April 4, 2003
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
JOHN GERDES: We're joined by TJ Ford, Royal Ivey, and Brandon Mouton. Questions, please.
Q. TJ, how much zone has this team faced this year? How tough do you think it is driving or passing to get inside Syracuse's zone because of their wingspan?
TJ FORD: We've been facing zone all season. So I'm pretty sure we'll adapt to it from the games since the beginning of the season. Right now we're feeling confident. They're a big team, they're really long. You just try to find the weakness in the zone, really just attack it.
Q. Royal, are you expecting to be matched up with Carmelo? What is your opinion of him? Are you going to be on him in the beginning, do you think?
ROYAL IVEY: I'm going to be guarding Carmelo. I think he's a good player. He's athletic, he's long. He shoot the shot. Handles the ball well. Just going to be guarding him.
Q. TJ, you're the shortest first team All-American in 32 years. I'm wondering if that's something you've had to deal with something your whole career, being the short guy who had to prove himself?
TJ FORD: That's how it is growing up, be the littlest guy, always been like that. So I always had to find other ways to be effective out there on the court. It just comes, just being motivated, being so determined. Height doesn't mean a thing.
Q. TJ, when players and coaches talk about attacking a zone, what exactly does that mean?
TJ FORD: In the zone, I mean, it's some type of weakness. You just try to find one person, you know, try to relax, you just attack them - drive, penetrate, just take an open shot, just stay aggressive.
Q. Have you been able to think at all about what your presence has meant to Texas basketball?
TJ FORD: I just look at it that we did it as a team. I mean, I get most of the attention. But, you know, my teammates are part of the success that I'm having. I always remind them that I didn't do it by myself. I mean, all these guys I have on my team was a big part, and I make sure they're a part of everything that I do.
Q. TJ, you guys love to push the ball up and down the floor. This Syracuse team has been beaten that way in the past. Is that the key to your game and the key to beating them?
TJ FORD: I would say, A, that's the way we've been playing all season. That's the way we're going to continue to play. We're going to come out and play our style of basketball. If we get up and down the court, every time try to get easy baskets, we feel we can put a lot of pressure on them by keep running.
Q. Rick Barnes coached at Clemson before he came. Can you explain what it is about him and his personality that makes him so successful?
TJ FORD: I mean, he's a player's coach. He wants everyone to get better. He's going to push everyone to get better. He's not letting anyone settle in our team. I think that's why we've been having a lot ever success this year, because he makes everyone work.
Q. As far as his personality that's different?
TJ FORD: He's a relaxed guy. He's going to joke around. He's going to be a comedian, pull jokes, just keep everyone loose.
Q. Have you often guarded a player who was that much taller than you, like Carmelo? What do you do when you're confronted with a player like that?
ROYAL IVEY: Not really. The tallest player I guarded is Andre Emmett. A lot of other guards are point guards. I kind of compare him to that because Andre Emmett, he likes to post up, he's strong, he's aggressive. He has a grade midrange game. I think he brings on those strengths like Carmelo.
Q. How do you make up for the height difference?
ROYAL IVEY: I just play hard. You play to your strengths. You play defense like you know how to play. I just got to keep the ball out of his hands, just play.
Q. Brandon, can you talk about being the only native of Louisiana coming back here to play in the Final Four? How many friends and family do you expect tomorrow?
BRANDON MOUTON: Well, it's a great feeling to come back home, to compete for a national championship. It's just a great feeling. I have my friends and family really come out and support me, it's also great. As far as people coming, I really don't know. I had everyone back in Lafayette saying they needed tickets. I'm only allowed six. That's all I'm working with, so...
Q. Some of the Syracuse players were talking about when their zone defense is effective. They can see the point guards maybe getting a so-called bug-eyed look, they kind of feed off that. Have you watched film or seen any defense do that to you?
TJ FORD: Are you talking to me?
Q. Yes, TJ.
TJ FORD: They're going to play their principles. They're a long team. I'm pretty sure they're going to try to keep me out of the paint. I'm going to do what I do best, which is get in the lane and create for my teammates. At times you try to put in your head no matter what defense you're playing, you're not going to let them stop you from getting to the basket.
Q. Brandon, with the history of football at Texas, what would it mean to have a national championship?
BRANDON MOUTON: It would mean a lot. I think this team has really been talking about becoming the national championship team since I've stepped foot on campus. Texas is just great in all athletics. Our baseball team just won a national championship. Our swimming team does well every year. Now it's our turn. It's just a tribute to the university that we're strong in a lot of things we do.
Q. The last couple games you played, a lot of foul trouble. How do you think foul trouble will come into this game? Do you think it will be physical? Do you think they'll let some stuff go?
ROYAL IVEY: Hopefully they'll let us play. With foul trouble, we just got to keep our hands back and play our principles, be aggressive, but not be over-aggressive.
Q. TJ, you said height, you've always been what you are so you play to your strengths. Was there a point when you realized that you were really quick?
TJ FORD: I mean, all my life I've always been -- that has been my strength. You know, that's how I'm able to get around people and, you know, get my shot off. So I always have to use that to an advantage. I'm pretty sure without my quickness, I wouldn't be the player I was right now.
Q. Throughout your basketball career, do you ever get the feeling that you're a natural winner?
TJ FORD: I think everyone on this team is a winner. I think we all come from winning programs. Royal actually won city and state when he was in high school. I wasn't the only guy. We want to win on every level. I had an opportunity to win on the college level. We're just two games away. So hopefully I can win a championship on this level.
Q. Is there an NBA point guard that you try to model yourself after, someone who makes up for lack of size with quickness?
TJ FORD: You look at all the point guards that's even in college, I try to learn from everyone, whether you're in college or NBA, add something onto my game. The thing is, I just try to take pieces of other people's game and put it in mine, try to be different in a little way.
Q. Brandon, when people talk about being aggressive against the zone, you hear people talking about penetrating, then opposite of that, shooting 3-point shots. Can you talk about the importance of the midrange game against a zone defense?
BRANDON MOUTON: Well, the midrange game is very important. I think that another big key for us is simply execution, and I think if we do that, we'll get open looks, whether it's midrange, the ball in the post, or perimeter guys knocking down shots.
Q. One of the guys in the locker room was saying for a practical joke you borrowed Coach's car.
TJ FORD: Yeah.
Q. I wondered how he got you back.
TJ FORD: Actually, he pulled a joke on me first. We was in a restaurant. He had this pancake like with strawberry on top of it. He actually smashed my hand in the food. So I had to find a way to get him back. So I just took his car and put it somewhere on campus. It took him a while to find it.
Q. Where did you put it?
TJ FORD: I can't remember. I know he took a while to find it, though.
Q. How did he get you back?
TJ FORD: I don't know. I can't remember.
Q. Royal, was there any player that you've gone up against in college or back in New York on the school yards who is as quick as TJ?
ROYAL IVEY: I compare him to Andre Barrett quickness. Andre Barrett is a little bit smaller than him, but they're about the same. TJ proved that to me when we played against Seton Hall. He's about the same quickness, yeah.
Q. Brandon, how much does this remind you of two years ago, guys were here playing against Temple, against a 2-3 zone? What can you take from that game into this game?
BRANDON MOUTON: Well, I think this team -- I think simply we're a better team. I think guys are older, we have a better feel for the game now. I think that what's really going to help us, like I said earlier, execution. I think we're more aware of how important that is now. I'm sure we're going to go out and no one on this team I think is going to try to force anything, we're just going to let the game progress. I think that everything will work itself out.
Q. TJ, when Royal gets his defensive assignment, do you automatically assume he's going to lock his guy down?
TJ FORD: I assume he's going to do the best job he can do. Whoever Royal is going with, that person is going to have to work for every shot that they get. You know, that's what Royal does. He's going to help make hopefully fatigue become a factor because Royal is going to get out there.
Q. Back in December you took a visit to the White House, visited with the President. The First Lady is a Texas Longhorn. Did that visit mean anything to you?
BRANDON MOUTON: It really did inspire us as a team. I think especially with what's going on now with our country, to see our President be a true leader. It says a lot about him. He talked to us. I think a little bit of what he talked about is instilled in us. I mean, we're in this tournament. We're blessed to be here. But there's a lot of things that's really going on as far as our country is concerned. It was inspirational. It was good. I think the guys took a lot from that experience.
JOHN GERDES: TJ or Royal, do you want to add to that?
TJ FORD: I think he pretty much summed it up.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you, gentlemen. We'll be joined by Coach Barnes. We're joined by Texas head coach, Rick Barnes. We'll ask coach to make an opening comment, then we'll open it up to questions.
COACH BARNES: Well, obviously we're excited about being here, know that we've got a tremendous opponent in Syracuse. Certainly I have great respect for Jim Boeheim and the job that he's done at Syracuse over the many years he's been there. I think certainly we're all looking forward to tipping it up and getting started.
JOHN GERDES: Questions.
Q. The Big-12 getting two teams in the Final Four this year, same as last year, how much does that really say about the strength of a conference? Do you think the Big-12 needs to win a national championship to really place itself up at the top?
COACH BARNES: Well, obviously our league is still a young league. I think in a very short time a lot of great things have happened - certainly the past couple years with two teams, two different times, getting here. But there's no doubt that it's going to happen some time. Some team's going to win a national championship out of the Big-12 at some point in time, whether it's this year or next year, whenever it may be.
I think that right now everyone realizes that our league is certainly as good as any league in the country right now.
Q. Any secrets that you learned at Providence about attacking a 2-3 zone that hold up 10 years later? Is that zone just naturally more effective when he's got guys with the wingspans that this team has?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think his team right now -- every year Jim is going to change in terms of his personnel. That's what makes him a great coach. He's got probably a team that right now he would tell you is the perfect zone team because of the length, the reach they have, the quickness, the athletic ability. They cover up, they know what they're doing. But every year, I mean, the zone has been different. Again, I think if you look at this team, he would tell you this would be the kind of team he'd like to have in terms of his defense every year. Everyone knows that Jim -- if you've been around him, he's a great offensive coach. Everybody talks about their defense. I'm not sure there's a better offensive coach in the country than what he does. He's always had a great way of allowing the players he chooses to play. He's always puts them in great position to make plays. When you think about the Syracuse team right now, I don't think you can just talk about their defense, I think they have the balance that you need obviously to be a great basketball team.
Q. With that said, how does your defense match up against Syracuse's offense in general, also in particular with Carmelo Anthony?
COACH BARNES: All year long we've been a team that we've tried to be there for each other, help each other. We've always believed in certain things on the defensive end, one of it being transition defense. We've got to get back and get our defense set first, because Syracuse, like all outstanding offensive teams are going to look to try to get as many easy baskets as they can. We have to get back in transition. We've got to find the ball. I think we've always tried to apply ball pressure when we can. Certainly a guy like Royal Ivey is a guy that we've always tried to put on the other team's best player as much as possible. We've always tried to let him know he's got help in certain situations. That's something that we'll obviously try to do in this game.
Q. You have the reputation as such an intense coach, yet you also have the reputation as a very loose guy who doesn't take himself very seriously. Is that something you have developed through your career or is it just a natural way for you to be? Did you learn to be more loose along the way?
COACH BARNES: No, I think I've always been kind of, you know, relaxed. I think I enjoy life. I enjoy being around people. I like it when people smile. I like to see people happy. I'm not very good around moody people. I like consistency. But also I love this game, and I've been fortunate to be able to work with some great people, work in some great leagues. What I think you have to do with your players, and I hope that they understand it, when they walk on the basketball court, they've got a job to do, I've got a job to do, but also when it's over, said, and done, I think it's important that we're people. It would really bother me, and I think there's a stigma sometimes when you're the head coach that maybe players don't feel like they can come to you. I've always tried to work really hard to break that stigma down because I think communication's the key. So I've tried. I've learned over the years I think players play better when they can play relaxed, too.
Q. Could you talk about the beneficial edge that you have had at the free-throw line in the tournament so far, how that has come about.
COACH BARNES: Well, obviously I think it goes back to the players. We have really tried to work hard to become, you know, a better-shooting team. The one thing that we did different this year that we haven't done, we start every practice normally with 30 minutes of shooting every day, before we even stretch. We try to get up as many shots. Along those lines, we try to shoot free throws as much as we possibly can. I think it goes back to individual players. You see the guys after practice when we do break and we're done for the day, every one of them on their own terms will spend time working on that. It's important, obviously. It's something that we've talked about that we want to get fouled as much as possible. Obviously, when you get fouled, you've got to knock them down.
Q. Can you talk about the confidence you're seeing in Brandon Mouton?
COACH BARNES: Well, I'm really happy for Brandon because, one of the hardest working guys on our team. Brandon is one of those players that a year ago, you know, he wasn't happy with the way he was playing at the end of the year, but yet he came back and worked hard. I think the biggest adjustment or the biggest improvement he made was on the defensive end. I think he's learned and he's taken great pride in trying to do more than be a guy that just scores or shoots the basketball. But a year ago, I'm not so sure he got enough credit for where we were a year ago, because without him we wouldn't have been a team that went to the Sweet-16 and had the kind of year we had. We wouldn't be where we are today without him. He still sometimes gets lost because of the attention given to TJ Ford and James Thomas. But never says a word about it. I don't think that means anything to him. I don't think that means that much to him, about the kind of attention he's getting. He still wants to get better as a player. And he works at it. It's pretty simple. He just puts a lot of time into what he does.
Q. The NCAA is talking about incentivizing athlete's academic progress, penalizing teams, if not enough of their players are making progress toward a degree, keeping them out of the tournament, taking away scholarships. Do you think that's fair? Do you think it's fair to put the onus on a coach and team to make sure players are doing what it takes in the classroom?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think all coaches, we all want to see our players graduate. I think that's so important. I think obviously, you know, you have to have the kind of support system in place if you're going to begin to do that. Think about the last three weeks, about what our players have gone through. We were on spring break during the Big-12 tournament. Since this tournament has started, we've tried to do this, certainly along with going to school. I think there's a lot of things that have to go into it when you make these type of decisions. But I think we're all for doing whatever we can to make sure that the players do graduate and get their degrees. But also I think we all have different situations. I can only tell you that I know that we're going to do everything that we possibly can to give our players a chance to make sure they get their degree.
Q. In your career, is there anybody that Anthony reminds you of?
COACH BARNES: You know, I've never been real good at comparing players to other players. I can only tell you when I look at Carmelo, you've got to be impressed with -- you know, he's got the package. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter, he has the midrange game, he can take it off the dribble, he can back you down, post up over you. He does a great job of missing shots and going to get his own rebound. You look at him from an offensive point of view, you know that for someone that's going to have to guard him, you've got to be alert, you've got to do a lot of different things, one of them is trying to play as hard as you can without fouling. He has a tremendous in that case in terms of putting pressure on you to where you do foul him. As I mentioned, one thing that you have to do is try to keep him off the offensive board because he does a great job in getting there.
Q. Brandon Mouton, being in his backyard, the pinnacle of college basketball, I'm sure he'll be excited. Are you worried about him being maybe too excited, trying to do too much?
COACH BARNES: Well, we talk about it. We talked about it before we got here, about what we're doing, just like we have all year long. I don't think it's something that you just think that he doesn't think. What we told him, Brandon is great, Brandon is very mature. He knows and I think our team, because we keep talking about it, we want them to enjoy this because it's a great experience. We don't want them to get too hyped up too soon. Emotionally sometimes can you wear yourself out physically before you even get started. We have talked about doing what we've done all year. I've told people that the hardest part this week has not been me being able to say no to people, but trying to get the players to be able to understand they've got to say no. We made sure once we boarded the plane to head down here, we were going to go back to the circle we dealt with all year long on the road and we're not going to let anybody penetrate it.
Q. Is there a better style of player than TJ to counteract the kind of zone you're going to see?
COACH BARNES: Well, he's good against a zone. TJ is good pretty much against any defense. People ask me obviously all week about what he'll do. I can only tell you this, throughout the course of the game, I think at some point in time he'll figure out himself where he can be more effective. Whether we're going to have to move him around, bring him from different angles, different areas. If you put him in one spot, they're going to lock into that. He has a great way at times of getting lost himself in terms of knowing where he wants to attack from. He's got a tremendous feel for the game. He will throughout the course of the game settle into what he thinks is the most effective way for him to play against it.
Q. In preparing for the zone, do you have to be careful not to build it up too much and turn it into some kind of a mythological monster for your players?
COACH BARNES: We haven't done that. It's like I told our team -- we played against a great defense when we started this tournament. I thought what UNC Asheville did when they played was the way they had to play to be successful. We played Purdue, other team that was an outstanding defensive team. Then we played Connecticut, another outstanding defensive team. Played Michigan State, another outstanding defensive team. What you have to do, we've seen about every defense you can see. Certainly Syracuse is an outstanding defensive team. It goes back to what we do. We've got to do what we've done all year and not get so caught up in what Syracuse does. That pretty much has been our philosophy all year. We've tried to worry more about Texas than our opponent.
Q. With the war going on at the same time as all this, is there anything you notice in perspective or attitude or routine that's different?
COACH BARNES: Well, again, I think it's important, and we've talked about it with our team, we constantly mention it to them, because I do think it's important that they understand. They do understand what's going on. Like all of us, I think they have great pride in our troops and they know what they're doing certainly to bring world peace. But I think it's important this time of year that they're aware of it. Like I said, I know they are.
Q. In regards to TJ Ford, he's an obvious floor leader on the court. What role does he play off the court? Is he as much a vocal leader as he is a floor leader?
COACH BARNES: You know, I don't know if I'd say he's the most talkative guy all the time. He's never really -- he talks when he wants to talk, obviously. But I think his body language speaks volumes. I think our players respond to the way he carries himself. Off the court, you would never know that he's the Naismith Player of the Year, you'd never know he got the recognition he deserves. He is the most humble person you'd ever be around, a person that again has a very tight circle of friends. He is, I say, simple in a very positive way in terms of the way he sees life. He was on campus about one hour, and he had already created that love affair between his teammates and himself because of the smile, the fact that he's so unassuming, and they found out real quick he could care less if he ever shot the basketball, he just wanted to make them look good. Again, he speaks volumes with the way he carries himself both on and off the court.
Q. This is the time of year where a lot of coaches -- there's a lot of transition in coaching. I want to get your impression, how do you feel about the relative freedom that coaches have to sort of move about, and players really don't have that same sort of freedom to move? Do you think that's the way the system should be, that players are frozen, their coaches can move sort of freely?
COACH BARNES: Well, obviously, we've got to have a system in place. I think if we didn't have it to where players didn't have to sit out, there wasn't a time limit on, you know, how long their eligibility would last, it would be as intense as players trying to get guys throughout the year to leave after a year. You know, players want to play and coaches want to coach. I don't think you can put the two together. I also think this, when a coach leaves the program, and I've been a player -- I've been a coach that has done that, and there's sometime times I would have loved to take every guy that I left with me. That's not fair either. It's not fair to that university. I think it's important, and I think players have to know this, that when a coach is recruiting for that university, that's who he's recruiting for. That university is the one that's paying for that coach to be there to do that job. I also think this: today, most athletic directors, even coaches that come in, if a player doesn't want to be there, they don't want him to be there, they want to give him a chance to leave. You talk about the penalty of having to sit out a year, we can discuss that hours on hours on what would be the right way to do it. It's the nature of what we do right now. But I don't think we can ever get into where players can just walk in and out of situations. I've got a young man on my team right now that hasn't played very much this year, he's been a model teammate. A year from now I think he's going to be a guy that is going to play a significant role. If you would have asked him maybe back two or three months ago, "How do you feel," he might not have felt so good then. As he's matured, stayed with it, I've watched him grow. What he went through this year is going to pay huge dividends for him down the road.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you very much. Coach.
COACH BARNES: Thank you.
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