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March 19, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by George Mason student-athletes. We'll take questions, please.
Q. The recent success you have had, is it kind of daunting when you come to different places and everyone knows who you are, even though you're the smaller seed in these tournaments?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: What do you mean "recent success"? You mean the CA championship?
Q. George Mason's name is out there. You're probably the more popular team than Notre Dame here.
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: I mean, I wouldn't think that. You know, Notre Dame is a high, prestigious school in the Big East, second in their conference. Just because they, you know, came up short in the Big East Conference doesn't mean they're not known.
Notre Dame is obviously the fifth seed for a reason. We just gonna to go out here, compete with them, have a great game tomorrow.
WILL THOMAS: As a team, we really don't think about that. We just want to go out there and play our game, have a lot of fun, give it our best effort.
Q. When you got the phone call from the CA conference, what went through your mind as those calls were coming in?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: I just got a call from Lamar. He just told me congratulations, just remember how much fun we had two years ago, just have the same fun, no pressure on you, just go out there and enjoy every moment of it.
Q. You mentioned pressure. I would imagine two years ago you didn't feel a whole lot of pressure being the underdog until you went fairly far. Can you give me an idea of how this year differs. Do you feel whatever happens now is gravy for your career or is the pressure because of what you've done before?
WILL THOMAS: We don't feel any pressure on us. Two years ago, that's a completely different team. Going into this year, we had high expectations for ourselves, like we do every year.
But I guess there's no pressure on us. We're the lowest seed. I don't think anybody expects us to really win. But, I mean, we can't put no pressure on ourselves.
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: I mean, me personally, I think Notre Dame is probably putting pressure on themselves thinking they have to beat us just because of what we've done in the past. And none of that means anything, you know, this year. It's a totally different team.
So with them being the 5 seed, we're the 12 seed, we're the underdogs, no matter what we did two years ago. We're just going to go out there, play, have fun, enjoy it.
Q. Maybe nobody expects you to win, but there are a lot of people out there who really got excited two years ago and a lot of people maybe want you to win. Do you sense that at all when you go to the airport, make the flight, get ready for these games?
WILL THOMAS: No, we try not to think about that. I think when you think about it, you're putting pressure on yourself to go out there and do stuff that you're not used to doing, not really thinking about the game, thinking about what people put on you.
We just come into this game thinking about how we gonna win the game.
Q. Looking back with two years of hindsight, how much did that change you? What do you carry away two years later?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: Me personally, I felt a lot of pressure coming into the game two years ago. This year, I mean, I feel calm. I mean, I know what to expect from our team and from the other team. I know they're going to play their A-game.
My job out there is just to be a leader, be poised, control the tempo of the game, make sure everybody feels happy. If our players are feeling happy, everybody's going to play well.
I mean, there's no pressure on our underclassmen. We're just going to go out there and have fun and we're going to play hard.
Q. Could you describe the style of defense that you play, I guess it's called the scramble?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: Yeah, the scramble defense. We use it sporadically. Our defense for the NCAA tournament is to contain everybody, control the paint and contest threes. But every once in a while, Coach L will throw in the scramble defense. That's basically to put pressure either the ball handler or the first player. We put pressure on it, just scramble. Everybody's running everywhere. I mean, nobody's guarding anybody. We're just running around.
Q. Sort of controlled chaos?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: Yeah, like controlled chaos. I like that (laughter).
Q. Was that kind of a key during your run in the CAA tournament, defense?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: When we started off the season, we were 4-0. Coach L told us we were playing great defense. We kind of slipped off of that towards the middle of the season. We realized as a team, if we play good defense, we're a hard team to beat.
In the CAA tournament we held teams to under 30% shooting, things like that. We know what it takes to win. We know it's on the defensive side. As long as we bring that defense, it's going to go hard to beat George Mason.
Q. How much does it mean for you to be able to finish your career in the NCAA tournament?
FOLARIN CAMPBELL: It's a great feeling. You know, I made it my sophomore year, but there's nothing like making it your senior year. Your sophomore year, you say, Okay, I got two more years to make it. But to make it your senior year, this is the last go-around. Any game could be your last.
I expect to go out there, I'm sure Will expects to go out there playing 110%. This could be our last game. We don't want it to be our last game. So we're going to go out there, play hard, and still enjoy it. This is college basketball. You play to have fun. Even though everybody wants to win, you still got to enjoy it, and that's what we'll do.
THE MODERATOR: All right, guys. Thank you very much.
COACH LARRANAGA: I've got a question. Were there a lot more people here than when Mike Brey was at the podium (laughter)?
THE MODERATOR: Joined now by George Mason head Coach Jim Larranaga. We'll take questions.
Q. Tell me your mindset, you personally, from two years ago to today. Do you feel like the highlight of your career potentially happened two years ago and everything else is gravy?
COACH LARRANAGA: I have a very, very close friend. His name is Dr. Bob Rotella. Anybody who follows golf knows he's like the sports psychologist of pro golf. We talk all the time. Two years ago, leading into the tournament, I was having a conversation with him. He just reminded me, Listen, your whole focus, your whole team's focus has to be relax and enjoy the journey. Have fun with it. Don't be uptight. Don't put a lot of pressure on yourselves. You're playing against the higher seed, a team that had been to the Final Four. Hey, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If you go in with that mindset, I think your guys will play great.
And we did. And I kept preaching that to the players: Stay loose, have fun, enjoy it.
This year our upperclassmen have now taken on that role. Will Thomas, he was interviewed right after we won the tournament. He just said, we're going to have more fun than any other team in the NCAA tournament, I can promise you that. And we are. We're having a blast.
Q. Another version of that question is: What do you do for an encore this year? Would it be bad to say that if you didn't repeat what you did that it wouldn't be as enjoyable of a year for you?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, the one thing about two years ago, and we talk about this because we get asked about it all the time, is everybody understands that was then. This is now. Half the guys on our team, more than half the guys on this year's team, weren't on that team. So we just tell them, Hey, this is your turn. This is your turn to have great fun and play great basketball.
The better we play, the more fun we'll have. So we're taking it one day at a time, one game at a time, and just looking forward to playing against a great Fighting Irish team. Notre Dame has had a great, great season. Mike Brey and his staff have done a tremendous job. My staff and I are looking forward to competing against them, and so are our players.
Q. You lost four of your last seven to end out the regular season?
COACH LARRANAGA: We did (smiling)?
Q. And struggled defensively down the stretch. What changed going into the conference tournament? Seemed like John Vaughan probably put together three of his best defensive games in that stretch.
COACH LARRANAGA: You're absolutely right. What happened is you were there. We played Northeastern in the regular-season finale. Played badly. Played absolutely no defense.
We took that TV game, and Joe Lunardi difficult, the bracketologist specialist, he was doing the color commentary. We made our players on that Monday leading up to the CAA tournament, we made them listen to Joe's analysis. Joe was saying, Oh, man, Mason isn't playing any defense. Goodness, that was an easy post feed. That was an easy shot. One play right after the other.
We turn the game off. I said, Listen, we play that kind of defense in the CAA tournament, our tournament stay will be very brief, I guarantee you that. But if we go back to playing the same kind of defense that we did to start the season. We had very much a defensive mindset and did certain things extremely well. If we go back to that mindset in the tournament, we'll have a lot of fun and play very well.
And we did. In the first game, we played that same Northeastern team. We shut them down. The next night we played UNC Wilmington, a team we gave 75 points to at home, the only home game we lost, and we held them to 41. Same team three weeks later. Then in the championship game, we played terrific defense on a William and Mary team that was very hot, especially from three-point land. We were able to guard them very, very well.
Q. Two years ago when you beat UConn, the next day the campus was going crazy, reporters filling your office asking you what this all means. Now with two years of hindsight, what did it mean, for you personally and the program?
COACH LARRANAGA: You know, John Feinstein is a great writer, sportswriter, for the Washington Post. He said to me after our run that, Your life will never be the same. This is life-altering. My wife and I kind of giggled at that. I'm still going to be a coach. I'm still going to be working at George Mason. Everything is going to be the same.
It wasn't. It was absolutely unbelievable the amount of things that transpired as a spin-off from the Final Four. I was traveling all over the country speaking on behalf of the Washington Speakers Bureau, telling the George Mason story. Our university admissions, our applications were rising faster than you could count them. Our hits on our website were growing by leaps and bounds. People were becoming more and more familiar with our university and our facilities. Our university decided to start expanding. We were investing $2 million a week for the next five years, $2 million a week for the next five years. $500 million on campus improvements. We're adding more and more rooms to our dormitories. So George Mason is just growing beautifully.
One of the directors of our sports management department, Dr. Robert Baker. He did a study on the Final Four as to what the media exposure, if you totaled up what it would cost to get that kind of media exposure, and he estimated it at $650 million for the run to the Final Four. Our bookstore on campus, which normally does a good $11,000 worth of business in a week, did $876,000 in 10 days.
So the impact of the Final Four, it absolutely changed me completely and the responsibilities now that I have grown, even within the university. I'm now on the school of management faculty. I teach within the university. Things that I like to do, I've now been given that opportunity.
So I feel very, very fortunate to be at George Mason University and to see what that team accomplished, what the great spin-offs are.
Q. It was in the UNC Wilmington game where Dre was having a good first half before he got the clicking in his knee. How important was it to be to get him as another option to take the load off Folarin, Will and JV?
COACH LARRANAGA: I don't think there's any question that three-point shooting has a major impact on the results in college basketball games. And Dre is our most dynamic three-point shooter. He's had games where he went 10 for 10 and set an NCAA record.
In the tournament, he did hurt his knee and missed the whole second half of the Wilmington game. So for us to be at our best, we need Dre at his best. And when he is at his best, John Vaughan, Folarin Campbell, that's a dynamic three-guard offense, they can all shoot the three, and it takes a lot of pressure off of Will Thomas inside.
Q. How important is it for the guys to have fun? Folarin talked about having fun, playing the scramble defense, having things worked out. There was a point at the end of the CAA season. How important was it for them to have fun?
COACH LARRANAGA: Did Folarin mention the scramble defense?
Q. He did.
COACH LARRANAGA: It's kind of funny, we haven't used it in so long, I thought he would forget it. It's unbelievable. We've been trying to get our team to play it a little bit better. It's nice to know our players still have that thought in the back of their mind because it's always an option for me during the game to break it out and hope that it will be effective, like it has been in the past.
But having fun is the whole key to success. Picture yourself on a golf course with a 10-foot putt to beat your buddy, and all of a sudden you put a whole lot of pressure on yourself. Oh, man, I don't want to lose to this guy. He'll be talking about it all day. All of a sudden the 10-foot putt looks like a 30-foot putt. If you're having a blast, playing with your buddy, this is money in the bank, I'm knocking this down, it's a lot easier to make the shot.
It's all about having confidence and exuding that confidence on the court. When you're smiling and having fun, everybody around you is elevated because when Folarin smiles, when Will is just pounding his chest, when JV is high-fiving everybody, everybody's feeling good. And, yes, there were times during the season when there was none of that. I know our guys were not feeling great about themselves.
But the CAA tournament I think has turned it around for us.
Q. Chris Fleming also had a big tournament for you. I understand you normally work with a short rotation. How much did he contribute during the tournament run?
COACH LARRANAGA: I thought one of the great lines, and Chris Fleming is absolutely a special human being, after the game one of his teammates paid him the highest compliment by saying, Chris, you should have been all-tournament for what you contributed these last three days. It was really true. That player was Dre Smith. And Dre, for at least the Wilmington game, was sitting on the sideline. He was just cheering like crazy for Chris, because Chris was playing so well.
I have a very funny story I didn't know at the time. But there's a very good player at North Carolina Wilmington. His name is Vladimir Kuljanin. He's about 6'10", 275 pounds. Chris had to match up with him. He's a very high scorer in the low post. Hard to guard. Chris doesn't score that much for us.
They were matched up in the game. Chris made this finger roll. Kuljanin says, Man, that was a nice move, as they're running down the floor. Chris said, Yeah, I copied you. Kuljanin said, Yeah, you know what, that move did look like mine. I thought that was really a neat exchange, a real sign of respect by Kuljanin to pay Chris right in the heat of battle, to say, Man, that was a heck of a move, I haven't seen you use that before.
But Chris was instrumental in every single game because he gives us a defensive presence. When he's scoring, he gives us another go-to guy on the inside. Will Thomas is our go-to guy. But when we get Louis Birdsong or Chris Fleming contributing at the offensive end, that's a major plus for the Patriots.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.
COACH LARRANAGA: Thank you.
End of FastScripts