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April 1, 1996

Tony Delk

Walter McCarty

Ron Mercer

Rick Pitino

Mark Pope


COACH PITINO: First, I'd like to congratulate Syracuse University for doing what Massachusetts did, giving us every single thing that we could handle. We did a great job tonight from the first second to the last second of attacking their zone. But what's so difficult about it, we kept getting it inside eight feet from the basket, both on the baseline and in the middle and believe it or not, because you don't see a lot of zones, and even though you practice it, that's the toughest shot in basketball. We probably missed 15 shots right around ten feet. But we were very good with our ball movement. We had 22 assists. And when you can shoot 38 percent for the game and win, you know you're a great defensive team. I can't tell you how proud I am of the guys up here. From Italy to this point, they've just been the classiest group I've ever been around, and I can't pick out one day of one practice of one minute where I didn't think they gave us every ounce of perspiration they had in them.

Q. Coach, when you took this job and you called Kentucky the Roman Empire of college basketball, and it was kind of in ruins at that point, can you liken it to that now, that it's back to its peak?

COACH PITINO: Well, there's nothing like this. The first thing we went undefeated in the SEC. And I didn't know how -- I thought we were a great basketball team, because we built it on quickness. We had three guards, two forwards and no center. People said you can't win like that. The UMass game taught us how to play great team defense in the low post. And now going from shame, when I took over, that was the big thing, with the SI article about the little boy on the cover about shame to the National Championship and doing it by the strictest of rules really makes us all very, very proud. I'm very, very excited. I said it earlier we're like the Packers. The university is what we're all about, but this is the team that the state -- that belongs to the State of Kentucky, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and we're very excited we represented them for a National Championship.

Q. For Tony, talk about the looks you got in the first half, and the second half, were you getting the same looks?

TONY DELK: I thought we were patient out there. That was the key going into the game. We try not to take any bad shots. And I thought Anthony, Antoine and everyone did a great job of passing. When we do that, that's when we're a great team.

Q. Rick, can you talk about how different the two games were; not very many three pointers against UMass and then a whole bunch tonight?

COACH PITINO: Well, believe it or not, this is going to sound crazy to you, we learned so much from losing. And I hear coaches say you don't learn from losing. It made our season. When we loss to UMass, we beat UMass that night, it may have been reversed a few days ago. We learned so much from that game, in what roles to fill. Then we loss to Mississippi State and we realized that our defense wasn't where it should be entering tournament time. But without question, I think we're national champions today because of last year's North Carolina game. And I brought it up to the players, not a thousand times, but five hundred times that game, because I felt that game we took a lot of forced bad shots. And tonight, we haven't been a three point shooting team with the exception of Tony most of the year, we took 27 tonight and I can honestly say 27 of them were great shots. And that's rare.

Q. Tony, with the change from point to back to shooting guard and back to point to start this year and back to your natural position, No. 2, how fitting was it to shoot the ball tonight as well as you did from three point range and as comfortable as you could possibly be in your last game?

TONY DELK: I was worried. It was a feeling that not too many players get in to get that many open looks. If I wasn't penetrating and looking for them, it wouldn't have been possible. But you work so hard every day, when you shoot so many 3's, when you're open and you take them. That's the way we play, and if it's not there you don't force it. I think the loss helped us out last year, because we didn't force that many shots this year.

Q. Mark, would you describe the deflection that you had on Sims's pass to Wallace that resulted in Wallace's fifth foul and talk about your thoughts when you stepped onto the free throw line.

MARK POPE: The deflection, that's just something, that's our style of play. And we had a penetration, I don't even remember. Someone stepped up and did a great job of rotating up and we try to fill the passing lines. The free throws, we -- that's just something we work on. And I just thank God that they went in.

Q. Coach, one of the people most happy for you tonight was Jack Leaman, your former college coach. And I was just wondering what you most learned from him, first of all, and second, did he have an influence on you moving Tony Delk to point guard?

COACH PITINO: No, he didn't have an influence on me as far as that is concerned. What he did for me was he taught me how to be a man. And that's the most important thing to me. He made it very tough -- back then, discipline was extremely stringent. Without Jack Leaman, I don't think I would have ever grown up. He taught me the fundamentals, taught me about defensive discipline, but he taught me how to be a man and care about the team before everything else.

Q. If Walter could talk about a couple of plays he made when you guys needed breathing room desperately. You had a tip-in where it looked like you were going to slam it but you tipped it in softer, and you had a falling out-of-bounds kind of safe assist to Mark in the ten foot lane. Can you talk about that?

WALTER McCARTY: Just trying to work the boards a little harder. We knew if they were going to play the 2-3 zone, we were going to get rebounds. I was trying to find open -- I was trying to get the rebound and pitch it out for an open shot. It was really working hard and getting to the right spot at the right time.

Q. Rick, certainly your team's reputation is one of a team that shoots the ball consistently well. You've had worse shooting days this season but tonight you earned the distinction of having the lowest field goal for a championship team in 33 years. How important was that -- to offensively rebound tonight?

COACH PITINO: You have to give credit to Syracuse's defense because they've done that for everybody. But the thing I was concerned about, couldn't get the press on enough times when we thought we could wear them out. But I -- in two time outs, I said it doesn't matter what you do offensively, you're going to win it at the defensive end. I felt we won two games very untypical of Kentucky style basketball, but we practiced that way, bumped and grind the entire season. And we knew we had to win it that way. But you have to give credit, we got good shots, in the lane good shots and they challenged it and made it difficult on us. They're a great basketball team. No question about it. And everybody now today all sees the brilliance of Jim Boeheim. I'm really, really happy for him. I'm sure he's disappointed he lost. But happy everybody saw the brilliance of a great coach.

Q. For Ron, as a freshman, did you feel any extra pressure going into the big game like this and maybe the coach could address that question, too.

RON MERCER: Not really. I just wanted to go in and play hard. I talked to the guys a little bit before the game, the seniors had me up, and we talked a little bit before the game. And being a freshman, the seniors really helped me out all through the year. I give a lot of credit to the seniors.

COACH PITINO: Ron Mercer, there's no doubt in the coaches' minds, we all said this meeting, we've been meeting for about 55 hours, and another 50 hours of tapes, and we all said that we felt for practice Mercer was going to come up big against the zone. Ron is a great basketball player. And he's even a greater person because he could have complained, he could have wanted the instant gratification everybody expected of him and he never did that. He came to Kentucky to be part of the team, to learn certain things, and now after his freshman year, he's one of the main reasons why we won a National Championship. So to look back on this, he's going to have an unbelievable career that lies ahead of him. Derek made some terrific shots, our seniors are great. And I told Antoine privately, after all the players I've coached, I just love them to death, but watching him grow as a young man is the most special moment in my life, in coaching basketball, because he has matured so much. And when I said he stirs the drink, boy, did he stir it this year. He was absolutely phenomenal and I love him for the way he's grown up as a young man.

Q. Could you elaborate on what Coach Pitino said; you could have gone to a lot of different schools and played 38 minutes a game. Is this why you came to Kentucky?

RON MERCER: That's one of the main reasons I came. Out of the choice of other schools I had on the list, Kentucky was the only one who really had a chance in the next two years to compete for the National Championship, so I figured I could go in and learn from the seniors. They already had stars there, once I got here. It was a great opportunity for me to grow slowly and learn. And I think I made a good choice. (Laughter).

Q. Rick, you said yesterday that part of you would feel really good for Jim if he won. Can you characterize how you feel for him now that you won and he lost? And, also, can you address your feelings for how this pertains to your wife and her gratification at this accomplishment?

COACH PITINO: Well, my wife -- I asked her, it's interesting, we've been best buddies since she was a sophomore in high school and I was a junior, 27 years, it will be our 20th Wednesday. And she's been so disappointed because anything that's -- unless your mother is writing the article, sometimes when your wife or family has to read it, it's difficult at times. My wife has just wanted this too badly. And I told her it will happen. Don't worry about it, some day it will happen, just don't worry about it. She was so elated, I'm so happy for her and my mom, my brother and all my family and friends. Last year, when we didn't go to Seattle, I told every family member, "I don't know why you're looking at it so negatively. Don't you think it would be a lot better to win it in New Jersey where we're all from?" And she said, "You really believe that?" And I said, without question, "We're going to win it." Did I believe it? Absolutely not, but I said it to make them feel better.

Q. For Coach Pitino, could you please comment on the play of John Wallace for Syracuse?

COACH PITINO: He's terrific. What I love to see, he could have gone last year and maybe been like the 13th to the 17th pick. But I really questioned how good a pro he would be, because I didn't think he had a great face up game. And after the one time he sat out, he shoots the 3, he's explosive off the dribble, and this is typical of the young man that did the strong thing. And he's going to be a great pro. And I wouldn't be surprised, and I love all these guys, that he's as good as the number one pick. He probably won't be the number one pick, but it wouldn't surprise me because he's improved that much.

Q. Can you talk about the section of the second half where Sims went down and Syracuse was turning the ball over?

COACH PITINO: What we wanted to do more than anything else, is cut off the head and the body will fall. We had to get to Sims, make him tired, get him exhausted and get him working. We had to cut off the interior, but we had to pressure him. And certainly anytime you get him out of the game, it's a big factor. But they're a great basketball team. Burgan is a heck of a basketball player. Jim Boeheim put it well. He said, yeah, they may have 11 better players, but they're not better five versus five, or you're as good. And tonight, I kind of got away from our substitution patterns a little bit and we really only played 7, maybe 7 and a half people, because the tempo was such that we had to go with that.

Q. Mark, can you talk about how you guys were able to shut off Otis Hill tonight? He's had a big tournament for them. He shot 3 for 9 tonight.

MARK POPE: We saw the first half of the game against Mississippi State, and he was phenomenal. He shot around 70 percent from the field in the tournament. Extraordinary post player. He's got as good footwork as anybody we've seen. We were trying to set 2, 3 guys up and do whatever we could. He's a fantastic player.

Q. Tony, can you talk about the four point play there in the second half?

TONY DELK: I thought it was big. It was like a turn around, they were making a run. But I just thought the guys made a pass. It's hard to say. During the course of the game I don't know if you get so concerned with the scores. I kind of saw them coming, so I had to fall down, because I thought Coach would have got mad, because he was running at me.

COACH PITINO: I said we didn't take any bad ones.

TONY DELK: That was the only one. (Laughter).

Q. Tony, did you get some sense, maybe even after that shot, like it seemed like each time you guys were ready to prepare the knockout punch they kept coming back, they kept coming back. Was there any moment of "what have we got to do to finally put these guys away?"

TONY DELK: I think playing the UMass game helped us down the stretch in this particular game. We worked so hard this year, and we knew execution down the stretch was going to be the key. And when I miss shots, Walter, Antoine and everybody came up back, and Mark hit the free throws, and you really need that. It was a team effort. It wasn't only me knocking out 3's. Ron and everyone played big tonight.

End of FastScripts....

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