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April 4, 2004
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
JOHN GERDES: We are being joined from Connecticut by student athletes and Coach Calhoun. We'll ask Coach Calhoun to make an opening comment and then take questions for anybody on the dais.
COACH CALHOUN: I'm so proud of our kids last night. I've been involved in certainly enough different comebacks. As a matter of fact, three weeks ago we were down 11 about five, six minutes to go against Pittsburgh in the Big East championship. Came back, fortunate enough to win the game. Last night when you saw 2:48 on the clock, we were down still seven I believe at that particular point, we just played incredible defense, made six to eight stops. We were able to make the plays offensively at the other end, come out with a tremendous win. Once again, I couldn't be prouder or happier for this team. We've been saying all along we don't know if we're the best team in the country. We've never claimed to be. But we think we have the components that can play anybody in the country and beat anybody in the country. We felt that way all along. Lastly, Duke is Duke. To beat a Duke team, particularly how tough they were last night, I was incredibly impressed with just how tough they were physically and how you couldn't put them away. As a matter of fact, they almost put us away. But down the stretch, our kids found something within themselves, were able to come out with a tremendous win for us, certainly one of the best wins that I've been involved with, given the circumstance, certainly given the situation.
Q. In light of everything that has transpired between the ACC and the Big East in the past 12 months, do you find this match-up tonight somewhat ironic, curious, interesting? Does that matter to you?
COACH CALHOUN: All the above. No, I don't think it really has anything to do -- it's got to do with shoulder pads and helmets. I'm a basketball guy. Whoever they line up, I've said this all along, I would love to have a 19 Big East. When I first took over at UConn, I walked in, there was John Thompson, Rick Patino, Jim Boeheim, Louie Carnesecca, Rollie Massimino. Those days are gone. Those were fun days. Certainly some of the times have been fun since, too, but those were special days. The moment we started adding, subtracting, all the other things that have gone along, what I've decided is to line up the teams, let's play them, see what happens. So therefore I have great respect for Georgia Tech. I've known Paul since he was an assistant, certainly without question at Villanova. He did a wonderful job -- as a matter of fact, at Siena, we often talked about jobs, Georgia Tech being one of them, moves he was going to make. So right now, it's two basketball teams playing each other, conferences completely out of the picture. Basketball is completely in the picture.
Q. Two schools have won multiple national championships since the field was expanded to 64 teams. What would it mean to win a second championship?
COACH CALHOUN: Regardless of that fact, which I didn't know of, it would mean so much because once again, I feel that this team is good enough to win a national championship. And yet I think that Georgia Tech is good enough to beat us. It would be very, very special to beat a team that I have that much respect for. I think they're one of the hottest match-ups in the country. I think what Paul has done has taken a team, that except for Schenscher, is small, relatively small in this modern day of college basketball, taking a group of at athletes 6'4" to 6'6", who use their incredible strength for their size, use their quickness. Obviously, a win over a team like that in these circumstances would be awfully special, not only for our university, but certainly for our program. But most importantly for these kids who have been ranked that they were going undefeated, no one would ever touch them, to be in January the most disappointing team in college basketball at 19-3, to ups and downs that all teams face, to problems physical apply, the loss of our backup point guard, the adjustments the other kids had to make because of that. I don't think there's many things professionally that could make me any happier than having this team win a national championship tomorrow night.
Q. Emeka, could you talk about the match-up with Luke, what you found out about him, what you saw in him when you saw him the last time.
EMEKA OKAFOR: He's a real long player. You know, he's been really playing well these past couple games. Had a double-double yesterday, 19-12. You got to pay attention to those numbers. I know he's going to make things difficult for me, just the fact he's 7' 1, 7' 2, can move pretty well, I'll just have to kind of see how things go in the game, kind of get a feel, kind of go from there.
Q. On Josh Boone. Last night with Emeka Okafor's foul problems, he was thrust into an important role. Can you talk about his contribution last night? How has he exceeded your expectations from what they were at the beginning of the season?
COACH CALHOUN: The expectations for every one of my kids is to be great. I think if you don't set the standard high, and continue on them -- I was on Rashad the entire game, not because I have anything against Rashad, as a matter of fact I love Rashad; he's one of my favorite kids that I've coached, but because I think he has so much more to give every single moment. If he doesn't make every shot or every defensive play, it's my responsibility to try to bring out the very best in him. There's a lot more of him to come out. Josh is the same way. Josh from day one, we threw him the basketball in a situation, this is very unusual, he's an 18-year-old kid, and I felt safe - safe. It's unusual. Last night, beginning of the second half, which was critical for us, because we couldn't lose touch with Duke, we were down seven or nine points, we made a switch where Emeka for at least the first couple possessions would play Luol because we knew Mike would go into Williams to try to get him in foul trouble, and Josh held his own and didn't score on him. Those kind of things he's done throughout the year to take pressure off of Emeka, he gets double-teamed, everybody going at him to get him in foul trouble, Josh Boone has been a Godsend to us, done an incredible job for us. I couldn't be happier with him. But he's never exceeded my expectations. Smart, he's just whet my appetite, so over the next couple of years, I'm going to ask 10 times more of him, starting tomorrow by the way (smiling).
Q. When you started talking about Rashad, can you talk about his emergence this year, specifically about his play down the stretch, a couple big threes and a defensive play on Redick in the lane?
COACH CALHOUN: The thing about Rashad is that regardless of when he wasn't starting, that really is basically almost probably 75% of his two-year career. But every day he walks in, "Hey, coach, how you doing?" One of his silly jokes, looks, whatever it may be. He has something that most of us should try to have more of, myself included certainly. He has resiliency. He has resiliency in the fact that whatever happens, he's just going to keep going. For a lot of us, things stop us along the way. What some see as obstacles, Rashad sees as challenges. The most vivid example obviously is his jump shot. He can miss nine in a row, look him dead in the eye, say, "Run this play for me." He truly can be so convincing. Then what he does, he goes out and makes that shot. That's a tremendous attribute to have. He carries that not only in jump shooting, everything else, but in his life. When you meet his family, then you know exactly why. He's an incredible young guy, who has brought his best every single day to us and never once -- he hasn't started for most of his career, he has almost 700 points in two years, yet he's never really worried about that thing. He just worries about us winning and him being the best player possible. He's really a unique guy in the year 2004.
Q. A minute ago you sort of chronicled the tribulations of being a pre-season number one. How tough is that, then be in the position you are tomorrow night, the year you've been through? The past five or 10 years, is that more difficult because of the attention to each injury, each day's practice?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, you know, I don't think Emeka's back really got covered very much at all (smiling). But, no, you know, I would like to be pre-season No. 1 every year. I honestly mean that. People always used to say in the Big East, I don't know, some of our guys here would know how many times we've been picked pre-season number one, eight of the last 10, 11, everybody says, "Do you hate that?" We love that, somebody is saying we're pretty good. Somebody is saying we're pretty good. But I think this year was extraordinary in that we all of a sudden went from a 23-10 team to having all the answers in four months. There were an awful lot of other good teams out there, Georgia Tech being one of them. We found that out when they beat us up pretty bad in the pre-season NIT. But I think we had somewhere to shake the shackles, quite frankly, of the expectations, try to make our expectations in our own internal barometer be our success mode, how we felt we played, how we felt we did, not how others were judging us. That's the most important quality. I try to hopefully instill that to my players, that let me and let you be the judge of how well you play, not someone else. You can't please all the people. You just can't. I mean, anybody who has been married, pleasing one person, that's a difficult job. Then you try to please 45,000 people last night. How about trying to please our faculty center? All they want us to do is win every game, have a Rhodes scholar every year. Beyond that they want nothing. How about just pleasing your teammates? How about just pleasing yourself? I think that's really -- we've kind of evolved into that, pleasing ourselves, the kids. During the huddle, we kept talking about down the stretch we're going to win this game, this game is our game to win, we're only three stops away, four stops away, whatever it may be. We're right where we want to be. Only a couple hoops away. Whatever we talked about. You know, this was a team that truly believed it could. I think once again, because it believes in itself, was not really burdened any longer by what was expected of them.
Q. For the players and coach, how are you preparing for the changes since the NIT game heading into tomorrow night?
COACH CALHOUN: First thing, I'll let the kids answer it, I think I remember basketball games pretty well, I don't remember the scores, I'm awful with scores, plus three, minus six, because that's how I think during the game. I don't think 77-71. We're plus six at that particular point. It seems like a lifetime ago. I know we got hit pretty good. I know they ran us off the floor. I can still have that feeling. I know we didn't have Emeka Okafor. He was like two for nine, couldn't play the rest of the game. He was hurt. That's the first time we had problems with his back spasms. Rashad wasn't playing anywhere near as much. Both teams have changed dramatically I think in a lot of ways. I don't know if the November match-up was indicative. I hope it wasn't. Yet some of the things you saw from Georgia Tech, I wouldn't say from Connecticut, are what makes them very, very good. When you score on them, they attack you as well as any team in the country. They take it as a personal affront that you scored off them. They mismatch you, once again, without having incredible size. They take your size and try to use that against you by bringing you outside, then try to beat you off the dribble. I think we saw a prelude of what was going to happen to Georgia Tech during the season. I can't speak for the kids, but for me, except for the fact of how quick they were, how physical they were, how fast they were, how Muhammad to jump beyond that, I really don't remember the particulars of the game. It's the impression really of how good they were.
JOHN GERDES: Taliek, your feelings on that.
TALIEK BROWN: Just outplayed us. When we was in New York, they really played hard. They played tough defense. They ran us. We thought we was a running team, but they got out and ran us. We just didn't play up to the capability. We didn't have Mek. We didn't have Charlie playing. I think it's going to be a revenge game. We going to come out ready to play.
Q. Emeka, 12 hours since last night. In that time, have you had a chance to reflect on what happened, clear it in your mind a little bit?
EMEKA OKAFOR: I mean, the more we reflect, the bigger our smile gets on our faces. It was a great comeback, it was a great game, it was a great win. It's yesterday, it's over. Now let's move on to Monday and start preparing for Georgia Tech and hopefully cut down these nets.
Q. Rashad, would you go over the steal you made late in the ballgame, what you were thinking when you went to the free-throw line.
RASHAD ANDERSON: I was thinking when they foul me, I figured, "Hey, big players step up at big-time situations." I had to make those two free-throws. I credit the steal to Mek. I forced them to him. Had a piece of the ball. I seen it on TV last night, Mek actually got the rest of it. I was just standing there looking around for the ball. I seen it right in front of me, grabbed it, they fouled me. I made two free-throws.
COACH CALHOUN: I want you to know he's such a defensive conscious kid. You asked him about the steal, he completely avoided that question and talked about the jump shot. Some things never change. Some things don't change at all, by the way. The other day Ben was very kind to help him talk about our shell drill. He's only been doing it for about two years, one of our defensive drills (laughter).
Q. Jim, was the most eye-opening aspect of that match-up against Georgia Tech their guard play, how physical they were?
COACH CALHOUN: Their team play. I thought all four guys that handled the ball, they made it very difficult. Each one of them could put the ball, go by you, each could shoot the ball, in particular each could pass the ball and get it ahead of the defense. If you make a mistake, you're going to pay. Their assists don't look overwhelming, but their movement of the ball, the pass to the play, the pass to the pass, in hockey they give assists -- two assists out, they don't do that in basketball. They do that as well as any team we're going to face. They're just so dangerous because you really, really can't play what we would consider typical basketball, two big inside, a couple wings, a point guard. That's not how Georgia Tech plays. Paul has done quite frankly a masterful job of having one legitimate big guy that plays an awful lot of minutes and then have him surrounded by some great, great athletes with strength. It makes them very, very difficult to play. It will cause some match-up problems for us, as we hopefully will cause some match-up problems for them.
JOHN GERDES: Ben?
BEN GORDON: I forgot what the question was.
JOHN GERDES: The perimeter play, the guard play in the match-up.
BEN GORDON: Yeah, I think that's going to be a big key in the game. I think that's what makes their team good, especially Jarrett Jack. I think tomorrow the guard play is going to be a big part of the game.
JOHN GERDES: Taliek.
TALIEK BROWN: Perimeter play is what keeps them going. They run, they like to get out and break. They sub three perimeter guards at one time. People come off the bench even good. We have to be ready. I think that's going to be like the real focus on us stopping them.
Q. Emeka, talk about your memories of that game. How much pain were you in? What was it like just trying to get through it, and also trying to play against a guy who maybe we didn't recognize at the time, what a good player he is?
EMEKA OKAFOR: It was a very difficult game to play in. I was hurting. I was trying to tough it out. I was really limited. Wasn't as mobile as I normally was. Wasn't very much fun.
As far as playing against Luke, I mean, my condition didn't make it any easier.
Q. Taliek was saying this is a revenge game. Do you view the loss as a motivational tool that you can use to inspire you in this game? Do you feel it's a revenge game?
COACH CALHOUN: I would hope that our kids find every single bit of motivation they can possibly find. But I'll be honest with you, the team, whichever one of us, Georgia Tech or UConn, stand on the podium tomorrow night, if you aren't motivated by that, then you haven't took sight of where we are and very simply. Each kid unto himself, none of us like to go, and we're on a merry march to having everything happening great, nothing is going to happen, and we didn't lose a basketball game. We got beat real good. They beat us in every aspect of the game. There were reasons for it. They played terrific. We did not play well. No Charlie. No real Mek. A lot of different things. If Taliek wants to make it revenge and lock down Jarrett Jack tomorrow night, just fine (okay signal). We'll take the trophy and run. I think we're playing for something that is so special. This game of college basketball has been many times criticized, and then we talk all about the loss. Anybody who viewed the players early to the NBA, anybody who viewed 80 minutes, I caught probably 70-some, we have a TV screen, if you aren't excited about college basketball, the competitiveness of four teams last night, then you're never going to be excited about intercollegiate athletics. We're playing for, in my opinion, the most difficult prize to win because it's one and done. It's bad 40 minutes and home or a great 40 minutes and advance. The pot at the end of the rainbow is so special. And I think this team, like I believe Georgia Tech is, both teams are capable. It makes it great because both teams are capable of winning. It's not somewhere where so-and-so has to play that much different. Neither team has to play different. One team has to play better than the other.
Q. As a senior, knowing this is your final college game, what is your sense of anticipation and satisfaction knowing you finally have gotten to this point in your career?
TALIEK BROWN: It's just a great feeling, you know, finally. Took four years, four long years, four hard ones, a lot of ups and downs. Finally got to the championship. But I'm not satisfied with this. I really want to win everything.
COACH CALHOUN: I'd like to ask a question. Josh, you did such a great job on the boards, how did you feel picking up the slack when Emeka wasn't there? Josh has been sitting there the whole time. He had 14 rebounds last night.
JOSH BOONE: I'm okay, man, you don't have to ask me a question (smiling).
JOHN GERDES: We have the same question right here. Go ahead.
Q. I really was going to ask the question.
COACH CALHOUN: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Q. 14 rebounds last night. Can you talk about the importance of rebounding in this game coming up?
JOSH BOONE: You know, that's going to be a huge key because not only did they just fast-break us last time, they also out-rebounded us, as well. Me, Emeka, Charlie, Hilton, are going to have to do a good job on their big men, especially Luke Schenscher because he's been doing a great job the last couple days.
COACH CALHOUN: Thank you.
Q. Mike Krzyzewski was talking Friday about the devaluation of low post play, saying players don't even like to be called centers anymore. Do you find maybe with the current emphasis on perimeter play, do you find it ironic two pretty stereotypical centers are going to be kind of in the limelight tomorrow night?
COACH CALHOUN: There's no question, we don't like to call them centers, we like to call them power players. It's kind of the upgraded word for center, which makes it softer, so you don't feel like you have your back to the basket. Emeka is not a back-to-the-basket player. He says he can play that way, but I think the most dangerous thing he does is he stands, squares on you, he can jump shoot you or go by you. Both kids are right. It's one of the few games where you're going to have legitimate guys who can both put 20 on the board, double-figure rebound, both affect the other team's offense by being a defensive presence inside. It's more and more, those kids. I guess there will be a game going on at 1:00 today where some of those kids will be gobbled up and not have the opportunity to develop their game into the kind of players they possibly can be. But it's great to see that type of situation because either one of those kids can alter the game. Obviously, I'm betting on my guy. But can really alter the game, and you don't have too much of that anymore. No, I agree.
Q. Josh's points, his contributions, don't seem noticeable during the game, but when you look at the stat sheet, it seems he makes a big contribution. Is that a fair assessment, he's sort of silent assassin, for lack of a better description ?
COACH CALHOUN: I think as a freshman, he's told to be quiet by Ben. The other day he tried to answer a question. Ben said, "You haven't been around here long enough, you can't answer that question." So a lot of things about Josh, we think Josh is going to be one of the -- a tremendous, tremendous player at UConn. He really has been kind of the quiet guy, except for everybody who has to play against him because they know he can play smaller, he can play a 6'6", 6'7" guy, he can go inside and play a 6'11" guy. He probably certainly is someone that hasn't gotten the acclaim. That has an awful lot to do with how good his teammates have played. He does the things that you don't see. Great screens, terrific passer. He does an awful lot of terrific things for us.
JOHN GERDES: Josh?
JOSH BOONE: As far as the acclaim or anything goes, that doesn't really matter. If I get two points or whatever, but I can set a pick for somebody that hits a three, I've done something for the team. It doesn't matter whether I get the statistics, the fame or anything like that. As long as I help the team out, that's all that really matters.
Q. Could you address the excitement of the fact that you are playing now for the national championship?
RASHAD ANDERSON: I'm very excited. I mean, you know, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to play for the national championship. You know, it wasn't looking too good early in the game -- at the end of the game last night with two and a half minutes to go. But, you know, we're a great team. We're up to the challenge. It's just a wonderful feeling to get to this point in my career.
JOHN GERDES: Ben?
BEN GORDON: It's a great feeling also. After being to the Elite 8 my freshman year, losing in San Antonio last year, it's a really good feeling to be back here in San Antonio competing for a national championship. So I'm really excited, too.
Q. You have spoken at times this year about how much you like this particular group. I was wondering if you would talk about what it is that you like so much about them in terms of people. Usually when we ask about that, it's in the context of Emeka or Ben. Last night Denham comes off, a guy who lost the starting job, Tooles gives you some good minutes.
COACH CALHOUN: Because my wife sent me to sensitivity training, I use the word "love." I truly do love these guys in the sense of the fact that all they want to do is be really good. All they want to really do is be the best they can be. All they really want to do is show up and work as hard as they possibly can every day. I would think in 32 years, I probably haven't had a team with less maintenance. I mean that very honestly. They seem to strive to want to be better. We got in our way a little bit at times, we had to make adjustments with each other. But when I leave my house in the morning knowing that we've got a practice coming up, I'm always excited about the game of basketball certainly, but to know I'm facing and having these guys there, it makes it even more exciting. So, therefore, I think sometimes you're blessed with teams that are incredibly talented. Sometimes you're blessed with teams that are talented, but sometimes there's chaos, things that seem to happen. But sometimes you're blessed, as I have been this year, with having kids who think the same way you do. Now, they're not as screwed up as I am in the sense that they think exactly the way, and they certainly don't act quite the same way I do. But one thing they do, they want to compete, they want to win, and they have great self-belief. Emeka has mentioned on us Sunday about cutting nets down. Most coaches would shudder. Why? Why would you shudder when he dreams the greatest dream? If it doesn't come true and Duke -- excuse me, Georgia Tech is good enough to beat us tomorrow, life will go on. We've given it our best shot. But there's no reason for us not to think and not to dream and not to aspire to be absolutely something very special tomorrow night for us.
JOHN GERDES: We'll keep Coach Calhoun here. Taliek, Ben, Josh, Rashad and Emeka, we'll let you go to the break-out rooms. Questions for Coach Calhoun.
Q. I know you don't like to look ahead, but look way ahead, the way your conference is going to look in a couple years. How do you feel about it? Is there such a thing as having too many good teams in a league?
COACH CALHOUN: You know, it's nice to find somebody who has been thinking the way I do, which means you're probably really screwed up again. I talked to somebody about that, by the way, that you actually are thinking of the same lines. Let's take this year, for example. Let's take teams like DePaul, Louisville, Cincinnati, add the six that we put in, that's nine. You think somebody is going to take nine from a conference? You know Marquette is going to be right there? Other teams are right on the bubble, right on the edge. Are they going to take nine? That's something that quite frankly we all get excited about, we all say we're going to have the best basketball conference in America, and we may. Very well we might may. But will, in fact, we beat each other up so much that some of the programs could become diminished in the fray because it's such an incredible internal battle, and something that really needs to be given an awful lot of thought. It's tough enough right now, I can tell you, going against the folks we have to go against , as opposed to adding the kind of teams that we are adding. We're not just adding teams. DePaul was in first place, Cincinnati was in first place, Louisville with Rick is always going to be good, and this year in my opinion is something that doesn't happen to a Rick Pitino team, and won't again. Marquette a year ago was in the Final Four. You add those four people, along with South Florida, who has a good chance of being very good, you're at 16. I have great faith St. John's will be back. As I keep on saying that, I don't feel that well (smiling). But I'm saying that there's going to be a top and bottom in every league. If you're going to be 9, 10, 11 deep, it may not be the best thing for the league. John Thompson once said something which I thought was really, really good. What the league really needs is about five really good teams, then we need about four guys we can beat up on all the time - he meant this very honestly - so we can have two or three Top-10 teams to make our league look good. See, because parity, a number of years ago, particularly during the '90s, we were fortunate enough to win some titles during the '90s, everybody said they have so much parity. We were only getting three or four teams into the NCAA tournament because of that. A lot of the teams were very equal. I don't know if these teams will be equal, but they will be equal at an exceptionally high level. That concerns me greatly.
Q. How much of this team's success can be traced back to what happened in this building a year ago? Did you ever think about asking for a different locker room?
COACH CALHOUN: We could have switched last night. We didn't. We kept the same locker room, same bench. I'm not superstitious, but we kept the same locker room and the same bench. We moved bands instead. I think a little bit, I've talked to the older guys, like Taliek, Ben, Mek, that we had some undone business in San Antonio. As I relayed this story before, when we lost in Greensboro, I had never been to a Final Four, certainly in San Antonio, when I came here in '98. I always felt what a great place to bring our fans. So we talked at least mentally a lot about this would be the place, Tampa St. Petersburg was wonderful for us, tremendous, but we wanted to come here. We were fortunate enough to do so. I think a little bit of that, it wasn't quite as dramatic as when we lost in Greensboro in the next year, I can still remember Khalid El-Amin's mom getting on the bus saying, "Next year is your time. My son is staying this year." There was talk about him leaving. "He's staying, and next year you're going to be in the Final Four." Not only were we in the Final Four, we won the championship. I think some of that for us started last year, but probably nowhere as near blatant as it was the year before. We came back intact. We had to add pieces this year, make adjustments. That team came back virtually intact.
Q. You mentioned briefly, Rashad's defensive play, how much have you had to get on him, how far has he come in the last month?
COACH CALHOUN: After I hugged him last night and said to him, "I have just a small question for you. You were wonderful down the stretch, you were terrific. Do you know the way you played Redick in the last three minutes? What happened to the first 37?" He wouldn't let him touch the damn ball. He was wonderful. He's made great progress. I was obviously making a small joke, but there was a point usually to my jokes. When you asked him about the steal, he just kind of bypassed it and went right to his jump shot. I've got to make sure, because he's a much better basketball player now than he's showing. He can put it on the floor much better than you can see, much better passer than you see. Next year if he's our starting two guard, he needs to be able to work on those skills. We'd love to be able to move him over to the two guard because he's such a great shooter. The biggest thing about him is he's got a personality that is so resilient. I keep using that word, but it's really, really true. Even when I do get on him, he doesn't sulk, he doesn't always do it, but he doesn't sulk. He just really, really wants to play. I just finally said to him, "You're not playing until you play defense." He has made great, great strides. He has guarded some pretty good people since he started.
Q. You've been in the position before of winning dramatic games on the first day of an NCAA weekend. What is the key to the turnaround, getting them ready in 48 hours?
COACH CALHOUN: It's difficult. But I also think it's going to be very difficult for Paul. I think both games were incredibly emotional. Both games, in my opinion, they were nothing more than an incredible advertisement for the greatness of college basketball in the sense that the front of the jerseys with Oklahoma State went after Georgia Tech, it was about Old State U. When Duke went after Connecticut, it was about Old State U. I think that's the refreshing thing to see. Kids that are willing to sacrifice their body, how many times did you see kids on the floor, taking the charge, getting the ball, all the things you see. In our game, there was too much stoppage of play. Beyond that, there were two magnificent games of basketball. But I think both Paul and I, we did a thing together, lied to each other as much as we possibly could, and, but I think both sincerely -- he looked at me at the end, "How long you going to go today?" I said, "About the same as you." He said, "45 minutes." Honestly, I think we both will go about that time. When you're playing your last game of the year, we're not going to add anything special. They're not going to add anything special. We're just going to get our team mentally prepared hopefully to give its best possible effort so we can win a national championship.
Q. Having gone to school and played in the shadow of the Hall of Fame in Springfield, do you have any kind of greater appreciation for people who have made that? Did you have any disappointment in not making it this year? Is it something you hope to be a part of someday?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, you know, I won't make any comment about making it, not making it. Announcement is coming tomorrow. When I went to school, Cliff Wells, they put up the Hall of Fame at Springfield College. I went over and visited it, looked around, much as Josh looks at Emeka, by the way, awestruck. Then they moved it downtown. I would take like every couple weeks and go down there to truly appreciate some of the great, great players who have played there. From my particular aspect, after I finished playing, to see the coaches, the guys that I saw at Final Fours from a distance. My sons used to have a funny thing. They used to say when, say, Coach Knight would walk by me, or whomever it may be who is a legendary coach, they said, "Hey, dad, will they know you out in the street?" Being the point, would they recognize you. I would hope someday that some folks would recognize me out in the street, know who I was, know the fact that hopefully I gave everything to my profession, and that I love the game, I love the fact of where I coach the game, at Connecticut, New England where basketball was born. I would like to see the Hall of Fame continue on its greatness. I watched at the salute dinner this year, the Magic/Larry tribute. Our kids were fascinated. I would think somewhere in our Hall of Fame there has to be room for our college game, there has to be room for our college game. It's the essence of what the NBA turns out to be. But I have true love and respect for the people in the Hall of Fame. I was honored to be nominated. I would hope someday to be worthy enough to be inducted with the people that I have incredible admiration for.
Q. Could you talk about what it has been like to coach Emeka, watch him grow as a student, player, what that whole thing has been like for you.
COACH CALHOUN: The good thing is my athletic director is on his way to New Orleans to see how our women's basketball team plays. It's stealing. It's stealing money, there's no question. My paycheck really should have been reduced by at least 25%, 30%. Emeka makes your life so easy because his maintenance -- there's no maintenance at all. The funniest thing he has said thus far, and he has said a lot of witty and funny things, Dr. Taigen , our academic advisor was on the bus. And this is so atypical. Here's a guy 3.8, graduated in three years, et cetera, et cetera. He said, "Look. I want every one of you guys to go to every class, see every one of your professors before we leave," et cetera, et cetera. Emeka said, "Hey, Doc, we got a championship to win here." That is the first time I ever have seen him deviate out of the box because his academics are as precious to him as a blocked shot would be. When he's on the basketball court, his block shot and jump shot is incredibly important to him. When he's in the weight room, I wouldn't try to have a lot of other discussions about other things because he's there to get stronger so he can become better at what he does. He's absolutely without question one of the most unusual people, regardless of basketball. He's a great tribute to the University of Connecticut, his parents, everyone around him. But he's a great tribute if he never touched the ball. Our academic advisor, Dr. Taigen, handles all the premed majors at the institution. He says, 25 years at UConn, he may have had one other student like him, Dr. Lee Curl (ph), who is the orthopaedic surgeon for the Baltimore football team and University of Maryland, and who has been inducted into the National Foundation For Student Athletes. He's a very, very unique kid. It's a pleasure. The great thing about him, he's got a sense of humor. Some of you reporters have found out, he likes to occasionally play with that sentence of humor. Once again, he's such an asset to our institution, along with being just an incredible kid.
Q. You had some very good players before freshmen that didn't play well in the NCAA. How did Josh play yesterday?
COACH CALHOUN: You know, the kids call him Mek, Jr., because the fact they know he admires Mek so much. He has exceptional high SATs. He was disappointed with his 3.2. Just like a lot of you in this room were disappointed with your 3.2's, I can see that now (laughter). From day one, when you threw him the basketball, he was safe. He knew what to do, he knew how to play. He's not affected by a lot of things. The most important thing, he's not affected by himself. He's never talked about, "I need to be this and move out, expand my game." He's never talked about hurrying up, going someplace. He seems to be the real deal as far as being very comfortable being a college basketball player and a student athlete, which is, once again, for a kid of his abilities and future, in my opinion, is certainly very unusual.
Q. I'm so glad you brought up the women first. What is your overview of what it would mean to the University and the basketball-loving state if UConn could become the first school to win both heavyweight titles simultaneously?
COACH CALHOUN: It probably would be unimaginable. When we won it in '99, the estimates in crowds, the 26 miles from Bradley to Storrs, there were about 350,000. The state has less than four million people. It may have been more than that. Obviously you know the incredible following our women's basketball program has within our state. I don't know if I could put into words what it would mean to a state to own, at least for that particular given moment, college basketball. I don't think words could possibly express it because there's a great love affair for both programs within our state. It would be beyond belief, to be honest with you. It's almost unimaginable, yet certainly getting close to being attainable, as difficult as it may be for both of us. It's certainly in the realm of possibility. I can honestly tell you this, it's unimaginable for this state, the state that sometimes feels being caught between Boston and New York, they're an after-thought. It's not. It's an incredible place to coach basketball. One of the great attractions for me to come there - because I did come from Boston, which I still love, still get back to, et cetera - be in a place where college athletics dominates, and you don't -- Rick Pitino and I said a funny thing when we got together in the Big East, when we were in Boston, we were about No. 10, BU, Northeastern fighting each other, he was at BU, I was at Northeastern University, we were like the 10th most important sports story in town getting ready for an NCAA tournament, trying to win our conference in a nine-sport town. So we fought that ninth spot, which didn't actually exist. As you can see from the coverage we get here, it would be absolutely incredible to our entire state, which is one of the most wonderful places to live and one of the greatest institutions -- the reason I've stayed there is because I have a passionate love for UConn.
Q. The question about your affinity for this team, particularly Denham, who was starting. I guess a kid like Tooles comes to college thinking he's going to be a four-year star. To get what you get from them, day in, day out.
COACH CALHOUN: The biggest thing you need to do, I think anyways, is to make them understand just how important they are as part of the process. We will call a day out where Toolsie, Shamon Tooles will give us everything humanly possible. If you don't point that out, you're making a very bad mistake because Shamon Tooles has a lot to say what happened in our locker room. First thing he has cut his own CD, rap, I'm sure it's not been published, NCAA, nor recorded, nor sold, but he has incredible amounts of power, and he obviously is a sparkplug for us at times defensively and otherwise. To keep Denham going, a kid who scored 110 points in a high school game, was a starter for most of his career, those things become incredibly important. The great thing about it, almost to a man, I asked Hilton Armstrong in the midst of a game, "Could you guard so-and-so?" I think Alabama went four guards. "Do you think you could match up with him?" He said, "I can, coach, but I think it would hurt the team." I said, "Denham, you go in instead." I haven't had many teams that would give you those kinds of honest answers. They feed off each other. Quite frankly, it's been an evolutionary process with this team as they got rid of all the other things that surrounded it as it started this season.
Q. Could you talk about the way Georgia Tech plays halfcourt defense and the challenge it's going to be for you guys tomorrow, particularly after the first time you played them this season?
COACH CALHOUN: I thought we were supposed to be here to have fun. No, they defend you. They defend you physically, they defend you with quickness. Your one mistake from a steal, we turn the ball over an inordinate amount of times, our point guard had seven turnovers yesterday. If we're sloppy with the ball against Tech, we'll be in trouble we cannot be sloppy with the basketball. Because they play quick at every position, the only position they don't play quick at is center, their four-man isn't a four-man, he's a fake four-man. He's a great athlete with incredible strength. Whenever the name may be on it, Tarver at the time, whoever it may be, they basically play with four perimeter players who are just waiting for you to make a mistake and they can get to the ball and help and recover back to it as well as any team that we've played. Duke comes out and pressures you more. They come out and surround you more as you try to make moves.
Q. Paul talked about Red Holzman, the way his team tries to play that same unselfish, old-fashioned basketball. You had a guy in Boston you admired. Are we really talking the same type of basketball, old-fashioned, team-first concept?
COACH CALHOUN: You have to. I think an article I remember that was written by a Boston reporter about a 1990 team, how unselfish, come see it because you won't see it all the time. This team leads the country in assists. People forget Taliek Brown is No. 1 in the league for assists. No. 3, Ben Gordon. We are gifted in the fact we have kids that can pass the ball. They help each other and take full responsibility not for their man, but for the opponent. That's what we've tried to get into them. It's not you, it's us. Two points against Anderson, they put two points against Connecticut. That philosophy is something you have to work on so the kids truly understand that teams win championships, individuals don't.
Q. In '99 you chose to remember some of your early recruiting days at Connecticut. Assuming that your life has gotten easier since then in terms of recruiting, how do you motivate yourself to stay hungry?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, you know, the burden -- I said this about Mike, and Mike was as devastated last night after a game. When I walked by him, he was as devastated as I've felt him. I'm not speaking for Mike, but I'm going to make a particular point. Mike Krzyzewski is as hungry now to win another championship as he was when he first won his first back-to-back 10 years ago, 12 years ago, whatever it was. The problem with people who are incredibly highly motivated, the problem with us sometimes, people who are highly driven, you never look what you've done, you only look at what you've tried to do, and you can't check it at the door. You can't check it at the door. It stays with you. So when I woke -- I went to bed at 3:00, woke up at 5:00 this morning, was reminded by my wife it's Palm Sunday, I had to go to mass, so I tried to grab two more hours sleep. My point being simply, you can't check it at the door. That desire is there, the fire is there, or not there. Recruiting isn't easier because instead of trying to beat out UMass for a player, we're trying to beat Duke out for a player. So it's the same game, higher stakes, against better people. They have the same things to offer that we do: national television, winning, et cetera, et cetera. So the competition... The only difference is, we have taken kids like Josh and some of those kids over the years, even Ray Allen to some degree, who is not a McDonald's All-American. I could go through the list of all the kids, Caron Butler. They have emerged as our kind of players. I told a typical coach's lie, that this would all get easier, with my wife, once we started winning. She said, "I haven't seen you in five weeks." So I knew at the time -- I thought at the time I was halfway truthful, because I love her so much, but it was a blatant lie. It's more difficult in some ways now because you want it more, because you know just what could happen to some of these kids' lives.
Q. If you win the title tomorrow night, joining an elite company of active coaches that have multiple titles, Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, what would that mean to be held in that kind of esteem, to have two national titles when so few don't even get the chance to have one?
COACH CALHOUN: I go back to the theory that you're known by the company you keep. If I'm keeping the company of Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as a basketball coach, then I'm doing okay. There's nothing greater to me than -- we've been fortunate enough to have five kids win the Wooden Award. We'll have a sixth kid this year in Emeka. Sitting there with Coach Wooden, went out to his house one time, telling me about the 2-2-1 press back in the '90s. When you see them, even to this day, they're still so special as people, that obviously those are the kind of people that you want to be included with. That's what you'd like somebody to say, "By the way, he was a guy who was in the same ballgame as somebody else." You want to play in the highest game you possibly can. If you told me that Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski rolled off your tongue, that I was in the same ballgame as them, I'd be a really happy guy.
Q. Tell me what makes Paul Hewitt special as a person and what makes him special as a coach?
COACH CALHOUN: I'll tell you what I don't like about him. He's young, good looking, comes across as being not competitive. I've talked to some of his former players, and he's one son of a bitch at practice. I do think that should be revealed (smiling). But, you know, they were putting makeup on him today. Why? You know, they should have saved all the time for me. He and Seth Davis need makeup. I mean, Ryan needs makeup, I need makeup, but not him. I mean, he's everything that pisses me off. You know what I'm saying to you (smiling)? No, I remember him at Villanova. He was an incredible recruiter. Got great players for Steve Lappas. He went on to Siena. We had a problem during recruiting. Steve and I are good friends. Told him to call me. The way Paul called me was so classy, he made a mistake in something, et cetera. I developed an affinity for him. Since that time, I watched Siena teams play, in the same regional. You know, he's tough. He's a players' coach. He allows them to play. He allows them to make plays. He obviously relates exceptionally well to his players. That's easy for a coach to see when you watch his teams play. A lot of times by just watching the team play, you can tell how the players feel about the coach. Paul Hewitt is clearly one of the - I hate to use television cliches - but one of the rising young guys in our profession. The great thing I like about him, he brings class, dignity and a love for the game. So he's the kind of young coach. There's some other guys that have risen that I'm probably not as crazy about, but he brings what you want to be kept in the fiber, in the thread of our game.
Q. You had to work your way up the ladder coaching. He's done that. Do you see some parallels? Does that give you a greater appreciation for what he's done, especially this quickly?
COACH CALHOUN: I think it's one of the reasons he handles things so well is because it wasn't handed to him. He didn't all of a sudden become a graduate assistant, three days later got a head coaching job. He had to go some funny places to get it going, then got his start in Siena, the same league I participated in when I was at Northeastern. I think those things are immeasurable. Those things allow you to develop a sense of really what coaching basketball is all about. The Northeastern years were years I would never trade because I think they helped me overcome some of the things we needed to overcome when I first came to UConn because I already had some experiences similar and felt we shouldn't have in the Big East at UConn.
Q. Emeka is in another room explaining that he graduated in three years because of basketball, when sometimes the thinking is kids take more than four years to graduate because of basketball. Are you prouder of what he has done off the court academically, involvement in the community, or on the court, and why?
COACH CALHOUN: Total package. I think for him -- once again, I don't think he should paint, all of us, myself included, with such a brush. Emeka Okafor is a brilliant person. If Emeka Okafor ends up being a senator from Texas, not going to be surprised. If he ends up having his own -- a CEO or CFO of a company, finance major, it won't surprise me. If he ends up being an All-Star forward in the lines of Alonzo Mourning, it's not going to surprise me. I'm proud of knowing the person, not just the basketball player, who taught me a little bit more, and I think I'm pretty focused, about putting things in compartments, and keeping his incredible focus, and never deviating from the task at hand. He's absolutely unbelievable. My academic advisor, our faculty advisor's wife can attest to the two and three morning phone calls that Emeka, when he's finishing up a paper. He's just such an unusual kid, I even hate to use the word "kid," because he has qualities that all of us could instill into our own life. I feel just very gifted, quite frankly, to have a kid like him, a person like him, bring so much to our school, bring so much to our program, and once again be in his company. He's really, really, really that special.
Q. You mentioned earlier how so few centers come to college now to develop their game. Because of that are opportunities like this one to challenge -- for Emeka to challenge himself against Luke, are they few and far between now? Because of that, what experiences have been most important to him in terms of developing his post skills?
COACH CALHOUN: A lot of it's done by the fact that he's been in the weight room. He went from a kid 218 to almost 260 pounds now. He's got body fat, by the way, of 4.8, which I'm sure is the average in this room also. Just to watch him develop, he will play every day with anybody he possibly can. But he's had such match-ups throughout the year. There's some kids at Pittsburgh who will bang you pretty good. He's had those match-ups three times this year. Every team in our league has a guy, Agbai who is unknown nationally, but Agbai is a very physical kid at Boston College. Douthit, seven foot, shot blocker at Providence. He's had enough chances to test himself. But Emeka, it's not just testing yourself, it's excelling and succeeding. So if he failed the first time, I can guarantee he's coming back the second time to succeed, not just to try.
Q. How is Charlie Villenueva handling the last few weeks? Do you think he's appreciating the opportunity of what he's learning now had he skipped college?
COACH CALHOUN: He's one of the great kids we had. In all honesty, all of us make stereotypical judgments of kids trying out for the NBA, et cetera, et cetera. But Charlie really went on the advice of others, not himself. Charlie always wanted to go to college. Charlie enjoys being educated. Charlie enjoys now being able to do certain things with the written word, I hope he would never turn into a sportswriter or anything like that (smiling), but there's so many things that he's come to learn about people, about the experience, about togetherness. Even yesterday when he come in, just threw a shot up there. I took him out and said, "We just don't need that right now." I would have done it, but it would have been much more difficult three or four months ago. He's got a chance to be a tremendous, tremendous basketball player. He just needs to get stronger. The difference between he and Luol right now is Luol can put it on the floor better, more explosive, more quick. Charlie is almost two and a half, three inches taller, and certainly at least as good a shooter, and is probably one of the great passers we have at Connecticut. We've got to find a way next year to get him involved in the offense, get him stronger. There's no doubt in my mind that David Stern, all the NBA people, if you sit them on a bench, don't play them, don't surround them with people in a social situation with his peers, you're taking, A, something away from his life. I know in a business sense, nobody really cares about that. But you are taking an important part of how he's going to handle the rest of his life. And secondly, you take a great deal away from his development. I see some of the kids that sit on the NBA benches and don't play. There's only one kid from last year, Labron James, he's a child prodigy. Labron James could have gone his junior year. I saw Kobe Bryant play Hamilton as a senior. Man, boy, just a difference. Those are few and far between. Charlie needs college, and of course we need him. Think he'll be the greatest beneficiary if he stays with it because he has a heck of a basketball future.
Q. Was there a point in time recently when you saw the team, "Hey, we're ready to make this run we're in right now"? Was there a certain period?
COACH CALHOUN: We went along winning some game, occasionally losing a game I didn't think we should. That to me is what you never should do. You should always win the games you should. Actually, I got that from Red Auerbach. Red said the games at the first part of year count as much as the games at the end of the year. I truly believe that. You should never lose to anybody that's not as good as you. If you lose to somebody that's as good as you, that's fine, you'll make it up later, find a way to beat them. About a month and a half ago, we were playing Miami. We were up 16, 17 points. Whatever the kids did wrong that night or right was wrong. And for 40 minutes, before 16,000 people, I just got on every single thing they did. I walked into the locker room after the game, you know, feeling exhausted and frustrated with myself for doing it. My son, Tim , our friend, were sitting there. Oh, boy, the paint's going to come off the walls. The next thing they know, they said they heard Shecky Calhoun telling jokes. I came in, started laughing at them. "Did you see what a fool I was, yelling and screaming at you guys with an 18, 19-point lead, because you weren't enjoying what you were doing." I love this game. I love the passion of the game. I love working hard. All I'm asking you to do is to meet me halfway, meet me halfway. We played Notre Dame three days later and we had fun, and we had fun in practice. So I had to find some different sort of way to let them know, truly to show some of my passion to an extreme, and have them bring some of that. Since that time, it hasn't been magical, but we've won an awful lot of basketball games since that time. I was very passionate about telling them, "Please, I'm asking you," and I don't usually ask them, I tell them "just give me some back what I'm giving you because I love this game and I love you as a team, and you got a chance to be very, very special."
JOHN GERDES: Thank you very much, coach.
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