March 24, 2004
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY
THE MODERATOR: We're going to hear from coach Jamie Dixon from the University of Pittsburgh. Coach, an overview of practice, how it went today, what you look forward to in the future.
COACH DIXON: Actually, we're going to have practice, as always, we do this year, required shoot-around today. We'll do our practice and the stuff that really we want to concentrate on after this. So normal situation as before NCAA game in the tournament. Feel good with where we were at the last couple days of preparation, looking forward to playing Oklahoma State. Know how good they are, how well-coached. Well-aware after a couple days of film how balanced they are offensively and how good a job they do traditionally and, as well, this year on the defensive end.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. First of all, you guys are second or fourth nationally in scoring defensive. They lead the nation in field goal percentage of offense. That looks like a critical match-up. Is it going to be Brown on Lucas and Page on Allen, as far as those two matchups?
COACH DIXON: Well, obviously, as always, defense is the key in what we want to do. Obviously, they're very good offensively. Talked about their balance, how well they distribute the ball. They have options at pretty much every position. Very balanced. But as always, we have -- it comes down to our team defense. We don't get into that one individual guarding one individual, how those matchups go. It comes down to what we're doing as a team, how everybody is performing in their roles, making sure that everybody is doing -- everybody has a certain duty on every possession. That's the biggest key in how we defend.
Q. Could you tell us how everything you've done the past few years led to this moment, led to being prepared for this moment, this environment, everything you had to do as a head coach?
COACH DIXON: I don't know if you mean the last couple years or coaching career. I've been in Pittsburgh for five years. This is my fifth season there. It's quite a change in our program from five years ago. When we went there, it was not really -- definitely not at this level, actually a level -- I was told we couldn't get done at the University of Pittsburgh. It means a lot to be where we're at right now, with our record over the last couple years. I think it also means a lot because of how we did it. We've got very good kids who believe in each other, play team basketball, carry themselves proud. They're proud to represent the University of Pittsburgh.
COACH DIXON: To me, it doesn't feel that much different from the day I got to University of Pittsburgh, my biggest goal was trying to turn the program around. I've been in different places doing that as a player, as a coach. When I got there, I wanted to do everything we could to improve the program basketball-wise on the floor and off the floor. To me, I'm still doing that same thing today. I guess my title has changed. I was associate head coach, but in my mind, my duties, my things, importance, I believe everybody in our program has the same level of importance. They may be doing something different, coaches, players, administrators, managers, whoever, but they all have a role that's just as important. That's the way we try to carry ourselves inside our program.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about what you've seen from Lucas, Oklahoma State, how well he runs that offense.
COACH DIXON: He's obviously a great pickup, addition for them. Really seems to be -- was a missing piece to the puzzle. I mean, he can shoot the ball extremely well. Did it at Baylor, is doing it at Oklahoma State, as well. His quickness. You have to respect him as a shooter, but also as a penetrator. He really extends the defense. I think they do a great job getting him the ball, using him. Obviously, he's in a great program, well-coached program. They're going to find ways to best use his talents, which is shooting the ball and his quickness.
Q. The match-ups are really pronounced, your defense against Oklahoma State's offense. Give us a clue as to who is going to guard who, unless you've already done that, who has an edge at various match-ups?
COACH DIXON: Well, I think we talked about earlier the team defense is always the biggest emphasis we put on as far as what we're going to do, as far as guarding people. They're very good offensively. They have very good balance. You can't really concentrate on one guy. I think probably that's the strength of them. All five guys can score or double figure. Four guys are in double figures. Bobik can get on a role and get in double figures very easily. Our team defense is really going to be the biggest key. We'll have different guys guarding different guys at different times. We don't look into one guy. There's too many different situations where guys get matched up on different guys. We have guys we'd like to keep on them. Things change as the game goes on, situation, time, fouls, all different things come into play.
Q. Give us ideas defensively what we can expect from you guys in terms of personnel, who can do what?
COACH DIXON: Well, we'll play hard. I think our balance -- we don't have real weaknesses on our defense. I think that's why we're real good. We're not hiding anyone defensively. I think that's why we're so good defensively. I think we don't have a real weak spot, a guy that people want to go at. I think that's probably our biggest strength. Our guys understand the importance of it, and take pride in it. Those are our biggest strengths.
Q. Coach Sutton has been successful at four different programs in terms of building programs. When you think of Eddie Sutton type basketball, what do you think of? As a first-year coach going against a coach who is probably going to be in the Hall of Fame, is there any kind of advantage or disadvantage?
COACH DIXON: Never really thought about that. I mean, I've known him -- I didn't really form -- start thinking about an opinion of Coach Sutton or their program. Now I've known Coach Sutton or been aware of him since I was playing basketball. So, I mean, well-aware of the different places he's been at. Just know how good a team -- any team at this level, that's still playing now, is going to be very good, very well-coached. So nothing really different has come into my mind over the last couple days that would have changed.
Q. Jaron Brown has been described variously as the backbone of your team, a selfless player, overachiever. Do you consider his play will be maybe even the key to what happens in this game?
COACH DIXON: Well, he's -- so many descriptions of him trying to find out who he is. We talk about him being the most talked about, underrated guy in the country. I think it's at that point now. I'm glad everybody realizes how good he is. We've known for a while. He does so many things, I mean, it probably does take a lot of words, a lot of descriptions to fill it up. But I still don't think that talks about everything. Especially off the court, he's graduated, he's working on a second major, just does everything you want as far as lead a team not so much by talk but by example. That's the most important things. He'll be key how he handles himself all day today as well as what he does on the floor because our guys follow him on the floor, but off the floor as well.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how the philosophy of physical/mental toughness has developed at Pitt over the five years maybe you've been at the program, and also your reflections on Oklahoma State's toughness, especially as it deals with rebounding?
COACH DIXON: Well, I think we recruit tough kids. I think that's part of it. I think it's something that's part of being at Pittsburgh, I think. I think it's something that our fans relate to. I think our players pick up on it. I think it's something that continues to grow with us. Whatever reasons that may be, I think there has to be something behind it, being where we're from. Obviously, Oklahoma State is a very tough, physical team, as well. They're athletic. They play -- they got a lot of good size. Their guards are pretty physical, too, as far as Allen. I think Bobik, all of them have gotten stronger in that regard. Lucas, tougher and more physical than he looks. I think they're a very physical team, tough team as well. It will be two teams that are not going to be afraid of contact, that's for sure.
Q. How have you dealt with Page's offensive ups and downs, not only the way you have dealt with it, but the way you've seen him deal with it over the year, and also how key is he to your to your defensive strategy?
COACH DIXON: He just keeps winning games for us. We're at 31 now. Every one, he's been as big a part as anybody. That's why he's so good. He's well-rounded. He wins game shooting, defending, rebounding, leading, handling the ball, all different things. That's what you want out of your players. You want to get players that can win games in different areas and help you win games in different areas. Every day he's done something to make us a better team and put us at the win total that we're at.
Q. You talked about not changing anything about yourself now that you are a head coach, but surely there have been some adjustments you've had to make during the year. Anything jumped out at you that might have been a little more difficult than you thought?
COACH DIXON: You know, I hadn't really seen anything. I mean, the adjustments as far as personnel from last year to this year. That was the biggest adjustment. We had three seniors, all-league players, that graduated. Those were the biggest adjustments. But I can't think of really anything. I'm fortunate. Somehow we were able to come up with a staff that's so experienced, has been around, loves being in Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh. I don't think anything has really caught me off guard. I keep saying this, but I can't come up with anything. If I do, I'll let you know. You know, I've been around good people as far as head coaches and Coach Wallace, Coach Pimm, Coach Killingsworth. I think I saw a lot of things, had good preparation being around the good people I've been around.
Q. Your team has had a distinct lack of personal recognition, not only nationally but in your own league. Are they hurt by this or is it, "We'll show them"? How have they reacted to this?
COACH DIXON: You know, I know that we've been asked that before. I don't get anything back from our guys. They don't seem to show any resentment in that regard. I think they come -- I don't think -- they also don't feel they need any extra motivation. I see them in practice every day. Just putting the score board on is motivation enough for them. I know we don't seem to get the national awards or those type of things. But I don't think our players talk about it. I haven't heard them talk about it. They've got a lot of motivation amongst themselves. They're a pretty confident group and pretty good at self-starting, motivating themselves. I don't know if they'll use that any more than they have to.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Dixon. We'll bring in the Pittsburgh student athletes, Julius Page and Jaron Brown.
Q. Julius, can you talk about your year? There's a perception you're going to be a much more bigger scorer this year, then the ankle injury. It has changed the game and made you do other things. Can you talk about your season that way?
JULIUS PAGE: It's been an up and down year. I guess that's how life is also. You have to take the good with the bad. I had four good years. I can't say this is a bad year. I've been happy. We've been winning all year long. As far as my performance, the ankle hindered it a little bit. I was expected to do more than I did, but I got hurt. So I did what I could. I'm just now basically getting back. My ankle is starting to feel I guess close to 90% right now, not quite 100% yet. It's nothing that will help me from, you know, going as hard as I can right now.
Q. How physical do you expect this match-up to be?
JARON BROWN: This will probably be the most physical game we played all year. I hear they had practice with football pads. That was kind of interesting. But I think we ready for it. I think this is going to be the most physical game we played.
Q. As the story goes, when you were in high school, Coach Patino offered you a scholarship. Was that true? Do you ever think about how your career would have been different if he stayed there and you had gone to Kentucky?
JARON BROWN: Yeah, sometimes I think about it. He left to go to the Boston Celtics, I was at a prep school. I wounded up at Pittsburgh after that. I think about it a lot, where I'd be. I'm happy where I'm at now, at the University of Pittsburgh. Yeah, he offered. I verbally committed.
Q. You were one of the players who lobbied to hire Coach Dixon. Do you think this team would be where it is today if they'd gone in another direction?
JARON BROWN: Maybe so, because it would be a new coach and we'd have to learn a new system. Coach Dixon getting the job, I think it was an easier transition for the team because we knew what kind of system he was running. He knew the players, too. It was just a good decision all around.
Q. What makes you guys so good defensively? Is it toughness, attitude, desire? Tell us a little bit about the match-ups with Oklahoma State? Give us kind of an idea head to head what's going to happen there.
JARON BROWN: What makes us a good defensive team, what you said, all those things. As a team, we just don't allow that many teams to score that many points. We know if we're going to get beat, someone is going to come up and take the play from us. The match-ups between Oklahoma State, I mean, we've been watching a little film. I know that he have good athletes. They're a good team. I'm just expecting a good game.
JULIUS PAGE: I think it's will. Just the guy down, handle your responsibility. We don't want to let any of the other guys down on defense. Letting your man score is basically just letting other teammates down. I mean, you're not going to shut a guy down, you know what I'm saying? But the fact that you can make his life a little bit harder if you're in his face. You do your part, everybody else will do their part. I think that's what it's all about.
Q. Your coach said that he thinks of you and your teammates think of you as the person that they need to follow on and off the court. Do you have an understanding, of yourself that way? Why do you think that is? What is it about your personality that makes you a leader?
JARON BROWN: I mean, I just want to get things done. I just try to do everything right to get it done. I know I had to graduate in four years to get my fifth year back. I think that's like one of the key reasons he thinks that, because the other teammates, they graduated in four years. They see I did it, they can do it too. Even though they have a lot of stuff to do with basketball, I guess it's determination. If you want to do something, you got to put your mind to it and do it. And that's what I did.
Q. Julius, have you played a team this year that has had the scoring balance? Does this team remind you of Connecticut, all the different guys that have score in double figures?
JULIUS PAGE: Well, I mean, Connecticut is as good as it gets to me. You know what I'm saying? We can play against them. We can play against anybody in the country. I mean, we approach it -- everybody on our team can play defense. We can't be worried about who can score on their team. We just got to be worried about what we can do. If we stick to the script of what we do, defense, our rebounding, make your take tough shots, everything will take care of itself.
Q. Julius, I heard earlier this year your son was hurt in a fall. I'm wondering, has he recovered?
JULIUS PAGE: He's fine now.
Q. What was it about?
JULIUS PAGE: He fell down the stairs. I think like slightly cut his pancreas, something like that, was leaking. He was in ICU for a minute. If it kept leaking, they would have had to do surgery, but they didn't have to. It started to heal. He was in the hospital for like three weeks. He's 100% going strong right now, so he's good right now.
Q. You talk about so much is made of your defense, which is your bread and butter, foundation, strength. Guys are pretty balanced on offense. Can you talk about the offense?
JULIUS PAGE: As long as we execute our plays and things like that, we got a lot of players that can do a lot of things. I think we are probably as good as anybody on the offense. Percentages is not saying. You can talk about our percentages and all that, but we got one of the best driving point guards, creating point guards in the country right now. Myself, I'm one of the most athletic in the country. We got the all-around guy right here that can get it done inside, outside. Chris Taft, Chevon Troutman, one of the best offenses in the country. We got a lot of options to go through. We basically can get the ball to anybody, they can get the job done.
Q. You said earlier in the season you thought Coach Dixon was thinking too much earlier in the year. Also was there a point in the season or pre-season when the players realized this is not the assistant who recruited us and everything, this is now the man in charge, he had to step up and assert this is authority?
JULIUS PAGE: I think in the beginning we had already done that. We knew he was going to be the head coach. The fact that he wasn't real vocal, being an assistant, we knew he was going to be more vocal. We had to take him more serious. You know, he was assistant. He didn't have to be as, you know what I'm saying, he didn't have to be much of a, you know, dominant figure, you know what I'm saying, as he is now. But we knew that was going to be a big transition, being he wasn't that kind of guy. But now he's going to have to be that guy. It's just a matter of respect. As far as him being -- it's a hard transition for him, you know what I'm saying? This is first year. You know, he want to touch on every detail. We had to be patient with him. He's probably nervous, you know what I'm saying? This is his first year, he had a lot of pressure after taking over. He got a lot of responsibility. Everything he do, he's going to learn from the mistakes he makes. It's just a matter of, you know, being patient with the guy. He's doing a lot of things. But some things he could do without. He pay attention to a lot of detail he probably wouldn't have to because we've been there before. But it's the fact that it's his first year, he just trying to touch down on everything.
THE MODERATOR: Jaron, I read that your graduate degree will be in legal studies. What is that your interest? What are you interested in in that field?
JARON BROWN: Really the legal studies is going to be my second major because I couldn't take graduate courses because of practice time. That's the closest thing I could get another one in. I just want to have the opportunity to have two degrees. This is what it will be.
Q. Any particular reason why you're interested in that field?
JARON BROWN: No, not really. Just something I was interested in. I just want to take some classes on.
Q. With the way both teams play defense, is it possible this could be one of the playground games, first team to 20 baskets wins?
JARON BROWN: I don't think it will be a playground. It might be a low-scoring game. It's going to be a tough game the whole 40 minutes.
JULIUS PAGE: Both teams got good offensive firepower. It's about who gets hot. You never really know who goes on. Somebody could have abnormal offensively, somebody could be off defensively. You never know with basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions? If not, we'll excuse them.
End of FastScripts...