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March 19, 2008

Chris Gaynor

Michael Jenkins

Taj McCullough

Randy Peele


THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Winthrop student-athletes. We'll take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. In your media bio, it says your greatest basketball thrill is playing with DeAndre Adams. Could you talk about the thought process with him at this event? I know you wear his number on your jerseys. Talk about him and his place in this right now.
MICHAEL JENKINS: Dre was a great teammate, a great person. He had a lot of energy out there on the floor. He always was ready to compete. He never bent down for everybody.
That's the image we want to portray for this season. We wanted to honor him this season because we know he loved the game of basketball and we know we have the opportunity to continue to play and he doesn't. So we wanted to take in every day in practice, take him in our memory.

Q. The last time you guys got to have him on the bench was at the NCAA tournament in Spokane last year. What are some of the memories from Spokane you can relate sharing, having him there?
CHRIS GAYNOR: In our Coliseum, we have a banner hanging up, I'm sure as in a lot of programs, Dre when he won, jumping up and down, just the memory of that, the success we had last year, him being a big part of that is something I'll always remember.
TAJ McCULLOUGH: Well, what I remember is we had got these haircuts before that made coach upset a little bit. That's one of the things I remember, we said we was going to do, me, him and Mantoris. We did. That's one of the things I remember. It was fun (laughter).
MICHAEL JENKINS: The memory I remember the most is just having him jump up and down at the end while we was winning. Like Chris said, that's the banner we have up. That just symbolize everything Dre was about. The energy, the passion, the love for the game. You know, that image will always be in my head. I'm glad they continue to keep it up in our Coliseum. It will be there forever.

Q. Can you talk about Washington State, what you've seen, what you expect the game to be like tomorrow.
CHRIS GAYNOR: Well, I can start from the guy I'll probably be guarding, Rochestie. He's a great guard from what I've seen on film. He can really shoot the lights out and he's quick with the ball. He really runs the team.
He reminds me of Brian Smith and KJ Garland who we played against in Asheville. We're just going to have to prepare like we did with Asheville, just be ready to guard him. As Coach Dixon says, he's the straw that stirs the drink.
MICHAEL JENKINS: From going over the scouting report, being such a big basketball fan I am, college basketball, I've watched some of their games, late over there on the East Coast. It's 7 here, but it's 10 to 11 over there, so I'm still up watching.
They're almost like us. Similar to us actually. They play great defense. I think they're ranked third in scoring defense in the country. We're ranked eighth or ninth. I know that they like to stop penetrations, playing the gaps like we do. They take good shots, have good possessions on the offensive end just like we do. Game's going to be very slow-paced. If none of us are going to scoring tomorrow, it's going to be a pretty ugly NCAA tournament game (laughter).
TAJ McCULLOUGH: Along with Mike, one of the guys I'm guarding is a lot bigger than me. I think that's going to be a tough challenge, you know, trying to keep him out of the paint and stuff.
On our side, I think we have a lot of matchup problems as well. It's like 6'10" guys trying to guard on the perimeter, guys who can go inside and out. We'll see how it turns out.

Q. Michael, you knew about Washington State right away? You didn't have to go to videotape?
MICHAEL JENKINS: Yeah, like I said, I love basketball. I'm always up watching it. I'll try to catch every game, no matter who's playing, if it's Division II, girls, women's, I'll just watch it. I always watched the games. I caught three of their games before. Before they even announced who we were playing, whatever, the coach didn't have to tell me anything. I had an idea of their personnel, what they like to do, how they play.
So, yeah, I guess I did.

Q. This is your fourth time. Given what's happened in the last year, is this trip more special or better in any way than the other three have been?
CHRIS GAYNOR: I think it is because all the adversity we had to fight through this year, especially starting in May with DeAndre's passing. We lost a couple games we thought we shouldn't have lost. Everybody was putting us on the back burner. They were saying UNC Asheville, high point, winning. They had UNC Asheville on ESPN bracket for a couple days. That really took the heart in me.
I think this one is pretty much special because we're seniors and this is our last trip. So we're going to try to make the best of it.
MICHAEL JENKINS: I'd like to say this is the most special one, too, because, like Chris said, they counted us out. They said we couldn't do it without three of our seniors that were here with us last year, let alone not knowing that we were key components from that team last year as well. Then last year our slogan was unfinished business because we lost a heartbreaker against Chris Lofton from Tennessee. Finished that, got to the round of 32. We know how that feels, so we're trying to get even further.
TAJ McCULLOUGH: What makes it important to me is because starting from our freshman year, we started off with eight freshmen that came together. We stuck together throughout these four years during the adversity, the situation with DeAndre, coach leaving, Randy Peele taking over, Coach Randy. That's just what makes it special to me, is to finish it out with these guys right here.

Q. Michael, who do you think you're going to be guarding? Who do you think is going to be guarding you? What is going to be the key to that matchup?
MICHAEL JENKINS: First thing, I think Weaver is going to be guarding me at first because they say he's long, athletic, a defensive stopper, whatever. He's going to be guarding me, I assume.
I'm going to be guarding from Rochestie to Low to Weaver. It all depends. It's got to be mixed up matchups throughout the game or whatever, you know, because we all can guard any three of their guards. I know Chris can guard Weaver. Between me and Mantoris, we can guard one, two, to three. That's who I assume I'm going to be guarding. That's who I assume going to be guarding me.

Q. Michael, if you've seen Washington State a few times, you know they're not the deepest team in the world. Do you want this to be an up-tempo game, especially at elevation?
MICHAEL JENKINS: Being elevation, that's not a factor because, you know, we're both going to be tired no matter what, being they're from Washington, we're from South Carolina. So the air is just going to be a problem from both of us.
I don't really know. You know what I'm saying? Can you repeat the question? I'm sorry.

Q. Do you want this game to be up-tempo because they're not the deepest team in America?
MICHAEL JENKINS: Okay, well, we don't want to get out of our system, you know. One thing coach always said, the best team, the other team doesn't run them out of their system. You dictate the game. You don't let the other team dictate the game for you.
We're a running squad. We like to run. But we know how to play in the halfcourt as well. Coach Peele always says the key to winning is being able to execute and defend. We're going to run if we have our chance, but we're not going to go out of our way to play.

Q. Can you give us an idea of what your coach is like and how he differs from Gregg?
TAJ McCULLOUGH: Well, it's not too much difference. We running the same system. Coach Marshall was more like in your face, you know, aggressive with you. Coach Peele is more sometimes laid back, give you more opportunities to create a shot for yourself.
CHRIS GAYNOR: To me it's a give-and-take. Coach Marshall, it seemed like, like Taj said, he was all up in your face sometimes. But he had this unbelievable swagger about him that you couldn't take away from him. Now Coach Peele, we just won the Big South championship, he's starting to get more and more of that swagger towards himself. With coach Marshall last year, any shot that was a good shot, as long as it went in. But it seemed like this year we were more offensively oriented and halfcourt offense.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.

We'll get started with Coach Peele.

Q. I know you've probably watched a little tape on this game. Could you give us a rundown on Washington State, what you see from them. And is this a game where somebody's going to have to impose their will on somebody else to win?
COACH PEELE: Well, I think so. One of the things I said to our team today is part of this thing is which team's will is greater to want to continue to stay and play.
Washington State, in my opinion, is very good. I think they're very well-coached. I think they have tremendous balance. Quite honestly, I think we're extremely similar. They average 67 points a game. They give up 57. It's obviously very similar to us. I mean, I think we average 66 and give up 55.
But I think we're very similar especially defensively. Defensively I think they're good. I think in our region of the country, though, they're unlike a lot of people, as we are. But they do a great job closing out to the ball. I don't think that they really take passing lanes away from you. But the one thing that they do is they are extremely big. They're physical. And I think our players are going to see their physicality tomorrow.
The other thing is, one of the things that they pride themselves on, in my opinion, is making sure that the shots that you take are contested. I don't know that their defense creates turnovers, but they want you to shoot contested shots.
The other thing is, I think they really do a nice job defending the post. They sink to the ball very well in the post. If you try to make post moves off the dribble, they can create a lot of problems for you.
But they have a very good basketball team. You know, one of my cop-outs that I think players take sometimes, they'll just say, Well, we just missed shots. I really don't like that term. But, quite honestly, I think it's two similar styles. One of the things that's gonna be big is you're gonna have to make shots over their defense. That will be a problem inside because they're 6'10" at both inside positions.

Q. Is there a particular matchup on the perimeter that you're going to be looking out for?
COACH PEELE: Well, you know, it depends who you talk to (laughter).
Yeah, I've talked to a lot of different people. You know, I would say no because I have respect for all three of their guys on the perimeter. I think they all do things very differently for their team. I mean, Low to me would like be one of my favorite players as I'm watching them because I think he's got great pace. When you watch him cut off screens, he changes speed and he cuts really hard.
The other thing that he does is he's got a great shot fake on his catch. He has an ability to create space. I think the bottom line is he's a shot-maker.
You know, Weaver, I have great respect for him. He's athletic. He slashes. The thing I like about him is he's got long arms. He gets plenty of deflections when he's guarding the ball. He brings toughness to me to them, as well.
And then Rochestie, he was the Rookie-of-the-Year in Conference USA when he was at Tulane, correct? And so a left-handed kid, very good player. I think they're all good. I think they're very, very solid.

Q. Can you give me an idea of the challenges you faced coaching a team that had heavy hearts over the tragic death of their teammate?
COACH PEELE: Yeah, that was -- you know, it's -- I can talk about it. It's really hard to talk about sometimes.
You know, I believe I got the job on April the 16th. Immediately started recruiting. Within a month of my tenure as the head coach, you know, when DeAndre was in his accident, I was there. I was there really the entire week. You know, the amount of pressure, the way that it rocked our program, there's no words that can adequately express what it did to our heart.
I say that, you know, Gary, Mr. McCann knows, but this is a young man that had a smile like you've never seen. He was engaging. It didn't matter your age. You would want to be a part of his life. It was really hard. It was very hard on our players to go through that. It was extremely hard on our community, as well.
You know, we found a way. We kind of got through it. But it was very difficult along the way. This kid was -- I mean, let alone his passion, this kid had unbelievable heart. He played as hard as any young man I know I've ever had the pleasure of coaching. I never, ever, even when he was in that accident, I would never bet against him in a fight. Bless his heart (tearing up).
It's just tough.

Q. Before taking this position, you'd been a head coach, won conference championships. Can you reflect on where this year has fit for you, given all the circumstances with what you were just talking about, then conference play having three seniors gone, being counted against a little bit? To be here today, can you put that all together for me?
COACH PEELE: You know, I think it's a great question. My thoughts are, in coaching college basketball, it's never as good as you think it is, and it's never as bad as you think it is.
One of my qualities is I know when to be a flat-line guy. So with this team, you know, I mean, I'm ecstatic for them because, you know, with the media here, you know, we've won three regular-season championships. We've won three tournament championships. We've had streaks of winning at home, league games. I really felt like there was an air this year that, okay, this is payback.
So for our team, you know, to come back the way they did, I mean, on January 12th, our first league game, they stormed the court. I made a statement that championships aren't won on January 12th. We were down two, three games. We come back, we're in first place, which was quite a feat. And we lose our last regular-season home game. Obviously it's a tie for the regular-season champions. We go on the road at UNC Asheville. In our tournament we won by 31, 9 and 18. I'm just really proud of this team.
I think part of it is, we've got really quality kids. For me, in terms of what it means, I guess to really be specific, you know, once it's all over, I think it will hit me a little more.
But, you know, the bottom line is, in my business, you got to get it done. No excuses. You know, we got it done. That's what it's about. At the same time, as we arrive here, I would say, you know, our goal every year is to get to the NCAA tournament with the chance to advance. That's where we are right now.

Q. You said earlier Washington State's sort of style of play defensively you don't see a lot in your region. What do you see that Washington State doesn't do and how are they different now?
COACH PEELE: What is it that I see that they do that I like?

Q. You said something about you don't see them in your region, the way they play defense. What did you mean by that?
COACH PEELE: Okay. You know, to me, my analysis would be this, and I've said this to our team. I feel that they have a Big-10-ish type style in the PAC-10. And I say that, so that everybody knows, with tremendous compliments to their program.
But, like a lot of times in the east, in the southeast, our tempo is fast. You know, everyone pushes the ball to a degree. The game is played off the dribble. You know, it's space, dribble-drive, create, up-tempo.
Where we are very similar to them is, like, we do convert on a miss, but we do not on a made. So, like for us, like if I were to tell you we had a big win today. Let's say if I were to say to you, We blew somebody out. Well, a blowout for us is 65-48. You know, we're going to guard and try to win games like that.
That's what I was saying. I think they defend. I just think they're very different than a normal style of play that we see in the southeast. You know, they would be like Davidson in terms of their style. The thing that I know I'll see tomorrow, but I know it's there right now, is their physicality. I know once we get on the floor, in my mind, I'm anticipating physicality like when we played Ole Miss down in Jackson.
But they're good. They have a very good team.

Q. Last year this team came in very confident in its chances of winning against Notre Dame. What's the feel this time around? Is there any difference?
COACH PEELE: I don't think there's any difference. If there is, I can't see it. I should probably phrase it like that.
But I don't think so. I mean, you know, the advantage of us being here our fourth year in a row, the same with our tournament, is it's how you embrace it. That's what I've tried to do.
Now, at practice today, I'll tell you, it was pretty tough. I'm not going to tell you it was a cakewalk in practice, because it wasn't the last two days. But I believe this group is confident, loose. And, quite honestly, that's really how I want them to be. The bottom line is, I want them to have fun. I want them to experience this. And by no means does it mean that we're not gonna come and compete as hard as we can because we will.
But, you know, they've done it before. I just think when they walk out and they see the arena, their sense is, This is where we expected to be. We belong here. The one thing about our team is, is because of the schedule that we play, it really doesn't matter who we play because for us we're gonna compete at a high level.

Q. Somebody mentioned you had a tough bus trip on the way over. Can you just talk about that?
COACH PEELE: I tell you, I have a great relationship with the media, but at this point I would rather hold my statements until a time that we can announce later to give you my opinion (laughter). I had to dance on that one.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks very much.
COACH PEELE: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

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