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March 28, 1999

Jim Calhoun

Khalid El-Amin

Kevin Freeman

Richard Hamilton

Jake Voskuhl


THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome and congratulate the University of Connecticut. This is a half an hour session with these individuals here. I'm going to let Coach make a few opening comments and then we'll take questions immediately.

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Obviously, we're more than tickled to be heading to the Championship game on Monday evening. It's what we all aspired to do and want to do come October 17th, when we start practice. In our case, I think we talked a little bit about this. In the Greensboro Coliseum last year, as we finished getting beat by the terrific North Carolina team that we wanted to get ourselves to the Final Four and have a chance to win the Championship and we've been on a year-long quest which tells me, given the pressures and expectations placed upon this team, I certainly love this basketball team. I truly greatly admire our basketball team for the way they stood up to some very difficult situations. And some programs had the opportunity to get used to those. We've started to get used to them. But the way these kids have stood up and dealt with the pressure of getting here is remarkable, and we're just looking forward to tomorrow night to giving it our best, leaving everything on the floor both mentally and physically. Because we have the opportunity that we really have looked for, worked for and asked for.

Q. Jim, you said last night that you don't think that was your best basketball game and you hope that tomorrow night will be. Some people have said that you really haven't had your best basketball game throughout the tournament, yet you're here. Can you comment on that a little bit?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Well, I don't know except for Duke. But if anybody has overwhelmed anybody on a consistent basis, St. Johns had two terrific games in the tournament. You can go through particular games teams had; we had a game against New Mexico which we led 17-0 and basically the game was over in the probably first seven or eight minutes and they're a fine basketball team. We've had moments and minutes and hops where we've played exceptionally well. Halves is by the way, splitting in two. (Fix that) (laughter) .

Q. Yeah, can I get some of the players to comment, two or three of them, about the fact that Duke and UCONN are the only two teams that have been ranked No. 1 this year. It's almost like you guys were in competition for No. 1 in the East. Do you feel like you almost played them because of kind of the way you two teams have been matched all year?

RICHARD HAMILTON: I think that it would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I think that they've been number one for the season just as well as us. We've watched them probably as most as any other team in the country, you know. We never really could worry about them. Now we have an opportunity to play them and we just want to take advantage of it.

JAKE VOSKUHL: I'm real excited about the game on Monday. I think that, you know, everyone's played the well over in their head before. So now we're going to get a chance and go out there and do it.

RICKY MOORE: We're excited. You know, we waited on this all season long. We just want to have a chance at playing them. I know they feel the same way. It's going to be an exciting game, and, you know, everybody's going to enjoy it.

Q. For Jim and for the players, given the records of the teams and where you guys have been, are you surprised by how big a favorite Duke is considered both in terms of the point spread and also in terms of just general feeling?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Well, you know, I don't get concerned too much about what other perceptions are concerning the way teams could, should or would play. Clearly, what they've done during the season, by not only its quantity of wins but quality of wins and the way they played, they played as the most dominant team in college basketball probably in a number of years. We are 33 and 2. We've had a reasonably decent season ourselves. We have been brilliant at times. We have been pragmatic at times. We've survived at times. Very few teams have been afforded the opportunity to have that kind of season that Duke has had. Be that as it may, the game comes down to 40 minutes tomorrow night, not what some folks think it should be, could be, would be. It comes down two teams who between the two of us have, I believe, 70 basketball games combined in the year. We think and hope it's going to be a terrific basketball game and look forward to that opportunity. What other people think positively or negatively, we don't have control of that. Once again, I try to control that, but I can't. I tried with you guys a lot and I failed miserably. So in our mind, we just want to go out and have the opportunity to find out for both teams really who and what team will win that National Championship tomorrow night.

Khalid, do you want to comment on that from a player's perspective? (Laughter) .

KHALID EL-AMIN: I forgot what the question was.

COACH JIM CALHOUN: I do that a lot to them. I say these three-minute timeouts are just killing you guys. They like the minute and 30 seconds, they're much quicker.

Q. Jake, you just mentioned a couple minutes ago that you played this game in your head already. How does that matchup with Elton Brand gone, as you played that in your head.

JAKE VOSKUHL: Well, I plan on using Kevin Freeman's help. (Laughter) With a big, big double really. And I think that, you know, I think even watching the game, some of the commentators have tried to match us up a lot of times. How Connecticut will stand against Duke.

Q. Coach, could you talk about just tactically some of the decisions you have to make in guarding Brand?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Well, you know, it's basically with any good team, any well-rounded team,, and I think clearly we would agree they're one of the most well-rounded teams we've seen in a long time. I think you have to pick your poison and pick the idea of what you feel is going to hurt you less and what parts of the game that there's not domination. With Elton, we really feel that he becomes the center in all senses of what they do offensively and many times defensively. When he goes for a foul yesterday, the game changed. It was a different basketball game. I don't know if we're going to have the ability, zoning committed up to yesterday seven fouls in the first four tournament games. I know he's efficient, but the bottom line is he's a great, great player. I think we have to make some decisions are we going to big to big double, who it's going to come from, where it's going to come from. Do we use half court trap stuff, full court wise, trap them up, full court wise, a lot of stuff before they get into the 20-foot range. So there are plenty of decisions for us to make, and that's what we stayed up all night trying to do, come to some definitive ideas and we scouted them before obviously, last week when we scouted both teams, Michigan and Duke, of how we want to handle Elton. Because quite Frankly right now he's the most valuable player in college basketball. It comes down to double teams, where it comes, who it comes, zoning perfect, continue trapping, where your rotations come from. Those are the kinds of things we have to formulate in our own mind.

Q. This question is for Ricky. Last night William Avery talked about growing up with you and the early portions of you guys going against one another. You got the better of him because you were bigger and stronger, then he feels like he started to get some revenge as time went on. Can you A, talk about going up against him possibly, your history with him, and he also revealed that you two guys were big jokesters growing up and still are. I was wondering if you could tell us your best joke, you either played on him or played on your teammates.

RICKY MOORE: I don't have any jokes, but I took him under my wing and I went to high school. He's done a great job with Duke. I think he's matured a lot, got a lot stronger and quicker with weightlifting. It will be real special tomorrow, just out on the court competing against him, knowing I played him in high school.

Q. Khalid, can you explain to us what the win at Stanford meant for this team, to do it without one of your best players and dominate that game pretty convincingly?

KHALID EL-AMIN: I think that that game just gave us a tremendous amount of confidence, knowing that we went into a hostile environment and pulled the game out convincingly without Rich. And I think that really just boosts our confidence, to know we can play with anybody and play against anybody even if we're down a man. So I think that game just really helped our confidence.

Q. Jim, obviously Khalid has a lot of fun playing out on the court. Is it fun coaching him? Do you have to reel him in at all? Are there frustrations with that?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: It's one of the best roller coaster rides I've been on in the past two years. Roller coaster in the positive sense, the great thing is we always end up at the top. Like any emotional person, and I don't know anybody like him that's real emotional, I relate a lot to how he is, what he does, I think sometimes when he's doing his thing with the basketball I might be doing it right on the sidelines with him, so I can relate to his emotion, his energies. And the fact that we share something in common that we both want to win as badly as anyone. And he's been a pleasure to coach. Like any other player, there is times you need to pull in the leash, but I'll tell you what, right now he's been one of the most competitive people I've ever met in my life and he enjoys playing basketball, which makes our team enjoy it and obviously his energy speaks for itself. First of all, he truly has become what we needed and secondly, why we're so successful.

Q. Kevin, can you just talk about helping out with Elton, what kind of challenge that might be for you?

KEVIN FREEMAN: It's going to be a tough challenge. You know, if I have to help out with him. They have other players that can score, you know. Any time you deal with a player like Elton Brand, it's a challenge for the entire team. It's going to take team focus and a team effort. It's not just Jake guarding him or me guarding him, it's the entire team and being able to rotate to other guys.

Q. This is for Jim and maybe Jake. Along those lines of covering Brand, as a team, it seemed like playing Duke as physical as possible is the best way to do it. Michigan State rebounded them on the offensive boards. Can you guys play the physical game? I know it's not your usual style. Are you going to make a concentrated effort to do that?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: We'll be caught to some degree in the decision making about what we want the flow of the game to be and can we determine or dictate the game. Michigan State after a while did a half-court game and better served for them. We are a much better offensive team when the game goes up and down. So we need to control Duke on both ends of the floor, hopefully giving our offense full speed and in turn to gain some of their fast break opportunities. And then play as five. So we're going to double anybody, including Elton obviously, we need to make sure we make great rotations. As Kevin just alluded to, it won't be just a single trap on Elton, it will then be the rotations after that which become even more critical against a team that shoots three so well, has so many people. They throw to more people that can finish plays than anybody that we have played. And one of the great signs of all teams is when you throw to quote a "playmaker." By that I mean a playmaker may be a guy who can just score, a guy like Avery who can shoot, penetrate and pass, they have guys that can play and make plays. That becomes dangerous. When Temple, for example, I thought Temple's half court travel was magnificent against them. Every time they threw, they eventually found the one man who was open and that guy made a play which made life a lot easier for them.

Q. Coach, you've been under pressure all year as you came into this season as a heavy favorite, reached the Final Four. Then you get to the Final Four, get that burden off your back and face a team that everybody says you should beat because you're not supposed to be here. Now you're not the favorite anymore, it's not as much of a burden on you. Can you talk about the mindset you guys are going through now, maybe a little bit of pressure off because you're not expected to win?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: We expect to win. See, I can't control what others say and others feel. First thing, Ohio State more than belonged here. They beat Auburn and St. Johns in a matter of 48 hours and in my neighborhood, that's pretty good stuff. As a matter of fact, very, very good stuff. And, secondly, if we're controlled by what others think we should or shouldn't do, we know we have to think for ourselves. Our job simply is to go out and do the best job we can. Pressure is, once again, being a coach who's 10 and 19 worrying about whether he's going to get his next job, not being 31 and 2 and worrying whether you're going to beat the next opponent in the NCAA Tournament. So I'm not negating what you're saying. Clearly there's evidence, they've already placed our kids because they've had a lot of burdens and expectations upon them. But anybody who wants to excel for excellence, anybody who want to step into the arena, you can win, you can lose. I think we have chosen to try to go for excellence. Sometimes we are excellent. It's not good enough in the '90s. But excellence is what we strive for, and in this case, ecstasy is what we're looking for tomorrow night.

Q. Jim, are you able, obviously in relation to being here, are you able to step back and after the season that's been played say this is probably the one game that people would like to see?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Yeah, I think so. I think it's been mentioned so many times, the fact that both of us clearly Duke has proven it beyond a reasonable doubt that they're the best team in the country. I don't have any question about that. They're the best team. They have had the best season of anybody in the country, because not only have they won -- we've won also, but they dominated some of the great teams they've played against. We have won, we're near the same dominating factor, but clearly I think we've become probably the second best team. When you have one and two against each other, it makes for, I think, a good matchup. And for us, quite frankly, I think if I told our kids, not our coaching staff, who they would like to play, I would bet you, they would like to try an opportunity to play Duke. They're the best. They would like to try to be the best. We want that opportunity. We strive for that opportunity. We talked about that opportunity.

We have about five minutes left for the players collectively up here.

Q. Jim, have you settled on your defensive matchups in the perimeter, on the perimeter? And is it Ricky against Avery?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: We're fluctuating back and forth as we have a couple other games. I think we feel sound about the way we'd like to start, which, right now, we'll tell the kids we don't know and I'm not telling you, so nobody will know except for our coaching staff. It's no big deal, but we will rotate, once again, as we have in the past based upon situations. But what we spent a lot of time doing last night, and that's why it's a good point, is Duke's -- Duke is not a very, very difficult team to prepare for. They're just a difficult team to play.

Q. Richard, so far everybody's been asking you guys how are you going to defend against Elton Brand and what's Connecticut going to do to defend against Duke. What is Duke going to have to do to defend against you?

RICHARD HAMILTON: (Laughter) I really don't know. I really can't tell nobody. You know, I think that -- the one thing when I come out and step on the basketball court, I think my teammates make me the player that I am. I think it's no one way that you can guard me. That's just how I feel personally. And I think that Khalid really does a great job of giving me the ball and open positions. And Jake and Kevin set excellent screens for me to get the ball.

Q. Jim, in your way to get to this point to play for a National Championship, did you ever wonder that maybe it just wasn't meant to be? And would your career or program that you've built there been somehow unfulfilled if you had never gotten here?

COACH JIM CALHOUN: If I had walked away from coaching at the end of this year and we had not made the Final Four, I would have felt no less -- I don't feel like I'm a better coach than I was two weeks ago, not a worse coach. I don't think that, once again, as I told you about perceptions, the idea or perception or expectations, I think you need to fulfill what your own are. My obligation was to come to Connecticut in 1986 and do the best I possibly can and we think we've done almost the best we possibly can. The best would be winning the National Championship. I think maybe later on I'll look back upon these last couple weeks with a great deal of fun. I see no reason why it won't be. But my job right now is to get the team prepared and focused on this opportunity. We've had terrific kids who played for us. Not one of those kids ever let me down, frustrated me, they brought me a great deal of happiness and our program, State and university a great deal of success. As I said, we were criticized for mere excellence. And I don't know if you should be criticized for mere excellence, but that's probably the rules and I guess I'll live by them. I don't necessarily accept them all the time, but I can at least live by them.

Q. To Khalid and any other player who wants to answer, could you talk about how much you relish being on this stage with the world watching, with an opportunity to knock off a team like Duke?

KHALID EL-AMIN: I think it's going to be a great opportunity. Like I said before, when I was growing up, I dreamt about, you know, having this opportunity to play in front of the world on a championship level, on the highest level in the college game. And I think I'm definitely going to try to go out and make the most of it. That's all I can do and that's all my teammates can ask of me to do. I'm sure they feel the same way. We're going to go out and play Connecticut basketball and that should be enough for 40 minutes.

Q. Jim, everyone excelled in their roles last night, talk about that and how important it is.

COACH JIM CALHOUN: Well, obviously I think we have to operate with at least the same efficiency as we did last night and then take it another half a level up. Clearly we're playing a great basketball team. Last night we were able to defend a team that was incredibly efficient. Jim O'Brien did an incredible job. Every single possession, so the right person shoots the ball at the right time. Players back you up, cut you, quote "role players" and other guys. The thing with Duke, they can hit you on the outside. Avery can penetrate as much as Scoonie can, then of course the automatic answer yesterday was Elton. Elton, when he was in the game, dominated the game. And he was clearly the dominating factor. So they can hit you in so many different ways, I just feel that we're going to have to play a better game than we did against Ohio State, and I believe -- I don't know if we are -- but I believe truly, I know we can play a better basketball game than we did yesterday and quite frankly I think we're going to have to.

Q. This is for the players. Yesterday coach in the victory said that Ricky's defense on Scoonie basically cut the head off the dragon. Where was the head to the dragon tomorrow night, and how do you go about cutting it off?

KEVIN FREEMAN: I don't think it's a head on the dragon tomorrow, I think it's like a big cyclops and you got to -- (laughter) -- Just try to take the eye out of him and beat them, the entire team. You can't just take the head off.

With that, we're going to let the players head to the breakout.

End of FastScripts....

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