a numerous amount of years.
I've heard stories. Never on this level have I heard the amount of volume that's been going around Peoria and the buzz, I haven't heard it as much as I have these past three weeks.
PATRICK O'BRYANT: Before I was actually recruited by Bradley, I had no idea where it was or anything. I can't lie about that (smiling). I'm not from the area at all. I'm from Minnesota. There's a little distance. I mean, now all you hear about is how long ago it was since we've been in, since we've been in the Sweet-16 or the third round or whatever. I've been learning a lot about the history over the last couple weeks.
J.J. TAUAI: I'm the same way. I didn't really know too much about Bradley, their history, everything like that until I came here and seen how much -- like how rich it is in the town. Especially since we've been winning, you see people around town, how happy they are. It's like some people are crying because they're so happy and they waited so long for it. It's just real exciting.
Q. How much of a shock is it for you guys to be here? If not, did you kind of expect you would get this far at some point?
J.J. TAUAI: As far as being a shock at being here, you want to go into every game thinking you're going to win. I mean, as far as actually going through what we're going through right now with this media and all this attention we're getting, I'd have to say it is real shocking.
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I don't think we're as much shocked that we're here as we are with all the attention and the media and the fans back home, stuff like that. We knew we were a good team all year. We knew we could compete with anybody. I mean, that shows over the last month or so with our play, how well we've been playing and stuff.
I think it's more just kind of a surreal feeling with all the fans and media and stuff.
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: I would agree with both of them. They pretty much said exactly what I was going to say (laughter).
Q. Marcellus, Peoria has turned out a generation of really good players, and you're part of this generation. Guys are starting to stay home. Why is Bradley so appealing for Peoria kids to continue their basketball education in town rather than go to Illinois or elsewhere in the Midwest?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: First I would say the community. I mean, basketball is big in Peoria all year round. Then I'd say they know they're going to get a good education in going to Bradley. Then the program, the family atmosphere with our program is really big. Coaches are involved in pretty much everything we do. We're always out at coach's house. It's really a friendly atmosphere as far as our program is concerned.
I mean, I'd say those are the basics.
Q. You're aware that Memphis and Bradley have a long history of playing each other. I think the series is tied 9-9, back to the '57 NIT championship. Go back to the old days when Memphis and Bradley used to duke it out all the time.
COACH JIM LES: Like I said, there's a lot of people, our community just thrives on the history of the valley, the battles of Memphis when it was Memphis State, Louisville. You know, in fact, I saw Denny Crumb at our hotel. He was talking about those match-ups and the memories. It's amazing how we run into people and they can recite statistics and replays.
These guys, we're not looking back, we're not looking back as what we did last week, we're not looking back at what Bradley has done in the past. We're kind of looking forward at what our challenges are. We're honored to play Memphis, who is the No. 1 seed, who is a tremendous program. The fact that there's some history behind it is I think great for all the historical buffs. For these guys, it's about the here and now, I think.
Q. One of the reasons they give for a mid-major, everything evening up, is the AAU community. As you're playing in these tournaments, any of you run into guys that you have an AAU background with that you've played against?
MARCELLUS SOMMERVILLE: Definitely. I think we see guys that we play with or played against in All-American camps or A, B, C, D camps, things like that. Yeah, I definitely agree with you.
J.J. TAUAI: Yeah, just the same way. A lot of these people that go to the big schools, you'll see them growing up playing since like fifth grade, things like that. You'll see them as the years go. I mean, when you play them, I guess like Brandon rush, I played him three or four times before the Kansas game.
Q. Patrick, your coach said you guys are looking forward. When you're on the plane, in the hotel, do you ever daydream about the possibility you guys could go to the Final Four? Is that something you as a team believe is possible?
PATRICK O'BRYANT: I think we all think it's possible. That's what we're striving for, is to get to the Final Four next, then to the championship, obviously. Yeah, I kind of do catch myself dreaming about it sometimes or thinking about it, you know, just kind of get jittery. You get that feeling, whatever, like it's possible, you're right there, all you got to do is go get it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach, players.
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