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March 31, 1996

Derek Anderson

Tony Delk

Walter McCarty

Rick Pitino

Antoine Walker


RICK PITINO: We're very excited to be in the championship game. We look at Syracuse and we understand that we've got some matchup problems. They're a team right now playing great, great basketball. Last night's game was as rough and tough a game as we've had all year. It was like an Ali/Frasier fight. It was two teams coming at each other with everything they had physically and mentally. And the players and the coaching staff have nothing but the utmost respect for the University of Massachusetts. And after watching the film of Syracuse, the players are developing the necessary respect for that team in order to win.

Q. Coach, can you talk about your relationship with Jim Boeheim, and take us through the story about him interviewing you for the job at Syracuse?

COACH PITINO: Jim is a lot different today than he was back then. He was a bachelor back then, played in the CBA for a number of years, and Roy Danforth's assistant on and off, from graduate assistant on and off, for 13 years. He got the head coaching position. And was looking for someone to teach man-to-man defense, because Roy was primarily a zone defensive coach. And I guess he called somebody who knew me, got my number, we got married in the afternoon and we went to the Americana Hotel, which I believe today is the New York Sheraton. And he put a phone call in early evening, maybe 5 o'clock, 6 o'clock and I had literally carried my bride across the threshold, put her on the bed, and it was a very important step in my life, she's an Irish Catholic girl, so this is a very big moment for me. (Laughter). And the phone rang. And I heard this whining voice at the other end, didn't recognize it. And he said, this is Jim Boeheim. And I said, Jim, congratulations on getting your job. He said, I'd like to talk to you. I said literally, Jim, I just entered the room. And I said, could we get together tomorrow morning? And he said no, I have to go to Chicago tomorrow morning. I said there's no way, being Italian it's going to take me five or six hours (laughter). I just can't do it. He's a convincing person, he came in and we literally talked about two and a half hours. He would not let me leave -- I just wanted to think about it, think about it in terms of inches and snow and so on. And he would not let me leave until I committed to take the job. And I kept calling my wife every half hour telling her I'd be up. The best part about the story is I started at $14,000. Because I kept calling my wife he thought I was trying to up the anti-, and I finished at 17,500. I did get a nice raise. She went to live with his three roommates, one named Brad Benjamin, another named Gary who was a bartender, and the other guy that was a coach that was the worst derelict of the three. And I went to recruit Louis Orr and he went to Chicago to recruit and she had to live with them for a week. And it's been a great friendship ever since.

Q. Coach, could you talk about the 2-3 zone, how they play a little differently and what the problems they create, and what you want to do and what you don't want to do?

COACH PITINO: It's like the full court press or half court defense, it's the staple. Their 2-3 zone, it's the defense that they play most often. They can play man. But the one thing, after last year, we played Carolina -- we've played a lot of 2-3 zones, when I was in Providence in '87 we pressed, dropped back and played 90 percent 2-3 zone, that's something I picked up from Jim. Every day of every practice, regardless of whether we were getting ready for the zone we played a minimum of 15 to half an hour every day of the year against zone. And we've become good at attacking. This is the game you're going to have to be great. They're the best 2-3 zone in the country. You have to be patient and you can't rely on fool's gold. If you make three or four long jump shots and if you think you've discovered a way to beat it, it's like going long against the press and allowing us to set our tempo of up and down, you think you're beating it but you're really not. So patience, dribble penetration and offensive rebounding is a key to beat a great zone defense.

Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about the expectations? I know you've gone through this a couple of times, if you could talk a little bit about that. What this means to you being in the championship game for the first time and how much it would mean for you to win this?

COACH PITINO: I don't look at it in terms of me winning it, because I haven't scored a bucket for this team all year. I feel confident of my team's ability because of people to my left and right. And I'd like to see us win the championship because of their dedication and their unselfishness. To me, I'm going to have other cracks at it, God willing. These young men, at least two of them will not be back. So it's very important for our seniors, for the State of Kentucky, we go out there and play our best game and hopefully come away with a championship.

Q. Rick, can you talk about the differences, if there are any, besides the stakes being higher about playing Jim and his team now than in 1987?

COACH PITINO: The difference is in '87 I had a very hard working, terrific basketball team and now I've got much better players at this level. Syracuse reminds me a lot of Massachusetts, only instead of playing tough man they play zone. They rely on baseline play, dribble penetration. And a ferocious offensive attack that's difficult to defend. The similarities, they're bigger on the baseline, very, very strong basketball team. This team started out as Cinderella, but they're no longer at that point right now. They're playing obviously with the teams they beat the best basketball, some of the best basketball in the country right now.

Q. For a couple of the players, Tony and Walter, do you go into tomorrow night's game trying, you think, from a mental standpoint that it is just another game or will you allow yourself to start thinking this is the game the whole country is going to be watching?

TONY DELK: You have to be relaxed when you go out there and not try to put so much pressure on yourself because yes, it is another game. But it's at biggest game of our career. And we want it to end in a win. So you have to go out there and be more relaxed than anything.

WALTER McCARTY: I feel the same way AS Tony. Just keep playing the way we've been playing the whole season, if we do that, we should be successful. We should go out there and it is just another game, just go out there and play our style.

Q. What were the worries at the start of the season with such a stable of high school All Americans that you could keep all these guys happy if nobody was playing more than say 25 minutes a game? And was there a point during the season that you realized that this would be a harmonious group?

COACH PITINO: We went to Italy this summer and it helped a great deal becoming close. But the first thing is you can't play more than -- none of these guys can play more than 32 minutes in our system. It's too difficult when we're playing our game. It's not very difficult for Antoine and Walter or for that matter Tony or even Anthony. It's difficult on Allen Edwards and Jeff Sheppard, two outstanding players who don't see the quality minutes. These four young men get all the minutes they need. But Antoine came in very similar to Mashburn with defensive liabilities, with a great game, but not an understanding of what the game is all about. And right now Antoine Walker is an excellent defensive player, and last year he was the MVP of the SEC tournament. And right now he's developing into an absolutely tremendous basketball player, with his passing skill it makes us go. Antoine has become unselfish, very much a leader. You have three seniors that are very, very dedicated. And Anthony Epps, like Lazarus Sims, he makes us all go. He's a tough, hard-nosed son of a gun that in Kentucky if you win this championship can make his political future, and he'll probably be governor down the road. So it's very, very important for all of us that we play well. But the unselfish part in today's world, I would preach all I want, tell all the pro stories, but unless you have these guys willing to do it, it's never going to work. And they were willing to sacrifice. They deserve all the credit.

Q. Rick, could you talk a little bit about Wallace and the NCAA tournament, and the differences he brings?

COACH PITINO: The problem with Hill is Wallace and the problem with Wallace is Hill. Hill has great moves in the low post. He gives you a long pivot and if you don't take that away he goes up and under. He's physically very difficult to keep off the boards on the defensive end he draws the charge extremely well. Wallace is a great one-on-one player, and he is the most improved player I've seen all season in the way he's developed his ball handling skills and his outside shooting. So both of those guys play with each other. Teams that try to key on Wallace, allow Hill to get off and vice-versa. So we've got to try to stop both of them.

Q. Coach, you had talked a little bit yesterday about the value of seniors in terms of desire. Can you talk about what value they bring to the actual games, having seniors as opposed to juniors and sophomores?

COACH PITINO: I took over the Knicks, I had a feeling, I knew how I wanted to play as a coach. What happens -- like Ron Mercer right now is all the talent in the world, and they really know what to do. But what I didn't know and what they don't know is what not to do. I surrounded myself with people like Dick McGuire to milk them about everything about what not to do with officials, players and travel. And what seniors give you, they know not what to do, seniors, not turning your head to locate the inside and give up the outside. And seniors have been through that so much, and there's no substitute for experience. And with Pope, McCarty and Delk, we've got three great seniors, this young man, Anthony Epps has valuable experience, and Antoine Walker may be the smartest sophomore I've ever coached. There's no substitute for senior ability, because they know not what to do.

Q. Question for Antoine, could you talk about your relationship with Donovan McNabb, the success he's had with football, how much you talk?

ANTOINE WALKER: We went to school four years in high school. We were close in high school. Since we got to college, I haven't really communicated with him very much. I got to talk to him yesterday before the game a little bit and recommend in his about -- I'm glad to see him doing so well, because in high school everybody said he couldn't pass and he couldn't do this. And he's really proven everybody wrong. And I'm really happy for him. We will remain good friends, I just don't get to talk to him that much.

COACH PITINO: I much apologize. Tony said you keep leaving out Derek. I didn't see him back there.

Q. This is for Tony, last night against Syracuse, Mississippi State came out and hit four, five, 3's right away and continued shooting; as Coach mentioned Fool's Gold. Can you talk about showing patience a little bit against that zone and not being enticed to take too many 3's?

TONY DELK: You play as a team, you don't want to take the first open shot that you get. Because that's what they want you to do and you're playing right into their hands. We practice the zone each and every day and we have gotten better. And we know not to take the first shot that we get. And I think Anthony, some other guys, we know we have to get the ball inside so they can score, and make the defense play honest against us.

Q. Coach, obviously you know how much pressure you're under with this job because so much is expected of Kentucky, could you talk about that pressure, and how that plays off you and your players, the fact that there is a great expectation of winning a National Championship?

COACH PITINO: I think the pressure is there because it's only been one championship in 41 years. And so many people had a taste early on. But what we try to do is make good pressure, to try to focus more, run faster, jump higher, and do all the good things. There's no escaping that. Anytime you play toward the Final Four, the championship, the Super Bowl, you can't say, oh, it's there and I'm not going to go. You have you have to think of all the good things that are going to happen to you under that influence. And that's what we've been doing. We try to be attentive to the defensive end and relax at the offensive end. And it's been working well for us this season. It's there. It's only there for one more game.

Q. Rick, you made Syracuse turn the ball over than 32 times in the Lexington last year. Is there anything different in this game?

COACH PITINO: This is not a knock on the young man, but they had a two guard trying to play one guard in Michael Lloyd. And they have Lazarus Sims, who sees over pressure very well. And a guard like Anthony who's very much under control. That game last year, they had 33, I think we had 26, 27. It was one of the poorest college basketball games I've been around since I've been a coach. The fact that we won is not saying much, because it was a matter of who was going to play worst. It was just a bad game by both teams. That game is so foreign to the way this game will be played. Syracuse I think turned it over five times. If they turn it over five times against us, it will be a nice runner up trophy I that we will receive. (Laughter).

Q. Rick, could you talk about how your offense settled in once Anthony became your point guard this year?

COACH PITINO: What I wanted to do with the freshmen this year is get them as much -- as such experience as possible during the regular season. Anthony, believe it or not, when we opened up the season, I told him that he may only play 10, 12 minutes a game, but more than likely he'll be on the court for the last five minutes. But what I should have found out, Tony was doing a decent job of playing one, believe it or not, it's just that we missed his score at the two guard spot. I was trying to play the five best athletes together. I didn't know who was going play, I was doing a lot of tinkering at that time. And then I realized without Anthony Epps we're a good team. With Anthony Epps we're a great team. And he's a young man that is a 3-1 assist turnover ratio. He's a tough young man mentally, and he makes his team go from a point guard position, like Lazarus Sims does for Syracuse he does for Kentucky.

Q. Question for Derek. Derek, is this what you envisioned when you transferred and can you talk about what this experience means to you?

DEREK ANDERSON: When I transferred it was basically the situation I was in at Ohio State. And I knew I could come and get a lot out of this program. We played against them and I saw how they got up and down across the floor. My vision was to go to the tournament and play with real confidence and play with great players like I thought I would do, and I've been successful so far.

Q. For Rick, what does it say about the way the game is played today by a team that place effectively in a 2-3 zone can create so much discussion over the course of the tournament, it seems so unusual.

COACH PITINO: What happened in '87, I believe, with the inception of the three point line. Everybody felt you had to get away from the zone. It's made North Carolina a competitive team the last fewer years. It's a staple for Syracuse. Everybody got away from practicing offense, because the defense wasn't part of their system any longer. And the zone is making a very strong comeback right now, because it's keeping people from going inside to out too much. And Temple's zone, 3-2, and Syracuse is 2-3, it was a God send in '87 playing the 2-3 zone, because it makes the other team take jump shots but is a great zone to fast break out of it, you get your two forwards on the baseline and your center on the middle and your guards can come in. And you break and hit the lane very good out of it, as well. A 3-2 zone has gaps until the middle of it and you can gap it a little better than the 2-3. So it's a very effective weapon. But I have a feeling that Syracuse will play more than 2-3 against us. I think they'll play some man. And I think we've got to be ready for both.

Q. Coach, as you take a look at Syracuse's 2-3 zone, the fact that Syracuse's guards are taller, how does that help Syracuse and how do you think you may attack that type of defense?

COACH PITINO: They're going to try to post Anthony up, we know that. And Lazarus is a very good passer out of the low post. Tony Delk is 6-1, but he's got like 37, 38 inch sleeves. So he really plays like he's 6-4, and you'll notice we post him up all the time. I've seen him post up 6-5, 6-6 guards, you can't do that about the zone. Anthony is an ex-football player. Tony has one percent body fat on him. They're both highly conditioned athletes, who physically can mix it up. I don't worry about the size at the guard position as much as I do at the front court.

Q. Of the ten players you're using, how many lineups did you experiment with and how many do you use now? How many have you weeded out over the course of the year?

COACH PITINO: When Prickett went down it took away from our front court. But we still have used different ones. If we're in a slow game, a half court game, Allen Edwards is maybe the premiere player at that position in a slow half court game because he passes and does a terrific job there. If we're in a different type of game, Mercer is good. And Derek Anderson is a young man who does so many intangible things that don't show up on the stat sheet to cause the opposition trouble. With the game on the line and you need buckets you're going to look at these guys probably on the floor.

Q. You mentioned Wallace being the most improved player that you've seen. How much have you seen him and what have you seen?

COACH PITINO: Well, I thought John, like so many players, I think should not come out. I don't think John should have come out last year, and I think he made a good move staying in school. I questioned whether John could play at the next level, because he had to play the small forward spot and could he face up, could he put the ball on the floor, we knew he was a great shot blocker, a great inside player. Heck shoot well, and put it on the floor well, he's an excellent passer. We know that now. One of the problems we have with pressing Syracuse and the way he takes the ball out-of-bounds. He's the best long pass in bounders that we've seen. And you've noticed that in a few games. So we've got to be very concerned about that. He has a great arm, he's very accurate with it and that's one of our concerns in pressing him. So we may not press, we may play flat zone and see if they can beat it. (Laughter).

Q. Coach, other teams have used a lot of players, Kansas and North Carolina in particular, and have tended to be a little choppy. Why are you guys able to be so seamless in rotating so many players?

COACH PITINO: I think it's the way we practice and the system. Since I've been a coach I've used ten players, just different time segments. At BU we used ten. And some guys play 34 minutes, other guys play 6 minutes. It changes depending on how talented your second unit is. These guys play so well together that it's finally tuned at this point in the season and they're attuned to the substitution patterns.

Q. Rick, what was the influence on you that wanted you to play the ten man, 11 man game, specifically, was there a specific team that you grew up favoring. What was it that put you into that mode of thinking?

COACH PITINO: I think chemistry is one of the most important vehicles in any team sport. And no matter how good a motivator you may think you are, if guys aren't playing, there's no way you can motivate them. Because the present is what's important to young people. And by everybody understanding that when they take layup lines they are going to play, their emotional level, their concentration, their closeness with the team obviously goes to greater heights. And I think it's so important that you have that to really illustrate a team. It was much easier in the process because of the length of the game and everybody -- I shouldn't say everybody -- it's very easy to play ten players in two units. But with college basketball, the one thing I tell these guys, Antoine Walker, when the NBA draft happens, so far I've been in the NBA four years, we have never once, in looking at all the files that we have, ever talked about how many points a man scores. We talk about rebounding ability, shot blocking ability, does he take good shots, can he guard his own man, but we never talk about how many points does a man average. Now you can be Antoine Walker and go out there and play 12 minutes, but if you know basketball you know he's one of the premiere players in the country, because of the way he knows how to play. So it's important, I think, that everybody knows that they're going to have the opportunity to play and then you can practice hard. Because that's when it's terrible. The practices are bad when 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, know they're not going to play in the game, it's a psychological disadvantage.

Q. Rick, can you talk about what Mark Pope reaching this team means, is he a west coast kid or Kentucky guy?

COACH PITINO: We didn't have him for four years. Mark Pope has gone from a very uptight young man, kind of star struck with being at Kentucky to a very relaxed young man playing with confidence now. Much better athlete, he does a mile run in 4:46. He has good hops. As you know he was a Rhodes Scholar candidate, very bright young man and a terrific leader, whether he's at Kentucky -- I don't know west coast -- if that's the label of a type of player or not or what type of person, I'm not sure, but he's fit in very well at Kentucky.

Q. Rick, could you talk about Boeheim in terms of what kind of coach he is and his personality of being a whiner and complainer. Give us some insight about him.

COACH PITINO: You all know he's a whiner, that's obvious (laughter). I tell you a story, and that's true. I did most of the talking in recruiting. He likes to sit back. I used to get very upset with him because he would slump over and almost fall asleep. He wasn't paying attention. I'd start out the same way, give the application, the course catalog and speak the first 10, 15 minutes on academics. And after I give everything out, I gave the same thing out every time, I gave a book, I gave a schedule card, press guide and I gave them two -- depending on how many people, six tablets of No-Doze, to keep him up. Because he is a boring, boring guy. (Laughter). Actually, Jim Boeheim is charge. He's extremely funny. And if you go to a party with him it's going to sound strange to you, but he's the life of the party. He has a great personality, great wit, great charm. And he has a dry sense of humor that's very funny. And he's flat out one of the premiere coaches of the game. And we certainly -- I certainly know I'm not going to out-coach him. My only hope is that the players can out-play their players.

End of FastScripts....

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