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March 20, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We have with us this morning Derrick Mercer, Garrison Carr and Brian Gilmore. If you do have a question for any of the three, if you'll raise your hand, we do have a couple floor mics. We would like to get one to you before you ask your question. We'll try to keep this to 10 to 15 minutes and then we'll have Coach Jones come in. But at this time we'll go ahead and take questions.
Q. Derrick, I'm starting with you, coming into your first tournament I know you're excited to be here, it's a 15 seed, how do you beat a, I mean it's a 15 seed, how do you beat a 2 seed? How do you turn the tables and get out of here with an upset?
DERRICK MERCER: Basically just go out there and play playing your heart out. Going out there playing as hard as you can. Doing the little things, take care of the ball, rebounding, stopping, making them play the way we play. That's basically what we can do, just go out there and try to out hustle them, try to out work them. We know Tennessee is a great team. They love to rebound, try to stop their transition, a little bit, slow them down a little bit, keep them at our pace.
If we go out there, we make them some plays and take care of the ball we should be fine.
BRIAN GILMORE: I think that that's the keys to the important things to do. Transition defense, rebound, and just really slow the pace of the game down and take care of the ball.
It's going to take a big effort. We need a lot of contributions from a lot of different guys. It's going to be tough, but I think if we play hard and we play smart and do the things that we have been working on this week that we'll give ourselves the best opportunity.
GARRISON CARR: Just feeding off what they said, we basically have to make sure that we just play our style of basketball. We can't get caught up in Tennessee's fast pace, quick shooting type of play. We have to just continue doing what we have been doing all year.
Q. Have you guys seen a team this year that kind of duplicates the pressure that they put on the ball. Anybody that plays that tempo, that pace?
GARRISON CARR: No, I don't think we have seen any other teams this year like them. I know from watching them on TV the announcers always talk about how they're one of the hardest playing teams in the nation. So obviously we're going to have to match their intensity on the court and I don't think -- they're like -- they're unlike any other team we've played this year in terms of their intensity and how they're going to press the whole game. So that's something that we have been preparing for all week.
DERRICK MERCER: I would say Maryland, who also presses and they give you one good hard trap and that's common. They are compared to them a little bit. Maryland will pressure, pressure defense, one hard trap and then if you get past that one hard trap then you're fine and they will press you in the half court so I would compare them to Maryland a little bit.
But to a certain extent that's who I would compare them to.
Q. Your conference has done pretty well in the tournament the last few years, do you derive some confidence from that?
BRIAN GILMORE: Yeah, I think we do a little bit. We take pride in the conference we play in. We think it's a pretty strong conference. With some well-coached teams and some teams that really did some good things fundamentally. So, I think that we definitely look back on that and think that that gives us more incentive to do well.
Bucknell beating Kansas and Holy Cross having some success, at the same rate we're still looking to make a name for ourselves and I think that tomorrow it gives us a great opportunity to do that.
Q. Garrison, how much during the season did you get a chance to see Tennessee on television?
GARRISON CARR: I definitely watched them on TV at least three times. I know I watched them versus Memphis, I watched them versus Kentucky and I also watched them versus Vanderbilt when they lost. So I have seen them on TV quite a bit and obviously we watched a lot of film on them the past couple of days. So I'm definitely more familiar with them than I was in the past.
Q. For Derrick and Brian, could you both talk about just how you came to be at American, how you ended up there and Garrison, I read in the paper about how you ended up there in the Washington Post. So Brian and did Derrick if you could just talk about that how you were recruited and how you ended up at American?
BRIAN GILMORE: Sure. I had a little bit of a crazy story with recruiting. I went to three different high schools. A lot of different changes for injuries. But basically American recruited me throughout those injuries, their interest in me didn't waiver, as a lot of other colleges I guess pulled back scholarships because I had chronic foot problems all throughout high school and they're a school close to home and had some success basketball wise, hadn't made the leap into the tournament, but had been in three conference tournaments in the past seven years.
So that just, that spoke a lot for me. So that ended up being my big decision.
DERRICK MERCER: Yeah, I was I would say the same thing, the school's very close to home, from my parents to come see me about four hours away. Again a good relationship with Coach Jones and the rest of the staff and I was looking at it as Coach Jones, who is a great coach and also was a great player. And who plays my position. And I could get something out of my college career from him, by playing for him. So I think that it would have been a good situation for me because at the time American really didn't have a point guard, so I had the opportunity to come in and work hard and come in and player Lee as a freshman. So I just took the opportunity and here I am at American.
Q. Given what George Mason did not too long ago, how much hope does that give you guys that Cinderellas do exist and this year American can be that role?
GARRISON CARR: Well Coach Jones -- people have been asking us about that a lot, like you guys can be just like George Mason, but what.
Coach Jones has emphasize school district we don't want to be like George Mason we want to be like American and we can use schools like George Mason is and Bucknell in the past as examples of what can happen if you go into the tournament and play your style of basketball, with confidence and believe you can win. So George Mason is an example of what could happen, but we really want to be American and play our style of basketball and make a name for ourselves like Gilmore already mentioned.
Q. Do you guys expect to be difficult to kind of avoid taking the beat and playing fast with Tennessee? I know they try to force the tempo, but you guys have said you don't want to play like that. Do you expect it to be difficult to calm down? I know that instinct as a basketball player is probably just to go fast?
DERRICK MERCER: Yeah, it's definitely going to be difficult to try to calm down because they're going to be pressuring you, and as basketball player, you know that when somebody pressures you the first idea is to go by with them, you don't want to play with the ball and keep them pressuring you because that can lead to turnovers. But it makes you want to go fast and go by them and get away from the pressure. So we're just going to have to be focused and stay calm and be composed and learn how to just handle the pressure and let them play at our pace.
GARRISON CARR: We know that there's going to be a lot of quick shot opportunities out there and we have to make sure and decide whether those are good shots or not. Because with quick shots early in the shot clock, they're awful tempting to take but we have to be disciplined and make the decision during the game if that's a good shot to take and whether we should pass it up and go into our offense or shoot the open first shot.
Q. You guys did go into Maryland and win. Could somebody talk about how y'all managed to, whether it was dictating tempo or what it was that you all went in a Maryland and won with?
BRIAN GILMORE: I think you hit the nail right on the head. We really did dictate the tempo there. We were able to handle the pressure, Maryland pressured us full court and did lot of pressure in the half court, but we were able to take care of the ball, take good shots when we had good shots, make them guard us for 35 seconds at a time and really limit them on the offensive boards. We limited them to one shot. Got defensive rebounds and didn't give them multiple opportunities to score in each possession and knocked down shots when we were able to and that led to us a victory.
Q. Garrison, you talk about playing American style of basketball, do you think the opportunity tomorrow will be a chance to help put American on the national landscape? Do you think many college basketball fans may not know where American is?
GARRISON CARR: Yeah, absolutely this is a great opportunity for to us put American on the map and people still ask me like, "American University? Where is that?" And I have to he will it them it's in Washington, D.C. so hopefully tomorrow, being on the national scene, people from all over the nation will watch us play and if we have a good showing they will remember where American is and that's hopefully -- and that's what we want to do for the program, let people know that American is in Washington, D.C., put it out there, and help the program build from here.
Q. A lot of basketball fans in Tennessee love Bruce Pearl, they love his enthusiasm they love the fact that he paints himself orange for games, I imagine you guys have seen some clips of some of his antics, what do you guys think of Coach Pearl and his coaching style and his enthusiasm?
GARRISON CARR: Well, he definitely encourages his players and his players play just like how he coaches from my standpoint. You see him on the sidelines standing up the whole game time jumping up and down it looks like he's actually on the court a lot of time playing defense. So obviously his team feeds off his energy and in terms of being a player does under his style, I guess it's just exciting, because he's out there telling you to go faster, telling you to take open shots, telling you to pressure the ball. And that's just a lot of fun to do as a basketball player.
THE MODERATOR: No more questions? All right. Thank you. At this time we'll go ahead and get started with American Head Coach Jeff Jones. Coach, we'll have you start us off with a few thoughts coming into Birmingham, your preparations and then open it for questions.
COACH JONES: Well, I think it goes without saying that we're real excited to be here. Real excited to be a part of the tournament.
First time for our institution, and it's been a great trip getting to this point. I'm real proud of our guys, how hard they worked all year long. Not much was expected of this group when we started, but they really banded together and certainly became truly a team.
So we definitely know we have got our work cut out for us tomorrow, but the guys have been really practicing and trying to prepare and we're just excited to have the chance to get out there tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Jones.
Q. Coach, in the SEC tournament Tennessee's defense wasn't up to par, Coach Pearl was kind of upset about it, they took a lot of criticism for it, what do you see in preparing for Tennessee when you look at their defense? What did you see there?
COACH JONES: Well, I think they play a unique style. They put an awful lot of pressure on you with their offense and their defense. They almost force a faster tempo upon the game.
Obviously they're an extremely athletic team. Probably one of the two most athletic teams in the tournament. In my estimation.
But the thing that really in watching as much film as we have that they really it sets them apart is how hard they play. Individually, but collectively as well.
I think that really shows through defensively and they just attack the ball. They swarm the ball. They have always got players around. So it's very effective, it's not a style that many people play, it's a difficult style to play, but if you have players willing to put forth that much effort with that much athleticism, obviously it can be very, very effective.
Q. I know you talked about this a lot but for you just to be back in the tournament with the fast start to your career, talk about what for you the journey to get back here was like?
COACH JONES: It's been awhile. Maybe I was spoiled early on. The wait in between '97 and now and obviously the close calls, the three years in a row where we lost in the Patriot League Championship, made this opportunity that much sweeter. And I'm very pleased, I guess, that I get to get back along with this group of young men. I know there's going to be a whole lot of press conferences for the rest of the month throughout the tournament, there's going to be a whole lot of coaches telling you about how they have got great kids.
I'm sure they all believe it. I also know that I have great affection for these guys on the team. They are a great group of young men, not just because we have gotten this far, not just because we have won some basketball games, but because of who they are off the floor, what they represent for our university. So to have a chance to come back as part of a team with as special a group as this is to me, makes it even better.
Q. As a player and coach, obviously, you, at Virginia, big time program, what's it been like getting the recognition for American now? Being I guess a small fish in a big pond there in Washington, D.C. and you know how, what it's like at the big schools, what's it mean to you to get this recognition for American now?
COACH JONES: It's great. There's so many deserving people at American that have been plugging away for so many years, have been keeping their fingers crossed, been coming to games and supporting the team, supporting the program, but being disappointed, being teased even when we made it to the three straight conference championship games.
So it really is special to be again part of the team that has allowed all of those folks to realize the dream that they have had.
The media coverage has been pretty remarkable. It's not something that we're used to. I'm sure it won't -- it won't always be there in the way, but to, for American University to kind of get its moment in the sun, in the Washington, D.C. media, but also in the national media, is great for our school. It's a great place to work, some wonderful people there, and we're kind of maybe a little bit of an unknown quantity in the sense that it is such a great school. But I'm not sure maybe outside the boundaries there on the east coast how many people are really familiar with AU, but hopefully we have done a little bit of something with that.
Q. In the NCAA tournament how much of it is preparing your team and how much of it is preparing for the other team and does that equation change depending upon where you are in the seedings and matchups and whatever?
COACH JONES: Yeah, I think that equation changes quite a bit depending upon where you fall in that spectrum.
For us, we have got to be very aware of what Tennessee likes to do and the type of game that they would like to play. Obviously if they're able to get the game at the tempo that they want, that's not good news for us. So we have got to resist the temptation because there will be opportunities, but we have got to understand the difference between great opportunities and fool's gold. We have got to be aggressive, but at the same time we have got to keep in mind that a slower pace game is more to our suiting. And that's much easier said than done.
But that's basically the thinking that we have been trying to instill in our players. There's still a lot of things that we have done all year long that we want to try to stick to, but because Tennessee is so athletic, they do pressure you with the ball and without the ball, so much, it's going to take a great effort mentally and physically on our part to just give ourselves a chance.
Q. I'm working on a story about how NCAA tournaments seed the hotels and you've been high seed before in the past, you're a low seed right now, I'm wondering what differences, if any, there are between being a high seed and a low seed in a hotel and are there any competitive advantages or disadvantages for the hotel stay?
COACH JONES: I guess my, as you were asking the question my initial response is anybody that is a part of this tournament that is worried about is their hotel as nice as somebody else's, I think has got it way wrong. To me it's great. Our hotel we're staying at the Embassy Suites and it's outstanding, the people, the hospitality has been wonderful. They could have stuck us someplace else and we would still be excited to be here. I don't know really what quite honestly that has to do with what we're attempting to do. Now maybe for the fans and all that, but and maybe we have a little bit of a different perspective, I'm not sure. That's -- it's just not something that I ever really paid a whole lot of attention to.
Q. Getting back to what you said earlier about Tennessee plays a unique style. Teams in the SEC have been competing against that for three full seasons. Other teams in this tournament have not. Does that give Tennessee somewhat of an advantage going into this tournament do you think because teams aren't accustomed to it?
COACH JONES: I do think that any time you play a team with a rather unique or certainly a very rare style of play if they're in your conference, you gradually over the years you become accustomed to how you want to attack certain things. With a short time frame for preparation, you don't know the nuances. You can say, okay, we don't want to throw the ball here, we don't want to be caught up in this or that, but knowing how to do it is something that quite honestly takes time. So I do think that it is, or it certainly can be an advantage for Tennessee, because you can't just come out, certainly we can't just come out and play our normal game and hope to experience success. We have got to adjust things based upon the way Tennessee likes to play. I.
Q. I want to go back to you personally. Have you heard from people who were sort of like, "Oh, that's where Jeff Jones is."
COACH JONES: I don't know if they knew where I was or not, but I've heard from people that I haven't heard from for 20 years. And it's been great.
Former high school classmates, former high school teammates, so it's been nice being able to reconnect in that way.
Q. Are there any particular challenges to having your team up and ready to play at such an early starting time at 11:15?
COACH JONES: Not really. This group has tended to be good, I don't know if I would say early risers, but we have had a number of 1 o'clock games, I know we're going a little bit earlier than that, but some of our better efforts I thought were afternoon type games. So that's not something I'm real concerned about. These guys I've been told that by some of the media in the DC area that these guys are kind of maybe a little bit boring, so that they're, I'm sure they're, we'll have our meeting tonight, do our film work, and they will get a good night sleep and be up ready to go.
Quite honestly, I could see like a Garrison Carr or some of those guys waking up before the wake up call. I would have to check, I think it's 7:30 pregame meal is about 7:45. Does that sound about right?
Q. In the time frame between when you won your tournament and the selection bracket, were you putting a lot of thought or are we going to be a 16, a 15, a 14, seeding wise, and what advantages, disadvantages that might hold?
COACH JONES: No. Just as a rough guess, I would have guessed a 15 as we received. And that simply was derived from a quick glance at the RPI's on line and kind of just counting them up and saying, okay, I figure we'll probably fit in here somewhere. But it really wasn't something that we spent a lot of time worrying about. Again, and I'm not trying to beat a dead horse here, but we're thrilled to be a part of it. And all the peripheral stuff doesn't really affect that, the fact that we're in the tournament, we have a chance to play against a great team, that was going to be the case regardless of what our seed was. We were going to be an underdog regardless of 16, 15, 14, whatever. But so we didn't have to spend a whole lot of time thinking about that.
Q. Talking to Travis Lay in the locker room, telling me about his family ties to Tennessee, are you concerned at all that Travis may bleed orange?
COACH JONES: No. No. No. Anybody that has been around Travis for the last four years knows how much he's put of himself into our program. He joined the program as a walk-on. Through his hard work and determination very quickly earned a scholarship. Has established himself as one of our hardest playing guys and doesn't just do the job on the court, I mean he's our best student, we tease him quite a bit, but I think he got an a minus and I asked him why was he slacking off. So he's just done such a great job. So I know he's very, very excited as a senior to finally be part of something like this.
I know his family was real excited about getting a chance to come down to this part of the country. But, yeah, I don't think there's any chance that he'll be bleeding orange.
Q. Can you talk about Tennessee's guards, particularly Lofton and JaJuan Smith and how they stack up with guard tandems that you've played or coached against.
COACH JONES: Well, they're extremely explosive. They're very different from one another. Lofton obviously is the guy that can shoot it from miles away, has great range. And then if you play that too hard, he has the ability to get the ball to the basket.
I think that JaJuan Smith is a little bit of the reverse. He's such a slasher, so athletic, so quick off the dribble that if you don't respect that, he's just going to go by you and he's going to create all kind of chaos.
But if you concentrate so much, if you back off of him, he's got the complimentary three point range to make you pay there. So they're a real nice compliment and the fact that Howell and Ramar Smith kind of you can throw those guys in there too and it really creates some matchup problems. Not many teams are blessed with two guards that good, but then when you throw in those other guys, that do a real solid job, you got to make a decision somewhere what the matchup is going to be.
Who is your three man? Who is your three man going to matchup with?
So it's, it creates quite a bit of problems and is a big part of why they have been as successful this year as they have.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
End of FastScripts