April 2, 2005
DEBBIE BYRNE: Joining me on the podium is going to be Chelsea Whitaker, Sophia Young, Steffanie Blackmon and of course, Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson. So we'll take questions for the student-athletes first. But first we'll start with an opening statement from the Coach. Kim, we'll ask you to make an opening statement.
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: We're excited to be here as anybody would be. We're happy for Baylor University.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We'll go to questions for the players.
Q. Sophia, having your mother come here to watch you play, what has been her feelings about this seeing you at this stage of your life on the basketball court?
SOPHIA YOUNG: Well she's very excited to be here. She's very excited to just be in the audience or in the stands watching us play. She's never really seen a college game live before. So it's an experience for her. She's excited.
Q. Chelsea, what's caused your improvement as a back court player? Is it that you're healthy now or that you picked up something else?
CHELSEA WHITAKER: I guess I picked up some confidence on the way and I guess it's coming at the right time. Because my team needs me to play big and take some pressure off the post game inside. So I'm just a lot more confident now.
Q. I guess starting with Chelsea and maybe the other players can address it too, did you feel like back in November that you might see LSU again here, that you might both be here in the Final Four?
CHELSEA WHITAKER: Well, I'm sure it was a goal for their team and it was definitely a goal for us. Maybe it's destiny, I don't know. I didn't really think that we would meet them or anybody in particular. I just know that I wanted to make it here and I'm happy to be here and I'm sure they're happy to be here and we'll just have to see who wins tomorrow.
STEFFANIE BLACKMON: I definitely had a good feeling that we would see them again. I didn't know where but I know the only place we would see them is the NCAA tournaments because we weren't in any other tournaments with them, but I felt like we would see them at the end.
Q. Temeka Johnson was saying earlier sometimes it's great and sometimes it's tough having an ex-college point guard for a coach because they're such perfectionist. You have one too. I wonder if you could sort of talk about the pluses of having her and is she kind of a -- is she tough on you?
CHELSEA WHITAKER: Well, she always says everybody wants somebody to be hard on you in life and that's what I got. So I appreciate it. I want to be better every time I step on the court and that's the only way you're going to get better is if somebody is screaming at you every time you're on the court. I told her that's why I came here. I would never go to a school where the coach didn't play the position that I played and that's the challenge that I took when I came here and I accepted it.
Q. Stephanie, after the way that game ended, the first game against LSU, was there part of you that really did want to play them again?
STEFFANIE BLACKMON: Definitely. To come back from that large deficit from the first half, we found a lot -- we found out a lot about our team in the second half. And you always want a second shot like, okay, what if we don't have a first half like that, what's going to be the outcome? So definitely I wanted another shot and see how we could do without such a shaky start.
Q. For any of the players, we hear all the time that players dream about playing for championships, being in a Final Four; how different is the reality of being here, how different is that from what you might imagine growing up?
CHELSEA WHITAKER: Well, I mean it's everything I expected and more. I mean like we always say, we're used to being at home talking about we should there be, we should be playing them or we can beat that team but clearly we didn't because we're at home but now we're actually here. And it's just a blessing to be able to be a part of this and it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we're all kind of soaking it up and it's just a great thing for us and for our university and this program.
SOPHIA YOUNG: Good answer. (Laughter.)
Q. Sophia and Stephanie, can you talk about, I know you have only been out here one time but what was the arena like and obviously it's a big open air; does that affect your shot or will you get enough time in here that you can get over that?
SOPHIA YOUNG: It's pretty open. I don't know. I think I like it. I like the court. I like the court, there's a lot of lights. I think it's going to be a really good place to play. I just need to get a little more shooting done and I should be all right.
STEFFANIE BLACKMON: I agree. I'm not bothered by the court. I think any court you play on you want to be familiar with it, but I like the setup and I think it's going to be a good atmosphere.
Q. In light of the tragedy a couple years ago, what do you guys think this making the Final Four has done to boost the morale at Baylor among not only the basketball program but maybe the school in general.
STEFFANIE BLACKMON: I think it's really brought the community together just to see how many people actually come out and support and are so excited about something in Waco with the women's basketball team, it's been great. We have been received so heavily and it's just been awesome to get every sen- off more and more people. Just excited. Getting e-mails, things like that. It's just wonderful to turn it around and when people think about Waco they can think about something positive.
Q. Sophia, you had a rather somewhat unorthodox route to Baylor from your hometown. I wonder if you could just talk about what you knew about Baylor, when you first heard about Baylor and maybe how Kim charmed you into coming there.
SOPHIA YOUNG: I found out about Baylor my senior year in high school and that was the first time I heard about it. I didn't hear anything about it before my senior year. And through Coach Robertson, Coach Mulkey found me. I don't know that she came to take a look at me and I guess she liked what she saw. And then she gave me a scholarship.
DEBBIE BYRNE: I'm going to release the players then. All right. For the players. This is the last one.
Q. Chelsea, if you could just talk about the fact that you saw LSU in person; what struck you about their talent and what you think they're biggest threat is tomorrow.
CHELSEA WHITAKER: Well, transition game is probably the best part of their game. Any given time any given player can just take the ball and start running down the court and starting the break and everybody else will fill in. And they're a very talented team and they have a lot of athleticism and they're just a tough match-up, they crash the boards hard and do all the little things that makes them a Final Four team.
DEBBIE BYRNE: All right. We're going to release these ladies back to their locker room. Now we're going to continue with your questions for the Coach.
Q. Could you talk about your recruitment of Temeka Johnson when you were at Tech and are you surprised by the way she's improved and how good she is now.
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: No, I'm not surprised. I saw Temeka Johnson throughout her high school career and she reminded me a lot of myself. She has a quick first step off the dribble. She has unbelievable penetrating skills and she makes all the players around her better because she delivers passes when they need it. My recruitment of her was I recruited her while I was at Louisiana Tech and the time she was coming out of high school was when I made the move to Baylor and she chose LSU.
Q. The way last season ended, I know what the feeling was; how long did it take you to kind of put that behind you and then regroup and start looking forward into this year?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: You never forget it, but I think probably when I got back on the court with the team this year, I like to tell this story, throughout the summer I had watched my children play little league softball and little league baseball and I couldn't handle some of it. I just still relived the moment and I just never felt that there was a finish to the season. It took me a long time to get over it. I'll never forget it. But I think that when we got back on the floor this year and could put a basketball in our hands...
Q. There will be a new champion this year with Connecticut having been eliminated. But there's a chance for yourself, for Michigan State or even LSU to put kind of a new face on college basketball; do you all kind of understand that as well as just winning the championship itself?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Well, we understand that there will be a new champion. I don't think any of us in the coaching profession think to next year; we're thinking about the next game. The game is getting good. There's so many teams now that are good. And that's good for women's basketball. It draws an interest from programs and from regions of the country that weren't back there when I played. And parity is good for our game. And you're going to always see the Tennessees and those guys because they committed long ago when nobody else did commit and they got a legendary Coach, but it's good for some us new folks to get a little bit of exposure.
Q. Could you talk about just how difficult it is to cover Seimone Augustus and maybe just a little bit about her versatility out there.
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: There are have very few girls in the game as you watch it that have the ability to elevate and shoot it right in your face. Seimone Augustus is that type of player. I said it when we played them back in November, that she's the best player in the game today. And my mind has not changed. She won the Wade Trophy today and rightfully so. She has got a team that is so difficult to guard with, in my opinion, the best freshman in the country, and fifth year senior point guard, and Seimone you're not going to stop her, she's too good a player. What you hope to do is that you don't let those around her have All-American nights. The girl is good and I watched her when she was at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge. She just has elevated that program to where it is today.
Q. You talked about how you really don't stop Seimone but one thing you had you didn't have the first game is Abby playing a lot more. How excited are you just to see what she might be able to do to at least slow down Seimone Augustus a little bit?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Abby played six minutes in the game when we played LSU earlier in the year. We were still trying to find our identity, who our rotation of players were going to be, and Abby in mid-season was inserted into the lineup and she's made it difficult to let anybody else get any minutes because of her defense. Abby is very physical, she has the same size that Seimone has. She just is the type of kid that her defensive effort and intensity really spreads to the whole floor with the other kids on our team. They have taken great pride that their defense has brought them to this point and I think it's going to be a very good match-up. My concern is if Abby gets in trouble, then what am I going to do.
Q. Will you talk about the difference maybe you felt between being a player in the Final Four and now as a head coach in the Final Four.
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: The differences are all these wrinkles and this gray hair up here. When you're a player, you're in control of the game, you have the basketball in your hands and you feel very confident. As a Coach you can teach and show them so much, but when you get out there on that sideline, they got to go do what you taught them. And that's a big difference for me, whether we're in the Final Four or playing any game is that I always like to have that basketball in my hands. The excitement for me as a coach, a lot of coaches get excited because it's the ultimate in our game is to take your team to a Final Four, and I'm no different than in that I feel that way. But honestly the excitement for me, after having been in 12 of these, is the Waco community, is the Waco community and the fans and our school and these players. The excitement in their eyes and what it means to all of us or all of those people excites me more than anything.
Q. You mentioned your own Final Four experience both as a player and as an assistant Coach. Can you talk a little bit about, is there anything you can do to prepare your kids for what they're going to experience when they step out there tomorrow night in front of 28, 29,000 people?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Nothing more than maybe casually telling them you're going to play in front of 30,000 people, you're going to have a lot of media ask you questions over and over and it will be the same redundant questions. Things like that. But as far as playing on the floor, I don't think you overcoach and I don't think you overemphasize, it's another basketball game, you're just on a different stage. And I know that when that clock ticks and it's time to go play, I don't anticipate them playing any different than they have to this point. They are very mature and they have a sense of calmness about them. We have seniors on this team that just don't get rattled anymore. We have a demeanor about us that when we walk off that floor, if and when we get beat, we're going to shake the opponent's hand and say you deserved it because you played better. And that's kind of been their approach the last month of the season.
Q. Is there any one aspect of the game that you really do not want LSU to dominate tomorrow?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Transition. Running the floor. They just -- and that starts with Temeka Johnson. I said this all along, Seimone Augustus is the best player in the country, Temeka Johnson is their MVP. That young lady gets a ball and even on made buckets they're running. The opponent scores, they're throwing it in quickly and they're running. I don't know how you stop that. When you have a point guard that that is their game and that's the way they play, it's very difficult to eliminate that part of their game and that concerns me a whole lot.
Q. You're saying how excited everyone is in Waco now. Can you take it back two years to right after the tragedy on the men's side, what it was like for the women's program and what it took during those past couple years to get to where you guys are now?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Well, as I said, I'm so tired of talking about the men's tragedy, that was two years ago. But I'm going to answer your question in that that did not affect our basketball team and what I was hired to do. One player on our team I think knew Patrick Dennehy. And it happened at a time during the summer months where there's not a whole lot going on probably in the sports world, so it was really magnified. It was negative for our university, but the thing that was most important to me, if my players were okay and my players' families and their parents were okay, then I was okay. And we were okay. And we started playing basketball and won and got to the Sweet 16 and it erased all of that. Our men's national championship in tennis erased all of that. Two Olympians in track and field erased all of that. We don't -- we're beyond that. It's never even brought up around our university until we're asked from the media questions about it. It's not going to identify Baylor University. There's too many great alumni, there's too many prominent people from the State of Texas. We are the oldest institution of higher learning in the State of Texas, and one tragedy is not going to identify our university and that's the approach I took and that's the approach our players took.
Q. I know it was early in the year, but what did you learn from the LSU game or about your team or what maybe from that game helped you the rest of the year?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: I learned that we're not too bad. When you can be down 20 to LSU in your opening game and come back and have the ball in your hands to win it and you just didn't execute, we're going to be okay. I really felt that way, we are going to be okay. We hated to lose, as all competitors do, but I thought, wow, we hung in there with them and we played as poor as you could possibly play in the first half. Now whether we played poor because LSU made us play poor, it doesn't matter. We fought and we came back and had the ball in our hands down one and we just didn't get it done. And I just left there feeling as good as you could feel after a loss.
Q. Did you think you might see them again back here?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Never really put much thought to it. Our focus was Big 12, Big 12 tournament, and see what happens in the NCAA tournament. Certainly you knew they were going to be the top team in the country all year but just never really thought we might match up with them again. You don't think like that throughout the course of the year.
Q. How much has the sort of off-court experience of the Final Four, than everything else, changed from your days as a player and your days as an assistant Coach to today?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: Well, it's become a big event now. It's a happening, if you want to say it that way. When we played in Final Fours, it was certainly big and in our world and in our eyes at that time and in the early '80s, we were a pretty dominant program. There were a handful of programs back then that you knew were going to be in the Final Four every year. And now the interest is so large and planned in advance and you have so many teams that are capable of getting here that it really, it's magnified now. And there are a lot of outside things that you have to do that are mandatory. We didn't have those back when I played. You just showed up for the game and the only game that was really televised was the championship game.
Q. I apologize for asking this in advance. This is water under the bridge I know, but could you just talk a little bit about what happened at the end of your stay at Louisiana Tech. I know you're happy at Baylor now, but just the idea that someone with such an institution at that school, that they didn't --
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: That's kind of what I was wondering. (Laughter.) No, listen, it's pretty simple: It doesn't matter what you hear, it doesn't -- look, I spent 19 wonderful years of my life there. 38 years of my life were spent in one state. No matter where my career takes me I'll always be a Louisiana girl. But I am very, very loyal, I am loyal to a fault. And I felt that after 19 years of being at Louisiana Tech, and Leon stepped aside so I could inherit that program and I will never forget that, I felt that I was worthy of a five-year contract. It's the standard in the business. I had turned down three head coaching jobs with significantly more pay to stay at my alma mater. They started out with a three-year contract, they felt they were doing me a favor by offering me a four-year, I was hurt and I left. That's the story. Nothing more. And thank God for unanswered prayers.
Q. Labeling yourself a Louisiana girl, I'm wondering if you've given yourself -- have you thought at all about competing against your native brothers and sisters tomorrow?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: What you got to understand is LSU is 30 minutes from my home growing up. And I'm going to give you a little history here, okay? In Louisiana, okay, Tangipahoa Parish -- you're going to ask me how to spell that right -- Tangipahoa Parish is where I grew up. 30 minutes from the LSU campus, family, friends, you just grow up, that's all you hear. I could sing their fight song for you. So there will be lots of folks out here tomorrow that love me regardless of where I am coaching, but they watched me grow up. And I recruited Pokey Chatman when I was at Louisiana Tech. LSU was all I ever heard of growing up until I left to go to Louisiana Tech to play. Louisiana Tech was four and a half hours from my home. The easy decision for me would have been to go to LSU and family and friends could watch me play. But at the time the right decision was to go to Louisiana Tech. And so playing against them, the only thing about playing LSU that bothers me is they're going to get to go home and eat crawfish and I'm not. (Laughter.) But I'm going to have some of my folks come up in a couple weeks and bring crawfish and we're going to have a crawfish boil and then my appetite will be satisfied.
Q. Can you talk about in contrast how LSU handled the deal with Pokey when their job became open. You said the other day that there should have been no question in their mind that she should be the coach. It seems like you really feel like they handled that the right way and making her the head coach and keeping her around.
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: You're absolutely right. That lady spent as many years there as I did. That's a no-brainer. If you're the athletic director you walk down the hall and say, "Sue Gunter, who do you want?" She says "Pokey Chatman," end of conversation. They handled it beautifully, just the way it should have been.
Q. You mentioned recruiting Pokey, can you talk about what you saw in her as a player and if some of those same attributes have carried over to her coaching style?
COACH KIM MULKEY-ROBERTSON: You saw a very confident young lady, you saw a Temeka Johnson-type of player. Pokey didn't have the talent around her that Temeka does at that time when she chose to go to LSU, but in high school, she was from the Hahnville area and she just was a competitor. She made those around her better. She was very vocal and a leader out there on the floor. Everything that you look for in a point guard. And she was a -- she was one that we fought hard to try to get. She wasn't leaving south Louisiana.
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