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March 21, 2007
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
THE MODERATOR: First of all, welcome to the NCAA West Regional interview room. We'll start now with Coach Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois. Questions.
Q. Could you go over the health with Shaw and how he looked after today? What games did year do you think helped prepare your team for playing on this stage, games that were like this besides last week? I was thinking of Butler, any of the other games.
COACH LOWERY: As far as Shaw is concerned, he got up and down a little bit today, did a couple of shooting drills, a little bit of three-man weave.
Still very ginger. I assume he's going to try to play. Obviously we're going to go practice a little bit more after this, after we leave here, see how he does, see if he can do things laterally, like kids in our program need to do.
As of right now, it's day to day, game-time decision with him.
As far as preparing us, hostile environments this year obviously, playing Arkansas, playing at Indiana obviously helped us. Wichita, it was sold out. Creighton, 17,000. Obviously the Butler game had an NCAA feel to it. Our conference tournament. We just felt that we really did a good job of scheduling this year along with having some success to go along with that.
Q. Can you talk about getting your players to buy into this defensive system that you have. Of your 35 games this year, how many of those games were you satisfied with their defense?
COACH LOWERY: You know, it's not just the defensive side of the ball that we've gotten them to buy into this year. Obviously, we've become better offensively because we took the time to get better at it. Obviously we learned from our mistakes from last year. You can't just guard everybody and hope somebody has an off-shooting night when you do.
It's not hard to buy in when you're winning. That's the key. The number one thing is they trust me and they trust what I'm telling them. They've seen it happen before them, before they got there, a lot of kids we recruited saw us go to the Sweet 16 that are seniors now. Those guys saw it happen. Now to come in and be a part of it, to continue to uphold the tradition, the things we do, it's just fitting because they understand what we do, we do it for a reason, and other people tonight play like that. Other people may say it's ugly. The way we play, our kids really enjoy that style. They really enjoy the fact they all need each other to play that way.
Q. Is your offense sometimes overlooked because everybody talks about your defense? Your defense, could you describe it for me, please.
COACH LOWERY: Obviously this year our offense is definitely overlooked. We do a much better job of finding the right shot with this team. Obviously when we're getting fouled, we're going inside, our development of Randal Falker has been a huge part of that, the ability to get our big guys in foul trouble, the ability to help us get into the bonus, double bonus early in the halves really has made our offense that much better. It kind of loosens things up for us.
Those are basically the things that have helped us out offensively. But our defense is a trust defense, where whoever has the ball, that's your guy, you're guarding him, and everybody else is trying to make sure if you do make a mistake, they're there for you. That's kind of how we describe how we play defensively.
Q. Could you talk about the matchups with Kansas and how Shaw's presence or absence affects that.
COACH LOWERY: Obviously when you have Shaw, he has the ability to stretch defenses. They're great shot blockers. To be able to get at least one of them away from the rim at all times would obviously help (laughter).
The important thing is with us, they are terrific in transition. After the first weekend, they've shown where they've been very good in the half-court setting. Right now they've played as well as anybody in the country after the first weekend - probably the best. Our match-up is not to try to do what they do, and that is run, really get baskets very quickly. That's not what we do. We'd be silly to try to do what they do.
We can't allow them to get into a track meet. I think that's the number one thing. The way they play, how they can turn a turnover or a longshot rebound into a basket within two to three seconds is really amazing with their athleticism.
Q. When Kansas beat Kentucky, many of the Kentucky players said after the game that they had really set out to play a game that was much, much lower scoring, that they kind of got coaxed into the up-and-down pace of the game. How do you teach kids not to do that?
COACH LOWERY: We have a system in place. I think that's how you teach 'em. There's high-scoring teams within our league that we've slowed down. Obviously they don't have the NBA lotteries that these guys have.
You don't get coaxed because obviously we have older kids and they understand tempo, they understand what we're trying to do. I don't think we'll be tricked or forced into playing a way that we don't want to play unless we just totally lose our minds and go crazy, abandon what's made us successful.
Q. Can you talk about some of the problems that the Jayhawks present to you match-up-wise.
COACH LOWERY: The number one problem, two of them obviously, are Julian Wright and Brandon Rush. Those two guys are gifted wings, kids with unlimited potential on the court. They present a problem because they can do so many different things, whether it be a post-up, whether it be shoot from the perimeter, get a rebound on the defensive end and push it and make plays. Julian is an exceptional passer. He's the type of kid who is so talented, he defers, he does things to make the good of the team better. That's very special when you have that much talent.
Brandon, he's your next guy, the NBA guy who's big, can shoot, can run, is a terrific athlete. Obviously the way they push it. Chalmers is playing with so much confidence right now. His confidence is sky high. Then they just bring Sherron in, you think they're going fast, he comes in, they're going faster.
The problems they present are obviously athletic, combined with their talent, combined that they are very good basketball players, too.
Q. Did you recruit either Julian or Sherron?
COACH LOWERY: When I was at Illinois, we recruited Julian. I got a chance to know Julian and his mother. We know each other, yeah.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH LOWERY: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Coming up in just a moment will be Southern Illinois student-athletes Jamaal Tatum, Tony Young and Dion Coopwood.
Questions for any of the student-athletes.
Q. Could all the players answer: You played a pretty good schedule, besides last week's tournament games, what games do you think prepared you for playing on this stage against a team like Kansas?
JAMAAL TATUM: Well, honestly I think that our conference got us prepared. Our conference, you have to play a tough game every day. It goes down to the wire. You're going to be on the road sometimes. You're going to face adversity. I think our conference has really prepared us coming up against a team like Kansas.
Certain teams may not have the athletic ability or the size or the NBA prospects, but just being in that type of game where you know the other team doesn't want to lose, you know that everything's on the line, things may not be going your way, but you still have to play and compete.
TONY YOUNG: I agree with the same thing JT said. Playing in our conference, day in, day out, everyone goes all out. Like I said, teams may not have the huge names, the gifted players as some of these other teams, but they do come in and play hard. Going into such hostile environments like Butler, then you got Creighton in front of 17,000 people, playing in those hostile environments, it helps us out a lot.
DION COOPWOOD: Every game that you play in your schedule is going to prepare you, you know what I'm saying, for games that you will have in the future. Different teams give you different offense and defenses to go against. Every game just basically overall prepares you for whatever future games you may have.
Q. Jamaal, does your team's offense get overlooked? We all talk about the defense of your team, are you better offensively than people give you credit for?
JAMAAL TATUM: I don't know if it's necessarily overlooked, but I think we're known for our defense. Maybe in the past, you know, previous years, people have overlooked us offensively. But I think this year we've gotten a little more respect offensively.
Bottom line is we're known for our defense so that's what people are going to say when they talk about Southern Illinois University.
Q. Tony, you got your defensive matchups? Do you know who you'll be guarding?
TONY YOUNG: No. Coach keeps it a secret till right before the game (smiling).
Q. Can you talk about the process of buying into the style of basketball you play at Southern Illinois, which is low-possession, defensive-minded. Is that an adjustment coming there as a freshman for the veteran guys?
TONY YOUNG: I don't think it's an adjustment. I think it's the caliber of players that we recruit. When you come in, you already know how we play, you've already seen us, you've been down there to practices, watch what we do. When players come in, I think they're already prepared to go in and play the way we play, to play hard, play defense, to just really work hard and be right to go all out.
I don't really think it's all that big of an adjustment for people that come there.
JAMAAL TATUM: I think everyone's bought into the fact that Southern Illinois wins because they play defense. So when you come in, you get recruited, you know why they win. They don't have people scoring 30, 35 points a game. They have people who come in and make defensive stops. Coach sends letters out to people, they mention Tony Young, Defensive All Conference, Bryan Mullins, Randall Falker, Defensive Player of the Year. They don't talk about a guy who is averaging 30 or 40 points, going to the NBA because of his scoring. We market our defense.
DION COOPWOOD: I agree with both of those guys. When people come here, you know what I'm saying, SIU is known for their defense, not necessarily their offense. If you have a defensive mind, they say defense wins championships, so we must be winning so some way we do score the ball. But if you do break it down, it is mostly basically about our defense. As long as when you come here, you bought into that system, you'll be fine.
Q. Jamaal, you commented about the quickness and athleticism of KU, have you guys done anything special in practice to prepare yourselves for that?
JAMAAL TATUM: We've done several drills and stuff. We know what kind of team they are. We've done several drills to get us prepared.
Bottom line is we have to come out and execute and play our game, though.
Q. Can you talk about the individual matchups against these guys. Have you seen players as athletic? What do you do to offset that? How much of a difference does it make whether Matt plays or not?
JAMAAL TATUM: Well, as far as elaborating on what we've really done, we've done different drills as far as stepping off. We know they are going to deny the ball. We know they're going to be in the passing lanes. We have to be strong with the ball. We have to be in ready position at all times and we have to make good passes, we have to meet our passes.
As far as getting ready for them, we have to know we got to come out and play our style of basketball. It's not what they do; it's what we have to do to win, play hard defensive, stick to our defensive principles and play team defense. We have to rebound the ball and limit turnovers.
Q. Jamaal, the program has been in six straight tournaments, you have almost as many wins as anybody else in the country. Do you think people nationally recognize what your program has done? Do you see this time of a year as a time to introduce yourselves to the country?
JAMAAL TATUM: I think the true basketball fans recognize us. I mean, you have to. If you are up on basketball, college basketball, you have to notice us. I don't care if that's for how many games we won in the last few years or how long our home winning streak has been in conference play, or what we are ranked nationally on defense. You have to notice some aspect about the Salukis, Saluki basketball team.
We've gotten exposure in all the NCAA tournaments. It wasn't good for us last year to go out and lose first round to West Virginia as bad as we did, but we made it there. This year we come out and played hard, won some games. It's going to put us on a pedestal nationally. We have to keep on competing and playing hard to get that national exposure up even higher.
Q. Are you sick and tired yet of being told you're a mid-major program given the success you've had?
DION COOPWOOD: No, I don't think it's a problem with being called a mid-major or anything like that. You don't necessarily like being called that, but at the same time if you just -- you do things like we did this year, you know you make a nice little run in the tournament, you make it to the Sweet 16, even if we can go farther than that, you make statements. You just let people know we can play ball, we can compete with Kansas and Virginia Tech, other teams like that. You just have to -- if you don't like being called that, you just have to do special things like we've done.
TONY YOUNG: I think different people take it in different ways. Me personally, I don't like the term "mid-major" because I feel if you're a good team, it don't matter where you go, what school you are, where you're from, as long as you compete, you get on the court, compete, play hard, win games. As far as being called a mid-major, I don't really think that's a term we put on ourselves for the fact that we do play hard, we do win games, and we feel we can compete with anybody.
JAMAAL TATUM: I'm not concerned about the title either. You can call us what you want to call us, as long as you give us our respect at the end of the day. That's all that matters to me. You can call us a D-II school or D-III school, but if we can still compete with you, you have to give us respect at the end of the day.
Q. Could you talk about extra motivation in representing the Valley, aside from obviously competing for a championship, motivation representing your conference against the Big 12 and taking on a tradition-rich school in Kansas. Extra motivation for you guys?
DION COOPWOOD: I mean, it motivates us because, like Coach says, every time you step on the court, you know it doesn't matter who is in front of you, it's a different jersey, you have to compete. We're motivated every game. These guys, our seniors, they're our leaders. They just motivate us even more to get amped up and pumped up to play each game. That's just the role that we take. That's how we do it.
TONY YOUNG: I think our motivation comes more from within. I mean, we work so hard from the summertime up until right now to get where we are, to win as many games as we do. I think our motivation just comes from as far as wanting to feel justified by everything we've done, everything that we feel we can do. Instead of just going out and saying we're going to be excited because we're playing Kansas, I mean, we'll be excited if we was playing Logan Junior College. Same difference: we just want to win.
JAMAAL TATUM: I think our motivation comes from within, also. We've all been here working hard together. Other teams, you know, that we might face haven't worked with us. They haven't been in our system. We've done this together as a basketball team. No one else has been out there throwing up during conditioning, breaking bones, doing individual workouts, tearing ACLs, just being down on theirself at night about how bad they practiced. That's just been us as a group. We're motivated from each other and within.
Q. You've seen the Jayhawks on tape. Julian, Mario, Brandon, any one of those guys you see as perhaps being a tougher match-up for your team?
JAMAAL TATUM: They're all going to be tough matchups for us. We'll be frank about that. That's what we thrive on. We want tough matchups. We want people that are going to come out and compete with us. We don't want a push-over team. We want people who are the big-time athletes and the pros. We want to see how tough they are because we're a tough ballclub and we're going to go compete day in, day out.
TONY YOUNG: I think, like JT said, there's going to be tough matchups regardless which way you go. All up and down their lineup, they have a bunch of guys that can play, a bunch of guys can that run, shoot, pretty much do everything around the table.
As far as we go, I mean, I think we just got to be prepared. You can't get caught up in all that, everyone being ranked, seeded, everything that's in the media. If you get caught up with that kind of stuff, you get star struck and lose sight of what you're out here to do.
As far as the matchups go, we'll do as usual, go out and play hard, just be ready to compete against whoever.
DION COOPWOOD: I agree with both of these guys. I mean, it's more about you don't even really want to think about the matchups being difficult; you just want to go out there and stick to the game plan. If we're going to run certain plays, continue to stick defense the way that we do, we just have to stick with that, go from there. You can't even worry about stuff like that. Because they're a 1 seed, we're a 4 seed, you can't look as if they've got an advantage over us. Advantages over our guys. We have to stick with defensive principles and play our hardest.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, fellas.
End of FastScripts