March 8, 2001
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. For Al and Kenny, can you guys talk about a performance like this in this tournament, kind of what it represents and how far this program has come since you've both been here?
COACH AL SKINNER: Well, all it really says is the amount of hard work that these players have put in. When we first recruited Kenny, and the attitude was basically we're going to have to work hard every day and understand that we're in a marathon. This is not a sprint. Don't get frustrated. There are going to be some tough times. We'll continue to work at it. That's the only way it's going to get better. A credit to the senior class, they've been able to do that. They worked hard. They've shown good leadership. And because of that, we've gotten some, obviously some very fine results. But it's clearly the work that they put in that's allowed all this to happen.
Q. Kenny, could you respond to that?
KENNY HARLEY: I think when Coach skinner recruited me, basically he said you have to be in for the long haul because you have to be committed. We weren't going to do it overnight. Some guys had to believe in the system, believe in what he was doing and basically that's why we're here today, basically because guys stuck with it. Our teammates and I worked hard to get to this point. Like Michael Jordan said, in order to win, be a winning team, you have to learn how to win. Win some games, get some experience, get some continuity among your peers. I think we did that, going and playing in Europe, coming back preseason, and focusing on our schedule, taking it game by game. I think we developed some confidence and that's why we can win and that's why we've been so successful this year.
Q. Yesterday you expressed some concern about being able to beat Villanova for the third time. They were going to have some time to prepare, to become better, to obviously make adjustments. At what point during the game did you feel like you were going to beat these guys no matter what they do?
COACH AL SKINNER: When the final buzzer rung. That's when I felt comfortable. The thing is that Bryant hadn't played against us, and I thought he added something to the mix. I thought they had been playing well. Snowden had played better. And so I thought they were an improved ballclub. I still think they are. We just happened to play a little better ball game. I think an extra day doesn't make a difference. I think in the second half they got a little tired; we had better legs. I think that's a big difference in the ball game. We're stretching them out, trying to get them to handle them, we're working real hard. I think they got a little tired in the second half because obviously the first half, I thought, was pretty well played.
Q. Al, same theme of three wins over a team. You've beat them worse each time you beat them. Is that another testament?
COACH AL SKINNER: No, I don't think that's really an indication. I just think, you know, it's -- at that point in time I think there was a point in the game where it just got, you know, it was clear that, you know, that we had the game in control. And I think sometimes it's tough to kind of play till the end. You know, we really got kind of loose, and we scored some baskets. We continued to attack, we continued to be aggressive. Again, I think it had more to do with the fact that they might have been a little tired late in the game. It's just a tough position to be in.
Q. Question for everybody: You go from playing a team three times. Tomorrow you'll play a team who you haven't played regardless of who wins the next game. How does that change the mindset?
COACH AL SKINNER: Serious panic for me. Serious panic. So I really don't know exactly what we're going to do because, you know, we've got to get ourselves ready. The one thing we do know is that they're going to be big. We understand that, and we have to be prepared for that.
Q. Troy, you want to speak about that, playing a team you haven't faced yet?
TROY BELL: Well, every game we just want to come out and do the same things, which is play tough defense, execute on offensive end. If we do that, we'll win. I'm not worried about who we're going to play. I'll let Coach be nervous, I'll be the calm, collected one this time. Either way they're going to be a good team. I'm not worried about who we play.
Q. Talk about being calm and collected, how much of that is your natural style?
TROY BELL: I'm naturally calm and collected, but it's a lot easier when you see a guy who's poised and always being a leader. It makes a difference. Question.
Q. Talk to us about the events on Snowden. Yesterday he executed their stuff really well. Tell us about the defensive game. You guys totally took him out of what he did in their game yesterday against West Virginia?
TROY BELL: West Virginia doesn't apply too much pressure. That's the bottom line. We got up in them and pressured them. That made his job a lot tougher.
COACH AL SKINNER: Other people got to handle the basketball in order for them to be successful -- in order for them to execute against the pressure, at least they did. So it didn't give them a lot of time in the half court. They took time to get the ball to Bradley. We all know once he gets it he's a tremendous scorer inside. We had to try to balance that. Again, we came up with some turnovers that allowed us to keep the pressure on them.
Q. Kenny, were there any special feelings for you winning here as a native New Yorker, and did you have -- how many fans in attendance did you bring to this tilt?
KENNY HARLEY: I'm not sure.
COACH AL SKINNER: Are you going to ask me the same question? I'm from New York, too. I'm only kidding.
Q. I know.
KENNY HARLEY: Always playing here in Madison Square Garden is a big deal to me. I'm a Knick fan, I grew up in New York, born in Harlem, raised in The Bronx. To have my family and friends come out to watch us play in senior year when we're doing well, I mean, is big. I mean, last couple years we didn't have that much success playing in the Big East conference; now we're a little bit successful, winning this game here this afternoon. I mean, it's big, definitely, coming to Madison square Garden.
Q. How many tickets?
KENNY HARLEY: They only gave out eight. A lot of people had work. I had got eight friends and family to come to the game. So I'm not sure if they all showed up.
Q. Tomorrow night there will be more?
KENNY HARLEY: Tomorrow night more people will probably attend. That's why it was important for us to win this game this afternoon.
Q. Can you talk about how special it was for you to get on the floor and play your first Big East tournament game after having to sit out last year? Can you also talk about three-pointers that Kenny shot. Each one of those were just killers, every time he laid them down.
TROY BELL: It was very exciting for me. Last year I was out with a knee injury. I would have loved to come out there and play. I know my team needed me. To be out there this year in the situation we're in, top of the Big East, we're clicking. The chemistry's going and everything. It feels really good. As far as Kenny goes, Kenny's playing really good ball. Every time I pass him the ball, I'm pretty sure it's going in.
Q. Al, you talked before about going with the system and looking for the long haul. How easy is it these days with college basketball when freshmen come and go, underclassmen go out, isn't it a risk to talk about a long haul?
COACH AL SKINNER: Well, it's calculated only if, you know, we didn't have those type of individuals. There's only a handful of guys that can go to college and leave after a year or two. It's not, you know, the majority of the players are not doing that. So, you know, the young men that we were getting are the people that we felt were going to be in the program for four years and we could afford to make that investment. And the one thing that I've always felt is if a guy is that good, he's good enough, then we should be pretty successful. If he's good enough to leave college, go to the pros, we should have a pretty good year that year and we have to anticipate that and make the necessary adjustments. You know, that's my feeling. If a guy's got a chance to go and he feels like he's going to be successful at the next level, he should do that. But it is calculated, but like I said, the individuals that we'll get are not going to be those people.
Q. Of all the components of the teams that have gone into the team's success this year, which aspect of the team's play or improvement in some aspect has pleased you and the staff the most?
COACH AL SKINNER: The thing that's pleased us the most is our guys' defensive attitude and intensity because that's something that's been there every night. I mean we've, you know, I've had, you know, there have been times looking at a close ball game, up one, gone to the free throw line and missed a free throw and everyone's in a panic. We're not in a panic because we know we can go down, stop people, shut people down, contest. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in our defensive ability. That's the thing that I like. The thing is that guys are talking on the defensive end. They're trying to help each other, not pointing the finger saying, "That was your mistake," they're just trying to correct it so it doesn't happen again. It's defensive attitude, intensity and approach that has made this team extremely successful.
Q. How much a better player are you for having one year experience? What are some of the things you do better and know more?
TROY BELL: I'd say maturity is the whole key. Last year I didn't really know what I wanted to do out there. I couldn't look a couple plays ahead. It showed twice as many turnovers and assists last year as this year. I wouldn't say I'm better physically, I'm a little bigger. It's maturity. The coach worked with me over the summer, watched a lot of film. They told me the team's in my hands and I have to step it up this year. That's what I try to do, be smart on the court.
Q. Could you be more specific?
TROY BELL: Mostly just passes. I threw a lot of bad passes last year, times, and I took shots sometimes when I should have pulled the ball up, set up the offense, give guys some touches.
Q. 51 points off second chances in turnovers. Even at this level, from where you sit, how much of this game comes back down to consistency and effort?
COACH AL SKINNER: It's a lot. You have to have a certain amount of physical ability. I think a lot of teams in this league have that. And they have some talent. So it is that attitude that's extremely important. It's hard to get it every night. That's the thing that's made this team special, is that we've had consistency throughout the whole year, and we've been able to continue that. For us to win, you know, the number of games that we had during the season and the league, and all season long actually, has really been their attitude. And, again, I credit that to my seniors. They have worked extremely hard to establish that and everybody else has kind of bought into it. I can't say it often enough, guys are really embarrassed about finishing 13th last year and they wanted to make that change.
Q. This is for all three of you, although I could guess what Al is going to say, do you give any thought at all as this tournament unfolds as to how it's going to affect where you're going to be playing next week and where you're seeded and all that stuff? Or is it -- the tournament itself all the focus you need?
KENNY HARLEY: Right now, my focus and I guess the team's focus is this Big East tournament right now. Like Coach said, guys were uncomfortable about losing a lot of games, the games that we lost last year. Right now we're concentrating on the game tomorrow. We want to win that game so we can get to the championship round hopefully, and then from there, I guess that's when -- I mean that's when I'll start worrying about where we'll be seeded, where we'll be headed.
TROY BELL: I agree him also. Our focus is on the Big East tournament and that alone. We know it will affect our seeding but we're having a special season and we want to finish that out. What a way to finish it out, then to win the whole Big East tournament and going to the tournament being a No. 2 seed or something. Every game, I mean we just try to take every game in stride and focus on the teams that are ahead of us.
Q. Coach, you had talked about the type of player you would recruit. Would you consciously not recruit a guy like (inaudible)?
COACH AL SKINNER: I wouldn't have a problem recruiting those individuals. They have to adhere to the way we want to do things. I mean, you know, it's not the individual's talent; it's the individual's attitude and how they want to approach it with us. I mean we're looking for -- we're looking for talented individuals, but, again, they have to fit in with our team and the way we approach the game. So I don't know what the attitude of those young players are, unless you spend time with them. And it's a learning process. It just doesn't happen overnight. I don't just walk in and say, "You got to play this way," and they play that way. You know, it's something you just got to work with and develop. But it's really his teammates, I think, that help that along. Guys are really conscious of each other and the way we want to play. And that's where your upperclassmen and your leadership come from, that they got to pass that along. And so, you know, we'll take talented individuals as long as they want to play the way we need them to play.
Q. All three of you guys alluded to before about the embarrassment of last season. How much has that driven you all season long to this point, what happened last year?
COACH AL SKINNER: Well, it's probably something that's going to stay with them for a long, long time. I mean, I can remember when I was in high school and we lost the last game of the season, we were undefeated and lost the last game of the season. I'm damn near 50 years old and I still remember that. It's something that's kind of inbred in them, part of them, they don't want to revisit that. That's why, you know, the players have the attitudes that they have. They want to be in a different place.
Q. Can you guys also respond to that?
KENNY HARLEY: Exactly what Coach said, our approach to the way we play. Like after last season, we took a couple weeks off. Right after that, guys was in the weight room, in the gym shooting around, saying we gave it a try but a lot of guys on the team stuck with it. Like I said before, guys worked hard over the summer, went to Europe, got some continuity going, played hard in preseason, and just took one game at a time this season. And saying that, that reflected on our season, how well we've been winning, how well we begin to have the confidence in one another, in each other, and have a winning attitude. That's what you need, I guess, to win games. We learned that.
TROY BELL: I think for the most part that last year, I mean last year's performance, that our record is keeping us focused for this year. Numerous times we've told each other that we're still that same team that came in 13th place each year, we only have one addition, Ryan Sidney. For the most part it's kept us level headed. We've had some success but we still know we're that same team and it motivates us every day.
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