March 29, 1996
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we've pretty much did our thing this week preparing for the game and now we're going to let it go, let it fly, see what happens. If they're knocking threes down through the rafters and off banners, we go home 35-2. I think the kids are ready for the challenge, even though we know it's a big, big challenge for us to play with them and win the game.
Q. John, could you talk a little bit about how and why you got involved in coaching and some of the people who were influential in getting you there?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, two of them are right back there in Pittsburg, Bill Sacco my high school coach who will be at the game with his wife. And my college coach, Joe DeGregorio (Clarion), who will also be here with his wife, sitting behind our bench. They're people that are special to me, that are great friends of mine and have had a lot to do with the opportunities I have. And I always say, you know, I'm just an ordinary guy, nothing special, trying to do special things. And those kind of people there have given me the opportunity to be here and be in front of you today.
Q. Could you talk about Bright and Dingle a little bit. Marcus has been getting publicity a lot and the guards are starting to get that, too, but these two guys seem to quietly do a great job.
COACH CALIPARI: One thing I've been telling my team all year, when the tide rises all the boats rise. Right now I'm seeing stories written about Tyrone Weeks, Charlton Clarke, Inus Norville. Donta Bright is as good a finisher as there is in the country. In my opinion he's the best finisher in the country. Dana Dingle is a warrior; a great rebounder, especially in traffic. A great defender, and he's really, really improved his offense. I think both of those two will have opportunities to play basketball when their careers are over at the University of Massachusetts.
Q. John, a lot of people talk about the minutes that your back court starters play, but they've seemed to hold up well. Was that a concern of yours, coming into the season and playing them so much?
COACH CALIPARI: If you asked college players, would you rather play 36 minutes a game or 24 minutes a game, there's not one that would tell you 24, not one. Unless he can't play, then he may be telling you, yeah, just give me a few minutes. If they can play they want to play every minute they can be on the floor. We play a style of basketball where we run every opportunity we can. We press probably 20 to 30 percent of the game, no more than that. And you can sustain it if you take care of your body, if you're in good physical condition. And you understand that you have to eat right and do things to keep your body ready for the challenge. And those two guys are the best I've seen.
Q. John, Kentucky obviously is under a lot of pressure to win a championship this year. Do you feel under any pressure to win one? What pressure do you feel like you're under at this point in time?
COACH CALIPARI: None of you guys picked us to win (laughter). We're big time underdogs, we know that. And the good news for us, I've got a group of kids that met every challenge. We're going into the game as loose as we can be, but I'll tell you what, I really think Kentucky will be the same way. It's going to be a great, great college basketball game.
Q. I wondered your opinion of playing the Final Four, the mecca of basketball. And why did you decide to bring your team Tuesday and has it been difficult?
COACH CALIPARI: I didn't hear you. You're going to have to start again.
Q. Three part question. How do you feel about playing the Final Four in the New York area, the mecca of basketball?
COACH CALIPARI: Very excited.
Q. Why did you decide to bring your team here on Tuesday, and has it been difficult to keep them away from distractions?
COACH CALIPARI: We're in a hotel where there are no distractions. If they want to leave they may walk about four hours. We're in a hotel where there's no place for them to go. We were going to leave Wednesday morning and we decided to leave Tuesday night so that we could come down and see St. Joe's play in the NIT semifinal and support them. We thought about leaving after classes on Wednesday or Wednesday night or Thursday morning but for us the best thing was to leave, leave the distractions of the media and the families and the friends behind. We're going to graduate four of our five seniors on time. We have no academic problem, so it wasn't an academic issue. It was about getting away, getting down here and getting ready to get started, and getting away from the distractions. But they've been going out to malls. They went to a movie last night. I like my team to be together. And I'll be honest with you, I enjoy being around them. And they enjoy being around each other.
Q. John, psychologically Kentucky might have an advantage since you beat them earlier. But does the fact that you guys have been listed as that much of an underdog, does that cancel out the psychological advantage they might have?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know. You have the revenge factor. I just know that we're going to have to do certain things. It doesn't matter what's printed. It doesn't matter what the line is, all that stuff does not matter when that ball is thrown up. If we don't do the things we need to do we're going to get buried.
Q. Does your relationship with Rick make this feel a little -- you saying you're loose and the team is loose, does that help you approach the game?
COACH CALIPARI: I would rather not play Rick Pitino unless it was the very last game for both of us. The reason is I owe him a lot. I'm very grateful for the opportunity he's given me and my family. You don't want to play great friends unless it's the last game for both teams. We have to do this, so we're going to play. Between now and game time before it ends, he's the other coach. When the game ends I'll hug him, win or lose, and tell him how much I appreciate what he's done for me and my family. But until then we're both going after the jugular.
Q. John, when you look at the team that beat Kentucky in that first game and look at the one that just beat Georgetown again here, what strikes you as the biggest difference between -- because it's the same guys, what's the biggest difference when you look at the two tapes?
COACH CALIPARI: We are better defined. Our team has evolved over the year. And we're a better defined team right now. We have a better idea what we have to do to win. We have a better idea what our roles are. And right now I would say before this game our team is in as good a frame of mind as individuals and as a team as I've seen. It doesn't mean much, but --
Q. Coach, in the Final Four there's always players who just take that spotlight, this could be an opportunity for Marcus. Is this the type of setting he thrives in and would want to do that?
COACH CALIPARI: He's played his best games in our biggest games. But I don't want to put pressure on him. And what I've said to him, as long as you defend and rebound and block shots we'll be okay. If you score we'll be in pretty good shape. But don't worry about that. We'll still be okay if you just rebound, defend and block shots. Those are all effort things. You don't want to put pressure on any one player on our team. Our program is based on balance. We don't live by the star system. And that means on the basketball court everybody has opportunities to score. And off the court if someone screws up they pay the price, whether they're our best player or our worst player. And then we move on after that happens. I think our team knows that, sure, Marcus is going to play a part in this, but so is Edgar, so it Carmelo and Tyrone Weeks and Inus Norville, and they're all going to play a part in this.
Q. What's your take on most people viewing your game as the "championship game before the championship"?
COACH CALIPARI: I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about preparing my team for the game. Hopefully after, worrying about the next game.
Q. Coach, you hear the phrase "UMass basketball" from your kids, "If we play UMass basketball", what is your definition of UMass basketball?
COACH CALIPARI: Playing with passion and emotion, being a warrior, making the extra pass, attacking the glass with reckless abandon and playing to win, having a refuse to lose attitude.
Q. You've spoken a number of times late this season about realizing at some point that your players wanted to succeed as much or more than you. What observations led you to that conclusion and in general how rare is that in this business?
COACH CALIPARI: Very rare. This is a unique team. And I'm not saying that that will lead to a victory on Saturday. But this is a unique team. In all my years of coaching and playing you've always had two or three guys on every team that didn't want it that badly. And either they didn't want it for themselves or they didn't want it for their team that badly. So they broke the team down a little bit. This team, to a man, wants it as bad for themselves as we want it for them. And it's fun coaching. That means I don't have to check curfew, because they know how important it is to get rest. I don't have to see if people are going to be where they're supposed to be, because they know how important it is. We've had, in a year now, I don't know how many practices we've had, Malcolm, imagine we've had about four bad practices. That is incredible. Somebody came over to one of our practices, said where would you rate that? I said eight. We haven't had many bad practices, because they want it bad, for themselves and their team. It makes my job easy. It makes me look like I'm doing a fabulous job. The reality is I'm just kind of pushing them in the right direction and they're doing it all.
Q. John, describe your team as big time underdogs. There are a couple of other underdogs here, too. Can you discuss the notion the tournament maybe should be re-seeded after the regional rounds?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me throw you this. People say we shouldn't be playing in the first game with Kentucky. How would you re-seed? The seed coming into the tournament? Right now Mississippi State is playing as well as anybody. How would you say they would be seeded, third? They're playing better than us and may be better than Kentucky, and just beat Kentucky. So maybe they should be seeded first. Who would judge it? Who would do it? People are mad where they're seeded going in. I think it would open up another can of worms. I think the tournament the way it's run, the success of this tournament is unparalleled. I don't think you mess with it. I think you leave it alone, and we play Kentucky. I said this, I thought Georgetown was one of the best four teams in the country, we had to play them in a regional final, one of us was not coming here. Unfortunately, that's where the chips fall. That may happen one year, where we're one of the best, and we play the regional finals and get beat. You have to take the good with the bad.
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