March 26, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: We just got through with our practice, and the main thing is we're in good health; everyone's in top shape and we're ready to go. And we know we're going to play an outstanding basketball team, Michigan State. And we're ready. They're tough and they've won a lot of games, and they've won a lot of close games where their not just physical toughness, but their mental toughness has shown off. So we're ready to go.
Q. Mike, was it clear to you that the Big Ten was the best conference this year?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I don't rank conferences.
Q. Mike, two-part question. Why do you think all of your players have stayed and used up their eligibility before they left, graduated; and, what is your role in convincing them or talking to them about that decision?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I think timing is the biggest thing. Timing not only of when we've had players that completely left, but also timing of what collective bargaining agreement would be at that time in the NBA. I think those two things are paramount in that. We usually get kids who have really valued the opportunity of getting a great education at Duke. That may change in the future. If it does, we'll try to make sure that those kids continue their education. And my role in that is just to be truthful and to be honest and to be on the side of the young man and his family in helping him make what would be the best decision for him.
Q. Mike, pardon me for going from the serious to the somewhat silly. Have you figured out how to do the sand sculpture of this place?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: It's pretty nice, isn't it? It's a lot less wet than it was last year. I fixed up all the leaks. I think that's why they had me do that. Last year when we were in here, it was pretty wet, although the water was a lot worse, too. No, they fixed this place up nice; I'm glad they used my model in doing those repairs. It was nice of them to do that.
Q. How different, if at all, is Michigan State from when you played them in December?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I think Michigan State's a lot different. I think we are, too. They know each other even better. Peterson is not a surprise to anyone. Not that he was a big surprise then, but he's one of the better players in the country and scoring-wise especially. They seem to be very healthy and have a deep rotation with eight or nine guys. So I think they use their people better now than they did earlier, and so do we. And Cleaves is much better; there's no question about that.
Q. Everybody is trying to find, if there exists, a flaw in your team. People are talking about looking at the film from the Cincinnati game. Is there one facet you can point to as to why you didn't win that game?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: They were better. I thought they played a lot harder than we did in the first half. I thought we may have played a little bit harder than them in the second half, but you don't beat good teams with half efforts. And so, to me, that's the story with Cincinnati. Cincinnati, Bobby's team did a hell of a job against us and our players. The teams here can outplay us, we just have to make sure we outplay them.
Q. Mike, since you and Michigan State played in December, you said both teams have gotten better. In what aspects and what areas do you see that Michigan State has gotten better, and could that specific area give you some problems in the game?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I think I answered that already. Didn't you ask that question? They're in better shape and they have a deep rotation and they've gone through 30-something games and won most of them, so they also have the experience of winning together. And they're a little bit older than we are, too, in playing together. Because they've done it for the last couple years.
Q. Mike, keeping up on that Michigan State theme, so many people have talked about how your team might be invincible and what have you. But are you concerned a little bit about the pattern that Michigan State has shown in the last five or six games, and that is they seem to have a tendency not necessary to raise their game offensively but defensively bring other teams down? Are you concerned that they will be able to bring the level of your play down as opposed to rising up on offense?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, the part I'm concerned about is they win. They know how to win. If you know how to win, that means you usually try to do something better than the team -- you have to do something better than the team you're playing against. It's obvious that they're a great offensive rebounding team, and it's also obvious that they can really move the ball up the court quickly to get early offense. I think that those two areas are areas that we have to be good in. If we're not good, then we'll lose. And we certainly don't feel like we're invincible. I don't think any of our players or coaching staff have ever portrayed that mood, that opinion. We understand we're a fairly young team. It would be interesting if you looked at all the ages of the kids playing in this tournament, where our team would rank. And of our top eight players, five are sophomores and one's a freshman. So with that level of experience, I think we can lose to anybody. We just have played so hard this year and so passionately that we haven't lost except that one time. And that's been a strength of our team.
Q. Mike, talk about your success as a recruiter. Like you mentioned how young your team is, now you have the best kid out of Minnesota, Horvath, talk about him. You have the best kids all over. You have magic when it comes to recruiting.
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: We've been fortunate over the years to have good players. Obviously, with Elton receiving some of the National Player of the Year Awards, you don't get to this level without good players. I mean really good players. And I'm fortunate that I'm at a school and in a conference that attracts high-level talent. And our staff's worked really hard, Quin, Snyder, Johnny, and Henderson to bring that balance. So we're fortunate.
Q. Mike, can you point to some, one or two or any instances this year, where your team has had to overcome some kind of adversity to become as good a team as they are? I think everyone thinks this was just like a cruise for you guys. But can you point to an example or two where you guys came together and overcame something?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, you know, one is we played a hell of a schedule. So just the level of schedule that we played and those situations that I placed my team in forces you to either get better or you lose. And the kids have gotten better. We haven't had any real serious injuries. We had a little bit of sickness. In Alaska Battier was sick for a period of about a week or two in late November, early December, that kind of hurt our team a little bit. But Battier was out one game, I think our last regular season game against North Carolina. Trajan was out for three games during the ACC Tournament and first NCAA game. It's not huge adversity, but it changes you a little bit. Some other guy has to step up. I think the St. Johns game where we had a bunch of guys fouled out and so did they, Chris Carrawell really stepped up for us, and he showed a leadership quality there that we've used during the remainder of the year.
Q. Shane Battier has become so good, taking charge. I just wondered if you could talk about his ability to do that and how much of a weapon has he become?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I thank him all the time. It's not thankless within our group. You want to thank him for me publically, then that would be terrific. I think Shane Battier is just such an easy kid to play with. Defensively, he probably understands our defense better than any kid that's played for me. Maybe with the exception of -- along with Billy King, who was a National Defensive Player of the Year in the late '80s. What Shane's done also though is improved his offensive game in the last month and a half. That has changed our team because he's become a threat offensively, and that's kind of put five guys out on the court who can score and score from different positions, which has been good.
Q. Mike, since the last time you were here, seven times in nine years, you personally have endured some physical problems, emotional losses. I'm wondering if you have a different kind of appreciation for the success that you've had this year compared to when you were here all the time?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I think I've enjoyed this whole year as much as I've enjoyed any year. Probably, hopefully we get more mature; we hope we do. I think in going through a few things, that's helped me appreciate even more the journey that we go on with these kids. And I feel as good as I've ever felt about coaching, and I think I have the right perspective, and, hopefully, I'll keep that for as long as I coach.
Q. Mike, you mentioned the improvement in Battier's offensive game. Is there anything in particular that sparked that, where suddenly he became more offensive? And also can you talk a little bit about his personality?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I can talk a lot about his personality. I think open looks. People were playing off of him. And, finally, I don't know if it was Carrawell that told him this or maybe it was after he had this 27-point outing against Maryland in early February, somebody asked him what do you think about Shane Battier doing that. He said, well, he wasn't the Smith Player of the Year because he took charges; he must have shot the ball somewhere along the line. At times he was figuring out your role in college, especially because we've won a lot of games these two years here. He may have been even more team-oriented and confused that with I shouldn't take shots. That leads to his personality. He's a sensational kid who wants -- he wants to get an A plus in everything. And as he's at Duke, we have to show him that because you're exposed to so much competition and so many good things that at times you may have to make a decision on where you get your A plus. And I think he's going through that and not to feel guilty when he doesn't get an A for everything. You know, I mean we've even talked about it in the last couple weeks so that he would be fresher for this moment. And then come back to some other moments. He's so conscientious. Sometimes a person's best quality sometimes is also a weakness.
Q. Mike, you've been to the Final Four a few times. Do you have any friendly advice for other coaches on how to approach the Final Four, not to get into any kind of happy-to-be-here-syndrome with all the trappings of this weekend?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Not now. (Laughter) After the Final Four, I'll have --
Q. In general.
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I'm not talking about any of that stuff. (Laughter) I've never had an advantage of good looks or high level of intelligence. So if I have an advantage of experience right now, why, you know, I probably would tell them something that didn't work anyway. But I'm not going to say anything about that.
Q. Coach, you talked a little bit about the invincibility factor already. Now there has been such a big buildup about who is going all the way and certainly the kids aren't immuned to the radio and television and seeing all of this. Even you have to admit that a big buildup can lead to a big fall. How do you address that?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: You should be careful, even you would have to. Because people are not necessarily saying even I wouldn't do that. So don't assume that I would feel that way. We've had a buildup, big buildup all year. We've enjoyed it. Like the fact that some other people have come on with the buildup as the season has gone along or the importance of a game has -- like these are important games. I don't see any reason why we should be any different. Because we've kind of lived that the whole year. And if we don't make it, believe me, we will be very disappointed, but we will have had a great experience. And that's where I think I've been a better coach. Because, you know, when you talk to our kids today or you have talked to them, I would hope that you never thought that they were under any pressure; rather, that they've enjoyed what they do. And you have to give them time to have fun. You know, we were out there doing our workout, you give them a little bit of time to have some fun. Because bottom line wise, if you're not having fun doing it, I don't think you're going to win it. So that's what we've tried to do all year long.
Q. Coach, two quick questions. One --
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: One of those two-part questions? Are you from the ACC? There's a guy in our area who's famous for two-part questions. Are you related?
Q. No, I'm not.
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: How do you know? You don't even know the guy. He might be the best guy in the world. Will you guys from our area check and see?
Q. Could Michigan State have an advantage if the game is close at the end because they've had so many close games and your team hasn't?
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I think they have a huge advantage for that and many other areas. We've been in tough games. I expect it to be a close game. You know, they're too good. I think we're good. And so I would hope that when our kids are in that position that we'll respond.
Thank you, Mike.
End of FastScripts....