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March 22, 2008
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
THE MODERATOR: Joining us from the University of Texas, A.J. Abrams, D.J. Augustin, Justin Mason. Your questions for these fine gentlemen.
Q. Justin, as a guy who gets all the tough defensive assignments, how do you spend your time preparing? What's is it like when you're getting ready for a guy like McClinton or somebody else?
JUSTIN MASON: We just watch a lot of film and, you know, try to prepare for them as best as you can, you know. A guy like McClinton is a great player. So, you know, you can't just really stop him from scoring. Maybe just limit his touches and things like that, but it's all about the mental process.
Q. A.J, can you take us through Frank's recruitment of you, your initial impressions of him, any stories from back in the day?
A.J. ABRAMS: I mean, like I said, he started my recruitment at the University of Texas. You know, he's a great guy. I got to know him real well. He's doing a great job at Miami right now. I mean, I can't say bad things about him. He's such a great guy, great competitor. It's going to be a great game for us tomorrow.
Q. Why was he a good recruiter?
A.J. ABRAMS: He was cool. He's a nice person to talk to. He always straight forward with you. He's not going to tell you what you want to hear. That's the kind of person that he is.
Q. Justin, heard stories about you playing with Royal Ivy (phonetic) because of your defensive ability, you've been compared to him. Just talk a little bit about playing against him in the summer.
JUSTIN MASON: We played a lot in the summer with a lot o f guys from the NBA who came down from the summer and worked out with us. I worked out a little more with trivial because we're a little more compared to each other. But he just talked to me about playing hard at all times and being aggressive on the offensive end as well as the defensive end and taking matchups, defensive matchups personally, and trying to limit your man from scoring.
Q. For D.J, when A.J. is making his shots like he has the last few games, how does it change what the other team does against you guys defensively?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: I mean, they don't leave him in the first place. He's knocking down shots, it helps everybody on the team. They've got to just adjust, you know. When he's confident like that, shooting the ball, it's hard to stop him, and that gets the whole team going.
Q. This is for Justin again. When you go into a game, did you have a particular sense of how you're going to play, or do you kind of adjust as the game goes on? Because you seem to contribute in a lot of different areas.
JUSTIN MASON: I kind of address as the game goes on. I know what my role is on the team. Within the game things change and sometimes when the opportunity presents itself, I need to be a little more aggressive and try to get some easy shots for A.J. and D.J. since the defense is focused on those two guys.
Q. A.J, we've talked to you before about how as a shooter you have to always look confident even if you aren't always that way.
Is that a persona that you have worked on throughout your career?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think I worked on it quite a bit. Coach Barnes always talked about not showing frustration or anything like that. If I wasn't making shots, I didn't want to think it's about me. I got some great teammates, and they can take over the scoring load anytime of the game. So I'm always going to look confident even if it's not falling. That's what I won't to portray on the court.
Q. Justin, after you saw the stats from yesterday's game, did you think about how close were you to a triple double?
JUSTIN MASON: Actually didn't see the stats from yesterday's game. A lot of people told me I was close to a triple double. I really don't worry too much about stats and things like that as long as we get the win. I just do what my team needs me to do. Lucky enough that A.J. hit a couple shots and I got a couple easy assists.
Q. Justin, obviously you're a great high school player, but was it hard getting the attention coming out of Amarillo?
JUSTIN MASON: I would say it's a little harder getting attention coming out of Amarillo because no one has ever came out. I'm one of the few that's ever came out and had a successful career as a college athlete. I think maybe I'm starting a little tradition.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions?
Q. Can each of you talk about Dexter's contributions and how he's improved over the year?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: Dexter has improved a lot, you know. Defensively that's the biggest thing. Offensively he always had skills, and he's just playing tremendous right now for us and helping us down low. He can be a real force down there.
A.J. ABRAMS: Right now I think he's kind of just settling into his role. He's gaining more confidence everyday, and he knows what to expect now. He knows what the team needs from him. He's doing a great job of rebounding and being an offensive threat.
JUSTIN MASON: I think they pretty much summed it up. He's doing a good job of posting up and demanding the ball and really making the defense adjust to him, and it's really freeing up open shots for the perimeter.
Q. For all three of you guys, could you talk, probably sounds like a simple question, how you're different from this time last year as a team?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think we all have just one more year of experience. Last year, like D.J. said, at one point we were happy to be in the tournament. This year we know what we're really playing for and want to get things done and more focused. We're here on more of a business-type trip. I think everybody is more prepared for it as far as, you know, their bodies are well prepared mentally and physically.
D.J. AUGUSTIN: Like A.J. said, we're more mature this year, more experienced. We know what we're trying to get done. We prepared ourselves since the summer, you know, preparing our bodies for this time, and I think we're real ready right now.
Q. One other thing, was it more -- was it a motivating factor to show people you could win without Kevin Durant?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: It never was really nothing like trying to win without Kevin. We knew what we could do as a team. It all started in the summer. We worked hard, and we knew we wanted to win. That's where we put our minds to, and that's what we've been doing this year.
It took hard work. Nothing to do with trying to do -- trying to prove anything to anybody without playing with Kevin. We want to prove it to us that we can be a great team.
Q. Can you answer that, playing without Kevin?
JUSTIN MASON: Like D.J. said, it wasn't nothing that we really wanted to prove. I think it was in everyone's head that we have to play without Kevin once he decided to leave. But, you know, everyone on the team can play with or without Kevin. Like D.J. said, we worked hard in the summertime just trying to improve, and we knew everyone would have a big role on the team this year. It's really paid off for us.
A.J. ABRAMS: I think everybody came in with the mindset once he left, we're going to have to step up everybody's individual game. Everybody took to that, working on the game in the summer and preseason, just getting ready for this. Kevin was a great player, but we also have some great players on this team that can score and do other things.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else have a question? Guys, thank you for your time very much. Look forward to tomorrow. Thank you.
We're ready with Rick Barnes, University of Texas. Coach.
COACH BARNES: I'm ready for questions.
Q. Coach, can you talk about having a guy like Justin who is able to do all those little things needed to fill the gaps for you guys in?
COACH BARNES: Justin Mason, without question, is one of the most valuable guys we've had on our team all year. The guy is willing to do the dirty work. The things that people don't notice sometimes, some of the things that people don't write about a lot, but night in and night out, his tenacity and intensity that he plays with is a great talent and he just -- every single night, he brings that to us, but he also now the last couple, last week or so, week and a half, he's really started to get aggressive in doing the things that we saw him do in high school in terms of scoring. And when he brings that element to all the other things that he does, he really makes it that much better for us.
Q. Do you think -- did you you use Kevin Durant's departure as motivation, or do you think it was motivation for the players even if you didn't say it?
COACH BARNES: You know, I never spoke about it. You'd have to ask them that. I don't know what their response would be, but the fact is we're always talking about improvement in our program. We're always talking about getting better. That's what what we did last year, we're going to have to look at ourselves top to bottom and see how we can improve in every area of our program.
And we knew that the experience that they went through a year ago would help with that and -- but I go back to the summer. I don't think there's any question that we had one of the best summers we've ever had, and lot of that had to do with T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant came back, LaMarcus Aldridge, Royal Ivy, those guys came back and for a solid month. T.J. and Roy were there for a month, and Roy actually stayed a couple weeks longer. It really helped -- D.J., really helped Justin and Damion James because of the way those guys talked to them about, you know, every time you go out, you've got to get better; you've got to improve. And I don't think there's a better teacher than when you have former players come back that are willing to share that message with them.
We just knew we had to get better, and we said all of them. And I look back, there's not one guy in our program that didn't improve from a year ago.
Q. Rick, you never put it out there in front of them the easy story line, "You guys lost your best player and you're going to struggle."
COACH BARNES: No, because I don't think you can sit and -- it would be very easy for us to be sitting here right now thinking, boy, if we have Kevin and LaMarcus and Daniel Gibson to go with this group, it would be pretty good. You can't.
We were all excited for Kevin to leave, and I think we all somewhat expected it, that it would happen that way. But our motivation, I would like to think, will always come from within ourselves where we're trying to really just -- you chase perfection. You know you're never going to get it. We never used Kevin leaving as that type of motivation, and maybe those guys did now. They might tell you that they wanted to prove that they were more of a team than just Kevin Durant, but Kevin never acted like he was the team. He deferred so much. That's what makes special players special.
I don't even think a year ago, I know from where we are, it was never just Kevin Durant. It was our team. Some of the things we talked about that -- the year that D.J. had, all the way around. It's never been an individual thing with our program.
Q. Rick, two parts. What is Frank Haith's best quality as a coach? He said y'all talked so often. You've been milking him for information on his team all year. That's very unfair.
COACH BARNES: Frank has got a lot of qualities. I would tell you I think his best quality is his feel. I think he's got great feel for a lot of things. I think he's got a great feel for people. I think he really sees things in a very practical, common sense way, really understands the game, has a great feel for -- I say "the game," I'm not just talking about the fundamentals of basketball, I'm talking about the college basketball profession. He really understands it.
He's got great feel for people, and he knows that I'm always asking questions. Whether or not he thought I was pumping him about his team or not, he knew I would always ask questions. Frank has done a marvelous job in a short time, and we're all excited for him and the job that he's done there. We talked after the game, after Sunday, after the selection show and we were heading back from Kansas City. And I said to him, I just hope -- I said, I hope we do get to play.
Even though it's something you don't look forward to, I wanted him to win and certainly we wanted to win, but we both know that we've got a job to do, and there's no doubt in my mind he's going to have his guys ready to play.
Q. Frank in his press conference mentioned that he looks at you like a father. I want to know how you felt about that analogy, and secondly, I know you touched on this yesterday, but now that we're on the eve of you trying to knock one of your best friends out of the tournament, what your emotions are.
COACH BARNES: Well, I will tell you this: I was in Kansas City last week with our team, and we took them to the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Experience, and we're walking through and have a mentor section there. I did not know it, but there was a video of Frank talking about his experience and his mentors, and he said some of the nicest things that anyone probably has ever said about me. And the fact that it came from him, it did touch me, it really did, because he's meant a lot to me.
He really has. He's a guy that, you know, when we're together and he understood my personality and was a person that he was willing to challenge me and things weren't -- if I disagree or something, and I obviously loved that about Frank.
I've never thought people worked for me. I always thought we did this together, and I believe that. I've never thought that because I was a quote-unquote head coach, that I was any better than any of my assistant coaches.
The reason that we've had success, we've hired a great team at Texas. That's obvious from the time they've left and the kind of jobs they've done. You know, right now getting ready to play, we want to win. We really, really want to win. We know it's going to be a really, really hard game.
I really -- I want our team to have a chance to win and move on. I know Frank wants the same thing. I do. I know he wants the same thing. I guess when you stay in it long enough, you get to points where you will play against people you work with and -- but it's going to be about our teams going out and competing against each other. I think both teams will play really, really hard, and it will get down to, you know, who on that particular day is going to get things done.
Q. Coach, Justin was up there talking about how much Royal helped him this summer. Can you just talk about how similar they are, and is it coindidence both these guys wear No. 24, or is that a number that has some sort of significance?
COACH BARNES: It will have from now on. We were talking as a coaching staff we -- we've never picked numbers. I don't know how guys come out picking numbers, but we were talking one day as a staff, and we said from now on, we will decide who wears No. 24 because the last two guys that have put that jersey on, it's amazing what they've stood for, and they are similar in a lot of ways.
One of them I think they have a great talent, and that talent -- I think hard work is a talent. Not everybody works as hard as they possibly can. Both Royal and Justin Mason, they put it out there every single day, and that's something you don't take for granted, and it's something that you really appreciate as a coach. And they're both tough minded, and they are very, very fears competitors. They are willing to go out and go at it. Not just in games, but if you watch us practice, you would see that everyday from Justin. You would have seen the same thing thing from Royal.
Q. Coach, just to follow-up on that question, the 24 is going to be the guy who delivers the most dirty work and kind of fills those guy's shoes in the best respect, I take it? You're saying you're going to pick who is going to wear No. 24, just the guys who have those qualities?
COACH BARNES: They're going to have to bring that quality because it would not be fair to Justin and Roy. The fact of the matter is, that number, we probably should have honored numbers at Texas. That should be an honor number with both Ivy and Mason the back of it because of what they've done, and they do the things that coaches just love players to do and beg players to do, but they just have a great innate ability to bring that. It's a talent. It is a talent. They do it as well as anybody.
Q. Also both you and Coach Haith had ACC backgrounds before he went to Miami. What advice did you give him when he was up for that job and immediately after he took that job?
COACH BARNES: One, you know, there was no question that Frank was ready to be a head coach. There was absolutely no question about that anywhere at anytime at any level. Not many guys get the opportunity with their first head coaching job to go right into the ACC, especially into a situation where you have a major rebuilding job.
But the advice I've always given those guys, when you take your first job, you have to take it with the idea it might be the only job you ever have. You got to put both feet in. You've got to -- obviously he understood staff because I told him that's been the strength of our program everywhere I've coached is that you've got to be willing to hire people that can help you get the job done. You can't do it by yourself.
But the fact is you've got to go and go at it like it's the only place I'm ever going to be. He's done that. He's had to build a lot of things there. I think you look at where the Miami program has come from, not just what you see on the court but a lot of the things that go into the foundation, Frank has done just an unbelievable job put thanking program where they want it to be.
Q. Coach, Frank said that you were crazy. Can you either confirm or deny that? And second, he also said that you had fallen asleep right before the Final Four game, 20 minutes before tip. Is that a true story?
COACH BARNES: I can confirm that. That did happen. I guess I was tired. (Laughter).
That was true. The team was out warming up, and I dozed off. They came in, and I just told them I guess I needed a nap. I felt pretty good.
I don't know if I want to use the word "crazy." I would say that I enjoy having a laugh and having fun. I like my staff. I love kidding around, cutting up with them, and I think that we've had staffs over the years that really, the different personalities really mesh.
I think what we do is important to us, but I don't think it's the end all. I mean, we want -- tomorrow we know this is what we get paid to do and what we love doing, but there's also a time that you can have fun.
Like I mentioned, when I started Frank and I spent a lot of time sitting in gyms and going back and forth between rental cars to the airport, going from gym to gym, and so we've had some good times together. He would probably tell you I can make some off-the-wall statements at times just to get a rise out of people which I might do at times, which I've done at times. But again, I don't know if "crazy" would be the word. When I was younger, maybe, but I don't think today I am.
Q. Rick, outside of a few boos on the court, how has your visit been here?
COACH BARNES: Been unbelievable. We have had great receptions where we've been, and it's been really good. I think -- but really and truly I didn't expect it to be any other way. I really didn't.
One thing you love about going different places, you do get a chance to feel the enthusiam and the passion that people have for their teams. And so it really has been a good time here and a good experience.
Q. Rick, do you think it's an advantage that you know Miami's plays, calls, signals? Or is it a disadvantage they know yours as well as they do?
COACH BARNES: I think it's a player's game. I think once the players get lost in the game -- not only does Miami know our signals, I thought that Austin Peay yesterday did a great job. The score, we got out and got on them early, but when I went back last night and was watching the tape and I actually watched it with our team, Austin Peay played really hard, and they knew what was coming. It wasn't like it was -- just like we did.
This time of year you can get calls and do all that, you can know those things but still gets back to execution, gets back to doing what you have to do and -- but I'm sure the majority of the teams that we play, because people do share information through scouting, and I don't know if Frank had to call anybody to find out what we're doing and vice versa, but the fact is, people know what we're trying to do and whether he has the calls or not.
Q. Rick, just your thoughts on Jack McClinton and what he does for Miami.
COACH BARNES: Well, we know he's very, very explosive in the fact that he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. One, in transition. If you don't find him -- they do a great job of finding him. He does a great job himself when he rebounds of putting pressure on you. They do a lot of screening to get him looks, and so he's the kind of player you can't give him separation because it doesn't take much for him to get his feet set and get into his shot quickly.
I think, again, it's pretty simple. When you're a first team all ACC performer, lead the league I think in 3-point shooting and free throw percentage, I'm not sure anything else needs to be said because we know how tough and talented that league is.
He does -- he's very, very aggressive, and he doesn't need much space to make some things happen.
THE MODERATOR: Got about a minute and a half later.
Q. You mentioned Austin Peay played hard. You still won the game handily. Can you evaluate your performance yesterday, and will that same effort and performance win against Miami?
COACH BARNES: We'll have to be better. We'll have to be better tomorrow. Obviously our size and our talent was able to overwhelm Austin Peay. I look back, they played hard. They never stopped playing hard, which is just I think speaks volumes about their program and their coach.
But we have to be better tomorrow. I think from this point on, this tournament, everybody is even, and so you've got to continue to get better. You've got to continue to improve from here on out. What was good yesterday won't be good enough for tomorrow.
Q. Rick, I apologize if this question has been asked. If it has been, you don't need to answer it. What's been the biggest pleasure for you coaching D.J. on the court and then getting to know him off the court?
COACH BARNES: His willingness to want to be coached. His goal coming into this year when we sat down and asked him, "What's your goals for next year?" He immediately started talking about our team. I said, I'm talking about you personally. He said, "I'd like to be an academic All-American." That was the first thing he said. That's a great goal, obviously, and you go back and look at the Scott McConnell was showing me a list the other day of guys that were Academic All-American, First Team All-American in some way, shape, or form. It's unbelievable the 18 guys that were on the list. If he can get that done and be in that position, it speaks volumes of him. He's always trying to get better. He's a very unselfish person on and off the court.
When you see him up here, I don't know if you really see his personality because you talk about a guy that's a prankster and a guy that's always -- coaches, we feel he's like Eddie Haskell. He's the guy that's always stirring the pot. When you walk in the room, it's like "Yes, sir, Good to see you Mrs. Clever." (Laughter).
Believe me, the guys will tell you he's always the one that's sticking the needle somewhere. He's just a great person to be around. I've never seen him in a bad mood. He'll get disappointed some, when -- especially when he's not playing well, he will get disappointed, but there's no player we've had that looks out for his teammates more than D.J.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Barnes, we appreciate your time. Look forward to tomorrow's matchup. Thank you so much.
COACH BARNES: Thank you.
End of FastScripts