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April 3, 2005
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
JOHN GERDES: We'll let Coach Weber make an opening statement, then we will open it up to questions. Coach Weber.
COACH WEBER: I mean, it would be an understatement to say we're not happy being here. You know, it's something we've shot for since I took the job. We wrote down St. Louis on the board about six, seven weeks ago. We wrote April 4th on the board, making a commitment to this date. The kids have lived up to it. I thought yesterday we played a very good ballgame. When you talk to the kids after the game, hanging out here, just waiting for things. I think a little bit of the pressure was relieved when we beat Arizona just to get to the Final Four. They played much more relaxed and confident yesterday. Our opponent is very, very good. Carolina, you start looking through the stats. They shoot the three, they got a big guy, they're quick, they push the ball. They out-rebound people. We're going to have to play a great ballgame to win. I think we're capable of doing it. But a lot will depend on our defense. A lot like yesterday, you know, when you look at the numbers, 88 points a game, I think Louisville was in the 80s somewhere. We did a nice job at defending them. I think this will be a little more tough because they have a few more weapons.
JOHN GERDES: We'll take questions for any of the gentlemen on the podium, please.
Q. Dee, Deron, Luther, all the rhetoric surrounding this has been the best talent versus the best team with Carolina being the talent. How do you respond to that?
DEE BROWN: Really, you know, I just focus on us. I think we're a pretty good team. They're a good team also. Just focus on just going out there and playing.
DERON WILLIAMS: I guess we'll see tomorrow, you know. That's basically it. Everybody can write about it after that.
Q. Deron, you guys have been No. 1. I think you were No. 1 for 15 straight weeks, with some doubters believing that North Carolina actually may be the better team. Is this the best scenario you could imagine to prove it once and for all?
DERON WILLIAMS: I think so. I think it's a match-up that pretty much everybody wanted, everybody anticipated. It's finally here. Now we get to play it out.
Q. Coach Weber, ask about the dynamic of coming in. These are guys you didn't recruit, in taking over, selling yourself to them. Was there a period where you had to sell yourself? Is it different than with a group of guys you brought in yourself?
COACH WEBER: Well, you didn't know them. One of the things we did, and I appreciate Coach Gunther, our athletic director, allowing us to do this, we went to Europe right away in August after I took the job. The trip was hard on Dee and Deron because they played USA Basketball that year. But it was great for our team because we got to know each other. It was a big step. I thought it put us ahead maybe eight, nine games in the season to allow us that two-week period in practice of getting that acquaintance period, getting to know them and us getting -- them getting to know us and us getting to know them. I think that definitely helped. There's no doubt there's a selling point. I still remember one of my assistants, Coach Lowery, now at Southern, you said, "You got to yell at them and tell them to respect you." I just kind of laughed. I said, "Chris, I can't yell at them and tell them to respect you. You have to gain that respect. " And that happens over a course of time. Slowly but surely they understood the system. You know, it was such an unusual situation because they had great success with Coach Self, Coach Krueger. Some of the guys had been through two coaches, the rest of them through Bill. It made it tough. It's tough on kids. But you find out the players are more resilient I think than maybe the coaches. In the long run, obviously it's worked out.
Q. Coach Weber, all of the things that make this a mega, mega event, the number of people in the stands, size of the venue, late start time, do you see all those things as good, a comment on the health of college basketball, or do you see it as kind of a lack, a challenge or troublesome about the grand scale of this weekend?
COACH WEBER: I think with the time thing, if you ask them, they're happy. They get to sleep. I mean, we had some 11:00 games this year. They were just killers. You know, you're waking up early, eating early, no routine that you normally have. Yesterday I think -- I love games at 4:00. I think that's the perfect time. They get to sleep, have you shooting practice pregame, they still get to enjoy the evening, be a college student, be with their families. 6:00 yesterday wasn't bad. Tomorrow it's 8:00 central time. Maybe an hour later than we're normally used to. But, you know, this is what you dream of, to play in front -- on this stage, in front of this number of people, whether it's the 47,000 here or the national TV audience. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better scenario. I think it's what college basketball's all about.
Q. Roger or James, can you assess your place in history, if you win, to have an NCAA record for wins in a season and the fewest losses by anybody in like 20 or 30 years? Where do you think you would stand?
ROGER POWELL, JR.: I think we'd be right up there at the top, you know, to be able to compete this whole season, you know, have one loss. If we win on Monday, have one loss the whole season. I mean, it would be a blessing, it would be an honor to play on a team with such great talent and such a great coach. I think we'd be right up there on top.
Q. Any of the players, you guys in this morning's papers are two-and-a-half-point underdogs. Are you surprised by that? Do you view it as evidence that you continue to be underestimated?
LUTHER HEAD: We're not surprised. I mean, people been saying North Carolina was the better team all year. It's not a surprising thing. I mean, but like everybody says, we'll see tomorrow. I mean, we going to go and play this game. Everybody know who the best is tomorrow.
Q. James and Roger, you guys have already heard a bunch of questions about them being the more talented team. You have won 37 games, which ties an NCAA record. Does it irk you guys at all to hear that the other team supposedly is more talented?
JAMES AUGUSTINE: I don't think so. They are talented. Obviously, you look at their team, they have four, five, six pro prospects on their team. They'll have a lottery pick coming off their bench. They're obviously more talented. I think they're athletic. But when it comes down to the situation, it's who's the better team, whoever comes out and makes the least amount of mistakes and whoever comes out and plays the better basketball tomorrow is going to win.
Q. Bruce, on that point, on Deron, people always open up their description is that he's more athletic than he looks. You said that last night. He's going against maybe a guard tomorrow night who is so athletic. A lot of people said after last night's game if they had one person to start a team with, they'd start it with him. What makes him the player that he is?
COACH WEBER: I think, you know, if you talk to older coaches, legend coaches, you would say, What do you start a team with? Most people would say a big guy. But I think the coaches that have been through the war, see it, they would say a point guard, that's what you start with. Somebody that is a true point guard that understands, has a great feel, is unselfish, his ego doesn't get involved. I think you saw that yesterday. He did all the things that never get the headlines. We've said it all season, we had four guys that were all Big-10, weekly Big-10. You know, each starter was all Big-10, the Player of the Week in the Big-10 along the way except for Deron. He keeps trucking along, doing what he does, just makes a difference with all the little things, whether it's defense, assists, getting us into our offense, whatever it may be, it makes a difference in the game.
Q. James, did you see Sean May's performance last night? Can you talk about the challenge you'll have facing him on the defensive end?
JAMES AUGUSTINE: We just saw little parts of it. We had to do media right after the game. We've obviously seen him all year. He's a great player. He puts up, I don't know what he had, like 22, 24 against Duke. He's obviously a great player. It's going to be a challenge for anybody who guards him. I think he's one of the better big men. I think he's one of the one or two best players in the country. It's going to be a tough match-up.
Q. Roger, there's been so much talk this year about criticism of Illinois's big men. Are you looking forward to playing a team like North Carolina?
ROGER POWELL, JR.: I think the biggest thing our team has is that we're a team. Everyone steps up. Yeah, we have great guards, but the big guys have really been playing well, stepping up to the challenge, you know, game in and game out. So I think tomorrow is just another challenge for us to step up, you know, compete. I look forward to it. I'm sure James, Nick and Jackie look forward to it, as well. It's a challenge we're excited to take.
Q. James, what do you remember about the past two meetings you've had during your time against UNC? Does that familiarity with their personnel help you? It may help them, but from your perspective, does it help you?
JAMES AUGUSTINE: I think it helps us out a little bit more than other situations, like Louisville and Arizona where you just have film, and the coaches put all the three-pointers that they make, it makes them look unstoppable. When you've played North Carolina before, it's pretty much their same team. They really haven't had anybody graduate since my freshman year. It is good to play them. But on the other hand, they've seen us twice. I mean, it's the same for both ways.
Q. When you look at the rosters of these two teams, who plays what roles, what do you think it says about the importance experience plays in this tournament?
COACH WEBER: I think all four teams, really when you look at for the most part the Elite 8, Sweet-16, it's veteran groups, junior, seniors that make a difference. You got some guys that stuck it out, stayed in school, developed as players. I think Luther, Roger, James, these guys all up here are great examples of how, if you put your time in, you can improve your skills, improve your game, get better as a player. That's why all these teams are having success, because they have older guys.
Q. Coach Weber, you've gotten to this level fairly quickly. As you were coming up through the ranks, could you have an appreciation for what Coach Williams has been through, falling short while making it here so many times?
COACH WEBER: First of all, Roy is not only a great basketball coach, he's a great person. You know, you feel sorry for him in a way, but at the same time there's a lot of guys that never even get to the Final Four or to the championship game. So, you know, I'm sure he would love to win a championship. You know, I would be happy for him if he did it. I'm not going to be happy for him if he does it tomorrow night. The reason I would be happy, if it does happen someday, is because he's a good person. He's good for our game. He's had tremendous success, yet he's somebody that comes up and talks to you, he shakes your hand, he calls you. He's just a great person. But I'm sure he realizes, he wants to win it, but he also knows there's many, many coaches that never get to this point. So I'm sure he's very proud of his accomplishments.
Q. Coach Weber, we all look at all the great players on Carolina's team. Other than maybe Sean May, is there a player who you think could be an X-factor in the game and someone who you are most concerned about guarding?
COACH WEBER: Well, the Williams kid really stepped up yesterday. I believe, I don't know this exact, he averaged maybe four or five points the first part of the NCAA tournament. He had the big game against us last year when we played them in Carolina. It makes such a difference if he's stepping out, making shots, you know, because you got to contain Felton, you got to guard May inside. If somebody steps up and is big, it's pretty much, you know, almost impossible to stop them. I think what I just said, slowing Felton down, getting back and defending May, especially -- he's very good in transition, gets his body on you, gets great position, and then make sure somebody else doesn't go off. I think that would be the key to the game. I'm sure everyone else feels that all season, it's just very difficult to do.
Q. I suppose who you play in the ACC Big-10 challenge is a crapshoot. How does playing North Carolina twice in the past couple years factor into tomorrow's game? You were around for the second one. What do you remember from that game in Greensboro?
COACH WEBER: We were a young team. I don't think we played great basketball. They didn't either. It was more of a shootout. We didn't guard them; they didn't guard us. One of the coaches watched it the other day and talked about it. They just couldn't believe how far we've come since that point. I'm sure they feel the same way as a team. Both of us were young. Roy was starting the program, we were starting the program. We were six, seven games into it. I think the big thing is our kids, you know, it gives them a feeling they can compete with them. They beat them in Champaign two years ago. In Carolina, we didn't play great, but we were there down to the four-minute, three-minute mark, we just couldn't get over the hump. They know their personnel, we know their personnel. They know us. I think both of us feel we can compete with each other.
Q. Deron, do you see similarities between your game and that of Raymond Felton?
DERON WILLIAMS: A little bit. I think we're both pure point guards. I think he's more of transition guy than I am. He just likes to get out and push it every time up the court. That's the biggest difference.
Q. James, yesterday after their game, Carolina's Coach Williams made reference to the fact that you guys were wearing some shirts that said something like "Finish the job," something like that. Can you tell us what that sentiment means to you and what that accomplishment would mean to you also?
JAMES AUGUSTINE: I mean, throughout the last two years, we've been getting T-shirts just saying certain things. I mean, the last one, for instance, the design on the back said, "Finish the job." We've come so far, not only this year but in the last two years. I mean, we've gotten here, we've gotten to the Final Four. That was one of our goals the past two years. I mean, obviously it just explains itself. You want to finish the job and take care of business and hopefully win a national championship.
Q. Coach, do you think back at all at things that helped you get this job, any kind of irony the fact that the coaching dominos started to fall when Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina?
COACH WEBER: All along, people have talked about maybe having a Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, all being in the Final Four, which we're all capable of. But, you know, the part -- my past helped me get the job in that Ron Gunther hired Lon, he left quickly, hired Bill, he left quickly. Then he looked to me because I had stayed so long and he wanted somebody to stay. You know, I'm I guess the last of the dominos. The reason I got the job is because of my patience, loyalty. He just felt, hey, I got to go with a guy that would be happy here and stay here. So that's how it ended up working, and it worked out great, I guess.
Q. Coach, at about what point in the process, maybe the day that Roy said he was going to North Carolina, did you realize the dominos may affect you?
COACH WEBER: Well, I kept getting calls from different people. If you know anything about Mr. Gunther, Coach Gunther, he doesn't let much out. But I kept getting calls from a couple people that he knows. Has he called you? I said "No." Then Coach Keady called and said, "Are you taking the job?" I said, "What job are you talking about?" He goes, "Don't give me that. Why would you lie to me?" I said, "Coach, I don't know what you're talking about, I'm being honest." "Coach Gunther called me twice. If you don't take it, I'm taking it." Then finally, I think a day or so later, I got a call. Everyone kept telling me I was his guy. I guess I was. But I think the factor was he loved Coach Keady. He's a football guy. Coach Keady is. He loved what coach did over the course of time. We had great success against Illinois. I think the big thing, what I just mentioned, the loyalty, the longevity of staying at a program, whether it was there or even Southern. Southern I could have left every year, each year that I was there. But I was happy there. We had good teams, so why leave?
Q. Deron, a lot of people have talked about you were one of the first guys to buy into coach's unselfishness theory of playing when he took the job. A lot of people wondered if Illinois was going to be capable of playing that way. What was it about coach's philosophy when he came in that you bought in so quickly?
DERON WILLIAMS: Just realized if you didn't buy in, we were going to head downhill, you know. We had a couple of disappointing losses at the beginning of the Big-10. You know, just we had to. Being a point guard, you know, I kind of understood first what he was trying to accomplish. I just tried to help everybody else out.
Q. Coach, last night Sean May talked about this being like a dream match-up, a match-up everybody wanted to see. First time in 30 years 1 and 2 plays. Can you put that in perspective?
COACH WEBER: You know, I always talk about the basketball gods. I think, you know, the basketball gods looked over college basketball this year. You know, it's just a great scenario. You got the teams that people have talked about since the beginning of the year, you know, the two top teams. Whether you say they have the most talent, we have the best team, whatever, it's the two teams that have been there all along and we're playing for the national championship. That doesn't happen very often. We saw it this year with all the upsets. I think it's great for the game. You couldn't ask for something better. I'm sure CBS is happy. It's going to be great ratings. We're just excited to be part of it.
JOHN GERDES: We'll let the student-athletes go to the breakout rooms.
Q. You had many flirtations before you got the Southern Illinois job. Where all did you interview, how many times? Did you ever wonder at what point were you ever going to get a shot?
COACH WEBER: Have you ever seen the college Blue Book with all the schools? Pick a page, I probably interviewed with them (smiling). You think I'm joking. All of the MAC, a lot of them two times. It was just one of those things. I was young, I was the youngest assistant in the Big-10 for quite a while. At that time they weren't hiring guys that were under 30, 35. I mean, I'd say 35, it was just that -- that was the movement in college basketball. I think Billy Donovan was one of the first young guys, Coach Pitino. All of a sudden they started looking at younger guys. But then when I finally got to the age where they'd look at me, 30s, we weren't hot at the right time. We didn't get to the Final Four. I don't think Coach Keady -- everyone in our business really respects him, people like him, but he wasn't the personable kind of guy that, you know, everyone said, "Hey, we want his assistants to be coaches." The other thing I didn't do was network. I did my job. I had to do tickets and camps and travel plans, all this stuff. I didn't have time to be making calls. It was frustrating. But at the same time I was happy. It was more other people kept saying, "You got to leave." I'd say, "Why do I have to leave? I'm happy. I got a great job." But it finally worked out. I will always appreciate Jim Hart, former quarterback here. Kind of ironic. We ate at his restaurant the other day. He was the one who gave me the chance. All football guys, Coach Keady, Jim Hart, Ron Gunther, something happened when they got hit on the head, I guess.
Q. There's been some things written about the pivotal moment in Luther's career at Illinois where he comes to you, offers to resign. Can you describe about what the dialogue between you and him was like and why your position was that you did not want to accept his resignation?
COACH WEBER: Well, the big thing, and I said it yesterday after the game, he's a good kid, a kid that would offer for the team to give up his spot because he did not want to be a distraction. I think right there it says everything about him. You know, to go along with that, I'm a new guy trying to get them all to be on board. If I turn my back on him, I guess you could have, you know, but I don't believe in that. It was something I learned from Coach Keady at a young age. I used -- I'd get mad at guys, they did something, screwed up in practice, I wouldn't talk to them for a week. Then I would watch coach. He would get after kids, cuss them out, the whole bit. After practice, they'd be sitting in his office joking. I think that's why he's been such a great coach, and I had to learn that, that you got to believe in kids, you got to believe. It's part of education, it's part of being a teacher, it's change, helping them advance. Again, I saw something good in Luther. That's why we gave him the chance.
Q. You've been lucky enough to have the same starting five for quite a while.
COACH WEBER: Yes.
Q. Is there something more to it than that with these guys, their relationship with each other? Is there anything special that you notice about them and how they interact with one another that helps?
COACH WEBER: Well, not only the whole five, but the whole team. They get along. We enjoy each other, whether it's bowling or going to Dave 'N Buster's, playing with our kids in the hotel. There's so many things. That's why we have success. They're good kids, they enjoy each other. But when it comes time to the court, they play to win. They have great competitive spirit. We talk a lot about trust, trusting each other, trusting the staff. I think that's a -- that was a big word that we used last year a lot that kind of got us over the hump, that once we developed a trust factor amongst ourselves and amongst the coaching staff with the players, then we made progress.
Q. You actually came to UWM as a baseball player. Can you recount that? Could you at that point see yourself being where you are now?
COACH WEBER: Well, I actually played basketball and baseball in high school. Everyone in my family did. My dad coached us, brought us through, the playgrounds, the rec centers, all the way through. I knew I could have went to some small college basketball after, but we didn't have much money. I came from a family of five. My dad worked two jobs. My mom worked. We were just -- they gave us a good life, but we were not going on any trips to the Bahamas or anything, I can promise you that. My only opportunity to go to school was at Wisconsin, Milwaukee, because it was a local school. My older brother had gone there, played freshman basketball. They went Division I basketball. They were II. I was a pretty solid baseball player. I thought I could play baseball there. Then they dropped baseball. Then I became a gym rat, played every day there, then got involved in coaching. My older brother was a high school coach by that time. Again, my dad. I got very lucky, got involved with some very good high school coaches in Wisconsin, started coaching in college at the high school level, at least helping out. Then I finally got assistant job at Marquette U High my senior year. It gave me a great background in basketball. Got to work a lot of camps. Then finally, you know, got the major break getting hooked up with Coach Keady.
Q. I seem to remember the Sweet-16 team at Southern Illinois, you had some sort of a pre-season deal about getting that far. Could you talk about that. Seems like you have a lot of motivational stuff, the T-shirts, can you talk about why you do those kind of things?
COACH WEBER: I used to make fun of Coach Keady because he always would have the 3-Ds, the three Bs, every day it was something else. All of a sudden I started watching the kids. It would be a guy you never expected. He'd be in a radio interview after. He said we won because of the 3-Ds, we had great discipline, we guarded, we defended, we had great desire. I was like, "God, that kid is listening to Coach Keady, it must mean something." I started doing those things. I would pass out candy to them. Like grade school, they get stars when they do good things. Just fun things like that. And they like it. I mean, they get mad when I don't bring "Airheads" on the trips and I have suckers. It's just kind of all part of it. I guess my background is in elementary school teacher. What I did at Southern, we had a major turnover of players. We had a year where we struggled. We won 16, but it was a struggle. We knew we had a couple kids sitting out coming on board. I wrote on the board, the first meeting after the spring, was, "MVC champs." I don't know why, at a whim, I said, "NCAA, not only the tournament, but Sweet-16." We had played Mississippi that year in a tournament. It came down to the wire. We probably should have beat them. The kids knew we should have beat them. I said, "Could you beat Mississippi?" They said, "Yeah." I said, "They went to the Sweet-16, guys. If they can go, with what we have coming back, why can't we?" I forgot about it. We were making the run. One of the kids brought it up, "Coach said we're going to the Sweet-16." I'm like, "Oh, God, don't say that." It ended up being true. That's why one of the first days I got the job here, I put St. Louis on the board, and all year we've talked about national championship. I'm not sure it works all the time, but if you give kids high goals, you have to have a good team and everything's got to fall in place, no one get injured, all those things, you put a good carrot out in front of them, and they'll go for it.
Q. Would you go so far as to call Sean May a classic center, a throwback center? Can you analyze his game from the standpoint of a coach who has to defend him and the basketball fan in you watching him play?
COACH WEBER: I watched him since high school. He has made so much progress. I think the biggest thing, you know, he's gotten in shape, the conditioning, all that stuff, lost weight. But he just loves to play, he plays to win. His competitive spirit, it's a lot like Deron. You can just see it. His desire, going to get those rebounds, running the court, all the things he does. He wants to win. I don't know if it's for Coach Williams or himself or the team, but there's something there that's kicked in, because he didn't play this way in high school. If you saw him, you know, he just kind of ran down the court, whatever happened happened. I would say he'd be a throwback center if he had a couple more inches on him, but he's still a very effective guy. Especially in this day and age where there aren't many big people, he's got the tremendous body, he's got great hands, he has a great feel of how to get a body on him and seal. That's a lost art nowadays because all the big guys all want to step up and shoot the ball, where he knows what he can do well and he does it well.
Q. You may never have another season like this again. How much of a sense of immediacy do you have to win this now, considering what you're going to lose?
COACH WEBER: I mean, obviously, I understand how special our team is, not only us, you talk about somebody just said, we've tied a record, NCAA record, for the most wins. Not only in Illinois basketball history, this is all NCAA history. We understand how special it is. I know you don't have this opportunity, this kind of group of kids. You know, there is a sense of urgency to get it. I've just enjoyed the ride. I think the kids have. We've had a great journey. It's just been so much fun from day one this season. We're just hoping to finish the story book season with a great ending.
Q. I'm curious about all the papers you brought in today. Is that the scouting report?
COACH WEBER: Everything from about half the season. I got two notebooks. I just keep it all. The players make fun of me, try to knock it out of my hands, watch it blow down the street, but I like to keep things because you never know, some play we ran three weeks ago, somebody said, "Why don't you have that?" I grab it out. I keep old scouting reports, old articles I keep for motivation in meetings, anything that might click in. I think I do it more than anything to irritate the players because they want to make fun of me, so...
Q. How much credit does Bill Self deserve?
COACH WEBER: I've said it this week. Lon Krueger, Lou Henson, Lou Henson established Illinois basketball as a quality, top program. Then Lon came in. You know, he did a great job recruiting people, don't give him credit, from all the Peoria kids. You're talking Roger and Nick were really recruited, Luther was started, recruited by them. Then Bill came in, did a great job of recruiting these guys, established our program. There's no doubt he deserves a lot of credit. Their whole staff did a great job. They're all instrumental in it.
Q. A lot has been said about you haven't won in a hundred years. Do the kids take that pressure on them or do they ignore that?
COACH WEBER: I think, you know, it's something to shoot for. We talked about being special. There's a lot of talk in our community, our media, about we're the best program in the country that hasn't won a national championship or whatever. But I don't think it affects them. They want to win because it's our team. They're playing for themselves, for our staff, for our families. Obviously, the fans have been great. If we win, we know it would be a thrill of a lifetime for our fans. But I think it's about us, about our team more than anything.
Q. This is sort of being old school, new school, you guys playing old school, them playing new school. Which team would you prefer to coach?
COACH WEBER: See, we are old school, but we're also new school. We push it. We guard. We do a little bit of everything. We win with a lot of different styles. We ran Wake out of the gym, we ran Gonzaga out of the gym. Then we held Wisconsin to 43 points. Two weeks later, they get 80 against North Carolina. I love Roy's team. I think people, you know, he allows them -- the thing best about Roy, and I got to know Roy through Kevin Stallings, who was one of his assistants, I've learned so much talking to Kevin about Roy. Their team is loose, but yet he is one of the best disciplined coaches in the country. I think if you ask Kevin, who is tougher, Coach Keady or Roy, of everyone would say Coach Keady. But I think Roy is just as tough. It's just his demeanor is a little different. They play new school, but yet they have great discipline. I love how they play. I love how they push it. We've tried to style our play after that. But at the same time we don't have maybe quite the number of athletes, so we try -- we feel we have to guard a little stronger to have a chance to win the number of games we have.
Q. You've heard all the questions about their talent. You just alluded to their talent. Do you think some of your players' talent has gotten overlooked?
COACH WEBER: Well, I don't think so. I mean, Dee was Player of the Year, some of this stuff. The one who has been overlooked was Deron. He wasn't all Big-10 Player of the Week the whole year. He's been on a couple of All-American teams, maybe third team, stuff like that. Then Roger gets -- because we have such great guards, he doesn't get maybe quite the accolades he deserves. James has picked it up lately and done well, started to get some attention. But, you know, I think we have talent. There's no doubt. We have NBA people at our games every time. We're going to have some guys drafted, whether it's this year or next year. But we don't have quite the name, I guess, and athletic guys that maybe they have.
Q. It's been said really that North Carolina, maybe they have the largest margin for error in any game. Perhaps that's because of the number of possessions they have in a game. But your team is more efficient per possession. Given that, is that something you concern yourself with in this game, limiting possessions so their margin of error is not as high as it would normally be?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think if you watched Michigan State last night, they wanted to push it. But if they didn't have anything, then they wanted to put them on defense. But I think their kids got a little bit in a hectic pace. You're talking both teams 70-some shots, 90-some rebounds in a game. It's amazing. You know, I want to push it. But if we don't get anything, good horse shots, open looks, now we got to put them on "D" and make them guard us. I think, if anything, I talked last night against Louisville, taking care of the ball is so important. We have to value the ball. It's the same in this game. If we start turning it over or taking quick shots, they're going the other way. When they get on runs like they did yesterday, second half, it's 49 up, then all of a sudden the game's over within minutes.
Q. Athletes, a guy like Michael Jordan, can create insults out of things real or imagined because they want something to motivate them. Are we helping you out with all these questions to them about the talented North Carolina against you guys?
COACH WEBER: Keep doing it, yes. I mean, it was something that there's no doubt, it got us through December, January, maybe into February. Then all of a sudden people started saying, "Well, maybe these guys are pretty good, and we better stop predicting they're going to lose." Before it was Digger or Dick Vitale, whoever was downgrading us, doubting us, I took it, the kids took it, we put it on the boards, we talked about it. You know, we love the villain. I told Digger on the phone, he kept apologizing. I said, "Hey, I love that you're a villain, keep doing it, I don't care." That's part of their job. I think they realize it. Deron said one time, "That's their job, to make predictions. That's what they do." But at the same time deep down, it gets the juices flowing a little bit. We saw it in the Wake game more than anything. All we heard about was Paul and Gray. Our guards said, "Hey, we're going to show we can compete with those guys." We need a little adrenaline tomorrow, there's no doubt about it. If we don't have an edge, I don't know if we can win the game. We have to have that fear factor and edge to make a difference.
Q. You mentioned the game in Greensboro, how it turned basically into a scrimmage. Did you take anything at all out of that game? Before that game was played, can you remember what you were thinking, what you told your guys about going down there to play?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think we had come off a win at Temple, which was a pretty good win. The one thing I do remember, they were too hyped. They were -- I mean, James Augustine was bouncing around the place. He didn't know what play we were running, who he was guarding. He's just one example. Other guys, they were so hyped about the game. I don't think you can -- both teams have come so far. It was just kind of the start of both programs. It's been a year and a half process of developing, putting your system in, understanding your roles, getting the kids in shape, you know, all those things. I know this: we can't shoot it quick against them. If we do, like we just talked about, it could be a long evening. When you look at their numbers, they're astronomical. 300-plus free-throws, 200-plus assists, plus 18 scoring margin. I mean, they're a dominating team. Now, can we win? Yes. But we're going to have to play -- as a team, we're going to have to play smart, we're going to have to have a fear factor, we're going to have to dig in, we're going to have to play old school if we have a chance.
Q. Your counterpart has been known to cry from time to time. Can you remember a time the game of basketball brought you to tears?
COACH WEBER: I cry all the time. I cried when my mom died, at the game; I cried after Arizona. I cry at the Sound of Music. I cry all the time. It's just me. I don't care. You can make fun of me, too, I guess.
Q. It's been about a month now. How do you feel in retrospect about the Ohio State game? Have you thought about it? Now that you've gotten this close, do you think about it even more a bit?
COACH WEBER: We're still creating history. It would have been nice. We wanted it. It wasn't one of our goals. The thing we did learn was that you have to play the whole 40 minutes. We led for 39 minutes, 54 seconds. We didn't defend on the last play. I think it helped us in the Arizona game down the stretch. The kids knew you had the pressure, you had to fight through screens, you had to disrupt what they're doing down the stretch. I guess in the long run maybe it got us focused again. You watch the film, and it's little things that slipped. All of a sudden they catch up with you, you know. We would have liked to be in the record book, but we still are. It's still a special season. It's going to be one that's going to go down in Illinois history as the best. So I guess in a way it helped us.
Q. If you look at the tournament, the only game where North Carolina didn't score the ball very well, was their Sweet-16 game against Villanova, a team similar to yours. Have you looked at that film? Is there anything you can pick out of that?
COACH WEBER: Well, I watched the game when it was going on somewhat - more as a fan than anything. Last night we did all breakdown tapes when we got back, then we watched the second half of the Michigan State game. Then it got too late to keep going. But it definitely will be one -- our coaches have watched it, we've clipped it. It gives you a hope. When we watched Louisville against Washington, against Georgia Tech, like James said, we show all the good things. You know, we want to make sure they understand how good they are. But then you watch Memphis, as a coach, I had some hope. You watch Villanova, you have a little hope that maybe we can disrupt them. They did it. We're going to have to fight them. I mean, I'm not saying in a dirty way, but we're going to have to battle them and stand up to them. I thought Michigan State did it the first half, then they just got going too fast and loose with the ball, then they let them make that run and they could never catch up.
Q. What was the dynamic at work when you were trying to instill your coaching philosophy? Did you fear losing them at any point?
COACH WEBER: Yes, I did fear losing them. I still remember that, it's September/October, I'm out recruiting, almost every day I got a call from one of the coaches. "You got to call this guy. He's going to leave. He doesn't want to do conditioning. He doesn't want to do weights. He thinks our workouts are too hard." It was more that they liked Bill, they had success. They were hurt. It's like a girlfriend dropping you. You know, it hangs and it lingers. The pain lingers. There's a knot in your stomach. I understood that. I didn't know how drastic it was, to be honest, because I thought they'd be mad at him and be happy I came. It took a while. I think if there was a defining moment, I went back -- came off the road from recruiting - I don't even know if they'll remember this, but I do, the coaches will remember it - I sat them down on the floor of our practice facility. We have all the banners. I asked Nick, because he's the smart one, I said, "Nick, how many championships did Illinois have between '84 and '98?" And there were none. I said, "Do you know how many Purdue had in that time?" You know, we had six in that time. I said, "How many teams are in the Big-10?" Again, Nick can answer that one. I said, "If we won six, we did pretty good, didn't we? And we must know something about what we're doing." I said, "It wasn't me, it was Coach Keady, but it was our program, our system. We've taken that system. So this is what we're doing." Slowly but surely they understood how hard we want to play. I still remember Dee last year, a breakthrough point was he said, "Now I understand the conditioning, coach, because it's hard to play this way, but it's fun to play this way." I think that was a point where we made some progress.
Q. I remember last year, it was a Purdue game or the Northwestern game, I got a letter from a reader who said, we got to get rid of this guy now. We have to cut our losses.
COACH WEBER: I got the same one (smiling).
Q. You know where I'm coming from. Now you are like the Man of the Year. You can't do anything wrong. Do you remember the crapola you got in the past? Do you look at it as that's what fans do?
COACH WEBER: I understand that's what fans do. The fans were hurt about Bill leaving. It didn't make sense. I thought they would be mad at him. They were mad at me. It didn't make sense. I wanted to be there. I think they lost Frankie Williams, they lost Brian Cook, Capalia (ph), Lucas Johnson. You go down the line. All of a sudden we had this young team. You know, because Dee was highly recruited, but you look at his stats as a freshman, they weren't very good. Deron had some games with not very good numbers. James was just a puppy running up and down, trailing Cook down the court. We weren't ready. The thing I kept saying, we're immature, we don't have a go-to guy, we don't have leadership. They wouldn't listen to me. "I'm coaching them. Why wouldn't they listen to me?" I remember, I've kept a couple of them, some doosies. The coaches come in. Coach Lowery, they all come in the film room at night. Guys are around. They make fun. They're chasing you down the street. Last year they were chasing me, trying to get me out of Champaign. It's a little different scenario. We fought through that. I also know we lose tomorrow night, and there will be tons of, you know, "Why couldn't you win it? You didn't finish it?" All this stuff. It's the ups and downs of today's college basketball.
Q. You could say that the two teams with the pure point guards won last night.
COACH WEBER: Yup.
Q. Coaches understand the value of a point guard. Why is it so hard to first recruit and find them, also then to develop them?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think you can't develop them. Something's got to be there. You can tweak some things. Like I tell Deron about angles or space and things like that, and he picks it up. But that natural instinct of pushing the ball, seeing the court, you know, peripheral vision, having eyes in the back of your head, however you want to say it, that's something that has to be there. Roy has taken Felton, it's Jacque Vaughn, he's done such a great job with those guys in transition, teaching them how to cross over, get people as you cross, to switch angles, now feed people. You can do little things. But today's age, it's not important to kids. They watch the threes, they watch the dunks. The Jason Kidds of the world. If you talk to Deron, that's one of his heroes, he loves Jason Kidd. But everyone doesn't want to be like Jason Kidd. They want to be like the other guys that are on all the posters and commercials.
Q. Talk about the mental toughness of this team, starting with the Wisconsin game.
COACH WEBER: I think it started last year. We had to win all the last Big-10 games to win the Big-10 championship outright. Six of them were on the road. They were all close games. They toughed it out, they fought it out. You have a point guard that delivers, makes plays. We had go-to guys. One of my fears last year, who is going to be the go-to guy. We have been many guys that have been go-to guys over the last two years. Everyone says what is the best thing you like about the year, and our road win streak is a thing that I will always remember and appreciate. I don't know where it got to, 14, somewhere in there, 13, 14, 15. I mean, that takes some toughness, competitive spirit. Everyone else has slipped. Even Carolina, they have four losses, and we have one. That one came down to the end. It's something that this team should definitely be remembered for, their toughness, their focus, their concentration. It's been truly special.
Q. What do you make of both teams having junior, seniors, being led by those guys? What does it say about the two programs and the direction of college basketball?
COACH WEBER: Well, I've answered the question a lot about how college basketball has improved so much this year. But it's because we were so young. So many kids left. Carolina, these guys have stayed. Our guys have stayed. Louisville guys have stayed. I mean, it makes such a difference. Are you better at 18 or 22? Kids have such a crazy notion that they're already players at 18, and they have no idea. Not only the skill level, the understanding of the game, but the toughness that's involved in it. So I think that's why college basketball has been so exciting, whether it's Oklahoma State, Kansas, Syracuse. You can go down the line. There's so many older teams this year. Basketball, it's been one of the best years in many, many years I think overall. It's had the highest ratings.
Q. Obviously this is a match-up that everyone wants to see. Without having played the game yet, on paper, where do you think this match-up ranks all time?
COACH WEBER: I'm not -- I don't -- I'm not a historian, so I couldn't tell you. I know it's a great match-up. Somebody said it's the first time in a long time one and two have met. It's something people have talked about since the beginning of the season. We were No. 1 in some of the pre-season stuff. They were 1 probably in more things. Again, I said it's great for college basketball that the top two teams hopefully get to meet and put on a great show tomorrow night.
Q. A lot has been mentioned about your place in history. You're being mentioned with teams like Duke. If you win tomorrow night, where do you feel you belong in history? If you don't win, what's the fine line there with that?
COACH WEBER: Well, we're still going to go down, you know, we've accomplished so much. Somebody said last night we tied the most wins ever. We have a chance to be the -- if we would win, if we could win the championship, not only get the national championship, but have the most wins ever in history. You know, it's got to go down as one of the top. It's kind of ironic, it's the hundredth season of Illinois basketball. They've written a book already, but Loren might have to add another chapter on to that thing about this season. We're putting a great ending to it. It's been a special year. I hope, no matter what happens tomorrow night, people will still appreciate what we've done.
Q. We seem to be in an era where sharing is so prominent, the Patriots, Pistons, Red Sox. Do those stories serve as any inspiration for your guys?
COACH WEBER: I don't know about for our guys, but I definitely look at it, our staff looks at it, we talk about it as a staff, we use things as motivation. I've talked about -- a couple things I heard Belichick say to the guys. They might not remember it. I still remember one of the things they said in one of his games was how he evaluates kids. It's totally opposite of what you think. He talked about intelligence, love for the game, things like that. I think that's why we're good. Deron has great intelligence. He loves the game. Because of him, the other guys have kind of all bought into that. The think Roy has done a great job with his team of teaching them how to play. Sean May, not only is he good, but he knows how to play. I talked about sealing, getting in the right spots, all that stuff, sharing the basketball, making the extra pass. I've gotten tons of letters, tons of calls, prominent basketball people, they say that we're good for the game. I'm sure people feel that about Carolina also.
Q. It seems like we've gotten away from the fact one guy may be averaging 25, leading a team. Can you talk about the fact that in college basketball, these days, you pretty much have to have maybe three, four, five guys that can score the ball?
COACH WEBER: I think that's why we're both here. That's why Louisville was here, because they had five guys. I think if you have a balanced team, you try to stop one guy, somebody else is going to step up. Now, we stopped Garcia last night from scoring, but more importantly we stopped his assists. Now all of a sudden if he doesn't score and gets assists, somebody else is making plays. I think it just kind of shows you, if you have a balanced team, a lot of guys that can make plays. With our team, they take away one guy, somebody else steps up. It's been all year. For the first time in Big-10 history, we had four guys be Player of the Week. That's why we're good. It's not a secret, we have balance. I think one of the factors might be key, I talked about it last night, is the bench. Whose bench can Jack Ingram, Rich McBride, Warren Carter, Nick Smith come in and be factors, make a difference. Then are we going to have one guy like Roger last night that steps up and has a special game?
Q. Deron Williams might only come out for a couple possessions. What is your fear that can happen if he isn't on the court?
COACH WEBER: And he cusses me out when I kick him out. He does not want to come out. He hates it. "Leave me in." Even yesterday, with two minutes left, two fouls, we wanted to make sure he didn't get a third. He just loves to play. Again, I talked about it last night, he doesn't look like a great athlete, but he has great endurance, he's worked at it hard. Our mile run, it was hard for him at first, but he became very successful at it. He developed that aerobic conditioning. When he's not in there, we definitely struggle. We get stagnant. He has a great feel of getting us into his offense. If you talk about an X factor, it might be foul trouble tomorrow night. Felton can get in foul trouble, there's May, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head. Probably one of our bigs that might make a big difference. You know, getting Augustine in foul trouble might mean the difference in the game.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you very much, coach.
COACH WEBER: Thank you.
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