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October 17, 2007

Greg McDermott


PETER IRWIN: We're now joined at the podium with Iowa State coach Greg McDermott, welcome.
GREG McDERMOTT: It's good to start year No. 2, because that means year No. 1 is over. A year ago we returned four scholarship players and we returned five this year, so I think we're making progress. I'm really excited about the makeup of this team. Our chemistry is 100 percent better than a year ago. Our work ethic is better. The guys really seem to like each other. The practices have been spirited and intense and guys are picking each other up in a way that you'd like to see teammates do. And that wasn't always the case a year ago.
The fact that we do have the five guys back is really important in the sense that the leadership that they've been able to provide for the eight newcomers that we have in terms of what our expectations are, the level of accountability that we expect in our program, and how we're going to operate on a day-to-day basis has made our jobs as coaches much easier.
Obviously we're extremely young in the guard court and inexperienced there. But I think we have some talent there that we didn't maybe have a year ago. We certainly have some size there that we didn't have a year ago. Probably most importantly we have some competition for playing time. Last year the roles were easily defined. The guys that were playing knew they were going to play and our bench wasn't so much. There wasn't really anybody pushing anybody for playing time. And that is not the case this year across the board in the guard court or in the front line. Just having that competition on a daily basis is going to make ourselves a better team and allow us to move ahead hopefully a little better.

Q. What kind of improvement do you expect from Wesley from the freshman to sophomore season?
GREG McDERMOTT: What I've already witnessed is just his -- the change in his demeanor from a leadership standpoint. For a sophomore to step up in the way that he has and assume a leadership role on our team has been very impressive. He's added some strength, which he needed to do. His ball handling has improved immensely. And he took a trip with Athletes in Action this summer to Australia. And that really benefitted him. I think they were a little short on guards with that touring team and Wesley ended up playing some point guard and some off guard quite a bit. And that has allowed him to feel much more comfortable playing facing the basket a little more than maybe he did a year ago.
We're going to be forced this year, because of our youth in the guard court to play Wesley anywhere from a power forward to an off guard. So he's going to have to be very versatile for us this season. I think he has the makeup and the ability to do that.

Q. What would you say may be the one or two biggest things you learned last year in year one either at Iowa State or in the league?
GREG McDERMOTT: I learned that Doc Sadler is the biggest sandbagger on the golf course than anyone I've ever met (laughter). We were really slight in the guard court, both from a height standpoint and from a strength standpoint. We were taken advantage of in many situations in the Big 12 because we just weren't big and strong enough. I told my staff many times, we just weren't built to play in the Big 12 a year ago. So we tried to address that with our recruiting. And I think that was one area.
The other one was across the front line. Wesley Johnson was playing power forward at 190. It's hard to make a living in the Big 12 that way. Jiri is now stronger and Wesley is 205 and much stronger. Alex Thompson becomes eligible, Craig Brackins brings us size and athletic ability we didn't have last year. Cory Johnson has changed his body and then Clayton Vette, who is big and strong. You just have to be big and strong to have a chance to compete with the physicalness of this league, and we didn't have that a year ago, and I think we're better in that regard this season.

Q. Considering your lack of experience, does that make the non-conference portion of the season more important getting ready for the Big 12?
GREG McDERMOTT: Without question. We've put together a schedule that I think will challenge us. We have some of the typical bye games at home that you hope you can be successful, but we've also -- we also are going to take our team on the road and play some decent teams in arenas, and we'll be able to throw our young guards in a lot of difficult situations prior to the start of the Big 12. So as I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of competition for those positions, and I think we'll be able to use a lot of combinations early, get a lot of different players on the floor, to find out who is going to click best together.

Q. You moved up now to No. 5 in seniority in the league, based on hire. There's eight first and second year coaches, just a commentary on the profession or something about the league, what are your thoughts on that?
GREG McDERMOTT: It is the most, without question, from when I started in college coaching 19 years ago. I spent the majority of my career at the Division 2 level, where it wasn't so much of a what have you done for me lately profession, it certainly has grown into that. And I think that's unfortunate, because I think there are quality people that are proven coaches that are losing their jobs I think before they have an opportunity to do the things that they're capable of doing. And that's sad for me to see. But it is what it is. And I certainly understand it. And I realize that we're going to have to try to turn this program around as quickly as we can. But I also think you have to have the courage to be patient, both on a daily basis with your team in practice and as we attempt to build a program, because we're attempting to build a program, not a team. And there's a lot more that goes into that than just what takes place on the basketball floor. You have to take your time and do it the right way. When you do that there's growing pains at times and we experienced some of those last year and I think we'll experience a few more this year. But as long as we're moving forward and the program is being put in place I'll feel good about it, regardless of what happens.

Q. Can you talk about how Jiri was able to develop last season and what you expect to see from him this year?
GREG McDERMOTT: He was about five minutes from being on the plane back to the Czech Republic right after Christmas. And he and I finally had it out. And we didn't get along very good the first couple of months of practice. And part of it is in Jiri's defense, part of it is how he grew up playing the game. He grew up facing the basket and he was very skilled at facing the basket and he feels that was his ticket to professional basketball at some level. But what was important to me is how he can best help our team. It was my job as head coach to get that across to him. And finally right around the first of the year it clicked with him that he was the one guy on the team last year that could score on the block. Besides being skilled facing the basket, Jiri is a skilled player on the block. He uses both hands very well, he can get to the free throw line, and that was going to give our team an opportunity to be more successful.
Once Jiri bought into what I asked him to do he started playing better, his numbers got better. And then we addressed in the offseason the fact that he just wasn't strong enough. To Jiri's credit he's put on 25 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He's changed his diet. We had him working with a nutritionist, just to change some of the things he was putting in his body so that he could maybe put on some weight.
I give Jiri a lot of credit because at times it's easier for a coach to get a younger player that's 18 or 19 years old to buy in and help the team. Jiri is 23 years old. It's more difficult to get someone that's that age and that set in their ways to make a change to the betterment of the team. And to his credit he was able to do that.

Q. You talked about Wesley's versatility. Does Alex Thompson have that versatility? Maybe one of the more versatile players, how has he been practicing so far?
GREG McDERMOTT: Alex, as well has put on a lot of strength. He came to us around 225, and he's now 245 now. He's versatile in the sense that he can play I think both front line positions. He's quick enough to guard a perimeter power forward, yet strong enough to play against somebody that's big and strong in the block. And I think that's where he can really help us. We're going to need him probably to score a little bit more than he thinks about scoring right now, and that's going to be our charge in practice the next several weeks to understand that he really needs to be a viable option for us.
Our strength is in our front line. That's where our experience is. Alex has played two years in the Big Ten before he transferred from Iowa to our place. He's got as much experience playing college basketball as anyone in our program.

Q. In retrospect are you surprised or happy that you were able to win 15 games last year, everything considered?
GREG McDERMOTT: We won the games we were supposed to win. As a coach you always get nervous that somebody that is not supposed to beat you can sneak up on you, when you're instituting a new system of play. And for the most part we were able to win the games we were supposed to win, except for maybe three or four games we were able to be competitive. And that was really our hope for last season, let's get to the last five or six minutes of as many games as we can, and give ourselves a chance to win in the end. We were able to win six Big 12 games, which I was pleased with. And there were five or six more where we had an opportunity in the end to win. Now, to do that we had to play a lot of different ways. I'm not sure there was a system and a style in place. We were all over the map because of the shortcomings from a size and strength standpoint, where we had to hide some of our weaknesses to give ourselves a chance to win. So I was really pleased with how the guys bought into the different game plans we put together last year. But I was disappointed that we weren't able to develop a little better chemistry and team unity a year ago that I think that we have now.
PETER IRWIN: Good luck this season.

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