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March 19, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Student athletes of USC are with us, No. 6. We'll have a date with Kansas State in tomorrow's Game 3 in Qwest Center, Omaha. And we're going to start off with question and answer session.
Q. O.J., how much are you looking forward to the anticipated meeting with your good friend Bill Walker, offensively and defensively do you anticipate going against him and, if so, what's going to happen?
O.J. MAYO: I don't know. I can't tell the future. But it will be fun playing the game knowing he'll be on the opposing team. And at the same time we've got to keep in mind that it's USC versus Kansas State and I think it will be a great matchup.
Q. O.J., staying on that same theme, can you talk briefly about the first time you met Bill Walker, walk us through how you each got to know each other?
O.J. MAYO: Met him when we were like four years old in preschool. He was one of the taller guys in the class along with me. And I actually thought he was older.
And he happened to be the same age. And Bill was, well, messing around with the little kids and stuff. We just happened to be friends. At the same time put a basketball in our hands. It went from there.
Q. O.J., do you notice as you see Bill on film now or watching him on TV a big difference in his explosiveness since before the knee injuries and what other ways has he changed maybe for the better as a basketball player?
O.J. MAYO: I still see the same explosiveness. Not as much, but also we're playing college basketball now.
So gaps are smaller and moves have to be a little quicker. So some explosiveness. But I still see the same Bill. He plays hard offensively and defensively. You know, he's a real emotional player, loves the game. And his jump shot looks great.
Q. Daniel, you guys were very or relatively successful, I guess, against Kevin Durrant last year in the playoffs. How do you think that experience will help as you guys match up with Michael Beasley tomorrow night?
DANIEL HACKETT: Obviously we got our hands full, not only with Michael but also with Bill. Kansas State is an experienced team. They have guards that are coming back from last year. And as I say, we've got our hands full. And hopefully we can take some clips from last year and take some notice on how we stop Durrant and use them tomorrow night.
Q. How do you guys feel, I guess for any of the players, you being the 6th seed, K State the 11th seed, yet they're playing relatively close to their campus, it may not be as neutral a site?
DANIEL HACKETT: The NCAA decided that (smiling). It's a tournament game. We play in the all-star environment already and the pack man got us ready for this. So whoever is going to show up it doesn't matter. The game's being played on the court.
Q. O.J., Mike told me he's 3-0 against you, two games in the AAU and once in high school. Talk about facing him and maybe how much you would like to be able to get a win against Mr. Beasley now?
O.J. MAYO: I've got short-term memory. I don't remember those games (smiling). That would be great playing against Mike. Mike's a terrific player. He also plays hard, very athletic. Knows how to play the game inside and out. So like Daniel said, we know we've got our hands full with Mike and also Bill.
So we've got to come ready to play and play hard. And just remember that this could easily be our last game. We want to come out and play hard and very inspired.
Q. Daniel and Taj, you guys played K State in Vegas last year and got beat. What do you see differently other than the guys on the floor, what's different or better about K State this year as opposed to the team you played last year?
TAJ GIBSON: They have players that matured. Last year, a lot of players really wasn't ready to come in and play a role. This year they have a lot of guys that's older and more experienced having been in Kansas, a lot of the guys have experience and they have Bill and Mike Beasley. So that team has weathered through the storm. They have a lot of experienced players now other than last year.
DANIEL HACKETT: Once you have all the guards coming back with learning and you add a healthy Bill Walker and the star Michael Beasley, that's not a normal 11 seed. That's a good team right there. So it will be a tough game.
Q. O.J., I understand I think you called Bill Sunday afternoon and you said this game was going to happen. Why did you think that this was going to end up this way before they announced it?
O.J. MAYO: I don't know. It was a guess. I don't know. But I just figured that they'd lose pretty early in their conference tournament and I don't think they finished the season as well as they wanted to so maybe the committee looking outside in maybe were thinking they were probably 10 or 11 seed. And we figured that we would probably get a 5 or a 6. And I just thought we was wrong. We did.
Q. During your career, you know from seventh grade on up, you've been kind of in the spotlight. This is obviously the big spotlight of the NCAA tournament. What does this mean to you to be playing in the NCAA tournament after what you've gone through in your basketball career so far?
O.J. MAYO: It's really not about me. I think we all know that we have a young USC team. And I think this is a big stage for all of us, Taj and Daniel was here last year and got opportunity to participate in the Sweet 16. And this is my first year along with many others on our team. And we're just happy to be here.
But at the same time we understand that this could be our last game. So we're just going to come out really inspired and play hard and just play the whole 40 minutes.
Q. Taj, when you played at UCLA Pac-10 tournament, they had success double teaming you pretty often throughout the game. I wonder if you expect to see that a lot and if you've kind of worked out how you might approach that if that happens in the NCAA tournament?
TAJ GIBSON: Well, this is the NCAA tournament. We don't really know much right now about the other team. We just know that have to learn from mistakes, watch a lot of film about the last game and just have to counter it. Double teams may come, may not come. Just have to keep playing. Coach Floyd's has trusted me to just play my game and that's what I'm going to do.
Q. O.J., it's been a pretty ballyhooed freshman class across the nation this last year, do you feel like you've got as much appreciation for what you've done considering Michael Beasley has gotten a lot of attention and Kevin Love out in California? Do you think you've gotten as appreciated as maybe you should have?
O.J. MAYO: Doesn't really matter to me. At the end of the day, I think the bigger picture is our team. That's my main focus. I don't think we'll be as successful as we are now, you know, without our team and us standing together and playing hard and playing within our system.
Sometimes it's good, you get a lot of attention. Sometimes it's not. But that's one thing I don't worry about.
Q. O.J., one more question about you and Bill. Have you played against him before, and what was that like? And if you haven't, are you anticipating what it's going to be like if you guys go head to head tomorrow night?
O.J. MAYO: Hopefully we're going to finish this game, because usually when we play one-on-one games there's a lot of arguing and fighting. We hardly ever get to finish the games.
But just practice when we're on opposing teams and practice in our past, he'll guard me and I will guard him. And we compete really hard. And maybe too hard.
But at the same time, you know, he wants to win and I want to win. Definitely don't want to go home from each other. So this is going to be a hard-fought game, and he has a good team and we also have a great team. And it's going to be a fun game.
Q. Daniel, with so much talent back from last year's Sweet 16 team and then so much new talent with Davon and O.J., has it been hard sharing the ball and keeping everybody happy and have there been any issues in that regard during the course of the year?
DANIEL HACKETT: Not at all. Obviously it was odd at the beginning to learn the system and learn how to win games with a young team like we have. And I think we got better and better each and every day. We've been on the road and we've been pretty successful on the road.
So this team has been tested, and as far as sharing the ball, we got guys that can make plays and guys that love to play with each other. You can all go back and watch the Stanford game where we make actual pass after actual pass and we enjoy playing together.
Q. O.J., what has it been like playing for Coach Floyd? Has it been everything you've expected out of a coach when you came to USC?
O.J. MAYO: Most certainly. Coach Floyd does a great job with our team. Like he asked the question before, was it a problem with us getting the ball around. He totally has our minds set on winning the basketball game. If we want to do anything by ourselves, just make sure we keep our man between us and the basket. And at the end of the day, that's a big contribution to our team. That's a great coach and very defensive minded and he makes sure we're playing hard.
Q. Rebounding was such a struggle for the team early on, but you guys eight games in a row or seven or eight games in a row, you've out rebounded your opponents. Coach Floyd will talk about it but from your perspective what have you done to sustain that success?
TAJ GIBSON: Basically just challenge each other in practice. Coach Floyd stressed throughout the season if you want to win games we've got to be on the ball and it's real tough early in the season losing the first three Pac-10 games being outrebounded, we just have to turn it around and guys learn to weather the storm and just turn it around in the last eight games improve it. We've outrebounded a lot of teams but it mainly came from the guards. Guards came out rebounding, not just one guard rebounding the ball. The whole team, takes five to win.
Q. O.J., I know K State was among your list of final schools that you were considering. How close was it? I think Bill the other day said he thought it might have been down to your last two.
O.J. MAYO: Most definitely my last two schools. I just found more interest in Coach Floyd of the USC basketball team, academic program. I just really look forward to playing with Daniel and Taj and having Dave Ryan. At the same time, we mentioned about Bill may have been in the shadows throughout my life. So I just gave him an opportunity to show his game and just progress as a player and get to know how to play with the ball more.
Q. O.J., you just mentioned that Bill played in your shadow a lot, and do you feel for him at all in any way that he goes from playing in your shadow to playing in the possible national player of the year shadow, Michael Beasley?
O.J. MAYO: Yeah, he's had his bad luck (smiling). Not playing in my shadow, I don't think Bill got enough credit for what he did, when we were playing with each other. He went to Kansas State, like you said, has a great player like Beasley. Beasley is a great player.
And at the same time, I think without Bill, I don't think Beasley maybe would be in the talk for national player of the year. I think they take a load off of each other. Beasley is a great player and so is Bill. And they've done a great job this year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
Head coach of USC is with us now, Tim Floyd. We'll ask him to make a statement about his team being here in the Qwest Center in Omaha. Then we'll go right to questions and answers.
COACH FLOYD: We're excited to be here. We're playing a terrific team in Kansas State, a team that finished third in one of the better conferences in the country. I'm still trying to figure out how they got an 11 seed finishing third in the league as strong as the Big 12.
But, you know, I view this as a team that you would play in the Sweet 16 because of their talent. I don't know that anybody in the first round has a greater challenge than Davon Jefferson, Taj Gibson have with the tandem of Walker and Beasley.
Both guys are capable of having 40-point nights. Beasley's case, 50-point night.
So we've got a lot to be concerned with going into the game. We also like the complement of their guards. Their understanding of where the ball should go. And their discipline to throw the ball to the guys who can score.
They throw a variety of defenses at us from zones to half court traps, things that we've had to spend time on that we haven't seen in our conference.
So we spent a great deal of time in preparation for these guys, watched a lot of film. And the people that I've talked to have basically just said good luck, because they've created fits for everybody they played against.
Q. There's obviously -- I'm sure you're not embracing the hype, but there's a lot of attention in this game because of O.J. and Beasley and Walker and that sort of stuff. Is it good for the game, though, the fact that these guys may end up only being in college one year and this might be their last game for some of these guys in their college career; is that good for college basketball in general, do you think?
COACH FLOYD: I think it's -- because you're asking that question, it is good for it. I think that that has been the excitement about this year. If we're going to look back on this year, we're going to say it was the year of the freshmen. And understand that we're seeing guys that up until a year ago, with Oden and Durrant, that we would not have seen from 1995 on that would have been in the league without a doubt.
Some of these guys are going to move on. Some of them are going to find out they need another year. So the college game is going to benefit from that. I think the interest in our facility in our brand-new building has been outstanding.
I don't remember the numbers exactly, but, you know, from maybe 4600 to 88- or 8900 every night, I think a lot of that has been because of the interest of O.J. Mayo. My hope is people have come into the building to watch O.J. and in the meantime have fallen in love with SC basketball and will come back again. So has it been good for our program, yes.
It will be a detriment if and when O.J. leaves if he's not academically eligible and cost us a scholarship. That would be something that would make me review whether or not to give another guy like this an opportunity at some point.
He has helped us with our future recruiting, and, like I said, some of these guys who perceive themselves to be NBA players who might have made mistakes in leaving a year ago are going to find out they need another year or two, like Brandon Roy found out when he was at Washington. He was a guy who thought maybe he needed to leave after high school and ended up staying four years and I've heard him say that he would not have had the career in the NBA had he not stayed. And he wouldn't have been ready, probably would have been cut if he would have come out after his sophomore year.
So I don't see the detriment to it. In a perfect world, they would stay two more years. But also I don't know how you deny the guy an opportunity.
Q. Frank Martin's first game as a head coach in the NCAA tournament. Feel like that's an advantage for you? And, secondly, do you remember your first game you coached in the NCAA tournament? What do you remember about that?
COACH FLOYD: I do remember it. I don't think it's any advantage. Frank's been around. Unless he had ear muffs on with Bob Huggins all those years, he's taken a lot from it. I remember Steve Fisher taking over at Michigan for Freeder and storming right through the tournament.
No. He's going to be fine. He's been a lot of games. I like what they do on the floor. I remember our first game at University of New Orleans, and I say I remember it. I can't remember what I had for breakfast, really, but I do remember playing a Kansas team I think in our first game. And played them pretty good. It was the year they went to the finals. And they lost. I don't think that's any advantage whatsoever for us.
Q. You mentioned the complementary players of Kansas State and Beasley gets the attention, rightly so, for his play. How do you guard against your players not solely focusing on Beasley and not making sure not to forget the complementary guys that have hurt him?
COACH FLOYD: We've had to do it in our conference with guys like Kevin Love and with guys like Jerryd Bayless at Arizona and guys Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. We've been around the block. We're aware of Bill's great talent, Bill Walker. We did watch the Baylor tape where they put 75 on the board between two guys.
But we've watched other tapes where Pullen scored and tapes where Young scored and Stewart has scored. So we're aware that in this tournament oftentimes different people grab the stage and we had that a year ago with Daniel Hackett, a young man who had been a complementary player who played great against Arkansas and great against Texas.
Q. You guys start off slowly in the conference 0-3, can you talk about the progression that your team has made to get to point where they are right now?
COACH FLOYD: We started off slowly, because of who we played and where we played. The nation got a chance to see our 90th percentile team, ninth place team out of 10 teams, California in the last week of the season take us into overtime at home and go over to UCLA and literally have them on the ropes for 39 minutes and 59 seconds, they get beat on a shot at the buzzer.
Great ninth place team. We opened at their place. They have probably three kids who will play in the NBA in Harden and Ryan Anderson and Patrick Christopher. I understood it with our freshmen. We went to Stanford and everybody was saying: What a horrible loss. This team is overrated you lose at Stanford.
Now everybody knows how good Stanford is. Our third game we got to come back home and play a home game against a fourth ranked team in Washington State. So I knew where we were and who we had been up against and knew at some point we were going to be playing more home games.
But our early conference schedule, our nonconference schedule, playing Kansas, Memphis, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, Miami of Ohio helped prepare us on going on the road. We became a good road team with wins at UCLA and Oregon and Arizona at Washington and someplace else -- I can't remember -- Oregon State.
Q. Tim, you talked a little bit about those players and freshmen and what they do for college basketball. What about the one year, what it does for those players as far as getting them ready for the NBA?
COACH FLOYD: I think that it's a year that they're going to embrace the rest of their lives. Having coached in the NBA and having coached in college, the college coach's approach is a little different than the NBA coach. The voice is a little different than the voice they get in their rookie year. A lot of times the voice is the voice of their agent with only two years before the big contract comes, the third contract. Often it becomes about numbers, points, all of those things.
And it's certainly not coming from the coach; it's coming from elsewhere. And I think having to give, having to blend, having to play a role, the socialization part of it. I remember Ron Artest who had played two years of college as a 19-year-old sitting on planes with Will Purdue who is 39, married, two kids. Nothing in common. You know, our guys goofing around in the hotel today, sneaking each other's iPods and all that kind of thing that you don't do in the NBA. They're growing up and they're growing up socially.
At the same time they're learning routine, they're learning dependability. They're learning accountability. Having to be on time for classes, structure, rules, that will serve them well in the NBA.
Q. Last time you were in the Midwest Regional you had a team with five senior starters. Can you talk about the difference between coaching a team with seniors and this team? And then, second of all, what you recall about that last game against Cameron Dollar and UCLA?
COACH FLOYD: Yeah, a lot of differences. I think when you have freshmen, you're not sure how they're going to approach the game and the stage. Understanding that all the attention's going to come if you win in the next game, when you have a bunch of seniors sometimes you're worried about are they playing for the draft? You've got things to worry about either way. Are they playing for the team or are they playing for numbers as well.
But when you have teams together for two years, you can trust them to a higher degree than you can with the young guys. Vivid memories of that last game with Cameron Dollar beating us, we had a 16-point lead with 11 minutes to go, I think and got beat on the shot at the buzzer. And probably the most disappointing loss of my career. It's one that you don't forget.
But those teams are entirely different. Our style of play is different and the teams aren't built the same way.
Q. I know it was a while ago, but life coaching at Iowa State in Ames in the Big 12, now the USC, what's the difference? What's life like now as opposed to back then?
COACH FLOYD: Well, it was different time in my life. And it was a fabulous opportunity for me coming from the University of New Orleans. I think the most difficult move to make as a coach is from mid major to high major. And Johnny Orr left us great players, but it was a real educational experience for me at that time in my career going up against Eddie Sutton and Norm Stewart and Roy Williams.
And the recruiting parallels are extremely different because my job is easier now recruiting than it was in Ames. You know, there's so much talent where we are. The ability to watch a practice or participate in a practice league and then go watch a guy play and be in your own bed every night at 9:00 is a real luxury.
But learned a lot in those years and enjoyed every minute of it. Enjoyed our time in the Midwest and a lot of what happened there has helped shape how I view things now in terms of game experiences and things that you take from playing against Eddie Sutton's teams and Norm's teams and Roy's teams.
Q. Any disadvantage? Do you feel slighted at all that you're the higher seed yet K State is playing relatively close to their campus?
COACH FLOYD: That's a great observation on your part. Nobody's really asked that. That's a great observation. One that I won't comment on. (Laughter).
Q. You talked about last year how Hackett kind of emerged was a player that maybe the national media wouldn't be looking to have a big tournament. Are there any players where you've seen their progression throughout this season where you feel as if they can have a tournament that may take a lot of people by surprise?
COACH FLOYD: Not really this year, because we were deeper a year ago. And Hackett was a guy who came off the bench for us. But we knew he was capable. This year our reinforcements are guys who are really role players in Angelo and Keith Wilkinson. And I think we know who they will be in this tournament.
But we may have a different guy step up, which we've had all year long. And I don't know who that will be. But it will be dependent on how Kansas State defends us, where the opportunities will come from.
Q. Tim, there's another team from southern California here. I know you had a close scrimmage against Cal Fullerton earlier this year. Do you have a sense then they have the talent to reach this level?
COACH FLOYD: Absolutely. I'd never met Bo Ryan. I just met him, said good luck. I said they beat us 22 in our scrimmage early in the year. They're a good team. They're a good team.
And Bo knows that. He's watched a bunch of tape on them. And I think Cal Fullerton will represent their conference very well. I'm not saying they're going to beat them at all. But Wisconsin is terrific. But it's going to be a better game than people think.
Q. O.J. came in, obviously since he was a seventh grader, a lot of attention, moved to a number of different schools to I guess help his basketball career. My understanding, he kind of recruited you rather than the other way around?
COACH FLOYD: Right.
Q. Any concerns that you had initially in -- I guess it's obviously worked out, but did you have any concerns about the whole O.J. Mayo experience?
COACH FLOYD: Coming in, I didn't know him that well. Talked to him four or five times on the phone. And he visited our campus, and saw him briefly during the visit. He had already signed at that point.
You know, if you listen to the media with O.J., you would have had concerns. But O.J. was a guy who didn't have an opportunity to talk to the media when he was in junior high and high school. O.J. was a guy who didn't have an opportunity to make decisions on leaving his friends in Huntington and moving to Kentucky and then moving to Cincinnati, and then moving back to Huntington, West Virginia. There were others making those decisions for him. There were others that did not allow him to talk to the media.
You guys had a responsibility to portray him in some fashion because there was a lot of demand to know who this kid was. And all I can tell you is he's been misrepresented and misportrayed. I was listening to Phil Johnson, who has been with me since the University of New Orleans. Phil had been at Arizona with Bibby and Terry and Dickerson and on and on and on. He said, I'm not sure he's not my favorite guy I've ever coached. Dependable, accountable, team -- same guy every day.
You watch his demeanor. It's the best demeanor you're going to see on the floor in the NCAA tournament. Facial expressions never change. He guards people. He's unselfish, gives it up. Thinks about other people. He's polite and respectful. He's a yes, sir, no, sir. And did he make a mistake or two when he was a sophomore or junior in high school, yeah, but I did too. Most everybody did. And he's a heck of a player.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts