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March 30, 2005
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
BILL HANCOCK: Welcome, everyone, to the call. We're in St. Louis. We have a beautiful day here. Bring your shorts and your flip-flops. The format for today's call is that each of the four coaches will be available for 15 minutes. First Bruce Weber, then Rick Pitino, then Tom Izzo, then Roy Williams. Coach Weber, congratulations on the regional championship.
COACH WEBER: Thank you.
BILL HANCOCK: We appreciate your time today. And we're ready to take questions from the callers.
Q. In view of some of the shots the Big-10 took during the regular season, the criticism of the league, what does it mean to have two teams in the Final Four, to have the best NCAA record right now?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think it's something we were fighting for respectability all year. It's something we talked about as coaches in our spring meeting last year. We thought we got some knocks last season. We didn't back it up in the NCAA tournament. Then this season, again, right from the beginning of the season, we tried to combat it as best we could, as a league, as coaches, and stick up for each other. I guess I don't want to say revenge, but it's kind of rewarding that we did have a good league, that we had good teams, three in the final eight and that, you know, we can compete with anybody in the country. I think the biggest part of that is recruiting, at least in the coach's eyes, because so much publicity has gone to other conferences, and kids, high school coaches, parents of recruits, they all watch the different networks. If they're pounding us, it sure doesn't help us recruiting.
Q. Your players throughout this season have never allowed personal agendas to get in the way of the team concept, despite the fact there are a number of NBA prospects on your team, there's a lot of pressure on upperclassmen to produce individually. Were you concerned at all about that factor and how have they accomplished this?
COACH WEBER: Well, there's no doubt I was concerned, and it's something we went after right even before the season started. Last fall I had somebody come in, a former NBA general manager, talk to the players. We've had agents in. We've had a professor on campus that's a lawyer. These people have all talked to our kids. We tried to address it before the season. I told them, you know, my goal is for you guys to, you know, make the NBA. That makes me look good, it makes our program look good. But at the same time, and these guys all backed it up that came and talked, if you have success, you're going to get so much more exposure, you're going to get more opportunities than if the team struggles. One thing Coach Turner, the former football coach, told me a couple years ago after they went to the Sugar Bowl, the next group of kids, they should have had a good year, and all their seniors were worried about agents and all that stuff ahead of the season. You know, once they lost a few games, then the kids came back down to earth. We tried to go ahead of the season, before it started, tackle some of those issues. They did come up a little bit during the season. Again, we tried to meet, head it off one-on-one and make sure it doesn't become a problem.
Q. I'm wondering if you have a regular, for you, workout routine, what it is, and if it's an escape at a time like this when things are so hectic?
COACH WEBER: Well, every morning and every night I walk the dogs. In the morning, I do it with my wife. We go about a half hour. Try to do it on a daily basis if I'm in town. On the road, even with the games, the NCAA tournament, the Big-10 tournament, I continue to walk every day. And then late at night, it's kind of my -- when everyone goes to bed, about 11, 11:30, I walk them again by myself and get my cell phone out and talk to the coaches and kind of see what we need to finish for the day. I try to get some aerobic conditioning. It gives me time with my wife. We get to communicate about the day. And then, you know, at night, try to get a little bit of personal time also.
Q. I'm sure you've been told about a million times now that you're the one coach in this Final Four that as a head coach hasn't taken a team to the Final Four. I'm curious as to what your take is on that and if you've reached out to any other coaches for any advice.
COACH WEBER: There's a lot of things we've done this season, where I'm like totally new to it. I think we've dealt with it pretty well. The one thing I had going for me, being an assistant for Coach Keatie all those years, watching him deal with a lot of things, never the Final Four, but we basically did everything else. So I tried to use those experiences. I have reached out to some different coaches, talked to Coach Calhoun, talked to Coach Majerus, talked to a couple of the Marquette staff, they went a few years ago, just about their experience, guys I know, you know, just some little insight on some things that might be helpful. Kevin Stalling, former assistant at Kansas, now at Vanderbilt, he went with Roy, just about their experience there, you know, just kind of how to deal with everything.
Q. As great as this season has been, has it been difficult to fully enjoy it, given the passing of your mother earlier this month?
COACH WEBER: Really the last four or five weeks, it's been difficult to enjoy. It's more relief. Every time we get a win, it's been relief. And then, you know, with the passing of my mom, you hate to lose anybody. It's a piece of you, your mom or your dad. But how it happened, her being in the Big-10 tournament, in the middle of the tournament, it was kind of tough to deal for our whole family. The one positive thing is that we've had success. My younger brother won the Illinois high school state title as a coach. So our family really came closer together over this last, you know, three, four weeks, just kind of enjoying everything and really celebrating my mom's life. But the basketball part has been tough. You know, I'm tired. It's been grueling. A lot of (tension/attention?). You know, you just hope it goes well. We keep saying it's a fairytale season. We're hoping for a great ending.
Q. Your guards are basically interchangeable parts. Has that kind of a player replaced the point guard as the most important player on a team? What kind of advantages does that give you?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think if you can find a pure point guard, which there aren't a whole bunch of them around, I think Deron as pretty close to being one. I think any coach would latch on to that. I think in today's age, because there is not the true point guard, you're looking for guys that can, you know, be versatile, that can kind of play one, two. You know, when I first got here, Dee, I said, "Who is your favorite player?" "It's Iverson." Iverson kind of plays point but really he's a scorer. He just does a lot of things with energy. So I think that kind of role model has influenced a lot of kids. It makes it tough for teams to defend us because we have a lot of different people that can bring it up. We have different guys that can, you know, create. They all can shoot. I think Louisville is very similar to that. I mean, they have four guys that can bring the ball up there. Four men even bring it up on the break. It makes it tough to deal with.
Q. You were talking about seeking out other coaches for advice. If you could speak to each of your other three coaches that are in this year's Final Four, what might you ask them specifically for advice about this year?
COACH WEBER: Well, actually, I talked to Tom Izzo because we're pretty good friends. You know, obviously we played each other. We won't play unless we both win in the championship. So he was willing to, you know, kind of relay some things just about his experience, you know, when to go, how to deal with the hotels, all of that thing. I think that's the main thing. One of the biggest things I heard from all the coaches that I talked to, and I'm sure I would ask those guys, is, "Do you lock 'em up and keep 'em in or do you let 'em enjoy it?" I think for the most part everybody said, "Let them enjoy the experience. It goes too fast. It could be gone in one game. Then all of a sudden it's over, and the kids haven't got a taste of it." We're going to make sure they have a little fun, they get to enjoy the experience, but at the same time we get 24 hours away from game time, then we'll just do our normal prep time.
Q. You just touched on this a few minutes ago, but do you see a lot of similarities in styles between the two teams?
COACH WEBER: Yeah, between Louisville and us I think you're talking about. I think we have very similar match-ups. I would not say either one of us has great -- you know, our inside play would not be our major strength. Their good player Augustine has stepped up at times. For us, Powell has stepped up. We have Jack Ingram kind of rotating. They have three guys that rotate into post. Each one gives them a little bit difference. The have a little bit of an undersized four. Then the guards are the strength of the team. We all shoot the three. We shot 35 threes the other day. Some of it was because of our comeback. There's no doubt we're very similar. Probably good match-ups for each other.
Q. Can you talk about the size of Louisville's back court and what challenges that presents.
COACH WEBER: You know, they're really long as a team. Garcia, he's a long, lanky kid that plays point, so now he can see over people. They're very, very good at the dribble penetration. Their guards have good size. Even if you come, you're there with your hands up, it seems like they're bigger than you. They can hook the ball over you and get it to the open man. They can jump over you on a lot of situations. It is difficult to deal with. Luther and Deron have pretty good size, but I would not -- Dee is probably going to have a little bit of struggle with certain match-ups within the game.
Q. How far along are you in the game plan? What do you know about Louisville that you didn't know two days ago?
COACH WEBER: Well, I mean, obviously you look at their stats, they shoot the three very well, they have very good balance. You know, he's a tremendous coach. He's very flexible. I think one of the things I look at in a coach that's successful, he's welling to adapt and change. Coach Pitino, you know, the pressing style, uptempo style. Kentucky, he went to the pros, he had to adjust, then he came back here. He played an uptempo style, pressing style the last couple years. This year they had to back off and play some zone, so you've got to give him some credit. They spread you. They give you a little bit of the Princeton stuff, but kind of not, more pro style Princeton where they get you high and wide. A lot of dribble penetration, make you help for the pitches or the dropdown. A very difficult team. We're going to have to do a great job of containing the dribble, getting to their shooters.
Q. You mentioned the threes the other day. There were tons of threes taken over the weekend. You were behind. Louisville was behind. What do you think of the three-pointer? Is it too much? Is there too much reliance on it in this day and age? Do you like it or what?
COACH WEBER: Well, I like it. I think when it first became a rule, it became a thing where it was used too much. I think teams have backed off a little bit. I think last weekend was unusual. Not only our game, Louisville game, but even West Virginia shot a bunch of them, and they weren't behind, which is kind of amazing. They were attacking the zone. The one thing I think all the coaches at least, and I don't want to speak for everybody, but I know in our NABC meetings, the rules meetings, our summer meetings, we all talked about moving it back nine inches to the international line. I think it makes it a little more difficult. I think it spreads the defense. It allows a little less physical play inside, more dribble penetration and people might not totally depend on it.
BILL HANCOCK: Coach Weber, thank you very much for your time today. We look forward to seeing you in St. Louis. Best of luck to you.
COACH WEBER: Thank you. See you down there.
BILL HANCOCK: Coach Pitino, this is Bill Hancock with the NCAA. Congratulations on the regional championship. We really appreciate your time today. We have 15 minutes allotted for Coach Pitino. We're ready to take questions from the callers.
Q. As the only guy in the field here who has coached in both college and the NBA, I know there's a lot of talk about the NBA instituting a 20-year age limit. College has had great TV ratings. Who do you think that rule would help most and how do you think it would affect the college game?
COACH PITINO: It would help everybody. It would help the NBA substantially because if it keeps going in this direction, the NBA is going to have very serious problems down the road. When you go into the NBA and you're not mature and you're not emotionally ready for that type of lifestyle, it can lead to later problems in life when there's too many situations like that. It takes a tremendous emotional maturity, tremendous basketball maturity, as well as physical, to play at that level. In the end, I think the NBA is going to have a lot of veterans that are going to be really disappointed that they can't make teams. Then there's going to be a lot of young people that aren't ready for the NBA, sitting on the injured reserve, and not ready to play. I think it helps everybody involved, the young people, the NBA, colleges, and it's going to help the young people in terms of making more money. A lot of people on the injured reserve right now, not showcasing their skills, not ready for the NBA. The next contract, which is the one that is supposed to be big, is going to be minuscule. By staying in college, it could have been much bigger. It's probably going to cost them, I'm not talking about the Labron Jameses of the world, but it's going to be costing people 20, 30 million dollars in the long run.
Q. Rick, this is your fifth Final Four. If you could give one or two pieces of advice to Bruce Weber, what would you say?
COACH PITINO: Well, I don't want to do that because certainly he doesn't need any advice. He's got an incredible team. He's more than up to the task of being in the Final Four. He's got the No. 1 ranked team in the country all year. They were a three-point shot at the buzzer away from being an undefeated team so he doesn't need any advice from me.
Q. If there's a common thread with the four teams going to St. Louis, there's a lot of seniors and juniors on the floor. I don't know if that's been the case of late. I was hoping maybe you could talk a little about that. Doesn't seem like it's a coincidence.
COACH PITINO: Well, with the exception of the Fab Five, I've always said that if you have an experienced, talented ballclub, you've got a shot at making the Final Four. And that's the case with all these teams. I mean, I felt that out of all the Final Fours we've been to, this was the toughest journey we've had to make, tougher than any time I've had. We've had to play Louisiana Lafayette, who is a veteran ballclub, all seniors and juniors, they were terrific, absolutely terrific. Then you have to play Georgia Tech, who is national champion runner-up, then a Washington team, No. 1 seeded, extremely talented. Then maybe the hottest team in the country in terms of shooting, West Virginia. All those ballclubs all were juniors and seniors. They all had great experience. We had to face them all. I think we're a veteran team. We're very experienced, so are the other teams. I think young teams make mistakes in one of those four games, and that puts you out of it. Those mistakes put you out of one of those four games.
Q. The three-point shot was such a huge factor in the regional finals in so many different ways, not only yours, but the other games. As you think back to the '87 Providence team you had, can you discuss a little bit how teams are using the three nowadays in comparison and how teams are defending it.
COACH PITINO: Well, that's the key, is defending it. But the three-point shot allows you to drive the ball more and get better shots. I've said this now for about seven years. I've been trumping this. I think it will happen this year. Three-point shot has always been too close. We should not move back to the NBA level, but we should be at the Olympic distance. It is even better for spacing to the low post, the Olympic distance. This line is too close for spacing to the low post. So it's still going to allow the good shooters to shoot it. It's going to take the mediocre to good shooters from stopping it because it really is an easy shot, but it has added to college basketball. Everybody takes it. Now everybody is trying to defend it, which makes the game better.
Q. Do you think Garcia overcoming so much tragedy will help him provide a good scoring spark for you in the tournament? How do you feel about Garcia? How do you think he's going to handle all the pressure and everything?
COACH PITINO: I don't think anybody's tragedies helps you score points or get rebounds or make assists. I don't think it has anything to do with the game. But it helps you appreciate where you are and what you're accomplishing from a perspective standpoint but has nothing to do with basketball.
Q. You've been to a bunch of Final Fours and were fortunate enough to win one. If you hadn't, would you feel a sense of incompleteness? Do you at all relate to Roy Williams situation at this Final Four?
COACH PITINO: No, I don't. I would never feel incomplete to a Final Four because that would just be -- to get to a Final Four, it's so special, so many coaches just try and do it every year and never had the opportunity. So, no, I would not feel incomplete. What I would do is do what Roy does, is just keep on trying till it happens. Certainly being at a Kansas or a North Carolina, it definitely will happen, if not this year, another year. Those programs are too strong not for it to happen. It just takes time and patience, a little luck along the way, and it will happen.
Q. Can you talk about Luther Head, Taquan Dean's injury at this point and the importance of having a good trainer around Final Four time?
COACH PITINO: Well, Luther Head is tremendous. I notice that Dee Brown is one of the finalists for the Wooden Award. Deron is my pick for Player of the Year. Luther Head is probably in the Top 10. You know, it's just an incredible thing. I'm not seeing too many ones, twos and threes like this in college basketball. But they're certainly special. That's what's made them, you know, a fraction away from being undefeated and one of the strongest teams in college baskettball, the No. 1 ranked team. We know that one, two and three, it's not going to get any better. That's our strength, as well. We're very anxious to see how we'll compete. But Luther shoots a very high percentage, both from the three and the field, as well as the foul line, as all three guys do. Then Deron Williams, I don't know, the more film you watch, depending on the game you watch, you marvel at all three guys. Boy, Luther is the key to the team. Then you say, no one is faster than Dee Brown, he's the key to the team. Then you go to Deron Williams, you go to Augustine, they bring Ingram off the bench, he hurts you from the outside. Just so many ways they can hurt you.
Q. With all these close games, we've seen some kids do some pretty remarkable things under pressure situations the last couple weeks. In a late game timeout, how much of what you draw up actually comes to fruition or how much is dependent on the player kind of rising to the moment?
COACH PITINO: Well, I did call timeout in the West Virginia game, but I try not to do it. I try to keep the players at ease and away from the tension of the timeout, coming out of it, try not to let the defense counter what we're doing, try to be prepared. We practice it every day, to be prepared for those final 15 seconds, what to run. If I felt what we prepared for at that point is not going to work, that's when I'll call the timeout. It was stated earlier, these young people, under the influence of pressure, how they accomplish what they accomplish is amazing. In some situations you see people freeze, freeze up. Coming out of the timeout, they don't listen, they don't get into what the coach says. In other situations they execute it perfectly. Sometimes pressure is an amazing thing: it brings out the best in people and also the worst.
Q. I'm curious about the second time you took a team to a Final Four, how much easier or how much more comfortable did you feel having had the experience of going once before?
COACH PITINO: I think it allows you to just enjoy it more. You realize that you're there to win a national championship and you must stay focused, but on the other hand you start to realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the players, the fans and everybody else, and to enjoy it. Away from the lines, have fun, enjoy it, it's not going to happen again for the players, so let them have fun. Between the lines, be very focused and understand you're there to win a national championship. Next time around you have more of a feeling for that.
Q. Players like Francisco and Dee and Deron are versatile enough to play more than one position. Has that type of player replaced the point guard as the most important player on the team now? Having that type of player, what kind of advantage does it give you?
COACH PITINO: I think so because, you know, the play-maker, we always look at that as a point guard. But the play-maker is Francisco, the other two young men from Illinois, Dee Brown and Deron Williams. They make plays for other people as well as for themselves in crucial situations. If you're lucky enough to have these wing players, these combo players, they can play one, two and three, you've got somebody not only very versatile but at the end of the game that you can go to him. That's what we have. We don't necessarily have one person that you would call a point guard in our system, but we have Ellis Myles who is a play-maker, same thing with Francisco, now Larry O'Bannon has done more of that. We're very lucky because all of our people handle the ball well and can make plays.
Q. Bruce Weber has complimented your ability as a coach. Can you describe how your willingness to adapt even within a season has helped you and your team?
COACH PITINO: Well, I think that's probably one thing the NBA has taught me. There was a time when I would not consider anything but full throttle, full pressure, full trapping because that was our style, to try and wear people out, to try and make them shoot a low percentage to create steals which creates offense. When you get into the pros and you have injuries and you have to make adjustments and you're in the fourth road game in five nights, you're constantly adjusting to the environment that you're in. This year, I've had to adjust more than at any period for me personally in coaching because we've had a young man had a serious eye injury, we've had a broken thumb, we've had two stress fractures, we've had double groins, mononucleosis. We've had more than probably in 10 years combined for any basketball team. So we've had to constantly adjust. We got healthy, we pressed, we trapped, we changed defenses. Then we were down to seven people that we could actively play. We played mostly zone. We got healthy again, we changed it up, mixed it up. Now we're semi-healthy going into the Final Four. We could maybe do a few things different. We're going to have to do a few things different because you cannot stay with one defense and beat Illinois.
Q. The size of your back court, size of your one, two, three guys, what kind of problems does that present opposing teams?
COACH PITINO: Well, it won't give too many problems to Illinois because they're probably the same size, maybe not quite as long as Francisco, but they're the same size. Larry and Dee may be a little smaller than Taquan. That size won't be a factor in the game. They're just terrific at the one, two and three, but so are we. We are really strong at the one, two and three. It's probably going to come down to, you know, whose fours and fives are going to step up and play big games.
Q. I've heard you say establishing the brand name at Louisville was one of your difficult early obstacles. I was wondering how you did that.
COACH PITINO: Well, it's a slow process. Obviously, because we're in a conference that does get on television, you've got to show them a style of play that's entertaining and also a style of play that the young recruits can envision playing in someday. But it also takes getting out there and knocking on doors and telling people about what you're trying to do with the program once again because the brand slips quickly. You know, four, five years, you're talking about a nine-year-old, now he's 15 or 16, and he really doesn't identify with Louisville at all, even though in '86 you win a championship. I think I've been through that at Providence when people started -- I started remembering Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes in '74, and I realize that was seven, eight, nine years ago, and they had been dead last place since the inception of the Big East at Providence, so the kids didn't remember Ernie D. Not as bad as Kentucky because the only problems you had there was embarrassment and probation. That was aa total different turnaround. Now once again this is like Providence. The brand slipped a little bit and now we were in three or four years able to get it back on TV, back in the newspapers, and now the recruits are once again interested.
BILL HANCOCK: Rick, thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck this weekend.
COACH PITINO: Thank you for the coverage.
BILL HANCOCK: Coach Izzo, are you on the line?
COACH IZZO: Yes.
BILL HANCOCK: This is Bill Hancock. How are you?
COACH IZZO: Good, Bill.
BILL HANCOCK: We're ready to take questions for Coach Izzo.
Q. The guards, perimeter guys who can play more than one position, is that type of player replacing the point guard as the most important player on the team? Having those kinds of guys, what kind of advantage does that give you?
COACH IZZO: Well, I'm not sure it replaces the point. It's had to here at Michigan State just because of some early defections and things that happened. I'm not sure you're able to replace a point guard in that respect. I think versatility is something I've always looked for in recruiting. And I really thought it was an important part of the game. Here we've had to make it work that way. We've gone to one Elite 8 with a really makeshift point guard, now we're a little more stable, got to a Final Four. I'm not sure you ever want to replace a good point guard. You look at most of the teams in it, whether it be Illinois or Louisville or North Carolina, all of them have very well-established point guards. We're probably the only one that's still up for grabs. I do think the versatility we have in the perimeter and the depth helps us a lot.
Q. With the women in, you guys in, what is the mood like around campus?
COACH IZZO: I don't know. I haven't seen much of campus. I've been trying to watch film and do these interviews (laughter). It's been great around here. I know we got a chance with my team, we had a meeting last night, then we watched our women cap off their run to the Final Four. Just happened to talk to Joanne 10 minutes ago. It's exciting. You know, it's great. I always say positive news for your University is great, and here we have kind of a double dip. That's even better.
Q. Bruce Weber said that he sought you out for a little advice on how to handle the first Final Four team. What exactly did you tell him?
COACH IZZO: Well, I told him to get rid of his tickets and hotel problems on Sunday and Monday. Those are the biggest ones. He's done such a great job. He didn't need any advice from me. But I do think we have a unique Final Four. I'm not sure what other team, but I know for sure in my mind we might be the only team with one walk-on, Tim Bograkos, who has even been to a Final Four. I don't think any other teams even have one there. I guess everybody's in the same boat in that respect. Yet as a coach, I just told him to try to manage his time. My first one, I think I was still dealing with tickets on Friday. Now I won't be dealing with them any more. I get that done on Sunday and Monday.
Q. Any theory on why this is the fourth straight year that a school has sent both the men and the women to the Final Four? Maybe it's tough to look at the big picture, but why at Michigan State? Is it facilities, sport, local talent? Any theory on why?
COACH IZZO: I think all three of those are pretty good theories. I think we have maybe the nicest facilities, I think we both do, in the country, at least our offices and practice gyms and all that. I think the local talent, I think Joanne did a lot here what I do when I got the job and that's to try to put a fence around the state, the area, and keep those great players in here. She's done a phenomenal job of that. I think also our administration is constantly putting more money and effort into marketing and fan support and all those, which play a big part in it, too. I think all those things you said are factors. At the same time I think in her case she's just done a great job bringing a little energy and bringing a little family to the whole program, and that's what we try to do on the men's side. It's kind of fun to have both of us here.
Q. How do you measure conference success? Is it NCAA tournament success or top-to-bottom regular-season success?
COACH IZZO: You know, I don't really think it's NCAA tournament success because I think the NCAA tournament is so much about match-ups. I mean, let's face it, we know that the ACC and the Big East had, you know, phenomenal teams this year, and got some of the credit they deserved. I still think the Big-10 had a lot more than the sixth, seventh ranked conference. Some of it happens, what happens in a non-conference. In our case, the ACC/Big-10 Challenge, depending which teams are matched up against each other, makes a big difference. Then if you play a tough non-conference schedule, you don't win games, you're not a ranked team going in. If you're not a ranked team, whatever conference team beats you, you know, you're not as highly thought of. There's a lot of reasons, but I don't think you should -- even though we've had great success in the tournament, I don't necessarily think that makes or breaks you either way because I think sometimes it's so much on the match-ups or maybe what happened if you've been able to elude a few teams or they have been upset or things like that.
Q. Dee Brown and Deron Williams are likely going to play their last games this weekend. Illini fans feel like it has flown by. Is it opposite for an opposing coach? Does it feel they have been together for a while?
COACH IZZO: To me it feels like they've been there a hundred years. I'm sick of looking at those two (laughter). I'm hoping we can look at them again one more year, I really am. I think they've been good for the Big-10, good for Illinois and Bruce's retirement program. Putting all those things aside, I've had great respect for Dee and Deron. I had a chance to recruit Dee. Of course, we have one of his teammates. I did recruit Dee. I love him as a competitor. I think Deron Williams showed his true mettle last weekend. They're just kind of a good combination together. They feed off each other. Illini fans should enjoy them, if it's the last time they should. If they got one more year, that will go quick, too. Me personally, I'd like to say I'd like to have them leave for my sake, but I think for the conference and hopefully for theirs, too, there's nothing wrong with staying another year either.
Q. This will be your fourth Final Four. Could you describe the emotion of leaving as the champion and what it meant to you to have that national title.
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I still -- as I've said often, some of our greatest games have been in the Elite 8. You know, going to a Final Four is a measure in itself. One of my favorite days is the Saturday games because everybody still thinks they can win. And, of course, Monday is big. But it seems anti-climatic in some ways until we won it, then it was unbelievable to be able to stand there on the podium and watch all your fans and just go through the things you go through and realize you've really done something that only one team of the 317 has done. I'd say up until the game on Sunday and Monday, you know, it just seemed like there was only two left, this and that. But once you won it, it was the most exhilarating thing I've gone through in all my life.
Q. With all these games going down to the wire last weekend, possibility of that happening again this week, wondered how you balance as a coach in late game situations, giving the players enough structure yet at the same time enough rope to step up and kind of take advantage of the moment?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think that's the big trick, is giving enough rope to step up and take advantage or to hang yourself. I mean, you got it both ways. And if you do one way and you succeed, you were right. If you do it the other way and don't succeed, you were wrong. You know, doesn't matter which one it is. And that's always a hard balancing act. I think you just got to understand your team. If you have a team that you don't need a timeout at the end because they can play through it, you do it. If you have a team where you think it's a little shakier and you want to make sure you get the right shot, you call timeout. All those things are different for each team, I believe. And yet, you know, there's a lot of pressure on that night, on Saturday. I think the best thing you got to do is keep your team believing they can win and understanding they've got to enjoy the moment. As I always say to them, you know, "Do whatever you can do that's effort related because it's the only thing you have control of."
Q. Four Final Fours in seven years, obviously you have the best winning percentage among active coaches, won a national title. Do you ever stop to pinch yourself that all this is happening to a kid from Iron Mountain?
COACH IZZO: You know, I really did on Sunday night. I sat there on the court and I didn't know -- I didn't think there was anybody to hug. I felt like Jim Valvano. I just kind of looked around and I said to myself that I'm going to take a couple minutes here to enjoy. The others went so fast and I just didn't understand the process. I'm not sure I even took a minute to enjoy them. I did a little bit then. Since then it's been a whirlwind. But I appreciate this group. It's been a unique group. I think there will be some memories that will come from this that will last a lifetime. I'm sure I'll get to revisit it. Like Magic Johnson told our team a couple years ago, you never appreciate it until you're gone five, 10, maybe even 20 years. I think he's kind of right on that. I tried to steal a few minutes on Sunday. If the stars are on the right line, I think I could find a way to steal a minute or two on Monday night if we were able to get there.
Q. You mentioned the NCAA tournament is all about match-ups. I was wondering if you could talk a little about the match-up at the four spot where North Carolina goes 6'9", 6'10" with the Williams guys, and you're more around 6'6", kind of how you see that match-up playing out.
COACH IZZO: Not good (laughter). You know, I mean, there's a couple match-ups. At the point, I think we have some issues. But Alan Anderson has been able to cover a lot of different people. Matt Trannon ,able to cover a lot of different people. I mean, I don't think it's an awful match-up. I think that Marvin Williams is really stepping up his game and then playing better and better in this tournament. You don't know as much about him because you haven't seen him for three, four years like Jawad. But it's going to be an important match-up. They do a lot of their things through there four-man and we've relied on ours heavily this year and he's really stepped up. I think it could be an important match-up in the game.
Q. A few years ago there was a lot of talk that the college game was going to suffer as more and more kids went from the McDonald's All-American game into the NBA draft. You're coming off a weekend of great basketball games. How do you explain how the college game has come through this process and how do you feel about the proposed NBA age limit?
COACH IZZO: I think we're coming through. One of the reasons I think we are coming through is I think less kids are leaving. You look at these teams, North Carolina has got juniors and seniors, Michigan State has juniors and seniors, there's a couple kids from Louisville that could have left that are still around. Same with Illinois. There's talk of one or two of them leaving last year and they're still around. I think that plays a big part in it. I don't think everybody's leaving quite as early. They realize it's not against your manhood to stay in a year or two longer than maybe you thought you would. I think the age limit, the only reason I think it would be good, I mean, I have no problem with a kid leaving like a Jason Richardson or Zach Randolph. I think so many leave disillusioned because they get bad advice, bad direction. I think it also puts more pressure on these guys. That's the biggest thing. If they had to be in a couple years and they knew that, I think it would take pressure off them in high school and I think it would make the college years more fun instead of thinking, "I got to do this, I got to do that or I'm not going to be able to come out." I think it's a twofold problem, and yet one that I think the age limit, believe it or not, would benefit the players even though they think it would just benefit the college. I think it would benefit the players. I have no problem with a kid being good enough to go; I just have a problem with kids that aren't ready to go, socially or athletically, and they go.
Q. Is this an anomaly this year where all four teams are really upperclassmen dominated? Are we going to see another team that has a Carmelo Anthony as the young kid leading the way?
COACH IZZO: Well, if you look at the last six, seven, eight years, whether it be UConn or us or Duke or Maryland, I think all those teams had seniors, had juniors and seniors. The only exception to the rule was Syracuse. They just happened to have one of the greatest players in the game in Carmelo Anthony. We played against him that year, and I can attest to it myself. I think the norm has still been juniors and seniors. The exception was Carmelo and Jim's team, whatever it was, 2002 or 3. But I do think that there has been a change of the guard a little bit where, you know, players are giving second thought to just making rash decisions. The more you have experienced guys, the better chance you have to win. It's a unique Final Four, as I said earlier. I don't think any team has anybody except our Tim Bograkos is a fifth-year senior that has played or been in a Final Four. I might be wrong on that, but I think I'm right.
BILL HANCOCK: Tom, thank you very much for your time today. We look forward to seeing you this weekend.
COACH IZZO: All right. Thank you.
BILL HANCOCK: Coach Williams, this is Bill Hancock.
COACH WILLIAMS: Bill Hancock, how you doing, big fella?
BILL HANCOCK: I'm fine. Congratulations on the regional championship. We appreciate your time today. We're ready to take questions from callers.
Q. With Raymond, you have a pure point, and the rest of the teams, Michigan State uses Chris Hill who can play a couple positions, Louisville uses Francisco, can probably play three. Is one or the other type of player more beneficial? What advantages does each bring?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I was in the Final Four in 2002 and had three perimeter players that had all started for us at one time at the point. I thought that was the best advantage. I like Michigan State's scenario where they do have Hill, but they also have Alan Anderson who started for them last year a lot at the point who is playing the four spot for them this year. I think when you have those scenarios where you have more than one guy that can come in and play the point for you, I think I like that situation before. We're a little vulnerable when Raymond gets in foul trouble or has to be given a rest. So I like it where you have more than one, and particularly that flexibility that it gives you. But Raymond knows there's a load on his shoulder. He likes that. He likes the feeling of how important he is. He takes a great deal of pride in that.
Q. How do you measure the strength of a conference? Is it what it does in the regular season or does the NCAA tournament have more weight on how strong a conference is?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think if you asked two or three different people, you'll get two or three different answers. I've always felt that throughout the course of the regular season is the best way to measure the teams in that league, so I would tend to look at how you do over the course of a three-month period as opposed to a three-week period. You know, you'll find somebody else who disagrees. I think bottom line, it doesn't make any difference, because most people are going to can pick how you do in the NCAA tournament, so it doesn't make any difference what I think (laughter).
Q. The three-point shot was a huge factor in all the regional finals last weekend. I don't know if you had a chance to see the West Virginia-Louisville game. As a coach, when a team is pumping them in, especially from 23 or 24 feet, is there almost a tendency, "What can I do?" Throw up your hands type thing.
COACH WILLIAMS: The first thing is you start looking for the closest exit that you can get, sneak out, not let anybody catch you as you're trying to run out. The three-point shot is a huge weapon. It did play a big role in a lot of the games, as it has all the time. But I still think you have to have an inside presence because you do have to get to the end of the game where you have a chance for the other team's best players to perhaps be in foul trouble and not play. There's not that many fouls when guys are shooting three-point shots. It's a huge weapon if you've got some guys that can shoot it. It stretches the other team's defense. It makes you even more effective inside. We always try to look for a great balance, and sometimes we get it, and sometimes we don't.
Q. How can a staff with Final Four experience help a team that has no Final Four experience?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think you've got that with every team, so it's not going to be a factor because Tommy and his staff have been there, our guys have been there, Rick's staff has been there, Bruce has been involved in big games, the whole bit as well. I think, you know, I've always felt like you can give the kids scenarios to try and make them feel comfortable, give them confidence, but a lot of it is the makeup of the kids and how they themselves handle it. I've been there with young point guards and teams that you didn't know if they were going to play well, and they played well. We've been there with some teams with a great deal of experience and didn't. But, you know, what we're going to try to do, and I imagine the other ones will do something similar, try to give them confidence that we've done this before, you just have to focus on the game, you enjoy yourself, enjoy the pageantry, the whole bit, but still realize what you're there in the first place for.
Q. Obviously Tom Izzo is a tremendous all-around coach, but that specific tournament success, that winning percentage, what would you attribute that to? Is it the style that emphasizes defense and rebounding, is it skill at short-term game preparation?
COACH WILLIAMS: I would think two things. He's a marvelous coach and he coaches the parts of the game that are the most important, that I agree with, is the rebounding side, defensive side. He does a marvelous job there. He recruits very good players that will buy into what he's selling there, buy into the idea that they have to do that day in and day out. But it's a combination of both. I think his coaching, and it's coaching throughout the whole course of the year. I may be wrong, but I really don't know that any of us are that much dumber or that much smarter than the other guy, that we have a secret for what to do in a tournament as opposed to something else. I think you establish habits throughout the course of the whole year, and I think that's what Tommy does, and does it to a level that I have a great deal of respect for.
Q. I was hoping could you talk about the experience level. All four teams are really senior/junior dominated. You've been here with both extremes.
COACH WILLIAMS: I think it makes everything a lot easier because your team, the players themselves, can handle some of the little things that more inexperienced players have to get from their coaches. I think if you have a scenario where your own team members handle a lot of the little problems or a lot of the question marks, you're much stronger, and during the course of the game they've been through so many things that they don't get as frustrated. I don't think the panic sets in nearly as much on the more experienced guys as it does the others. I think for the most part you'll have an exception of Syracuse with Carmelo, even though they had some more experienced players on that team, but he was the best player. Then you go all the way back to the Fab Five in the early '90s at Michigan. I think for the most part you look at guard play and experience and those are the teams that usually do very, very well in the NCAA tournament.
Q. You got three coaches in this Final Four with multiple Final Four appearances, and one in Bruce Weber who is a rookie at it. If Bruce were to ask you for advice about how to handle things this week, what would you tell him?
COACH WILLIAMS: To do exactly what he's been doing. It's been working pretty doggone well (laughter). I think you've got to do what's comfortable to you. I've seen some extremes a hundred years ago it seems like now. In '81 we kept a team out away from everybody in Philadelphia, made it to the final game and lost. '82 we went to downtown New Orleans and won. Sometimes things just work better for that specific team. Bruce knows his team better than anybody else. What would give them a comfort zone, would allow them to enjoy the experience, but allow them the comfort zone that would get as focused as they possibly can on the game, and no one knows that like Bruce. But his team is a very veteran team. I think they'll be able to handle whatever he gives to them because he's not going to make any mistakes.
Q. Could you tell me, have you seen any change in Marvin Williams throughout the course of this year? Tell us the importance of his game to the team overall.
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I've seen tremendous change in his game. I think he's just gotten better and better and better, and he's played better in competition. Every day in practices he's worked so, so hard. He says he was shocked the first practice, the first week, about the intensity level. He decided he had to match that, and he really has. He's been pushed more. But he's just done a marvelous, marvelous job. There's no way we're here without Marvin Williams, to say the least. He's really a starter, even though he doesn't run out there when the starting lineup is introduced or when the ball is thrown up. But, you know, he and Sean and Jawad Williams rotate between those two spots. He can play both spots. He's just done a fantastic job. Again, there's no way that we're nearly as successful as we have been without him.
Q. When you brought your KU teams here for regional action, you would always take them down to the river to spit in the Mississippi River. Can you talk about that tradition, whether you're going to do that this weekend.
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I've been coaching since '79. I think I spit in the river about four times. That's about all everybody wants to talk about. Maybe I should try to market it or something. In '82, we were in New Orleans. Somebody down there said, "Hey, coach, you need to go spit in the Mississippi, it's good luck." I said, "Really?" When you're an assistant coach, the guys in the short pants are the ones that matter. So as a coach you're trying to find anything and everything that you can do. Somebody told me that. I did it. I came back to the hotel, told some families what I'd done. They all laughed at me. I just know that we beat Houston that night. Two mornings later we were getting are ready to play Georgetown. Matt Dougherty's sisters and a few other people went out with me as well. Everybody caught on. In '93, the Final Four was down in New Orleans. We did it again. I guess one other time in St. Louis in the regional. I think it's only four times that I've done it. But you never can tell. We may sneak out and do it again.
Q. Early in his career, Sean May's scoring on the inside, finishing plays was not one of his strengths. Can you talk about how that's progressed this season, whether or not you feel like because he's kind of become more of a focal point of the offense, whether he's become more of a leadership guy?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I think success on the court does give a guy some more leadership just by the nature of what's going on. I think that part of it's pretty easy, that he is, the respect and confidence that his teammates have in him. I think last year his body wasn't as good. He didn't have as much balance, didn't have as much strength. I think that's helped him finish plays. He had a little knack of being careless and trying to spin so many of his shots up on the board. We tried to get him to focus on picking out a spot on the board, shooting it straight to that spot, and shooting the ball, not just letting it go, not spinning it up. I think the biggest part has just been his hard work that's made him more explosive and stronger both.
Q. You were talking about the experience that coaches have in the Final Four. Are the kids seeking you out this week to talk to you and your assistants about what your experiences have been in the past? Are they just going on like it's another week?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, some of the guys are cool, and it depends on each one. We really are having a lot of the kids ask us about things, trying to make sure we tell them everything we can about what's going to happen. And yet, you know, other kids, today's nature of kids, they don't want to make anybody think they don't know what's going to happen next. So the cool aspect of it is still there. I enjoy both of them.
Q. What should the players expect? How will you prepare them for the pageantry of this week and the weekend?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, they'll see the magnitude of it, the interest level, how the people are going crazy, the North Carolina people, the Louisville people, Michigan State, Illinois, the fans, everybody, going to be all over the town. Hopefully the weather will be nice enough so you can see people out walking around. I think they'll see that. You might as well tell them what's going to happen. It's on TV all the time, whether it's ESPN or whatever. There's going to be coverage of it. You just got to get them to realize that they've just got to focus on playing the game. But it is as big as it can get. Then I think the other thing is to get them to realize that we all have great feelings about getting there, but one team is going to be crowned the champion on Monday night. It can be any of the four. You've got to focus and do the best you can to hopefully be that one.
BILL HANCOCK: Roy, thank you very much for your time. We look forward to seeing you this weekend.
COACH WILLIAMS: All right, Bill. Look forward to seeing you.
BILL HANCOCK: Thanks, callers. We look forward to seeing most of you in St. Louis this weekend.
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