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March 21, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of Creighton University and the Missouri Valley Conference, welcome back to Qwest Center Omaha for today's between-rounds interviews featuring the four winning schools from yesterday's first round action.
Student athletes from Kansas are here. Sherron Collins and Sasha Kaun. We'll open up with questions right away.
Q. For both of you players, UNLV knocked off a No. 2 seed last year. I mean, it's a whole different team, a whole different year. But does that send up a warning flag at all?
SASHA KAUN: Yeah, I mean, they're a great team, and kind of after -- I mean, any game from now on is going to be a tough game, tough matchup and they're a good team, both bigs can step up and drive and shoot and those kind of things.
It's going to be a tough matchup for us, but we have to come out, be ready and just play hard and play with energy.
SHERRON COLLINS: Just to add what he said, it's going to be a tough matchup, they have a big guard in Terry. He does a lot of things, post, our guards -- our tallest guard is probably six-one, six-two. We've got to do a good job guarding the guards and they'll post us up, do a lot of things we haven't seen this year.
They lost all five starters last year, five seniors, but they're a great team. We've seen them play yesterday, do a lot of things. They run and they run their sets pretty well.
It's going to be a tough matchup for us, but we've got to play as a team, just come out and match their intensity.
Q. Sasha, Wilt Chamberlain at one point during his career when he struggled with free throws threw them underhanded for quite a long time. Is that anything that you ever consider doing and how is the free throw battle going?
SASHA KAUN: I don't think I shot one bad game. I thought I shot pretty good lately in the season. I looked at one game and come back tomorrow with a fresh mind-set and it's a whole new game tomorrow. It's just that's how I look at it. It's a new game tomorrow and just come out and be ready for tomorrow.
Q. Did you ever consider the underhand?
SASHA KAUN: No, definitely not.
Q. Sasha, would you expect with the big size advantage you guys have that the big men aren't going to have to score a lot tomorrow?
SASHA KAUN: It's one good thing for us that we have a little bit of size advantage when we're on offense, kind of get the ball down low and try to make some post moves and stuff.
It will help the guards because it will suck the whole defense in and we can kick it out for easy shots and stuff, the way we play. But I think it's going to be tough on us in terms of guarding them because they can really shoot it. We're not really used to guarding the perimeter as much for bigs and I think it's going to be a tough matchup there.
As long as we do the right thing, work as a team and play together and talk on defense, we can definitely do some damage inside on offense.
Q. Sherron, you had a little wrap on your knee yesterday. I know you've been making good progress. The coach referred to it as maybe been tweaked. How is your knee?
SHERRON COLLINS: It's fine. It's a little sore. I'll still play tomorrow and I'll still come out and be ready. But I just tweaked it a little bit a couple of days ago. It's not a wrap, it's just a sleeve to keep it warm, keep it loose.
Q. Last year at this time your knee started bothering you again, do you feel a little snake bit or anything like that?
SHERRON COLLINS: I don't feel snake bitten, anything I've been through so much this year, anything that's tweaked I always get a little curious, but I think my trainers did a good job on me and I'll be ready.
Q. Sherron, you watched a lot of NCAA tournaments. Did you ever imagine you'd see a team held to 10 first half points and what do you think of that?
SHERRON COLLINS: That just shows how well UNLV pressures. And they pressure a lot. But, you know, Kent State, had Kent State a little bit out of their comfort zone. It's something we can't allow them to do to us. We have to absorb the pressure and run the offense and get around the pressure. I thought we got guards that's good enough to handle that pressure.
We have to run our offense, get the ball inside. We'll have a mismatch problem down low and we'll try to use it.
Q. They have the second best 3-point percentage defense in the country, Sherron. I know it's quick turnaround, have you seen tape yet and what do they do to try to defend that?
SHERRON COLLINS: Like I said, they pressure you. They get up under you. And they're a good defensive team. Coach always explains they're a good defensive team and we can't look past their pressure.
But that's what we do. We drive pressure. And I think our guards will absorb it and we still get our open looks and hopefully we have the knock-down shots. But they're a good team so we just gotta run our offense.
Q. Either of you fellows can take this one. Which team do you think Kansas State's fans are going to be rooting for tomorrow when you're playing?
SASHA KAUN: That's a tough question (smiling). I want to say about 50-50, half probably rooting for us and probably half rooting for the other team, because it's kind of hard when it's a two in-state school, such a big rivalry, sometimes fans go real crazy, especially when we play each other. I know for most of the time they're probably rooting against us.
But at this one I'm pretty sure there's about maybe some people that want to see us down the future play against each other down the road in tournament. I'm pretty sure they'll be rooting for us to win this game, too.
Q. For both of you guys. Your coach has accomplished just about everything that a college coach could. You've won all kinds of championships, Sasha, you won seven of eight in your career, but he's never made a Final Four. Do guys you talk about that for your coach, or is it just a player thing, too?
SHERRON COLLINS: I say it's a player thing. Coach, I think he wants it more for us than he wants it for himself, which would be great for him to get it at this point in time.
And the success we had -- I've been a part of the seven out of eight, but I haven't been there the whole time. I know it's been a great ride, great season behind them. But I think it would be good to get them there. I think he appreciates it. But we've got seniors on our team and I think it's not more important than get them there and get them leaving with a good memory.
SASHA KAUN: Definitely agree with Sherron. It would be nice for Coach Self to be in the Final Four. I'm sure he'll be more happy for us if we make it there than for himself because he has many more years to go.
Like Sherron said, for the five seniors we have on the team, it would be a good taste or a good feeling to have, living this program and knowing we went to the Final Four and been there and it would have been a pretty good deal and I'm pretty sure Coach Self would agree with that, just having that for the guys that are leaving, for the guys that won't have a next chance, a chance next year to do it again.
Q. Sherron, growing up in Chicago area, were you aware at all of Lon Kruger when he was at Illinois or do you remember that far back and what do you remember of the kind of teams he had there and what kind of coach do you remember him being?
SHERRON COLLINS: Growing up in Chicago, I wasn't watching college basketball as much as I do now, but that's probably the era of Michael Jordan. I was a Bulls fan and I watched every Bulls game.
Just the coaches, I remember Frank Williams when Bill Self was there, Coach Self now. Bruce Weber was still there. I pretty much knew those guys there were down, Dee Brown and Luther Head, so those were the guys I watched and those were the teams I worked out with those guys. I pretty wasn't too much familiar with Kruger back then.
Q. Are you guys watching any of the other games in the tournament right now since you have an off day? Who are you enjoying seeing?
SHERRON COLLINS: We caught a little bit of Gonzaga and Davidson game and yesterday Kent State, and I got close friends on both of those teams. Jeremy Pargo from Gonzaga, my real close friend. They lost to Davidson. And I feel sorry for him right now. Chris Singletary yesterday, Kent State, was my close friend.
We just sit back and watch it. It's March, a lot of things happening, a lot is supposed to be happening. We're amazed, amazed when upsets happen, teams win when they're not supposed to win something like that we're taking a day off and enjoying it and watching the games.
Q. Sherron, you just said you were friends with Singletary, did you get a chance to talk to him after the game? Did he give you any type of insight or anything he might have picked up on the Rebels yesterday that might help you tomorrow?
SHERRON COLLINS: No, I talked to him before the game a little bit. I seen him a little bit during the shootaround the day before. I didn't get a chance to talk to him after the game. But just as I was watching, we watched him a little bit, I just think you gotta be tough and handle the pressure and don't get rattled and be ready for whatever they throw at you.
Q. Sherron, the smaller lineup that UNLV will throw at you, do you foresee KU going with maybe a smaller, quicker lineup, nothing against Sasha up there, but do you foresee that happening tomorrow or not?
SHERRON COLLINS: Not early in the game. I mean, if it hurts us, then we have to adjust and it's something that Coach will probably adjust to. But I think our bigs, especially Shady [Darrell Arthur] and Darnell [Jackson], Sasha is a good mover slides his feet. But our bigs we can switch forward, they can guard guards and I think we're real athletic.
But when our bigs is out there sticking, guarding one of those guys on the perimeter we've got to be able to help them and rotate as a team. So I don't think it would hurt us as long as we play as a team defensively.
Q. Sasha, from what I hear, you foul a lot in practice, but you're good at not fouling too much in the games. Is there anything you can share with Darrell or have shared with him on how to stay out of foul trouble in games?
SASHA KAUN: To be honest, not really. We haven't talked too much about it. But I just try, just try to slide my feet. Try to keep my hands up whenever I'm on the post or whatnot.
If I'm guarding the perimeter, just try to keep the hands off the guy that I'm guarding or whatnot and just try to slide my feet and not to try to get the referee call the foul. But it just kind of happens. You maybe not be thinking about it, what not, pick up quick fouls and stuff.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
Right now we have Kansas head coach, Bill Self. He's going to make an opening statement about getting into the second round, then go to questions.
COACH SELF: I think we definitely have a very, very tough opponent in Vegas tomorrow. I was very impressed with how they performed yesterday against a very good Kent State team and totally controlled the game from start to finish.
So they're unique because they're smaller, but they play much bigger. And the positions are interchangeable. It will be a very unique challenge for us.
Q. Tomorrow you'll have plenty of fans in the stands like you did yesterday. But so will the Kansas State faithful will be here too. Do you think that will be interesting seeing that they might be cheering for UNLV tomorrow?
COACH SELF: I don't know if I've ever heard K State fans cheer for Kansas. Maybe vice versa.
And of course K State fans, I'm sure, are still connected to Lon. Lon was one of the greatest players ever at K State. Two-time Big 8 player of the year and did a great job coaching the Wildcats when he was there.
So I would certainly understand that. That's life. But it would be nice if somehow we could have a truce and support each other, but I doubt that will happen.
Q. Talk a little bit about UNLV's pressure defense and does that compare to anything that you guys have seen from other teams this season?
COACH SELF: I think other teams have tried to pressure us. I don't know that we played against anybody that defends or are in the right spots or positions better than what I saw UNLV do against Kent State the other day. They totally took Kent State out of the offensive sets before they even crossed half-court with their positioning playing so high on the floor, and their pieces are interchangeable defensively, because they can switch ball screens.
Terry is big enough to switch ball screens, and they're good defensively and their pressure is very good. You've got to be able to eliminate pressure in order to get the ball in the scoring area. If you get the ball in the scoring area, maybe you've got a chance to throw it inside. But yesterday their pressure was good that Kent State didn't have a chance.
Q. The fact that the matchups they're going to be smaller and you got bigger guys, what kind of problem does that present, maybe your guys being out of their comfort zone particularly when they've got to defend?
COACH SELF: The whole deal is we haven't played, I don't believe, against any five men that shot 176 3s. And their guys, the 4 man, he's a 3 man playing the 4, so he can take you off the bounce and create for others, and they'll put the ball in his hand to go make plays for his teammates.
It's unique because we're more of a traditional team and they're not traditional at all with their size, and it's a tribute to Lon because he's a fabulous coach and he's definitely got them in the right spots the.
Q. Can you typify your relationship with Lon Kruger and talk about the oddness of situations following him at Illinois, the fact that here you are now playing against him, he's a former K State coach, all of the dynamics that seem to come together so oddly in NCAA tournaments?
COACH SELF: Well, if you coach long enough, you're going to run across people that cross your path or vice versa, and Lon was a huge asset to me personally when we got the job at Illinois following him.
I don't know if you could follow a better coach. And what I mean, you're walking into a situation where the community loved you, you're walking into a situation where the players were taught well and had discipline in the program. And he was totally unselfish and all he cared about was those guys getting better and Illinois succeeding.
He's going off to the pros. He wasn't in competition with Illinois anymore. So it was a unique situation. He offered his assistance.
I leaned on him a few times, not a lot. But I knew he was always there. And I totally respect that, because sometimes -- in today's time -- you know when there's transition occurring, the previous coach, maybe hope they don't do quite as well as I did, one of those things. And there's none of that with Lon.
Q. UNLV starts two walk-ons, a six-seven center, 27-year-old, and a guy named Wink, why might they not be -- why might they be somewhat intimidated or in awe of you guys?
COACH SELF: They wouldn't have gone to the Sweet 16, although I know a lot of those guys are gone, last year, and they wouldn't have won their league this year or their tournament. And they wouldn't be, what, 27-7 if they're in awe of anybody.
I'd like to know where they get their walk-ons, personally, because those guys can play for anybody.
And I don't know the total situation about Bailey, if I'm not mistaken, 27 years old. But you just don't see that very often. And at 27 I couldn't go up and down the floor twice.
So it is kind of a makeshift team, but the walk-ons that came as walk-ons, which I'm sure they're not or won't be soon, those aren't walk-ons, those guys can play anywhere. And certainly they've got a guy named Wink, a guy that from a coach's perspective you can see how much Lon trusts him and respects him because he seems to be the center of their success and guys kind of being built around him.
But just kind of -- not a make shift team at all, but when you look at it, you say, how do they do this and do that? They're talented, but the guy on the sideline is a master. He's been doing it for years and having great success.
Q. How much did you sleep last night? What's your tournament schedule routine and how do you prepare the players?
COACH SELF: I actually slept a little good last night. I probably got seven or eight hours. Of course we had to sleep yesterday since we had to get up at 6:00 the day before, because we played so early. But what we did yesterday after the game, not very often do you play that early. Our guys got a chance to watch half the game, they went back and ate and took a nap.
Then at 8:00 we had a scouting report and dinner and then lights out by I think 10:30, 10:30 or 11:00 last night. We were able to sleep in pretty good today. So coaches put a little bit more time than the players do as far as studying tape.
But just pretty much normal routine.
Q. I was in your locker room talking to some of your veteran players about their motivation, and maybe I led them on a little bit, but they agreed that part of the motivation to do well and to specifically get to a Final Four is because of you. Is that motivation that you prize? Is that good motivation for them to have?
COACH SELF: You know, that may be true a little bit. But that's not -- it's not about coaches. It's about players. It's about teams and programs. We've knocked on the door four times in the Elite Eight game, and we're a long ways from being in that game again, a long ways. We've got certainly a great opponent to play tomorrow to put us in the 16 game, if we're successful.
But I guess that's probably true, because they know that's something that we haven't done as a staff. And I think it will happen. I truly believe it will happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
But my motivation is for my team to get there. My motivation is not for me; it's for Kansas to get there. Because it certainly touches a lot of people in positive ways a lot more so than one individual.
So I hope that they feel that way to an extent, but that should not be their motivation. They should want to do it for their school and for themselves.
Q. They're second in the nation in 3-point field goal defense. Did they do anything in particular, or are they just tough, period, on defense?
COACH SELF: Well, they're good defensively, period. But they pressure it out. I don't think you get as many good looks because of the way they close out and the way they -- a lot of times guys that shoot a lot of 3s and shoot a good percentage, they get shots off the catch. Not too much great 3-point shooting teams are shots off the bounce. And they make you put the ball down to go make plays. So that's a big difference right there.
Q. On paper, Coach, it appears to be a mismatch. What do you tell your team here to motivate them to keep it from being basically an overconfident play for your team?
COACH SELF: It will not be. Our guys watched half the game yesterday. And I don't see it on paper the same way you see it. I just see it's going to be two very good teams playing each other. We've got a good record, and our seed's higher. But it's more about can we defend them and can they defend us and vice versa.
They've had great success playing the way they play. Who plays well early will probably be a big key because that will kind of set the tone for how the game will be played at least the rest of the first half.
And I know the style that we'd like to play, which is a little bit different than the way they like to play. But there's no -- our guys won't see it as a mismatch at all.
Q. Bill, when you look at UNLV, you see some Lon Kruger traits. What kind of Lon Kruger traits do you see in that team?
COACH SELF: Well, you know, Lon's a lot older than I am, so -- no, I'm joking. (Smiling).
I don't remember Lon as a player, but I see a lot of traits that he had at Illinois. A lot of traits. They run their base offense or what they run behind their plays and things like that is not exactly but somewhat similar to what they did when I was at Illinois.
As a matter of fact, when I got the job at Illinois, we had what we ran offensively and I wanted a secondary thing to run. And the guys liked what he did so we ran what they ran. A, I didn't have to teach it. And, B, they liked it.
So there is some things that I see that's quite similar to the way they played at Illinois. But I think it's more you get the NBA influence, get some different things going on and really good at creating mismatch problems and things like that, does a very good job.
Q. You've studied this tournament, you've looked at it. How do you see this team the way they've developed making a tournament around this Kansas team, compared to teams you've had in the past, you have more experience, some of these other things. How do you see this team making a tournament run?
COACH SELF: To be candid, I felt really good about a lot of teams that we had going into the tournament making runs. We've had some teams make some good runs. I think winning three games in a tournament is a pretty good run. Maybe not great by expectations or what you hope to do, but I think this team is equipped to perform at the highest level. But I also think this: I've seen us play at a level well below that, which all teams do at some point in time.
You know, you can -- the team I had at Tulsa wasn't equipped to make a great run at the tournament, but that was probably the team that was closest to going to the Final Four of any team I've had.
So I do believe that so much of it is matchups and foul problems and health and so many different things, but when we're right, we're pretty good. And when teams do certain things and we don't perform at as high a level, then we can be pretty average as well.
That's one of the great things about the NCAA tournament, you never know. It changes from possession to possession, from timeout to timeout.
Somebody must have made a shot. I didn't think my answer was that good. (Laughter).
Q. Bill, are there times when you -- some of the guys were saying with Brandon, you sometimes have to prod him and say now is your time to kind of -- we're going to look for you, we're going to get you stuff, you can take over this game you have that talent. Is that something that happens regularly or is it just occasionally?
COACH SELF: I'd say more on a daily basis. Usually not twice a day, but at least once a day.
I love Brandon's talent level. I think he's been more aggressive, I do think that.
The only times that I really fault him with his play is when I feel like he defers or is not into it or whatever. So he's too talented not to put himself into a position to impact possession. So, yeah, we do talk about it quite often. More of a one-sided conversation than a two-way conversation, though.
Q. Follow-up, does it bother you that maybe he doesn't get the attention that maybe some of the national players of his talent level get?
COACH SELF: Those things don't bother me at all, period. I really believe if we win enough and we're successful enough and the pie's big enough for everybody, I believe that the people that really, really understand the game certainly will understand our players' talent level. Even though we don't have statistics to garner post season awards.
But I really think the people that really understand will respect their talent level. We talk more about points per shot rather than points per game, and rebounds per minute more so than rebounds per game. Those are things that I think our guys buy into. Maybe not 100 percent. But for a group of talented guys, for the most part they buy in quite well.
Q. The stories of Sasha Kaun coming from Russia and Florida and then here, you had him for four years now, can you just talk about what he's meant to the program and what kind of a person he's been for the program and kind of wrapping up his career here?
COACH SELF: It's been fairly well documented. Not like some of the other stories out there. But it is a remarkable story, you know, that a mother and son, aged 13, find their father possibly murdered, possibly not, in a car garage one night and nervous about because of his profession what the next move would be. And his mother loved him so much to send him away to a place she's never seen, he's never seen, he doesn't speak the language.
And it's not like they're going to the next city or the next state, going halfway across the world and never picked up a basketball. Went there for academic reasons. Then to see him as a sophomore in high school, you know, the coach said, hey, you want to play basketball? I don't know. I never have. And then become a very highly recruited guy and he's had a fabulous career for us.
From a production standpoint, it's been up and down. But from an effort standpoint, he's as good a person as you could ever have in your program. Fabulous student. Well respected by anybody. Hard worker. Never late. Responsible. And everybody loves him. And totally unselfish to a fault, as far as he's not starting now and he's totally fine with whatever's best for the majority of everyone else.
So he's been a very -- he's been a real treat to be around and coach.
Q. What do you think of the pod system where you get to -- you're so close to your site and you see it in like last night where Kansas State obviously had the crowd behind them, maybe didn't obviously have the same seed that you had seed. Would you like to continue as is or would you like more neutrality in sites?
COACH SELF: I think the pod system is fine. I don't know how you could do the tournament where somebody doesn't get an advantage. I mean, that happens. I mean, teams got an advantage before the pod system. Teams got a disadvantage before the pod system. That's life.
The one thing I would say about this -- and I haven't given this a ton of thought -- but once you get into the second weekend, I wish it was as neutral as it could possibly be, once you get into the second weekend. Whereas -- and that goes for us if we have an advantage or whatever. I just feel like if you have 16 teams left, if there's a way that you could do it where it was as neutral as you possibly could, I think that would be the best way.
But we've also been a 4 seed and played in St. Louis. So we benefited from the pod system. I just think from just coaches in general just make it a level playing field. I think that would be the consensus with most guys.
Q. Bill, I know you've talked about it during the course of the season. But could you just encapsulize again your feelings on Darnell Jackson, the continued development that he has made as a player and as a person in your program from point A to point Z, where he is now?
COACH SELF: Hopefully he's not quite at point Z. Hopefully he's about T and got a little bit more room to go. But it's another great story.
The guy came here and he didn't catch a break. He was caught in the middle of an NCAA investigation with somebody that was somebody that was close to he and his family. But he met him at a time in his life which made him an athletic representative when he was in high school. Went through that, went through multiple deaths in his family. Tragedies. Watched his family suffer. And through that almost became depressed or obsessed with not being there for his family. To the point where he tried to quit and just go home and, hey, if they're going to be unhappy and struggle, then I should be right in the middle struggling with them.
And strong mom convinced him, the best way you can help us is help yourself, and to see him kind of come out of it and grow as a man is fabulous.
We hear all about the stories with the guys that score the most points and get the most rebounds and all these things, but to me he and Sasha are two prime examples of how college athletics save guys and provided the springboard to their entire future.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts