March 26, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
Q. Antonio, you've gone up against Elton Brand once this year. Can you just describe what it's like to play against a guy with that kind of size but also the quickness?
ANTONIO SMITH: That's a very difficult task. He's very quick, you know, for his size. And if you let him get the ball around that basket, he's going to score. So you really have to minimize that.
Q. This is for both you guys. Scoonie talked a little bit earlier about preparing for Big Ten games. He said every single one that they went in to they expected a battle. Was that an exaggeration at all about the strength of the conference?
MATEEN CLEAVES: No, he was right. Every team did that this year. There was no game you could go in this year and guarantee a win before the game. We knew every game we played would be a battle. We knew every game we had to be ready to play or we could lose in the Big Ten.
ANTONIO SMITH: There were different teams there. The teams that were lower, the bottom part of the conference, they were the tougher teams to beat. So a lot of teams really we came prepared for.
Q. Mateen, I wanted to ask you, do you remember the high school matchup with Battier? What do you remember about that?
MATEEN CLEAVES: I remember we lost at the last second shot. I knew it was a tough battle. All I remember about the game is the last second shot, they hit on the last second of the game.
Q. You hit one right before that, right?
MATEEN CLEAVES: I went down the court, made a layup to tie it up and they came right back. They had to hit the shot to beat us.
Q. For both players, would you guys describe Coach Izzo? What is he like? What is his fingerprints on the team? How do you guys reflect him, if you do?
ANTONIO SMITH: I feel Coach is more like a football coach. He has that mentality of go out there and play as hard as you can, as physically as you can. But just go out and try to play aggressive and have all the confidence.
MATEEN CLEAVES: I think he's just a hard worker. We see how hard he works and he believes that hard work pays off. And sometimes he comes to practice and the whole practice he's getting on guys. So he's just a very down-to-earth guy, but just, you know, an old-fashioned hard working guy.
Q. Mateen, will you talk about the matchup with Will Avery in the last game in December.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, the last game in December, he did a good job. I think he gave a better job that night of running his team, you know. He set guys up, played good defense and that night he did a better job of running his team. But the matchup between me and him, he has a lot of -- he can do a lot of things. I like his game because he's kind of -- he can shoot off, dribble it, shoot up. He does a good job of finding the guys. So it will be a tough matchup.
Q. For either player, there's been a lot made about you guys being all former football players. You guys talk about that a lot. Do you wear that on your sleeve as far as when you go on the court? Do other teams talk to you about that at all, or is it just a kind of trademark you've got?
MATEEN CLEAVES: I guess it's just a trademark. Other teams really don't talk to us about it. But we do have a lot of guys who play football. I think, you know, that helped us out being a physical team. I think that's why we're kind of physical. All the guys kind of play football, we've been through the role with football, Coach Izzo is an ex-football player. So the guys, we have a lot in common with the football players.
Q. Mateen, what is the most important role of a point guard? There are four really good point guards in this tournament. What is the most important role of a point guard?
MATEEN CLEAVES: I think the most important role in this tournament would be just to run your team. Don't get caught up in the hype, don't get caught up in the scoring or the fancy pass. The most important point is to go out and do the best job you can do at running a team.
Q. Question for both players. So much has been made obviously of the Flintstones and your street toughness of guys that come from Flint. How much confidence do you feel that that gives you, the background, or the experiences you've had? And how much do you think that that could possibly factor in to beating a team like Duke?
ANTONIO SMITH: I think it gives us a lot of confidence. We play in every situation that's possible. So if you ever come in that situation, you can do anything. We have confidence in ourselves.
MATEEN CLEAVES: I've played against a lot of players in college, just a lot of players period. In Flint, I've played against guys just as tough as the guys you grow up with. It's a different situation, open-gym style. But I played against a couple of players in Flint. Playing against those guys and old guys as a kid, that gives you confidence. I always respect the opponent.
Q. Antonio, last week you were saying that you felt like you guys were treated as an underdog even though you're a higher seed than Kentucky. Now you're definitely the underdog. Are you using that as motivation or ignoring all the hype?
ANTONIO SMITH: Ignoring all the hype. I feel like this team doesn't need anything to motivate it. Just having the opportunity is enough for us. We just want to give 110 percent.
Q. Antonio, a lot has been said about you being Coach Izzo's first recruit. Can you think back to that time and what sort of dreams you had at the time? Did you ever really envision being here?
ANTONIO SMITH: At the time, he was, you know, we were starting together. He said he wanted to turn the program around and before I leave hoped we would have a powerhouse and a shot at the National Championship. We continued to work every day, that was our work and now the work has really paid off for us.
Q. You said you ignore the hype. Does that mean you feel it's accurate? Are you the underdogs? Are they one of the "greatest" teams of all time? Do you feel in your heart that's just wrong?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, I think they are a good team. You know, I've seen a lot of teams from watching basketball as a kid. I think they are one of the greatest teams of all time. After all the hoopla and all the hype, you still have to go out there and play 40 minutes of basketball, I think that's why we have to concentrate on going out there and trying to play basketball.
Q. Mateen, what kind of personality does a good point guard have to have? I'm not talking about physically tough, I'm just kind of talking about what kind of person do you have to be?
MATEEN CLEAVES: First of all, I think you have to know how to take constructive criticism. You have to not be afraid to point the finger at yourself if the job's not getting done. Then I think you have to have a good personality, but you have to know everyone else's personality on the team. I have to know what words I can say to Antonio to get him going. I have to know what words to say to get Charlie Bell going. I have to know how to get to the guys on the team. I have to know who, when, how, where to give the person the ball, where he's best at. I think you have to have a good personality and not be afraid to point the finger at yourself, but you also have to know everyone else's personality on your team.
Q. Could you guys give me your favorite story about Coach Izzo, you've seen him so fired up. Is there something that stands out at some moment where it's just like maybe you talk about it among yourselves or every time you remember it you kind of chuckle? He was beside himself going after it, or really something that he does, all that energy put into it at the time?
ANTONIO SMITH: Every day in practice. It seems like he has the same amount of energy. He just goes out there, forcing us to get noticed. We want to improve every day.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, I don't remember the game, but it was a close game. I forget, somebody hit a shot or something, and he was talking about where he's from in Michigan that there ain't nobody can jump or nobody can dunk or whatever. Somebody hit a shot or made a good play and I was running down the court and looked over at Coach Izzo. He jumped up in the air, was hanging up there like Michael Jordan style. He jumped so high, was so excited. I always tease him about that. I talk about you can't jump where you're from, but he showed it at that time.
Q. Antonio, you've already played Elton Brand once this season. What do you have to do specifically to stop him?
ANTONIO SMITH: Really try to force him off the blocks and try to deny him the ball, you know. We feel like if he gets the ball, down there closer, remember he's going to score. So we really just try to keep the ball out of his hands and hopefully the guards can pressure their guards, so they don't have a pass to him.
Q. Mateen, you didn't shoot very well from the stats last time against Duke. How much do you want this game personally?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, really, I don't even think about the last game. I try to get that game out of my head, forget about it. You know, it's not -- I'm really not going out there to play for no payback or that I have to prove to somebody that I can shoot better against Duke. My thing is I have to concentrate on doing a better job for my team. I didn't do a good job with my team then, my shooting, I don't want to get caught up on shooting. I don't want the shooting to dictate my game. But this time I have to do a better job of running my team.
Q. I'd like either or maybe both of you to talk just for a little bit about Morris Peterson and your bench. Are those guys sort of an example of your blue-collar ethic?
ANTONIO SMITH: I feel it is. It seems like our bench players come to practice every day, they didn't have the opportunity to play each game but they give 110 percent each time they're out there. I think it helped Morris. He comes off the bench and gives us some offense. But on defense he shut down some of the other team's best players. It just helps the team out. When some of the starters can't do it, he gives us time to relax.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Basically, what I think right now, we depend on our bench players. I think other teams, they hope that their bench can come in and pick them up. We depend on that. We look for A.J. Granger and Morris to come in, especially scoring, doing a great job of that. Our bench has been the backbone of our team. They deserve a lot of credit for us to even make it here. A.J. and Morris come out here, Doug Davis have come in and played key roles for us.
Q. Antonio, there's four great point guards in the Final Four. Elton Brand said he thought tomorrow might come down to the big guys when they decide the game. How do you respond to that?
ANTONIO SMITH: I think that's one of the keys for any team to win. We feel like if we can minimize Elton Brand to at least ten points, you know, hopefully we can have a shot and win the game. So we really just have to concentrate on the downloads, keep those big guys off the board.
Q. Antonio, does the fact that you guys have won 22 games in a row, does that play a part in the mentality that you bring into this game, that you've been able to be down in games and consistently find a way to come back?
ANTONIO SMITH: Some of those games have been very difficult. It shows that we'll never give up and we'll continue fighting to the end. It seems like a lot of guys are really gaining a lot of confidence in those 22 games. They have an attitude now that we can't lose and every time we're out there on the court we're just playing to win.
Gentlemen, thank you very much and good luck.
End of FastScripts....