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March 20, 2008
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
THE MODERATOR: We start off with Mississippi State with us. Barry Stewart, Charles Rhodes, Jamont Gordon done.
Questions for these gentlemen.
Q. Just wondering when you were deciding whether to come back to school or enter the NBA draft last summer, how much did the possibility of maybe playing in the NCAA Tournament, getting that shot, how much did that play into your decision at all?
JAMONT GORDON: It definitely played a lot. Definitely I hadn't had the experience my first two seasons at Mississippi, so I wanted to come back, give my team a chance to get that experience and give myself that experience.
Q. I wanted to know if each of you could address how much it means to you to try to come back and put a good showing on after what happened at the end of the SEC Tournament.
JAMONT GORDON: Well, we didn't play that well in the SEC Tournament. So it's going to be a chance for us to show how good we really are. So we're going to definitely try to come out and play our best basketball.
Q. Just wondering, you guys played -- you looked great in some games this year, and other games you looked like a different team. How would you describe that and your mindset going into the tournament? Just explain -- it seems like you guys were two different teams throughout the season.
JAMONT GORDON: Well, you know, teams have up and downs during the season. I think in the earlier part of the season, we wasn't playing our best basketball, but late in the mid season, I think we played pretty good basketball. I don't think we were too much up and down. We didn't play that well during the SEC Tournament. That's the worst games we had since the beginning of the season, but I think we're playing real well right now. We're going to have a chance to really go far in this tournament.
Q. Charles, you're the only guy on this team that has NCAA Tournament experience. What do you remember from that, and what can you tell the guys on this team about, you know, what you're about to go through, just the atmosphere and stuff like that?
CHARLES RHODES: I think like through the whole process of this summer, coming through, you know, all the things we did this summer to get to this point, I think that's what I stressed the most about the NCAA, even though my last year I just felt that this team that I had was like the best one I ever been on. So I had to stress to the guys to look forward to what I was talking about, you know. They've been playing real hard, and we finally got here, and this is the goal we set at the beginning of the season. We finally made it. Now we just got to make the best of it, because we didn't make the best of it in the SEC Tournament which we wanted to win.
Q. Jamont, Barry, this question is for both you. Charles and how his game changed maybe at the start of the SEC season and what that's meant to the team and what you've seen out of him as a player.
JAMONT GORDON: He definitely turned into the beast that he are. He's just been dominant down there for us. Given us a lot of buckets and rebounds. Really making our job easier on the offensive end. He causes mismatches for defenses and his game at the end of the season has been really great, helped our team.
BARRY STEWART: Charles of late, he's been playing so hard. He worked hard in the summer, and it's paying off now. I think it's just a great asset to the team. Like Jamont said, it causes a lot of mismatches. Hard for teams to guard us.
Q. I think you said one day earlier this week you guys felt like were you out-toughed against Georgia. Have you thought much about that, about maybe playing tougher? Has practice been a little more intense or anything like that this week?
JAMONT GORDON: Definitely we've been practicing hard. We did get a little out-toughed because they beat us on the backboards. That's the only reason. We still played hard. We're going to come out and play even harder against Oregon.
Q. You mentioned a minute ago about you guys kind of being up and down this season, Jamont. Oregon also has been. Can you tell us your thoughts about them. They've played really well some games, but then against Washington State in the PAC-10 Tournament it was like the microcosm. Can you just talk about the Ducks.
JAMONT GORDON: They're a pretty good ball club, got a lot of good players. They shoot the ball really well. They've got a great point guard, played pretty well, and they're a good team. We've got to come out and play hard against them and play solid defense.
Q. For Charles, your teammates talked about you earlier about what you've been able to turn into. Tell us a little bit about how you've been able to turn it around and come on here like gangbusters at the end of the season.
CHARLES RHODES: I guess, you know, I can just say after my injury, it really scared me a little bit because I got injured the year before. So after I came off my injury, I just, you know, just turned it up a notch because I knew my team was going to need me. They were winning a lot when I was hurt. So that made me real proud, but it didn't get me that scared like I wasn't going to start or nothing.
After all of that, I knew once I get back in the lineup and we get started, we're going to roll, and we're here.
Q. Jamont, kind of tell us a little bit about Oregon and what you see of them. What maybe concerns you or impresses you. You talked a little bit about them a minute ago, a little in-depth scouting report on that team and what problems they might present.
JAMONT GORDON: They're just a great shooting team. They got four guys out there that can really shoot the ball. We have guarded teams like this before but -- we'll be okay against them, I think. They got a lot of good players, they're quick and fast, and they just can really shoot the ball. That's the thing about them, I think.
Q. Charles, has it sunk in for you yet that this is the final ride here, any game could be your last game? And if so, how are you approaching it if different at all?
CHARLES RHODES: You know, I just got to approach it as a team effort because I know this is my last tournament, win or lose. So it's real tough for me, but I want to make sure, you know, I go out with a bang. We're going to play tough throughout. I think we've got a good chance. Like Jamont said, I think we've got a good chance.
Q. Charles, as the senior statesman on this team, how could you describe the impact that Bernardo has had on this team. Talk about him a little bit and how much he's helped.
CHARLES RHODES: He's helped very tremendously. I speak for all my teammates, we get beat on a dribble or something, we really don't have to think about it. We probably can run back down court because we know Jarvis is going to block the shot. Having that big man is real great. I know I love it.
Q. Charles, is Oregon a good matchup for you guys or bad matchup?
CHARLES RHODES: I don't want to say because I might make the bulletin for Oregon. It's a good matchup. Lewnen, the forward man, whatever his name is, he's a great player. That's the guy I'm going to be matching up with. Bryce Taylor and the point guard, real quick. So we match up with them very well. We've got to bring our A game. We can't bring the game we brought in the SEC Tournament.
Q. Charles, Oregon looked at you guys and kind of compared you to USC with your big shot blocker in the back and athletic guys up front. Is there anybody in your conference that you would compare Oregon to?
CHARLES RHODES: What team would we compare them to? We compared them to Florida, the other team we compared them to.
Q. This is for Jamont. You've had tremendous career at Mississippi with the honors that you've had. A little bit about what it took to get you to this point to where you are the leader of the team. You've come on where if they need a big shot, you can get it. They need a big guard, a big rebound. You've become an all-around player in your career.
JAMONT GORDON: Playing with confidence and working hard in the off-season. My coach stayed on me about becoming a leader. That really helped me a lot, and I think I've done a really good job. My teammates always give me confidence and hype me up. They always tell me they need me. I try to be there for them at anytime.
Q. Anybody else comment about what he's meant?
CHARLES RHODES: He's meant a lot to this team, to tell you the truth. Ever since he's been here, I've been here with him. I've been the only guy here right now that's been with him so long since he was a freshman, and it's just funny how I've seen him grow as a freshman to what he is now. He's just -- it's just an big impact he's had on team from his first year to now. It's big.
BARRY STEWART: Jamont is a great player as y'all know. I can see how his game has changed. People say he couldn't do anything as far as shooting-wise, and he went this summer and worked on his shooting ability, and he made hisself tougher to guard. That's what a lot of great players do.
Q. Charles, you mentioned you compared Oregon to Florida. What was it about them? They lost to Florida in last year's Elite. What was about them that kind of drew that comparison?
CHARLES RHODES: Because of the offense they run. Florida run the offense with space in the middle and Oregon run offense with number 50 in the middle. They always passing to him. Look at the guards while the guards come off triples and doubles and stuff like that. I don't think it's going to be a tough matchup for me, which they probably think it is, with me coming off triples and doubles. I'm very prepared for it. That's what we're preparing for right now.
Q. For either Barry or Jamont, their point guard is five foot six, I think is what they list him at. How does that work out matchup-wise for you guys?
JAMONT GORDON: Barry got him, so you can ask Barry on that.
BARRY STEWART: Most of the time smaller guards, they're harder to guard because so low to the ground and they can get places quick. He's a quick guard. He can shoot the ball from deep. The thing you got to just try to maintain his drive, keep him in font of you, and good players, they make good shots. You can't let that get you down. You got to keep defending.
Q. Charles, you talked about this being maybe the best team you've played on. What do you like about this team as going into the tournament, and what gives you a lot of confidence that this team can make it run or a deep run into the tournament?
CHARLES RHODES: What gave me the idea was this summer when we worked out doing strength and conditioning, things like that. I never seen a team work that hard, and I knew right then that this team was going to be special. And we finally got here, and I think we're going, you know, group together as a team, you know. I think we've got a good chance. I think everybody sees the prize that we're trying to get. We've got to stay focused and humble and good. This is going to happen.
Q. Jamont, a lot of talk about this game is about the tempo and the rhythm and controlling that. How much pressure do you feel and how much have you guys emphasized this week about controlling the tempo in this game and making it a half court game that you can control?
JAMONT GORDON: Well, we both play pretty fast, get up and down the court. So it's going to be a very up-tempo game. We're going to try to keep it the way we want to play it and execute in half court and get the ball down low to our big men. It's definitely going to be a fast-paced game.
THE MODERATOR: Two more minutes with these guys.
Q. Charles, just want to ask you about Coach Stansbury. Just talk about his personality, his coaching style, and maybe any changes you've seen in him over last few years.
CHARLES RHODES: I think coach kept it the same all four years I've been here. He's been great with me and the rest of the team, and I think we just follow his philosophy just as the assistant coaches as well, and we just been following it. That's why we're here, because of them, and we're going the try to do this for them.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate it. Best of luck to you. Great to have you here.
Rick Stansbury, Mississippi. Coach, if you would, a couple comments about being here, and then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH STANSBURY: Well, first off, we're excited to be so close to home here in Little Rock, and I'm sure we'll have as many Bulldog fans as we can that can buy tickets here. That's a plus. Playing a very good Oregon basketball team, a team that preseason was one of the better teams in the country, four seniors, basically four starters that went to Elite 8 last year. So they're playing exceptionally well. We'll have to play awful well to win this game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Rick, it seems like with all the players when they were up there talking, they seemed to talk about that Georgia game Saturday quite a bit. Have you sensed maybe a sour taste in their mouths from that game and in yours, and have you sensed that in practice, anything this week?
COACH STANSBURY: Zero, absolutely zero. We put that behind us. That chapter is over and closed. You open up the next one. Only thing I want them to take from it is the next time you play, it's your last one if you don't win. So I don't detect that at all.
Q. Rick, over the years with Charles Rhodes, have you had to sit down and talk to him and say, "Hey, if you want to get to the next level, these are some things you've got to do. You've got to bring it everyday"? Have you had to have that type of conversation with him?
COACH STANSBURY: We don't talk about the next level. We talk about what you have to do to be the best you can for Mississippi. If you're going to be a successful player at our level, it's what you have to do, and that's all we can worry about. You're in zero control of all that other, what anybody else thinks of you. All you can control is you being the best you can be. And, again, that only makes you a better player, makes our team better. I learned a long time ago you can't control what anybody else thinks about somebody.
Q. Jamont Gordon is pretty well known in the southeast for what he's done the last few years. I'm not sure nationally if he's gotten that much publicity because y'all haven't been to the tournament.
What has he meant to this program the last couple of years? What kind of player is the nation going to be seeing tomorrow?
COACH STANSBURY: He's one of the most versatile players in the country. He's not your typical point guard, going to come down and pass and screen. He's a point guard in a fullback's body, about six-three, 230, and he has the same kind of mentality to go with that body. He's in attack mode all the time. The first year and a half, it got him in trouble too much. He never saw a shot he didn't like or never thought there's anybody he couldn't beat. He tried to do too much. In the last year and a half, he's settled in and understands "I don't have to score every possession to be a good point guard" and again he's a matchup for anybody.
Smaller point guards, you've got to be able to confine him and stop him in transition first. He's a guy that is going to go to the back boards. He can start the break in transition and has the physicalness to finish in traffic about as well as any guard I've been associated with.
Q. Coach, what kind of an impact do you think Jarvis can have on this game defensively, given the style of offense that Oregon plays?
COACH STANSBURY: It's a different matchup. It's not the best matchup for Jarvis because they're going to spread the floor. They're going to bring their five guy with them. They're going to initiate their offense with him out on the perimeter. Naturally it takes away some of Jarvis's shot-blocking ability. In particular, when they go small and they move Leunen down to the four spot, he's totally out of perimeter. So, again, their style, our style, it's not the best fit for Jarvis. You wish there was a low post guy. The only way he scored was in that low post, but unfortunately that's not the way of Oregon. When they slide Leunen down to four spot, they're going to slide from the four to the five. They're going to slide a 56 percent three-shooter to the five spot. He's made about 40-some-odd. It's a difficult matchup.
Q. Could you talk a little bit more about how much Varnando has meant to the team this year. Do you feel like after missing the tournament the last couple of years, you have a hungry team?
COACH STANSBURY: First question about Jarvis. I've answered this question a bunch. Did I anticipate him leading the country in shot blocking? Absolutely not. We knew he was a great shot blocker, and last year, if you want to look at minutes, I think he averaged about 13 minutes a game and had 67 blocks as a freshman. That set the all time freshman record.
Basically he's doubled his minutes and doubled his shot blocking, too. When you have a young man like that on the back line, he takes away a lot of easy shots around that hole. He takes away a lot of drives. Most perimeter people -- those he don't take away, he makes them think about it some, even those he don't block. We wouldn't be where we're at. I think we ended up second in the country in field goal percentage defense. We wouldn't be there without Jarvis.
Second part of your question, you hope your team is hungry. We've had four years in a row, and last year, you know, it's the first time in the history of the SEC you win a division and don't get a tournament bid.
Charles is a senior is one of those guys who has had an opportunity to play in the tournament. So a lot of these guys, it's the first opportunity, first chance. Again, we have one senior and one junior. Everybody else are freshmen, sophomores.
Q. Rick, do you like this matchup for your team? Is there any way to define that without giving something away here?
COACH STANSBURY: Are you asking me if I could trade Oregon for somebody else? Hey, I've learned. Don't do a bit of good to worry what you can't control. Are you asking if I would rather have a lesser team, less talented for a first round game? Absolutely. Oregon was an Elite 8 game last year. They went to UCLA two weeks ago. 13 minutes to go, they're up 12 years at UCLA. They go across town two nights after. They're up 15 at USC. That tells you enough about their abilities.
They're very explosive offensive team. When you have as many players as they do that can shoot the three-point shot, that's dangerous, very, very dangerous, and in particular the matchup problems they cause you. When they slide Leonard down to the five spot, that's absolutely a huge, difficult matchup.
Those who saw us play Auburn before, they'll have a five guy that shoots it like Prowl (phonetic) does. The thing that makes him so good, they have a three guy that can really post up same way as shooting that ball in Hairston.
Q. Totally off subject, you always have your two little boys with you on the bench? Is that going to be allowed during the NCAA Tournament? And how did that come about, and why is it important for you?
COACH STANSBURY: You know, just it's happened over the years when I had one kid. I didn't know I was going to have three, number one. I don't know what I'm going to do with the other one. I told the second one when he gets five, he could sit down there. Told him that when he was two. All of a sudden, he turned five and didn't forget that.
You know, it's just part of it. They've been with me, go with us on every trip, every road trip, my wife and my family and they're just part of this team, and I think it's helped myself as a coach, maybe bite my tongue sometimes and don't say some things in the locker room I would normally say, and I think it's helped the players.
I think it gives them something sometimes to break the tension with, and I just think it's been good for our whole program.
Q. Rick, everybody talks about matchup problems in the NCAA Tournament. You've been talking about some that they have for you. Don't you cause some matchup problems for them as well?
COACH STANSBURY: That's what we've got to be able to utilize. The team that does it the best will win the game. If we can't slow their strengths down, which is the three-point shot, they'll win the game. If we make them pay some, having defend us on the inside, then it gives us a better chance to win the basketball. It's definitely two different kinds of teams playing tomorrow. It's going to be which team can win that chess match a little bit, who is going to win this game and, again, you know, I know that they try to hide their situation some by doing a lot of switching and some zone and some man. And, at the same time, we know guarding them we get some bad matchups. When you got Jarvis having to guard a guy that shoots the ball 56 percent behind the three-point line, that's a very difficult matchup for you.
So if you ask me tomorrow at the end of this game, I'll have a better answer for you.
Q. Rick, in these tournament-type situations, does it put more pressure on the bench to give you some productive minutes?
COACH STANSBURY: Well, I don't know if it puts any more pressure on you than it does during a regular season or SEC Tournament. If you're asking me do we need our bench to play well? We do. It's probably less pressure when you're playing one game, get a day of rest, then play another game than it does maybe SEC Tournament format when you have them play three games in a row. We need our bench to play. We need our bench to be productive for us. We like to get some guys early in the game and be able to sub.
Q. The last couple days, how has Charles reacted after last weekend's game? Because down the stretch he missed shots in that game and then got the technical and just kind of wasn't available to the media for a couple days. How has he reacted as far as bouncing back from that? Because I know he's a senior and the guy has been around a long time.
COACH STANSBURY: Probably bounce back better than I do. Kids forget about those things in a hurry. We put that behind us, and what was done was done. And I think we all would agree Charles has played awful well for us down the stretch in the last eight, ten games. He's been very productive. We probably wouldn't have been as good. There's no question we wouldn't have won the West by three games or not even won the West without Charles. That's one game. He didn't finish some plays down the stretch. Give Georgia some credit. Lot of people had trouble finishing plays against them and seven seconds to go, it's one of those things you wish you had back, but you don't.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else? Coach, appreciate you very much. Best of luck to you.
COACH STANSBURY: Yup, thanks.
End of FastScripts