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March 31, 1996

Jim Boeheim

Jason Cipolla

Lazarus Sims

John Wallace


COACH BOEHEIM: I apologize, I was not paying attention.

ALFRED WHITE: No problem, coach. If you can get it started with general comments about the game and your team.

COACH BOEHEIM: Okay. Obviously the second half, I thought the first half both teams played well, a little difference in turnovers, it was in our side, but the rebound was in Mississippi State's. The second half the difference in the game we got everybody involved. And that's when we play our best, when we get something from everybody, and that's really what happened in the second half. And again, I thought that in the first four games of the tournament everybody said it was basically that nobody shot the ball well from the outside against us and that's why we won. Well, Mississippi State shot the ball very well from the outside and had a pretty good field goal percentage and yet we were still able to get the things done that we had to to win. So from that sense it was especially a good win. But the key to the game was Otis in the first half, when I think we were struggling a little bit offensively. He's going at a very, very good defensive player. And obviously a guy that will be a hot draft pick. That was the key in the first half. And in the second half everybody got involved. And that was the ballgame.

Q. Coach Boeheim, can you talk about how tough Kentucky is, and when you match your team against theirs, what worries you?

COACH BOEHEIM: Obviously Kentucky has been No. 1, or in the top two teams all year, preseason number one. And they've got tremendous depth. They're good in every position. They've got guys that can play inside or outside at every position. They really don't have a true center. They have a lot of forwards and guards that can all handle the ball, pass the ball and shoot the ball. Their defense is obviously very good. And that's why they've been where they've been all year. They present a lot of problems. And hopefully we'll be able to come up with some answers Monday night.

Q. For John Wallace, John, how do you feel your game has grown in your senior season?

JOHN WALLACE: I think my game has grown tremendously. But also I give a lot of credit for my team for giving me the ball more frequently this year. They gave me the ball for a lot of opportunities.

Q. Coach Boeheim, you mentioned last night that against the zone sometimes when teams come out and hit a few three's early, might take them out of the plan to work the inside more. How does that play with Kentucky, a team that has probably more three-point shooters than anybody?

COACH BOEHEIM: I think we play two or three teams in the tournament that shot 38, 39 percent as a team from the three point line, which is what Kentucky shoots. So it really doesn't matter how many guys you have, you can only play so many at one time. I think the key is, as far as if a team does make shots early, it can do that. I did say that, it can lead to that. But generally speaking the way we play our zone is going to encourage people to take three point shots. And if you can sustain making them for the whole game, it can be a factor, but Mississippi State made eleven three's against us. So, it's not just how well you shoot the ball, it's any defense. It's how you attack it. I know Kentucky will attack our zone better. And we have to be prepared for that. We have to be prepared to adjust. We've been able to do that throughout the tournament with our defense and really throughout the year. So hopefully we'll be able to make those adjustments as the game moves forward.

Q. Coach Boeheim, could you talk about the development of Otis Hill, from things like dealing with the death of his dad, to the exchange you two had during the exhibition games and now blossoming in the tournament?

COACH BOEHEIM: Otis obviously has stepped up tremendously in the last part of year. Part of it is staying out of foul trouble. I think that's a lesson that he's come to learn, understand what he has to do to stay in the game. He's finishing better. He's worked harder in terms of getting himself ready to play and to finish plays. Last year he made some of the same plays, some of the same, but he didn't finish them as well. And this year he's finishing. He's finished all year long, and it has just been the foul situations. Obviously Otis was very close to his father, and his father was a great, great guy and a great fan of Otis, and somebody that Otis believed in tremendously. And he was just a tremendously good influence on Otis in terms of helping him when he struggled, when he was -- early in his career. And that was a very difficult time. And you have to understand that. And as a coach you have to understand that. But Otis played through it and had a solid year. This year he's just continued to improve and step up. I think that he will continue to improve as we go on into next year. I think the one thing that -- probably the thing that has hurt Otis a little bit is, when you're playing high school in a very small league, there's not many big guys to compete against, and you don't develop some of the things that you really need to. So that hurts a little bit. But he stepped up big all the way through this season, especially in the last half.

Q. For John Wallace, can you expand on the difference between last year and this year, and especially what different sort of attitude you take into being a pro this time.

JOHN WALLACE: I'm not even thinking about the pros right now. I have one more year at Syracuse University. The only thing at my mind, like I said earlier, it's not so much my game improving, as my teammates giving me the ball more frequently.

COACH BOEHEIM: The biggest thing with John is he's been there for us, inside, all three years. But we were a more guard-oriented team the last two years, given the makeup of our team. And I think John is getting the ball more this year. And he has also improved his jump shot and his range, which has made him a more difficult player to guard offensively or defensively.

Q. John, you saw what Kentucky did in focusing an awful lot on Camby last night with very, very good athletes. Obviously you've run into that a lot. Could you comment on the particular problems that Kentucky would propose for you and then your team?

JOHN WALLACE: It's just when they -- you have to be strong and break through.

Q. This is for Jason, I know a lot has been made of this, but has the whole experience for you been sweeter because it's been closer to home? And what's been the reaction of friends and family even from last night?

JASON CIPOLLA: It's been a pleasure for me to have a chance to play in the Final Four and have my family and friends. It's an exciting moment for me and my teammates, and I'm enjoying this moment even more when the season gets over. It's great for me right now.

Q. This is for Coach Boeheim, Coach, can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Rick Pitino back in the days he was at Syracuse and how it's continued on?

COACH BOEHEIM: Rick was -- I've known Rick as a young coach, and through a good friend of ours, when I got the Head Coaching job at Syracuse, I had really two priorities, one was to sign Roosevelt Bouie and the other one was to sign -- get Rick Pitino signed as an assistant coach. And fortunately -- I think the first guy was the most important, but the second one was Rick. And it's a true story. I went down there, it's been told so many times, I guess today maybe I wouldn't do such a thing. But I was young and a little bit more fired up back then and talked him into coming down and talking to me. But it wasn't like I made a special trip down there, I was down recruiting anyway. At least I think that's what I remember telling him. But in those days we drove down, so I drove to New York and got there at 3 or 4 o'clock or whatever. And got him to come downstairs and talk a while. It look a little bit of time to convince him. But I did manage to talk him out of postponing his honeymoon until later. The part of the story that hasn't been told is, I was living in Syracuse with three guys in a house and Joanne came, instead of going on a honeymoon, came to Syracuse. I put her in the house with three guys and I went to recruit Roosevelt Bouie, and Rick went to sign Louis Orr. And probably it made -- made my career at Syracuse, and certainly Joanne does not seem to have suffered too much since (laughter) and she's made Rick pay many, many times over putting her in that apartment, that house with three guys -- four guys. And it's a true story. And the only time I've ever seen Rick shook, was once, but the one time that nobody knows about was, we pretty much had gotten a commitment from Louis Orr and Rick went to sign him, as I went to sign Roosevelt. I took the bigger guy. And Louis played in an All Star Game against a rough team, and Louis was an unknown player. And he played in the All Star Game and Kentucky was there and Cincinnati and some other people, and Louis had 29 points and 18 rebounds. And Rick went up with the papers to Louis's father. And Mr. Or said, well, Coach, I don't know, there's some other schools that have been really interested. And Rick was -- I know some people that were there, and Rick was speechless, which is really unique (laughter). And Mr. Or said I'm just kidding, Coach. And it's true, that's how we got started at Syracuse and got those two guys, and won 26 games, I think, the first year. And that was the last year I was thought of as a good coach (laughter), as I recall back, because the next year we only won 22. And I learned early that you don't win that many games the first year, you'll be doomed to failure for a long time.

Q. Lazarus, what was it like waiting your turn to play at point guard and also how close did you actually come to leaving?

LAZARUS SIMS: The first part of the question, it was very frustrating, knowing I could be out there helping and doing some things. For the most part, I was just frustrated. And if when we decided I was coming back, I needed to get my priorities and personal life in perspective. And me and John talked over some of it. We worked it out between ourselves and made the best situations to both of us and our team.

Q. Lazarus, as the point guard do you feel a certain pressure having to face the wave of the players coming at you from Kentucky?

LAZARUS SIMS: No, actually I don't. All year I haven't subdued to the pressure and I've been able to handle it. I guess it's being brought up to the right way, and how to handle those situations. It's going to happen during the course of the game people are going to pressure me. And I have to have a level head and react to the situation and take care of the situation.

Q. Coach Boeheim, could you talk about Sims, the frustration, and watching him all these years, and why did he become so good?

COACH BOEHEIM: Sometimes coaches are a little slow seeing things. But when Lazarus came to us his first couple of years, he struggled a little bit with injuries and then it was really a matter of playing behind first team point guard. And last year I thought that he was really ready to play, and our back court situation was one that he didn't get as much time as, I think, he probably could have gotten. The good thing about the whole process is, that the entire time, Lazarus never stopped working, which is usually what happens when you don't play, you get frustrated. He always worked hard. And he always tried to get better, each and every day. And was contributing in our program the last few years in a lot of key games, even though he wasn't the main guy in that position. He certainly learned what had to be done and when this year opened up and it was his spot, he's played, I think, as well as any setup point guard in the country as far as a guy that's just there to get the ball to people and run the basketball team. A lot is made out of point guards like Jacque Vaughn, who is a very good player, and Reggie Geary from Arizona, but I don't think anybody runs a basketball team better than he has run our team this year. There's point guards that can score more. But I don't think anybody could have done a better job with this team in terms of getting the ball to people. We had new guys with us, in playing roles situation for the first time. And we needed a strong presence at the point guard, and he's provided that. And again, as I said before, as everybody knows it's John's team in terms of when the ball comes to him. But everybody else knows that it's Z who is going to get him the ball.

Q. Coach, what do you need to do and what can you do against a team like Kentucky, which obviously is going to want a pretty fast, frantic type pace?

COACH BOEHEIM: The game -- it's a funny game, sometimes there's certain things you can do, obviously you play Kentucky, you have to handle their pressure. We feel we've seen good pressure all year. We think we know what we have to do. But you obviously have to execute against their pressure. You have to play good defense and keep them out of transition, and that really boils down to handling their pressure. If we handle their pressure we'll keep them out of transition. If we do that and if we play good half court defense, then it revolves around our offense and our ability to get good shots on the offensive end, which we have been able to do all year against everybody that we played. And hopefully we would be able to do that again Monday night.

Q. Coach, could you talk about what you first saw in Rick Pitino that made him somebody you wanted on your staff and what's going to be going through your mind Monday night just in terms of this magnitude of game?

COACH BOEHEIM: For some reason I heard some of that, but there was some part of it, I'm really sorry, but I didn't get the whole gist of the question. Let him ask that again.

Q. Coach, what did you first see in Rick Pitino and what does it mean Monday night having that past relationship, having him across the floor?

COACH BOEHEIM: As far as him across the floor PJ Carlesimo, as everybody knows is my best friend, when the game starts, Joe Smith can be down there, there's no relationship, there's nothing. I coach against players, coach against players and what they do. When I saw Rick as a young coach and player, he loved the game, dedicated to the game and that those are the kind of people that I like to be around, and it's as simple as that. It was obvious from the very beginning that he would be a great basketball coach some day. And he is.

Q. Coach Boeheim, this is a team, Kentucky, that has met pretty much every challenge that's been presented to it, including the big guys the last two games. Do you look at the zone as their final challenge and sort of the thing that's maybe your primary weapon in your game? Is that the thing you take in there hoping it will cause you guys to win? Will it be the key factor?

COACH BOEHEIM: We really play the defense that is the most effective for us. The zone has been very effective for us in the tournament. We went to Kentucky last year and they had a lot of these same guys. And we played 40 minutes of man-to-man. So I would or wouldn't rule out our chances of winning the game if we hadn't played man-to-man. Our defense did not get us beat in Kentucky last year.

Q. Coach, would you talk about John's decision to stay in school and whether reaching the Championship Game might encourage other people to stay in school?

COACH BOEHEIM: I don't think so. You'd like to hope that that would. But I seriously doubt it. I think people leave for their own reasons. And the one thing you have to understand about players, and I really don't know if any of us do understand, they all think they're ready to play in the NBA. It doesn't matter whether they're 12th grade or freshmen or sophomore, they all think they're ready to go to the NBA. Hopefully John will be a good example for people in terms of staying in. Refine the game, getting better, getting more mature. But I don't think it will matter. I think people -- it's just a matter of players that are at that level have tremendous confidence. And you don't want to take that away from them either as a coach, that's what makes them great players. So as a result I think that players are always going to think that they should go -- can go to the NBA and play. Think they're going to be that player that will make the difference. Think they're going to be Michael Jordan. And if anything, the new rookie salary thing might be a bad thing, because I think a talented player, freshman, sophomore, whatever, thinks he's good enough. He thinks in -- in the old days, he thinks, I can stay one more year in college and still get the money in one more year, big money. But now they look at it and say, it's three years. I might as well go now and get that three year clock started. I think it can actually be -- the new rookie cap can actually be the thing that encouraged talented players to go out early. Irregardless of that, that said, I don't think that's going to change college basketball that much. And in some ways the rules that have been passed, things that have caused balance in basketball, have helped the popularity of the game. There are no more dominant teams, with maybe Kentucky this year being the exception. There aren't three or four dominant teams anymore. And there are probably less chances of being dominant teams in the future because of the freshman rule. It was a huge rule for balance. And as a result you've got more good teams, more sections of the country involved in the game. You have a team from Mississippi for the first time ever in the NCAA tournament. And we were in New Mexico and the whole state was involved in their team getting to the tournament. So I don't think that that's going to hurt college basketball at all.

Q. Jim, I know the stakes are higher, but are your feelings for the situation different for you and Rick now than they were the first time you played in '87?

COACH BOEHEIM: '87? You mean the first game -- in the first game? Well, the stakes are a little higher, yeah. We were just playing to get to the final game in '87. But we had a tremendous advantage in '87 because we had already beaten them twice. And I think that's a huge advantage when you play a team. People say you don't want to play a team the third time. But if you've beaten a team twice -- I'd rather play that team rather than one that's beaten me twice (laughter). That was a little different situation. It was the first game. But at the time it seemed very important to me, as I recall. (Laughter).

Q. Coach, as soon as you guys won last night, people back home were in the streets, and they were asking little kids not to go to school tomorrow. It has been ten years since you came as close to winning it without winning it. Talk about what it means to you to be back there.

COACH BOEHEIM: First of all, that's not that much to do in Syracuse. (Laughter). I really do have a sense of humor. These guys would probably not agree with that. Obviously you get to the Final Four, it's a tremendous thing for the fans, your fans. I mean that's a huge thing for Central New York, that has supported us through the years. We have 250,000 people in Syracuse, and we've been able to average over 23, 24,000 fans a game, for a long number of years. And so as a coach, I'm happy. I've lived there all my life, and I'm happy for those people because they're happy. It gives everybody a great feeling. And that's a great, great thing about this whole trip and the fact that it was so unexpected. Obviously it makes it probably even better. I think when something is expected and you walk downstairs, Christmas morning, and know you're going to get something that's there under the tree, you're not that happy. But if it's something totally unexpected, it just makes you feel better. And that's what I feel good about. I've been there a long time. And I take a lot of pride in Central New York and Syracuse.

Q. Jim, is this Kentucky team unique in your experience. They have a number of good players and the way they use them. How does that play in, besides the simple fatigue factor?

COACH BOEHEIM: It's a unique team in some ways, in the abilities of the players, in terms of all the different qualities that each guy has, the big guys, the qualities that they have and extends right through their line up, really. Multipurpose players. A lot of teams, most college teams have one, one or two guys that can do a lot of things. They have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. They can hurt you in a lot of ways. Depth is always a concern, but it's not as much of a concern, and at least I hope that it can work that way when you get to the championship games in terms of how many players people use, and how many minutes you will spread -- how far you go minute-wise. And again, a lot of that will tell by how the game unfolds. But sometimes there can be an advantage to having a certain set line up. It's helped us throughout this tournament. But Kentucky is a different kind of team. They've always said in college basketball you have to have a great center, and you've got to have a great point guard.

Q. Jim, in '85 there was this notion in some reporters before the title game that Villanova was going to have to play a perfect game to beat Georgetown. And some people said they did, they shot 78 percent or whatever. Do you feel like you can play a perfect game and, if not, do you feel like you have to play, at the very least, your best season game.

COACH BOEHEIM: First of all I picked Villanova to win that game. Nobody realized that, because nobody asked me at the time. (Laughter) so I can say that and nobody can really contradict me. But that year, they played twice, Villanova and Georgetown. And one of the games was like a two point game. So why anybody thought Villanova couldn't possibly win, is beyond me. Obviously they shot the ball unbelievably well, and they did play a perfect game. I didn't think that would come down that way. But you have to remember Georgetown played great. But I thought they had a chance in that game. Listen to Rick Majerus, we don't have a chance. But coaches shouldn't make predictions. I think 9 out of 10 I've made, are usually wrong. So I think sometimes coaches are really worse than some of you guys, in terms of their predictions. But predictions don't matter at this stage. We have to play well to win. But a whole lot depends on how both teams play. There's nobody in college basketball that's unbeatable. Everybody knows that. And it's as simple as that. It's a one game deal. It's not the NBA, it's not four out of seven. We don't think we have to play a perfect game. We think we should play well, and that's all. That's how we'll go into the game. That's all we'll talk about. And we'll see what happens.

(Players break out interviews.)

End of FastScripts....

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