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April 1, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We'll be joined by Coach Matta shortly. We'll take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Greg, obviously you have two big guys to go against. Can you talk about the dimension Chris Richard adds?
GREG ODEN: I mean, he's another big body that can come in and he can post up, get a lot of offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds. He's another presence in there that you have to worry about.
Q. Greg, can you relate to us, do you see any kind of difference in the way games are officiated in the tournament versus during a regular season and why that might be?
GREG ODEN: I have no idea why they officiated it harder. It just seems to me that they call more ticky-tack fouls than they did in the regular season, especially in the Big-10 season.
Q. Can you talk about the difference between this team now and the one that went to Gainesville back in December, how much more confident and mature this team is?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Well, we've grown as a team since then. There's a lot of things we weren't doing very well at that time. Our defense wasn't where it's at right now.
I think we've gotten a lot better and a lot confident (sic). I think we'll be a lot better off in this game.
GREG ODEN: Same thing that Mike said. I think we all have a lot of confidence and we're playing better as a team.
Q. Could you tell me what was the best college basketball team you remember watching growing up?
JAMAR BUTLER: Best college basketball team? I'd have to say the Duke team, I think was the '91/'92 team they had when they won back-to-back championships.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: The Arkansas Razorbacks '94/'95 team.
IVAN HARRIS: Same one Jamar said, the Duke team (laughter).
RON LEWIS: Duke '91/'92 (laughter).
GREG ODEN: I like Michigan State when they had Mateen Cleaves.
Q. The overwhelming sentiment is despite the fact you are the No. 1 ranked team in the country, Florida is going to win this game. Does it tick you off?
JAMAR BUTLER: Not at all. They are the defending national champions. They're here for a reason: They're playing great basketball. I know they're a great basketball team.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: You know, that's how it's been throughout the tournament. We haven't been picked to win a lot of games. That's just more motivation for us.
We don't really try to let it get to us. At the same time it does motivate us.
IVAN HARRIS: Yeah, just motivation, something for us to look forward to. They're an excellent team. We've always been picked down in the tournament. We just going to step up and play our game.
RON LEWIS: They're a good team. You know, people pick them to win the game. People thought we was going to lose last night's game, but we came out on top.
It's nothing new to us. All we're going to do is keep playing the same way we've been playing.
Q. The night of the football game between Florida and Ohio State, I believe y'all were on the road at Wisconsin. Did the team watch the game? Do any of you have any particular memories from it?
RON LEWIS: Yeah, we watched the game. We were disappointed, but we were with them all the way.
But we just tried to go out and play the Wisconsin game how we normally would any other game. But I don't think it affects us right now.
IVAN HARRIS: Yeah, you know, they came out pretty strong. They had a couple touchdowns and stuff like that.
But, you know, Ohio State's an excellent team. We just gonna go out and play our game, you know, and hope for the best.
Q. Mike, I saw you guys, particularly the Penn State games, right after that. You weren't playing nearly as well as you are now. Maybe that was because you were playing a different quality of competition or the dog days of the season. Do you think your team has perceptively come together since then, or was it the middle of a long season, a lull? Are you playing different basketball?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Definitely. We're a lot different team than we were against Penn State. Those weren't our best games. Since the tournament started a lot of the players have stepped up, came together and played as a team.
Ron stepped up tremendously throughout the whole tournament. Jamar, Ivan, all the guys have done a great job.
We're just trying to keep it going and hope for the best this next game.
Q. Could you talk about your career in the context of where the program was when you came in coming off a losing season, where you are now, for the seniors?
IVAN HARRIS: This is my fourth year. As a freshman, I've been through the ups and downs at Ohio State. In this program -- this program we built ourself to the system. We just got excellent players this year. We're trying to win a title.
RON LEWIS: I didn't really -- I didn't play my first year here. I wasn't a part of that group, but I was still on the team. It was still a down year. We knew the next year that we didn't want that to happen. We tried our best to develop a team, develop a group that would stay together. That's what we've been doing since he's been here.
Q. Greg, what is the biggest difference in your game right now compared to the December game against Florida? I don't know if it's just a matter of health or comfort because you'd only been playing just a few games at that point.
GREG ODEN: Just being more in shape, being able to feel comfortable with my teammates 'cause back then I was just getting involved with the offense and my teammates getting used to me being out there on the floor.
Now we've been out there for a while, I feel more comfortable with them. I'm just in better basketball shape.
Q. Are you glad you had this game against Florida in December? Does that make you more understanding of what they're about? Does that prepare you better at least?
GREG ODEN: Yeah, being able to play against a team more than once, that's going to help you out a lot because you get to see firsthand what they do and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Yeah, definitely. You know, having the opportunity to play them at their house is exactly what we wanted. We didn't want the outcome to be like that, but it definitely was a learning experience. It's definitely going to help us out for this next game.
COACH MATTA: I think that game taught us a lot about who we were. We were not a very good basketball team on December 23rd, and quite honestly Florida had a lot to do with that.
We've tried to draw from that experience. I think obviously, as I told the team, you go to the Wisconsin game, the last game we lost, we were down 16 in that game and came back. Jamar had a great shot to tie the game.
So I think it taught us a lot about our strengths and a lot about our weaknesses and gave us a point of reference to what we needed to work on to get better as a team.
Q. With all the tangled history of Florida and Ohio State, how much does that add to this game?
COACH MATTA: For us, we knew we were going to play a great opponent to get to this point. With the relevance from the football, honestly means nothing, has no bearing whatsoever on this game.
I think Florida obviously is playing great basketball. They've earned the right to be in this position, and so have we. And tomorrow night, you know, we have to come out and play a great game.
I love the fact -- I think it says a lot about both institutions that they can be in this situation. So I think from that standpoint it's a tremendous opportunity.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: The football game really doesn't have much to play in our game. They're both great colleges, Florida and Ohio State. They obviously have great football and basketball teams. It's kind of weird they meet up in the championship games.
But, you know, we're not worried about what the football team did or how they beat our school. It's a new game. We're looking to, you know, show them a different team than what we showed them earlier this year.
Q. A couple minutes ago several of you guys referred to the Duke team as the best team that you have seen. Florida obviously is the first team that has a chance to repeat. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to prevent them from making history?
IVAN HARRIS: Well, we just got to go out and play our game. That's that. We got to go out with toughness and just a mental focus.
You know, just going to play our game and play hard. You know, hopefully we'll win this game.
RON LEWIS: It means a lot. You know, we don't want a team to go back-to-back, and especially not on us. So we're going to try to the best of our ability to stop that.
Q. Ron, when Jamar talked about Florida, he used the phrase, "great team." When Ivan talked about Florida, he used the phrase, "excellent team." When you talked about Florida, you said, "good." Is it that you have a different standard of greatness, or what do you think makes a team a great team? Is Ohio State a great team?
RON LEWIS: I think so because we got to this point. They're a good team to me (smiling). That's all I can say about it.
Q. Thad, you mentioned a few minutes ago about the last Florida game giving you a point of reference on what this team needed to do to get better. As I recall, you weren't real happy after that game with the way they responded to Florida's run. What did you say to them after that game to address that issue? What happened with them that it didn't seem to ever happen again?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think this could be a long, long answer. You could almost write a book on it from that standpoint because so much has transformed in the three or four months, whatever it's been.
The hard part after the Florida game was we broke for Christmas. I think when we came back it was showing film and saying there's 17 minutes left, score's 40-40, trying to figure out what happened at that point.
Florida went on a run. They blitzed us. They were making shots. They were getting stops. They really took the game to another level. We weren't mentally ready to get in the fight with them.
You know, I think that it was one of those games, I think every team has one. Florida beat us. I mean, they beat us good down there. I think the thing that we've hopefully learned from it is, and you see every game in the NCAA tournament it's a game of runs, and you have to be able to withstand that mentally and physically and keep your composure and keep the fight to execute the game plan. We just weren't able to do that down there.
Q. Thad, how unique is it that Florida would have three potential first-round picks to win a championship and then agree to come back? When do you think the game will see something like that again?
COACH MATTA: Hopefully next year (smiling).
No, I think that that is a great tribute to Billy and the program that he runs. I think it's a great tribute to the kids. I've heard it, you guys have heard it. He has a special group there. And the ability for those guys to win a championship and stay committed and come back and try to win another one, I think that speaks volumes about the program that Billy's built.
And, you know, I guess about the kids, my thing for all my players is if it's right for them I'm always going to support them to do what they want to do.
Q. Greg, Mike, what do you think of that? When will the game see something like that again?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Like coach said, hopefully next year. It would be great to come back and play with the same group of guys. But, you know, hopefully everything works out and people are going to make decisions that are right for them. We'll just have to see how things play out.
GREG ODEN: What Mike said.
Q. A lot of coaches in December don't like to play games away from campus. Did you schedule that game with Florida because of television or did you do to speed up the maturation process of your team thinking it might pay off at this time of year?
COACH MATTA: We scheduled it knowing that it would hopefully pay dividends through the Big-10. We knew going in when we scheduled the game we were probably going to play North Carolina in the Big-10/ACC Challenge.
We knew at that point in those two games we were going to probably be in two of the most hostile environments that we could possibly play in.
Both games, we came out on the short end. But I do think that it helped build character for this team. I think it helped mature us.
Q. Thad, you obviously said the football game has no bearing on this game. In a bigger sense, does the success of that program, the fan support it generates, the money it generates, have any roll-over effect into your program and the success you guys enjoy?
COACH MATTA: From football success?
Q. The whole athletic department.
COACH MATTA: Absolutely. No question about that. I think you look at -- I've said this. I had no idea till I got to Ohio State just the power and the magnitude, not only of the university but of the fan base, the love for the Buckeyes.
I think Ohio State is a special place and it affords us the ability to do a lot of things to do our job. The correlation between 105,000 people on a Saturday afternoon in the Shoe definitely helps all programs. I think that it's helped us through the recruiting process, the notoriety that our program has football-wise is that that we really try to work hand-in-hand with.
Q. After the game in December, was there a part of you that said, Boy, I wonder what we can do against Florida when we're at our best and healthiest? Was there a curiosity factor there to get another shot? You and Billy had talked, offered to push that game back in the schedule if possible to make sure Greg was healthy. Do you feel like this is that game now?
COACH MATTA: No, because it's different because it's a neutral site now.
Q. Did you want a shot at a team like Florida when you were at your best as opposed to where you were in December?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I don't want to say that, you know, I circled Florida and said, "I want to play Florida again." You get beat by 26 points, you really don't want to see that team for a while.
But I do think that I wanted to be in this position and was a realist that there was probably a really, really good chance that Florida was going to be the team that was going to be on the opposite side, and so be it.
If we were playing UCLA or anybody else that was coming out of that region, it was going to be a great opponent. The irony of us playing them in December, you know, is I think hopefully helpful I think for both teams, like Tennessee.
But I never have said to myself, Boy, I want another crack at Florida. Really, I don't think our program thinks that way.
Q. When you first signed this freshman class, there was some allusion made to the Fab Five. Did that bother you?
COACH MATTA: The allusion of the Fab Five? Honestly, we've never drawn a correlation to that. I think you know why. My whole focus was simply from the standpoint of building our program. Every time I get a chance to say this, I do.
I think the guys that don't get the credit that deserve a lot of the credit for us sitting up here today are the seven seniors we've coached in the previous two years. Because asking those guys to help us lay the foundation for the future of the program, walking in in early December and saying, Fellas, you know, you don't get to go to post-season play. There was a crime committed that you didn't commit, but we want you to play really hard and help us build this program.
They did that. The job those guys did last year, winning the Big-10 championship, winning 26-6, we lost a ton. They helped us build the program.
When the guys got here, one returning starter, four returning players, but they had the years of the five new guys that came in because they were defending Big-10 champions. I think that was something that really helped our program.
Q. Ron, why are they only good and do you think they could be great?
RON LEWIS: (Laughter). They're a good team. I go bad team, middle team and then a good team. That's the top. So if you want a great team, you look at the Bulls (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we're going to let you go to the break-out rooms. Questions for Coach Matta.
Q. When I last saw you, the Penn State game, everyone was a little bit tense. The team wasn't playing all that well. You were saying, We're winning games. Everything isn't horrible here. At the time did you think you were playing as well as you could? Were you worried or did you know it's the middle of a long season and everything was going to iron itself out, maybe somewhere in between?
COACH MATTA: Where do you write from?
Q. I'm a Penn State guy. I'll read what I wrote.
COACH MATTA: No, no, I'm good.
Q. It's true, I mean, I was wrong.
COACH MATTA: Thank you (smiling).
No, I think you've got a great perception. I think at that particular time, you know, I always say this: college basketball is a long, long season. There's a lot of peaks and valleys to a season. I think the unique thing about this team is, on paper, the last time we had a valley was January 9th 'cause that's the last time we lost.
Now, internally we've had, like a Penn State game, where there's been some valleys that people leave the arena and say, They got the win, but maybe we didn't play particularly well.
I think it says a lot about this team that they've been able to win those games and maybe not play their best basketball. But I think that it is -- you know, you see it every now and then where there's a moment in the game where you say, We don't have it tonight.
And, fortunately for us, we've been able to come out on top through those hard times and been able to build in a positive light. Even in the NCAA tournament, we've had some moments where we haven't played great basketball. We've been down 20, we've been down 9 with three minutes to go. We fought our way through it, which is what I like about this team for obvious reasons.
Q. We asked the players about the best college basketball players. Three votes for Duke, one Arkansas, one Michigan State. What is your take on that and why?
COACH MATTA: Gosh, best college basketball team? I would probably say 1960 the Ohio State Buckeyes (smiling). Number one, because they were wearing scarlet and gray.
You look at that team. It was a young team. I'm half joking because I wasn't born yet, so I didn't see that team play.
In my time -- boy, I tell you, you know, the Duke team that won it in was it 2000 up in Minneapolis?
COACH MATTA: 2001. I know they had to be a great team because they played Arizona, who they beat in the championship. You know, Jason Gardner, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, Loren Woods. The bench was, you know, four other lottery picks for Arizona.
I think that was a heck of a basketball team. I'd maybe say that team. The UNLV team that won it was awfully good, as well. North Carolina a couple years ago I know was a great team because I know how good Illinois was. There's been so many. It's honestly hard to pick one.
Q. The players have said several times you don't feel as if you are the underdogs at all. You feel confident. Ron said they were a good team. During the Bowl game, Urban Meyer made a big deal about, We're the underdogs. Nobody believes in us. None of you have said that. Have you considered that as motivation at all? Are you and this team really that confident that you shouldn't be considered the underdog in this game?
COACH MATTA: I'm not sure what they said. I do feel like we're the underdog. I mean, they are the defending national champions with their top seven players back. Ron's definition, I think he clarified, good is great to him. I think we're playing a great basketball team tomorrow night.
I understand why people would give us no shot in this game on paper. I think that they are excellent. They understand their system. Billy has done a tremendous job to have that core. He talked about it at dinner the other night. They're a completely different team than they were last year because of experience.
We've got one starter back and four returning players. We don't have the experience that they have.
Now, I'm not saying that we're not going to come out and play. I do want our guys to have confidence in our system and what we do. I think that that is the biggest thing that we've always preached. We don't want confidence because we're winning basketball games; we want confidence in what we do and how we do it.
I think that is really the difference in how we want to approach things. I don't ever want guys to feel good because we beat Georgetown or we beat Memphis or whoever it is. I want them feeling good because of how we played our system.
Q. Obviously Florida runs two bigs at you, but bring the third big off the bench in Richard. He's had a really good NCAA tournament. Talk about dealing with three like that.
COACH MATTA: Well, it's something that they use. I guess we've called it the big-ball package. The thing that makes it so great is you've got two guys outside that can shoot the basketball as proficient as Humphrey and Green. Those guys can all finish inside. They get great rebounding position when they do that. That's the power of having that type of depth with that type of size.
Q. Within a conference season there's some continuity with the officials you see. NCAA tournament, you start to see some new faces. Does that play into maybe the change in how often your big man is drawing fouls in the tournament compared to regular season?
COACH MATTA: Well, I know this: just like the two teams that are here, the three or the four with the alternate will be the best officials in college basketball. Tomorrow night, you're going to have the 13 best out there on the floor.
I think through your conference play, you remember, as we started the season this year, you know, the rule changes. Whistles were blowing like every half second, then it sort of tapers down. You do get into a rhythm within your conference season.
But now going into our sixth game of the NCAA tournament, I think our guys have a pretty good feel for how the game's going to be called.
Q. I was reading where Coach Donovan has had a bunch of outside speakers come in and speak to his guys, had Belichick to talk about repeating. Can you talk about the mental preparation it takes to get a team to this point?
COACH MATTA: We've brought a few people in over our time at Ohio State. I think the biggest thing is building your foundation for your program. If you ask me, Thad, what's the number one thing you had to change three years ago or less than three years ago when you got to Ohio State, the two words we've used the most is "culture" and "environment." We had to create a winning culture, a winning environment through a lot of adversity.
As the mindset goes with this team, and I've said this a lot, but we really haven't changed much in our approach as we've gone through the games. If I bring somebody in to speak to the team, it's usually along the lines, I know that they have a great understanding of what our values are as a program, they've been in those types of situations before.
I don't like to bring a ton of people in 'cause I don't ever want them to break off of our system.
Q. I understand you're superstitious. Can you talk about how that came to be and what some of your superstitions are, if the guys tease you about them?
COACH MATTA: That thing has really taken some legs during the NCAA tournament. I'm not quite as superstitious. I'm more of a rhythm guy. I think the good thing, as I told my wife, we were laughing about it the other day, somebody wrote an article about it. I said, "See, that's what I love. People don't know me, and I love that fact."
I don't like to get to know a lot of people. They have to dig a little deeper to find stuff out about me.
I think that I like to have a cup of coffee. I like to chew a piece of gum during the game. But it's more, for me, keeping it all the same for our team. From how we do our scouting, where I start right before the game, the points that we make. Well, the points are always different.
But I'm huge into, because of the fact, as I said earlier, it's such a long season in college basketball, I really try to get our team, as I've always done, into a flow, into a rhythm of what the day of a game is like, just the practices leading up to it.
Call it's superstitious, call it programmed, rhythm. I consider myself more of a rhythm guy than superstitious.
Q. You have two really tough big men to defend. I was wondering if you've given thought to which one Greg Oden would guard and what you would do about the other one.
COACH MATTA: We're going to play all zone (smiling).
No, I think that -- honestly, I think that we're going to have to guard by committee with those guys. I'll be perfectly honest with you. At this point today we haven't decided on matchups with who we're going to guard.
I think the big thing for us is sitting down. Still it's been such a quick turnaround, more for our players because we want to give them rest. We've shown a lot of film, but we haven't made a lot of decisions. As we get on the court, I think we'll continue to put those.
In Game 1, he guarded Al. Ivan guarded Noah. There were times where we were switched up. Those guys are so interchangeable that I think it will probably be about a 50/50 deal throughout the course of the game.
Q. Noah obviously gets a lot of publicity. What are your thoughts on Al Horford? Where does he rank as far as big men in the country with your big men, some of his strengths?
COACH MATTA: I think, number one, I recruited Al so hard three years ago. To see his transformation as a player is truly incredible. I think that he is, if not, one of the best power forwards in the country. His ability to score down low, uses both hands, he can rebound, he can pass, bust out dribbles, great defender. I think he is a special talent, I really do.
Q. Having reached this point of the tournament, do you have a special appreciation for what Florida is trying to accomplish, winning two in a row? Generally in college basketball, would it be tougher for a team to go undefeated, which hasn't happened since '76, or to win back-to-back championships?
COACH MATTA: I have a great appreciation for what Florida's done. It's funny, I was thinking this morning just the appreciation I have for the coaches and the teams that have been here repeatedly. It's hard.
For these guys to go through the season the way that they have and be back in this game I think is a tremendous credit to Billy, his staff and the players.
I think that they had a little bit of what we had going this year. I think people early on knew we had a lot of question marks. I think they were trying to set us up to fail with, This team should be in the Final Four, this team... I'm looking, saying, My center doesn't have a right hand and they're telling us we're going to be in the Final Four.
But I do have a great appreciation because I do know how hard it is. I don't want to say the luck. I don't think that it's luck. But a lot of things have to happen for you to get to this point.
So with the job that they've done to be here because, you know, as I've told our guys, tomorrow night may be the first time it's not that way, or maybe last night. I've never coached a team where you're supposed to win every game, and what that does, the pressure that puts on you, and Florida has had that all year long, is tough.
Q. You look at Greg, he's big, dominant. People think it's easy for him. He's still a kid growing into his body. Can you talk about the challenges of coaching a kid like that who is maturing, if that's contributing to the foul trouble perhaps?
COACH MATTA: Number one, I've never looked at it as a challenge, coaching Greg Oden. I've looked at it more as a privilege of coaching Greg. I think you're exactly right. As people look at Greg, he's cast into this spotlight. Greg is a kid. He's 19 years old. Tremendous character and values.
Tell you a great story about Greg Oden. Last night we get into the locker room, and the first thing he asked me, he said, Coach, can you get Kyle down here? Kyle Madsen is a transfer who had to sit this season out. The NCAA doesn't allow him to travel with us. He wanted Kyle, who he goes against every day in practice, to be in the locker room, be a part of it.
When I told him the NCAA doesn't allow Kyle to come back here, you have to have this little pin. He was like, Man, that's not right. I think that says who Greg Oden is.
You know, I think with the foul trouble, I don't think it's a maturity issue. I think it's more Greg just having an understanding. The thing that we've said all year long, he's played now in 30 games. He's fouled out of one. I think just the timing. We need him to be around more.
But, you know, we've got to continue to play through that.
Q. Before you got to Ohio State, you were at Xavier, then Butler. Obviously Mike and Greg grew up in Indianapolis. Do you remember the first time you saw them play, what your impressions were, how quickly you decided you had to have those guys?
COACH MATTA: The second I laid eyes on 'em.
You know, I think it was their freshman year. I think with Michael, I knew when I watched him that he would be the perfect point guard in our system. With Greg, as time went on watching him, you just knew that he was going to be something special with his size and his ability.
When we got to Ohio State, they were obviously a huge priority. We had five scholarships to give. We didn't get the job till late. A lot of the guys were gone. That's why we were blessed to get Ron when we did. So we were scrambling. We actually made a risky choice in saying, We're going to spend a majority of our time recruiting the juniors as opposed to the seniors.
Looking back on it, I'm glad we did it.
Q. A lot of people talk about Florida offensively. You look at their defensive statistics, they're pretty daunting. What stands out about them defensively as you attack? What do you need to get out of your offense tomorrow night?
COACH MATTA: I've said that all year long. I don't think people understand how good Florida's defense is. Number one, they've got size. Number two, they've got experience, great athleticism. The size allows them to take maybe a couple more risks, knowing that they've got the big guys back there.
The other thing is, as we've seen, the big guys can move. They get out, they're switching, they're guarding guards, they're doing all the things that, you know, multi-dimensional players can do. I think that's what separates 'em.
Q. When you're concerning yourself with the big-ball package you're talking about, how do you also keep Humphrey from killing you from outside? He changed the complexion of that game significantly last night.
COACH MATTA: Now you know why they're so good (smiling).
I mean, it's -- you got to make choices. You know, they can stretch you so far. Green has great range. Humphrey has great range. It's really hard. I wish I had an answer for you other than, Boy, I hope they miss type of deal.
That's what makes 'em great, it really is. I don't know if there is an answer completely. If you help in, they're going to dot your I with a three. If you don't help in, they're getting great post-up position.
Q. Speaking of that big ball, do you have a name for the four guys that you bring in at that four- or five-minute mark? Is there a name for those guys?
COACH MATTA: Small ball (laughter).
Not really. We really haven't. You know, we've gone with the theme all year. It's not a theme, it's the truth. We got nine starters on the team. They know when they're going to go in and what their roles are, getting the job done.
Haven't tagged them, given them a nickname yet. Maybe I'll do that tonight (smiling).
Q. You said you were talking to your wife and said that people don't know you and you like it like that. Why do you like it like that?
COACH MATTA: Honestly, I think I'm a very private person. I want to do my job. I want to go home and be a dad and a great husband. Other than that, there's not a whole lot that goes on in my life.
Obviously this job consumes a lot of time so I don't get as much time as I'd like to to do the other part of my life.
I'm not one of these guys that -- I don't need publicity. I'd rather fly below the radar screen and give all the credit to the players because I've never made a shot, gotten a rebound. You know, so those guys get the credit. I just want to be a part of their fun.
Q. Historically national champions usually have a great point guard. You mentioned Al a couple times, that Mike is the perfect point guard for your system. Could you elaborate a little bit on why that is, and what kind of role will he have to play against Florida to win that game?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think why is his decision making, his athleticism, his understanding for the game of basketball, both offensively and defensively.
You know, the role for Michael tomorrow night, he's going to have to play a key role, as really all of our guys are going to. We have to do a great job of taking care of the basketball. Because their defense is so good, shot selection, trying to get a quality shot against them is going to be very important.
And Michael, you know, as well as Jamar, sometimes has a lot to do with that process.
Q. Could you talk about what it's like to coach at a huge place like Ohio State and expectations for the whole sports program? No matter what you do, there's always a sense you'll be behind football.
COACH MATTA: I think as a coach, I've always said I want to be at a place where they care about winning. You know, there's no -- I don't think there's a job in the country any more that doesn't have the pressure, the expectations. I've said this before, there's nobody in the world that can put more pressure on me than myself.
But also in regards to that, you know, when you're at a place like Ohio State, you're given a lot of opportunities that maybe a lot of places don't have, through recruiting and the ability to get places quickly, home quickly. I really enjoy that aspect of it.
As far as being second to football does not even bother me. My goal is not to make Ohio State a basketball school. I think my goal is to make it the best basketball program that we possibly can. The relationship that Coach Tressel and I have, his staff, our staff have, I think is a blessing.
The thing he's helped me through in my time at Ohio State, nobody knows better than coach. He's always been a guy that I can find at any time with a question, getting him in and talking to our team, whatever it is. I think the thing that he's taught me, because I've never met a person that loves Ohio State more than Jim Tressel. You know, he's taught me the power of the state of Ohio.
I think if we're second chair to him and that football program, I tell you, we're first chair at a lot of places.
Q. If you can separate the fact you have to coach against him again, what did you think when the Florida guys decided to come back instead of turn pro? Will you use them as an example if and when you sit down to talk to your guys who are facing the same decision, about the joy they've had this year and the success they've had?
COACH MATTA: Well, I was happy when they chose to come back, and for the right reasons. I was happy for Billy. I've known Billy a long time.
I think for those guys to do that, it shows, as I said earlier, how special of a bond those kids have. I think it shows the unselfishness that they have. Scratch that, if you would, please. Not that your going pro is selfish. I think it's more of a commitment that they have to each other.
I don't think that I would use that, per se, for our guys. I think sitting down with each young man and talking about what their goals, what their dreams are, what they want to do. Because I've always said, I think college is a place that you go, and it's four of the funnest years of your life. But you use college to prepare you to be successful for life.
And maybe for some, they get it a little bit quicker, get on and become successful.
Q. Did Coach Tressel offer any words of encouragement for tomorrow night along the lines like, Get one back for us? Two, the job Florida did defensively on Afflalo and Collison took those guys out of the game. How much of a concern is that for you?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I talked to coach after the game, after our game. At that time we really didn't know our opponent because it was still early on in the Florida/UCLA game. He didn't really give anything. Just he was proud of our guys and the job that they did.
With the job Florida did, I think it goes back to how good Florida's defense is. To hold those two guys in check says a lot about their ability to defend. I think that's something, they had a little bit -- playing against 'em last year, they had a great understanding, had a lot of time to prepare for them. Hats off to the job they did defensively because they were, you know, getting the job done.
Q. When all the speculation was on what possibly the NBA rule would be, quite a number of coaches said, I really don't want to recruit a guy who's definitely a one-and-doner or probably going to be. This year we come out with the first-ever freshman who is the Player of the Year. Greg makes first team All-Year American. Brandon Wright makes third team. Conley is a great player. Do you think coaches have changed their opinion? Did you have a preconceived notion in your own mind if you knew a guy was definitely going to want to only come for one year how you'd go about recruiting him?
COACH MATTA: I think so much depends on who the kid is. The thing that I loved about Greg Oden was, number one, he told me from day one he was going to college. He said, I don't care what happens with the rule, I'm going to college.
I think when you recruit a young man like Greg, you get to know him, how much he cares about winning, how much he cares about his teammates. The job that Jack Keefer and his staff did at Lawrence North to bring these kids up and teach them values.
The story I told about Kyle Madsen, that's Greg Oden. If Greg Oden told me he was coming for one year, I would have taken him anyway because of who he is and just his beliefs and values and his camaraderie with his teammates. That was a no-brainer in our situation.
There may be other kids out there that may say, Hey, coach, I don't care about school. I don't care about winning. All I care about is getting my one year in and I'm gone to the NBA. There's no way we'd recruit a kid like that.
But Greg would be the complete opposite of that.
Q. In changing the culture, how much did the Illinois victory where you decided to go for the win have to do with that? What did that say about you, trying to infuse that to the players?
COACH MATTA: That game, and I've said this after the game, I hope we can look back in 10 years and say that game was a pivotal step, a defining moment for Ohio State basketball. Without a doubt, I think were we going to get those recruits anyway? Maybe. But it obviously helped us in that regard. I think it solidified Ohio State for our guys.
The greatest thing that win did for us and our culture as a program, when we went into our spring skill stuff, our guys had a rejuvenated spirit about them. Our guys from that time in the spring, we got nine weeks in the quarter system, end of June, they got so much better going into the next year that that enabled us to pick seventh -- we were picked seventh in the Big-10, and we win the Big-10 outright.
I go back to that spring and I go back to probably the Illinois game just for the morale boost that it gave our kids.
Q. Greg was saying how you have Matt Terwilliger intentionally fouling to simulate game action. How much has Matt meant to this team's run?
COACH MATTA: Matt has been incredible. I think the greatest thing that's happened for our team is Matt has came in and given us a consistent boost. Early on Matt maybe wasn't playing as consistent as we wanted him to.
As his play as grown and he's understood or got a great understanding of his role on this team, you know, great things have definitely happened for our team. I mean, I go back to the Tennessee game. He did some things in that game that never showed up on the stat sheet but helped us win the game. Really all the way through even last night the job he did.
Q. Can you talk about your brother, Greg. Couldn't get any polar opposite in terms of where you are in coaching. Is he as good a coach as you are? What has your interaction been?
COACH MATTA: Probably a better coach than I am. The job he did, winning a state championship down here this year, couldn't be happier for him. I've only spoken to him -- I've seen him, but haven't gotten a chance to talk with him.
Greg is a guy that growing up he was one of those tough, meaner older brothers who beat the hell out of me every day. I go back to the driveway and the games we used to play. If I ever got ahead of him, it became football. The guy hated to lose.
I think that that really kind of molded me, my personality. Having a guy two years older like that was probably a great thing for me in building who I was, my toughness. I've been in here for 45 minutes, like learning to duck punches and stuff like that because that's what I did every night when I went home.
Q. What did you first hear that there was this big-man, small-man, very talented duo in Indianapolis? How blessed do you feel to be the beneficiary of this very unusual circumstance?
COACH MATTA: Well, I remember hearing about Greg, this big kid, probably when he was in seventh grade I think it was. I think I maybe had just gone to Xavier. I get confused on the years. The ironic thing, I knew who Mike Conley ,Jr. was because I watched his dad play in high school, in the state tournament in Illinois.
I've told this story. I've never seen anything like it. He's got the greatest dunk. Had Greg finished that dunk last night, he might have moved ahead of Mike Conley, Sr. But Mike stole the ball in the state championship game and really jumped from the free-throw line and dunked it with two hands.
You know, I remember saying as an 11, 12-year-old at this point, if this guy ever has a son, I'm a Big-10 coach, I'm going to recruit his son. That's how into my goal-setting I was (laughter).
From that point on, I always followed Mike Conley, Sr. to Arkansas, through the Olympics. I always knew who he was. To find out he had a son, and I watched him play one day, I'm like, If I can get his son, meet Mike Conley, Sr. this is going to be the greatest day of my life.
To have those guys, I feel blessed. I think what they've meant for our program, the winning mindset that they've brought with three state championships, all the AAU championships that they've won, I've said this, you spend time with those guys, they make you better people. Obviously they make me a better coach.
Q. To get those guys of that level that maybe people would think, how would they go to Ohio State, when Florida started getting guys that would not go to Florida, how do you get that done? What kind of guts does it take to go after those guys?
COACH MATTA: I think for us it didn't take guts because, quite honestly, to tell you how gutsy we were, we were trying to recruit them to Xavier. I've always been one if I had been at Butler I would have been recruiting them, trying to convince them that the 15-minute drive would be the greatest thing of their life (laughter).
I think when I took the job at Ohio State I felt -- I'll never forget one of the prominent coaches about a week into it told me, You just got one of the greatest jobs in the country and nobody knows it. He said, Take your time. It takes one recruiting class and you can build that thing.
For us hopefully this is the class that has helped us get over that edge. But I think the biggest thing with Greg and Michael was getting to know them and them getting to know us, who we were about, what we could do for them and with them.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Matta, thank you very much and good luck.
COACH MATTA: Thank you.
End of FastScripts