March 26, 2005
ROB CAROLLA: We're joined today by the University of Kentucky student athletes Randolph Morris, Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes, Rajon Rondo and Patrick Sparks. We'll open it up for Coach to make a statement.
COACH SMITH: First we're just excited to be moving on. We're coming off a good win for us against a very good Utah team. We have to play a better game against a very tough and athletic Michigan State team.
Q. Patrick, what does it feel like for you as somebody who grew up wanting to play here and not being able to start at Kentucky and then ending up there?
PATRICK SPARKS: It has been a long ride. I am glad to be part of the Kentucky basketball family. It has been great. This is a big reason I came to Kentucky, to win the tournament. We're taking it game by game to try to keep getting wins.
Q. Chuck, your coach just described Michigan State as tough and athletic. Are those words that you would use to describe your team?
CHUCK HAYES: With Michigan State, they are an experienced team. They have a solid group of veterans. They take after their coach like we go. You have two teams that are practically the same. It should be a good game.
Q. What do you know about Michigan State and the way they like to push the pace and what kind of responsibility do you think that will put on you in tomorrow's game?
RAJON RONDO: Drew Knight is a good point guard. They have great athletes that run. They will have to finish at the basket.
Q. Chuck, you have a couple of freshman that you rely heavily upon. Can you talk about their development and maybe if you guys have exceeded expectations considering how much you rely on the youth?
CHUCK HAYES: It was no secret that we have to rely on these freshman to contribute right away and it makes a huge impact. They have done a tremendous job. You can see game after game how much they matured and how much better they are getting. I believe they are playing as sophomores. They are starting to realize the game. They know the tricks of the trade of being a college player now. I think they are doing a good job.
Q. Chuck, can you talk about your relationship with Coach Izzo and your impressions of him?
CHUCK HAYES: I was fortunate to play for Coach Izzo two summers ago. First impression was he is kind of short. He reminds me a lot of the coach we have here as far as their competitive nature to win the game. I mean, he wants the best out of his players. He is willing to push them to the limit.
Q. Rajon, from what I understand you have some experience playing against Drew Knight. Can you talk about what you know about him and what that experience was?
RAJON RONDO: We played ABCD championship in high school. That is not easy. He is a massive point guard. He can knock down an open shot. He can create offense for his teammates.
Q. Wisdom says that it is veteran guards that win these games?
RAJON RONDO: I try not to think about it all. If I have any questions I can go to Chuck or Pat. They have great leadership. I figure like Mike Bibby led this team to the championships, there is no reason why I can't.
Q. Chuck, can you talk a little bit specifically about the pangs that both Mississippi State and Kentucky took to reach this point, specifically looking at the last games where both teams use their depth to overcome a team that had a great player?
CHUCK HAYES: Like I say, you can say that both teams really did use everybody on their team to contribute for the win. If you look at it, either team has that one true superstar or everybody's all-American. They have to fight their way to get here, just like we did. The likes of Old Dominion and Vermont about the great win they had last night against Duke. The teams are the same. The coaching style is the same. Even the direction and the path that we took here grinding out to advance to the next level. You can say we are pretty much similar.
Q. Randolph, the three of you guys last night did a nice job on Bogut. Could you talk about how your interior play may figure in to tomorrow's game as well?
RANDOLPH MORRIS: Coming to the game yesterday, we looked to wear him down through the game. Make him fatigue. I think we will have similar play tomorrow. Paul Davis is a great player. He is very physical. I think we're going to have to wear him down. It will be a team effort to wear him down.
Q. Chuck, how much does it come into play having played them as recently as last year? Can you feed off that? It has got to help a little bit to have knowledge of their players?
CHUCK HAYES: Yes, it does. They have everybody back. They are playing together. Like I said, the three seniors they have and the juniors, they are peaking at the right moment just like we are. We are familiar with them a little bit. The game we had against them last year was in front of a record-breaking crowd. Like I said, it is going to come down to execution. At the last three to five minutes it will be up to the players to see who wants it more.
Q. What do you remember about last year's game against Michigan State?
KELENNA AZUBUIKE: I remember I was out for a lot of that game. I was kind of in foul trouble. They really like to run the floor get out on the break. They try to wear you out with their athletic ability and their ability to run. They still like to do that now. They just have great athletes and like to use that to their advantage. We saw that on the film this morning. I imagine we'll try to do the same thing tomorrow.
Q. Maybe you can address what Chuck said. Do you feel like a sophomore now? What is the most difficult part about being a freshman in the NCAA?
RANDOLPH MORRIS: Very much faster than the high school game. Just basically a learning processes through the whole freshman year.
Q. Patrick, Michigan State's defense last night did a pretty solid job on chasing Redick through screens. Do you anticipate them being physical?
PATRICK SPARKS: I think they did a good job of playing Redick. Might have got him frustrated. I've got to take my time, have patience, let the game come to me, not force nothing.
Q. Chuck, UK is defined like a lot of programs. How much do you feel like your legacy is going to be defined by whether or not this team gets to the Final Four?
CHUCK HAYES: First of all, I have had a great career here. I have been on some great teams. I have been at this stage before where we are one step away from the Final Four. That is our goal as a team. That is something we have been chasing since October. If it doesn't get there and it's not meant for it to happen, I can say I had a great career. Tomorrow night you can see the hunger in the team in wanting to go to St. Louis.
Q. Can you comment on Chuck's play in the tournament? It seems like in all three games you can pinpoint where he took over?
RANDOLPH MORRIS: He has been doing that the whole year. I am not surprised at all. Always a point from the game where we need a lift. That is what Chuck does for our team.
Q. Patrick, with each game that goes by, do you guys feel more and more pressure to do this for Chuck since he is a senior that is leaving?
PATRICK SPARKS: We have two senior in Josh Carrier and Chuck Hayes. They both had great careers in Kentucky. There is no reason they shouldn't be able to play in the Final Four. We have got their backs in that aspect.
ROB CAROLLA: Last call for questions on the student athletes.
Q. Tubby, I am wondering how important do you think the pace of the game will be tomorrow?
COACH SMITH: As Chuck and a couple of them mentioned, they are two different teams. Last year we were a more experienced team. This year Michigan State is the more experienced team. They really are pushing the ball, I think, better than they have at any point in time that I've seen them play. They have been very good at it in the past as far as their transition basketball game. They keep an awful lot of pressure on you in that regard. I don't know. It will be -- again, two different -- we have similar styles. We want to push the ball and get a good pace and good tempo and anytime you play, you want to control the tempo. We believe you control it most by the defense. That is why I mentioned earlier, and Check said also, we are similar in a lot of ways as far as sound half court defensive teams. They are the better rebounding team. That is going to be a big, big, key for us. Can we keep them off the boards.
Q. Coach, I am wondering if you could talk about your philosophy on sharing the ball. Sort of what are the values or virtues in spreading the minutes around. And the challenges if they have come up in getting across to your players why they won't be having superstar minutes?
COACH SMITH: For instance, yesterday's game we had people in foul trouble. We had three of our starters in foul trouble. A lot of times the game will dictate the substitution pattern. But I also believe that we are recruiting young men to come to the University of Kentucky to get an education and play basketball. Every opportunity we talk about, there is a lot of opportunity to contribute. You may not be a starter, you may not be playing a lot of minutes, whether that opportunity presents it -- we might need your energy, we need your free throws, a lot of opportunities -- when a young man gets a scholarship at the University of Kentucky, I think he is capable of playing anywhere in the country. I think most Division 1 programs -- I am sure Tom Izzo feels the same way. We try to reward them. It is hard because guys come expecting to play a lot of minutes. Our program is a very intense. Our practices are intense. I think this is why you see the growth and development of people like Shagari and Lukasz and Rajon and even our freshman Randolph, because they know the competition is pretty competitive and pretty stiff in practice day in and day out.
Q. Would you talk in general about how important basketball is for the state of Kentucky and how that makes your job pleasurable or difficult?
COACH SMITH: In Kentucky basketball is a way of life, it really is. It's a -- there is not much to compare to the following and the love affair that fans have. That is because of the success that we have been able to sustain for such a long period of time. Longevity -- when you see the word success, you see a team that has not just survived and prospered over the years through some great coaches and some great teams. That alone enforces and demands that we have people, coaching staff, assistant coaches, players, that understand and appreciate what the great tradition at Kentucky means. The level of commitment they have to have and the sacrifices they have to make in order to be a part of this great program.
Q. You alluded to it a minute ago that Michigan State is more experienced than you guys. Can you talk about what that means at this stage of the year and also what your freshman have missed at this point?
COACH SMITH: Experience is a great asset because guys cannot just physically make plays but they can -- they understand having been around in this environment, they understand how to prepare. I think one of the lessons that our freshman have to learn is to look at yesterday. We had a little scrimmage there as far as our preparation and we didn't get off -- even though we got off to a shaky start and probably some nerves -- What was the other part of your question?
Q. How far they have come?
COACH SMITH: Freshman? They have really surpassed any expectations and each one of them -- Joe Crawford I think has -- I thought we had some solid experienced players returning and played lots of minutes last year from Josh Carrier to Ravi Moss and obviously Kelenna, Chuck played a lot. When you bring in a Randolph Morris, you can see the talent that he has, and Rajon Rondo, and Ramel Bradley was the first recruit we signed last year. They come with a lot of -- they make it fun. Their inexperience makes them -- they are very anxious and eager to learn because they have a lot to learn. The teaching lesson is a lot easier to communicate with them. They have a larger margin for improvement. When you are coachable like they are and all of them have come from solid backgrounds, it is a big help. Makes it fun to come to practice.
COACH SMITH: It depends on your team. And how you prepare your team. I mentioned earlier that guys have played a lot of minutes last year. That is the key, accepting their role now as a person that -- I am more concerned about how we finished the game than I am about who started the game. That is one of my things when I talk to players and recruit players. All we promise them is an opportunity to get an education and play for the winningest college basketball program in America. If they want that and they have the ability to play and be a part of the Wildcat family, then we welcome them with open arms. That is what we try to do.
Q. Yesterday up here Kelenna was teasing Chuck that you have adopted him like a son over his four years here. What has he meant to this program over the past four years he has been here?
COACH SMITH: You know, when you talk about relationships, that is what it is about. Whether you are a coach or teammate of Chuck, he is a giver. He is a giver of his time, giver of his feelings, his concern, he is a young man that is open and accessible to all my players. He is not a real -- he leads by example, which is the best way to lead. I promise, none of these guys have ever seen Chuck Hayes miss a practice, dodge a drill, I mean, he is not going to be at the back of the line. He will be at the front of the line when he starts practice in the offseason conditioning program, in the wight room -- when you combine that with his ambassadorship as far as promoting college basketball, student athlete, those are the things that would endear any coach. So that is why I have really respected him and appreciate what he means to not just Kentucky basketball but what he means to college basketball. We need more people like him that are willing to sacrifice. He has sacrificed his game, his position sometimes. He probably should be a small guard. He can do a lot of things that are -- he has done what we have asked him to do. Again, he is just giving of himself.
Q. Does he epitomize your team, Tubby?
COACH SMITH: He does. He is a tough -- not just tough physically but tough minded. That is what we want our players to be.
Q. Just wanted to ask you a little bit about what Chuck alluded to, the similarities of these teams. Is that a coincidence to you?
COACH SMITH: Well, basketball has evolved with the shot clock, pressure defenses, the changes that you see on a regular basis. The mobility and the agility and speed of the game, demands that you have a deep bench. So, I know Coach Izzo goes out and recruits players to fit his style of play. He demands that his players play both ends of the court. They push the ball. They run every possession on turnovers and misses. They are going to be spreading the courts. On the defensive end, he is going to demand that they defend. So, teams that have that talent are going to prosper at this stage of the game. It can overcome a lot of things, injuries, fatigue, you can keep people fresh.
Q. Did you see something in Sparks the second time around that you didn't see when he was in high school? Was he better than you thought originally?
COACH SMITH: We didn't have a scholarship the first time. We were hoping we could get it as the walk-on. Obviously the coach left Western Kentucky and it was an opportunity for him to, as he said, live out his dream. We're thankful that he decided to come to Kentucky. It has made us a better team. Being a native of Kentucky, I know that is what he dreamed of. Unfortunately we only have 13 scholarships. A program like ours, I think we want to share. We want to share the great things that we have at the University with as many of the athletes as we can. We have quite a few in the Kentucky scholarships that want to be a part of our program. These are kids that can play at other places. Patrick has done a tremendous job for us this year. He plays with a lot of passion; very heady player; very knowledgeable player. He gets -- sometimes he wants to do more than he is -- but we would rather have it that way than him doing less.
COACH SMITH: Everybody is gearing up every year. It is a whole new lesson. That is the beauty of college basketball. You have seniors that have contributed a lot last year. We had five seniors in our program last year. It is a challenge that you have every year to make sure that the players that remain are those that are benefitting from having the experience. And we all talk about longevity and you mentioned consistency and continuity. That is why we have a team like Michigan State and any of the other teams that are remaining at this level. Whether you are seed 1 through 6, you can count that they can compete with anybody. Even deeper than that, now with the parity and reduction in scholarships, kids with the opportunity to play in programs where you will be on TV on a regular basis. Every conference just about has that opportunity. There are just a lot of talented basketball players outside there. You are seeing the depth in programs out of the top 25 or 50 programs being able to compete at this time of year.
Q. You talked earlier about the responsibility coaches and players show at Kentucky in maintaining the tradition. Did that process turn into being more difficult? Have there been moments and times where you felt that personally?
COACH SMITH: I don't know. You know, we have accomplished something so quickly. You don't win too much too soon sometimes. We feel like in one way that also puts a bigger burden on you to repeat. Again, I know how -- you have got to have some great athletes. Things have got to fall in place for you. We are going to be competing for the regional tomorrow. Personally, there have been moments I am sure that we didn't reach the goal at the end of the season. Certainly we haven't done that in a number of years now. As Chuck said, whether we win tomorrow or not, we feel like we have accomplished a lot this year and we have had a successful year. That is all you can do. You look at yourself in the mirror and say, did I do all I was capable of doing? Did we treat people right? Did we do things the right way? I have been very satisfied with my eight years that we have done things the right way. We just came up a little short.
Q. Coach, when Michigan State beat Kentucky in the regional finals back in '99, it was a landmark win for their program and for coaches. Do you have specific memories of that game that you would be willing to share?
COACH SMITH: They had what you call the Smurfs or the Flintstones. They are talented. Peterson, those guys went on to have professional careers and are still playing basketball at the higher level. At that time we had a pretty talented team too. The ebb and flow and whoever could get in control at the end of the game, it was a hard fought game. I remember them knocking down some people -- you have to have other people step up. In that game they had a big kid that stepped up and knocked down some threes. It was Granger. He had an excellent game against us and created a lot of problems for us. You know, we have competed every year. I guess we probably played four or five times since then. Talking about consistency and continuity that Coach Izzo has had at Michigan State, that is why he continues to have great teams that compete for championships year in and year out.
Q. In Your three games to the NCAA tournament you are shooting over 50 percent offensively. What are you doing different through the conference tournament?
COACH SMITH: We're making shots. We probably narrowed our play selection. I think that has been a big key. Now guys -- we are comfortable and confident about what will work for us. I think our rebounding has improved some in the tournament. That has helped. We have been able to get second and third shots. The bench play has obviously been critical for us. I think that has been the big difference.
Q. With two teams as deep as ya'll are, is it going to be important to pay attention to what is going on on the court to select the right people for the floor?
COACH SMITH: You are always looking to counter and to create mismatches and force your opponent to make adjustments to the things you are doing and trying to keep the tempo where we want it. Again, the challenge for us against Michigan State will be when they bring in a Chris Hill -- they probably get a guy who is an excellent player. So they probably improved some -- so that versus sometimes we come in with lesser experienced players. They don't do everything exactly right. It is hard for us to really cover up those mistakes versus when we have veteran players out there. They can cover up those mistakes a lot more quickly. In watching the game yesterday I wouldn't say that was the case. We'll see how it goes. I am getting worn down now. How many more questions do we have?
Q. When was the last time you started a freshman point guard? Also, have you had to adjust in terms of having a freshman at point guard, the expectations and the way you handle that kind of situation?
COACH SMITH: I don't know that we have ever started a freshman point guard. We inherited pretty good guards in Cliff Hawkins. We improvised with Gerald Fitch in Tulsa and Georgia. Patience is a virtue when you have young players. I have become a lot more patient. It helped that Rajon is a very mature player in his ability to understand the game. And I mentioned earlier to combine that with his athleticism , and if he continues to improve his shooting he will be awesome. He is fast and quick with the ball as anyone that I have had an opportunity to coach. His decision making has been good. Especially at the level we have competed at this year.
Q. Coach Izzo spoke the other day about the respect he has for you and Coach K. Can you talk about the respect you have for Coach Izzo and where he has taken the program in the last ten years?
COACH SMITH: In the modern day anytime when you are competing in the level of notoriety or media coverage to keep things and do things the right way. His team has always played hard and they play fair. Tom and I have grown to know each other personally on and off the court and other venues, travelling with the NABC on the board there. Most coaches have -- all of us have the welfare of our student athletes in hand. You can see a guy like Mike Krzyzewski and all the coaches competing at this level, they have to do it the right way with the scrutiny that coaches are under. With coaching comes that added pressure to do it again. For him to keep it at the level this high is going to be -- the expectations change. He has been able to adjust with the expectations as well as anyone.
Q. 20 to 30 years ago, compared to now, when you look at the Michigan State team you are facing tomorrow, you are seeing a team that is deep seven, eight, nine players. Did you find yourself game planning against teams who are more superstars, where you actually guard one or two people more for example, Bill Walton? 21 and 22 instead of a team like this where they are equal?
COACH SMITH: A lot of things have changed. The rules. The three point shooting, the shot clock. In that era you could keep the ball in somebody's hands. You could do it with one or two guys. You could get your point guard -- you can get Butch Lee with Marquette, and he could dominate the ball. It is hard to do that now with the rules the way they are. I think it has been good for basketball. I would like them to do something else. I would like to do away with the five-second rule and drop the shot clock down from 30 seconds. Do things like put in the arc like the NBA so the block charge is a better call. What I am saying is I think the game has evolved from 20 or 30 years ago. It dictates that you have to prepare different. You have to recruit different. Not that there -- there were just as many great athletes and players back then. I think that is why you have seen the fewer post players, true centers than you did years ago because of just the style that people and teams have had to employ in this day and time.
ROB CAROLLA: Thank you, Coach.
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