March 7, 1998
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
COACH CALHOUN: I have been at Connecticut twelve years. I have had, certainly, some kids and moments I have been very proud of. In the grand scheme of things this is really preparing us for a NCAA Tournament and kind of capping off a Big East run for us. But I don't know if I have been much prouder of a group of kids, the performance of Khalid; particularly, Rashamel Jones who has given up the stop and nod for the betterment of the team has come off and showed us really what our program is all about. When things don't always work out fairly the best, you keep on going and watching him tonight was probably the best moment I have had in coaching. Couldn't happen to a more terrifically-deserving guy. To have a guy like Khalid on our team makes it very special. Same kind of will. I pointed to the two of them last night and said they probably don't like this, but you guys are more like me. And they know exactly what I was talking about. 9 minutes to go, that is what we talked about during that extended time out, just to try to put some pressure on them. We were very fortunate to really play defense and great performance by our kids to win the basketball game.
Q. Coach, your team has been so consistent defensively all year, talk about that 7, 8, 9 minute stretch; kind of reminiscent against Georgetown.
COACH CALHOUN: This is a different group. That was a much older group. This young group, though, lead by Washington leadership and E.J. and K and Rip, all of them, really something that we tell the kids when the ball is not going to the basket: You can win games when the other folks don't score. They truly believe that. And we came here last year, knocked out by Pitt in the first round. We knew we weren't going to allow that to happen to us again. Once again, this is an emotional night for us, because I just -- from a coach -- when you coach this game and coach with kids - and I hear so much about college athletics, it is kind of special because of what they gave tonight. I hear kids don't care about winning for the school. I have heard someone say that today. College basketball players -- I didn't notice this. I didn't notice that. I noticed a lot of good things about what college basketball is about and also the way the kids from Syracuse competed like crazy and we were fortunate that it turned to ourselves.
Q. Your team is known for a strong defense, 8 minute span you didn't give them a field goal. Would you talk specifically why your defense worked so well?
COACH CALHOUN: Last ten years we have been almost virtually every year in the top 10 in defense in the country. We have had a few teams, players understood us. This particular time, when we get in trouble -- fast-break was not given to us by Syracuse because we were small and rebounding wasn't there. We went to defense. If you think about the 3 games in this tournament, that is exactly what we did.
Q. You played Ricky on Burgan and Rip on Hart. Talk about those two matchups.
COACH CALHOUN: We thought especially Ricky Moore/Burgan match was a great matchup for us. He gave away about six inches. But he is strong. We took away his left hand as best we possibly could, and made him spin every single time. I thought Ricky was magnificent. I could go down the list. The highlight was the Connecticut basketball team tonight. I think Rashamel was symbolic of that.
Q. Your years in coming here, ever seen a better Big East tournament?
COACH CALHOUN: Never have. Nice to say it after you win a game, but I have been saying it all along. I said it first day, there should be 13 schools here. I think always should be at -- 64 teams in the field, and I think Cinderella stories, we will probably see one next week - probably changing my tune real quick. I think the idea of coming here, our league, as I said, I think I said this back in October, probably was media day here, suffers from a perception problem. Not a talent problem. I looked on that floor tonight, pretty talented people out there. You don't see -- Etan Thomas is going to be special. If you don't think some of those kids playing in that basketball game aren't good -- they are terrific basketball players. I think the intensity with which that game was played by both teams remarkable, the whole tournament, buzzer-beaters, kids diving on the ball for loose balls, kids with three and four games under 500, winning a basketball game. I think the tournament -- I am sure we have had so many glorious ones going back to Patrick and Chris. We even had a couple of years ago Georgetown with Iverson and those people -- older players more perception ways I am not sure it has been more an intense tournament in the 19 year history of the Big East.
Q. Are there times when your team is still hurt by its youth and to what degree will that be a factor in the tournament, the inexperience?
COACH CALHOUN: Inexperience, 9 minute mark, we are like that to a team tonight with two seniors, I didn't think, tonight was a factor. I think the loss of Kevin Freeman was a major factor. Because we had played so small. I think Syracuse's zone is a sufficient matchup for us. Their zone really hurts. I think our kids responded very, very well.
Q. Khalid, the 3 pointer, did you feel the momentum change right then?
KHALID EL-AMIN: I think we all felt the momentum change on that 3. It was a great pass from inside-outside pass from Jake, and I caught it with my feet set and went straight up and down. I had problems shooting the whole game. I shot 4 for 16, but that shot right there was a big shot.
Q. Rash, you have been saying all season you thought your time would come eventually. Any idea it would be tonight?
RASHAMEL JONES: I just stuck with it all season long and when coach calls upon me, when Kevin went down, I knew I had to step up and play big. That is exactly what I did to help my team win the Championship.
Q. Second half, talk about it going against their zone?
RASHAMEL JONES: We got the ball inside. We knew they were kind of matching to our guards outside, not letting our guards shoot the 3. Once we know Khalid, Ricky, Rip, once they penetrated, they found me on that short corner. I had a lot of easy baskets that way.
Q. Ron, after playing so much last year starting, losing the job this year, was there any point where you were particularly frustrated or wondered, if it would ever come?
RASHAMEL JONES: Never got frustrated. That is one thing a lot of people close to me said not to get frustrated. That is one thing I never got frustrated. I just stuck with it. I stayed positive and I hung in there all season long. Every practice, I went there, worked hard. If I didn't play much one game, next day I practiced. I was going hard. I just kept the same formula all season long. Tonight it paid off.
Q. Khalid, what does it mean to you to be the MVP of this tournament?
KHALID EL-AMIN: It is great significance to be MVP of this tournament. I understand Patrick Ewing, great amount of players were named MVP, I just thank God for blessing me giving me the opportunity to go on the court and do the things that I did tonight. And I am just so blessed and I give thanks to my teammates, also coach, for believing in me. I just came out and tried to play the best as I can. I knew I didn't have that great of a game. I tried to step up and do the little things. My jump shot wasn't doing well. I picked my defense up and get the ball inside to Rashamel. I just tried to pick my game up in other areas.
Q. Update. What is wrong with Freeman?
COACH CALHOUN: I have no idea. He fell on it. He said it felt different than the last time. What that all means -- I am sure he will be X-rayed tonight.
Q. NCAA, how do you think this team will do against other Big East teams that get in?
COACH CALHOUN: We have been one of the top 3 leagues in the country. As I said I don't think we are under-talented. I don't think we are under-skilled. We are certainly not underachievers. What we are simply is a league that needs perception. I think hopefully this week gave us a lot more perception than we needed -- People start to say, well, next year there is no players in the league. I don't know who Fontage (ph), Cummings, and Ian -- I can keep on going, so many good players in this league. Everybody thinks it has to be a Patrick Ewing every single day and those are sometimes once in a lifetime players. But, it is clearly some great, great young talent in our league and I think that we have, I hope, 5 teams that have an opportunity to play next week and, you know, a new season starts for us.
Q. Khalid, just at the point when you hit that 3 pointer, were you thinking -- just take us through that. Were you thinking that something had to start happening because some time was --
KHALID EL-AMIN: We knew we had to make the momentum change to our side during that timeout or after that timeout. I knew sooner or later my shot, at least one of them was going to fall for me. That shot, I was just -- I was ready to shoot it. I was set -- my feet were set. I just had the right form to shoot it and I hit it.
Q. With Richard struggling with his shooting the way he is, anything you can do special with him this week or shooters just get out --
COACH CALHOUN: Probably take a couple of days off. I really think it has been an emotional season for a very young basketball team. We have had so many things to handle. We haven't had adversity. I mean, the real things -- we haven't had a lot of added -- we have been fortunate. In turn, we have had a lot of things as a team that as achieved a great deal and with that becomes more responsibilities, more respect. When they say you are number 3 in the country things start to happen to you. I think we are learning how to deal with that. If you would tell me Rip would shoot the way he did in this tournament; that he played very well -- by the way, he played terrific defense down the stretch -- and we would win it, I mean, I would probably, you know, been "okay", but we didn't shoot as a team the whole tournament particularly well, and we walk out of here with the trophy. I think hopefully it is a lesson along the way. I think we grew up a little more tonight. I hope this is a step we can take down the line next week.
Q. Is Khalid really a freshman?
COACH CALHOUN: He is. He proves that to me at least once a day. (Laughter.) But he is also a very special person. He has got some things about him beyond basketball which I think is on his playing side. His inner will and sense about himself, he gives -- he transmits it to not only his own game and in the game, but his teammates. Not many guys that transmit things. He transmits his own will and personality to our basketball team. That has been very special for us. I think that separates him from just being a terrific basketball player. I think very much an additional bonus for us.
Q. Could you just walk through how you tried to coach this year and speak about Rashamel-- (inaudible)
COACH CALHOUN: It has been trying on both of us. He is a terrific player and yet, I mean, we should -- Kevin went down before. He helped win the game, Syracuse for us. I think what he said is probably most indicative, he has become symbolic of what we try to tell our kids. I think you heard me quote after games a couple of times he knows how Rash was sulking after he played two minutes against Villanova; we come back to get 17 points against Providence College. I said, he never sulks in his life. He shows up; gives you the best he possibly can. If that is not good enough, he keeps on going; gives you the best the next night. I think he is a lesson for our kids and I hope he is symbolic for a lot of kids. Rashamel, I am privileged to coach. It wasn't inappropriate -- a lot of kids would have said, hey, it is not worth it. Rash doesn't know that "it is not worth it." I am going to stop. All he knows, give it the best I can; if that is not enough, give a little bit more. Obviously I was ready do that tonight.
Q. What do you do that once a day to make him know you are freshman; how do you makes it forget it?
KHALID EL-AMIN: No comment
COACH CALHOUN: He is a sophomore now. He past the first test. He is a sophomore.
Q. Maybe you can talk little bit about Jake loss of play in the first half; seemed to really keep us --
COACH CALHOUN: I thought Jake did a terrific job. I think, once again, he clogs the middle. I will tell you right now, Souleymane's lift tonight was actually spectacular for us. You need kids to play great defense to win a basketball game. Obviously, we did that. I am very proud of them.
End of FastScripts....