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March 26, 2008

Joe Alexander

Da'Sean Butler

Bob Huggins

Darris Nichols

Alex Ruoff

Jamie Smalligan


THE MODERATOR: Coach Huggins has joined us in the press conference room.

Q. Bob, just talk about coming in and these players were used to playing for Coach Beilein, you are on a different system and how that adjustment went, were you surprised and the adjustments you had to make along the way?
COACH HUGGINS: I honestly didn't know what to expect because I didn't -- I don't watch -- I didn't watch any game tape from the year before because we play a whole lot different, and I didn't want to have preconceived ideas.
But in saying that, they've been terrific. They were terrific from day one. They have really embraced what we're doing and I think -- I think the good thing for us is they did it with great enthusiasm.

Q. I was just wondering if you could give us a little preview from what you see, what you expect from Xavier tomorrow and talk about what type of team they are.
COACH HUGGINS: I think they're much more physical than what they've been in the past and probably a lot of that has to do with Sean has a lot of upperclassmen.
They run great sets. They've got great balance. I think sunshine has done a great job of exploiting people's weaknesses which he can do because he has a lot of guys that can score and they can score in a lot of different ways.
I think they're much better in transition. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with Drew, but they're much, much better in transition.

Q. Just a personal question, you've had a lot of powerful experiences in your life, both good and bad. I'm just wondering how they've changed you to maybe the man you were 15 years ago to the man you are today.
COACH HUGGINS: Well, I hope I am a little more mature and a little smarter. I don't -- you know, you try to learn from things and you try to move on. I'm not big on looking back. I'm not big on living in the past.
I try to get up every day and live my life the best I can live it. And we all have experiences in our lives that we learn from and, hopefully, I learn every day.

Q. On that line, the heart attack, how did that affect you in terms of the way -- I think at the time you said I'm going to make changes in my life or there's going to be changes. Now that it's been some time, what's changed for you?
COACH HUGGINS: It is like New Year's Eve. Same thing you do New Year's Eve. You said I'm going to do this, and about the 3rd of January you are back doing what you did before.
I haven't really changed all that much. I mean, you know, I would like to sit here and tell you that I probably eat better, but look at me. That's obviously not the case.
You know, honestly, I don't think about it very much, which is kind of hard. But, you know, I just -- I believe with all my heart when God says it's your time, it's your time. You don't get to debate that. He decided for whatever reason it wasn't my time. He had some things that he wanted to do still.
Couple years ago, Frank Martin was my assistant and Frank went through a very traumatic experience and he said to me, he said, how do you deal with it, and I said, Frank, if you are going to die, you're going to die. We don't get to debate that.
He said, you know, I'm really glad I called you. But that's -- you know, I was in the back of the ambulance and I was kind of in and out of consciousness and I knew I wasn't doing very well and I kind of set up and the paramedic, I guess, was there and I said, you know, what's the ETA? And he did whatever they do, radioed the driver, and he said 22 minutes. I said, man, I'm not going to make 22 minutes. They pat you on the leg and say, I have never lost a patient. I said, you aren't dealing with no 75-year-old lady now. I dealt with pain. I'm not going to make it.
He said abort, and so that's why I ended up at Butler. The amazing thing, I am in and out of consciousness, and I remember looking at the guy, and he was Calipari's cousin, actually. He said, Coach, we are not going to let you die until John beats you at least once. So ...

Q. When you look back at your playing career at West Virginia, are there things you do now that you took from that? I was talking to Coach Gardner and he mentioned maybe even defensively, I think he called it the hockey defense or maybe some things you have carried on?
COACH HUGGINS: We don't play any hockey defense. We play offensively because that's how I wanted to play. That's why we move people. That's why we play five-man motion. That's why we tried to work with Joe a little bit about playing in the post and being able to put people on his back, because I played point guard for Gardner. I was 6' 4" and I wanted to put the little guys on my back and we didn't play that way.
That's how I like to play -- or would have liked to play. We give our guys a lot of freedom offensively. You try to look at film and say this is something we can exploit, but we give them a lot of freedom. If you watch Joe, you'll watch Alex, you'll watch De'Sean, they all play on the post, in the perimeter, they shoot it from 3. To we try to be a little bit more diverse and we really try to give them some freedom to make some decisions.

Q. I was going to ask you about Joe Alexander, how he accepted being in the low post and the way he has progressed since the beginning of this month.
COACH HUGGINS: They've all been great. Joe's -- Joe really wants to learn. Joe really wants to be a good player. I have been very fortunate. I've had several guys that really wanted to be good players that really put the time in and really worked at it. I think Joe's right up there with those guys in terms of a guy who really works at it. You know, he's in a gym all the time. And he's in there after practice every day. Larry Harrison works with him quite a bit after practice on different things.
He really wants to be a good player. I don't know how to say it any better than that.

Q. Last weekend in D.C., you mentioned Corie Blount graduating and I heard the comment in passing. I wondered if you could talk about that and what that meant to you.
COACH HUGGINS: Corey called me -- I lose track of days. I think it was Wednesday. I don't know, it could have been Friday. I don't know. He finished his last class to finish his degree, and he was very excited about it. So I asked was he going to walk? Than's said yeah. I said all right, man, I'll be there with you.
You are very aware it's not what people have tried to portray that it is. Here's a guy who was 12 years in the NBA and came back and finishes his degree and it is never going to show up on a statistic. But we know and I think that's what's important and he'll be able to go on and he wants to coach. He will be able to go on and coach.

Q. Was the treadmill -- have you had that everywhere? The players talk about how you roll the treadmill out the first day in practice.
COACH HUGGINS: We couldn't afford it at Cincinnati. We had treadmills at Cincinnati, but we didn't have them out on the floor. But we had a cardio room that we just kind of kept track and they went in on the treadmill afterwards. You know, we've had guys -- I think all coaches do. You run lines and it is so much better on your legs. It is a healthier way to stay in shape and it is a healthier way to make a point.

Q. How long did it take you to make the point with the players once the first guy got on there?
COACH HUGGINS: They were scared to death to start with. I think once they found out that it wasn't as bad as what they maybe thought it was going to be, they were fine. Then that's probably when we started using the treadmill.

Q. You said this year that Joe specifically doesn't really even know how good he can be. I was just wondering, it seemed like down the stretch the lights sort of turned on for him and he really became a dominant player. Can you talk about that process when you feel like he really dug in and became the player you think he can be?
COACH HUGGINS: I don't know that it was a matter that he dug in. I tried to explain to him it is probably going to get worse before it gets better in terms of what we ask him to do.
He just -- his understanding, he's -- I think he would readily tell you, he is a guy who has worked out hard his whole life. He just hasn't played as much as a lot of guys have played. All we tried to do is to get him to slow down and change some things with his footwork, too, that I think has helped him.
It's just a matter of him learning how to read defenses and not predetermine what he was going to do. I think earlier in the year he would decide he would shoot, whether the shot was there or not or whether he was going to pass, whether he should have passed or not. Sometimes he passed when he should have shot and shot when should have passed.
It is just trying to get him to slow down to read defenses, you know. He's great. I told him he need to go watch tape of people that he thought was -- that were great players and watch how the game kind of slows down for him. They're not running around like they're on speed the whole game. They kind of slow down and read defenses and recognize what's going on. And he started doing that. I think he slowed down quite a bit.

Q. The last game against Duke, you started Wellington, you thought it was a better matchup with him. Do you see something similar with Xavier and Wellington, giving him another start? Is he more prepared starting after going through that first experience?
COACH HUGGINS: I don't think he wasn't prepared to start the first time. He got a couple tough calls and ended up with two fouls and we needed to get him out.
It kind of depends on which way we want to go, in all honesty. We won't decide that until after practice today.

Q. You pretty much inferred that sometimes things aren't what they seem and what was written is what happened in the past --
COACH HUGGINS: I didn't infer that. I said it very directly.

Q. Do you feel you have been mischaracterized in the past?
COACH HUGGINS: I mean, I understand what happens, you know? I understand to make a good story, there's got to be white hats and black hats, otherwise we never would have had a cowboy movie. That's the way it is.
And the reality is in 1992 we go to the Final Four with three blue bloods: It is Indiana, Duke and Michigan. And then here we come in with 10 transfers. Nobody really wanted to dig into the background, find out they were double transfers, guys that had started at other four-year schools and for whatever reason didn't work for them. That didn't really matter.
Didn't matter they were the most articulate, the funniest, the best interview. They really were the highlight of the whole deal. It was a story. And I understand that. And I'm good with it. I'm 54 years old, shocked back to life three times, you know? I'm fine with it.
The most important thing to me, always has been, is that our guys know we care about them. Our guys know it is important that they get an education and go on and do good things with their life. And if you go back and look at what my guys are doing, my guys are doing that, and that's what's important. That's why we all do what we do.

Q. Bob, does playing Xavier have any special meaning given the battles you used to have with them when you were at Cincinnati?
COACH HUGGINS: No, it is a story. I understand that. No, what makes a difference whether it is Xavier or UCLA or Western Kentucky. I mean, it is a game that's a very, very important game for both teams because the one that loses is done and the one that wins gets to advance. And it is really not any more than that.
I like Sean. I have known Sean pretty much his whole life. I know his father John very, very well. John and my dad have been friends and coaching colleagues for 30, 35 years. It is not any more than that.

Q. I talked to two fans outside who had a great analogy.
COACH HUGGINS: I bet that was enlightening (smiling).

Q. They're law grads, so it was. They said the transformation of this team is like a scene in "Full Metal Jacket" when these raw recruits become killers. I guess there was a scene when they go through training camp?
COACH HUGGINS: I missed that movie.

Q. Was there a moment like that? How much transformation did you have to go through with these guys to shape them, how you wanted to play?
COACH HUGGINS: It wasn't hard. I mean, they -- we came in day one and said, okay, tomorrow we're going to start lifting and we're going to lift hard, we're going to get stronger. And they did it enthusiastically. There was never a guy late. There was never a guy missed. There was -- you know, I never got a call from the strength coach saying so-and-so just came in today and wouldn't work.
They were great, and they have been great all the way through, and we continue to lift. They lift now. I don't have -- this is as low a maintenance bunch of guys as you can ever imagine. They say go do this and they just go do it. They're great guys. So I don't think that it's -- you know, it took them a while to understand what we wanted to do naturally. And we're playing a whole lot different. It is a lot different. And I said to them day one, I'm not John. I can't be John. Not any more than John can be me and it doesn't make either one of us right or wrong. It is kind of the way it is.
And they were great. We asked them to play man-to-man. I had a couple of those guys that said to me at one point in time that said, This is unbelievable. I said what? The biggest reason I came here, I got to play zone. Now we play man-to-man. But they've been unbelievable. They really have.
We all have our bad days, but for the most part, they've -- it is one thing to say "go do this" and you go do it. There is another thing when you go do it enthusiastically and they have done it with great enthusiasm.
Thank you.
We have been joined by the Mountaineer players.

Q. Joe, the last three, four weeks you have taken off with your game. Coach mentioned how you have been able to recognize the defense and slow yourself down. Has that been the key? Has there been anything in tick that has helped you?
JOE ALEXANDER: Yeah, that's been the key is slowing down. When you slow down, you can read the defense better and that's really the key to playing better.

Q. Wondering for all of you, now that you have seen tape on Xavier, what are your thoughts?
JAMIE SMALLIGAN: Well, I think they're a smaller team but they play really well together, both on offense and defense. They are a real skilled team. Their starting center can shoot it and put it on the floor. They got a real good point guard, really runs their offense. We got to try and take care of him. And I think that's about it.
DA'SEAN BUTLER: They're a very well-balanced scoring team as far as the starting five. And they have four players in double figures and they're very good offensive transition team. So, you know, we'll have to stop them in transition and play the game we usually play on defense and just do what we do in offense as usual.
JOE ALEXANDER: They're a well-balanced team, which is going to make our approach a little bit different because everyone will have to really buckle down on defense on their man because everyone on the floor is a threat.
DARRIS NICHOLS: Like they said, they're a well-balanced scoring team, kind of like us. We can't pay more attention to any particular guy. We have to take notice of all of them.
ALEX RUOFF: Really athletic. I think they can match up well with our Big East opponents. Like they said, balanced scoring is a real good matchup for us because we're kind of similar.

Q. Can you talk about the perception you perhaps had when you first heard that Coach Huggins would be your coach, and if, in fact, how that has changed throughout the course of the season?
JAMIE SMALLIGAN: Well, growing up in the Midwest, I watched Coach Huggins when he was coaching at Cincinnati, and I just knew that he was an intense coach, a loud, in-your-face coach. He was known for strong man-to-man and just tough teams rebounding and stuff.
As far as that goes, I think that's true, that is his philosophy. He likes his teams to be strong on defense and rebound and try to outtough teams to win. But more so than being in your face all the time, he is a real good guy. Looks after all of us. He might be in your face during practice. But as soon as practice is over, he's got his arm around your back and you know he is your friend again. I guess I wasn't really expecting that.
DA'SEAN BUTLER: Pretty much I thought I wasn't going to play at all. I am not really as athletic as most people are. When he came in, we talked. Of course, he is a very in-your-face, demanding coach, but at the end of the day is a good player coach. He likes you on and off the court, which helped me a lot playing for him. That's pretty much all I can say about that.
JOE ALEXANDER: I thought he was going to be all fiery all the time, but in reality he is just fiery some of the time and the rest of the time he is calm and just teaches us like a normal teacher does.
DARRIS NICHOLS: The first thing he said when came in was that he expects a lot from his players and he said in the long run, it will pay off. I think it is starting to pay off.
ALEX RUOFF: When I first met him, I was worried about how some of our players would fit in. But as you get to know him, like he said, he is a real personal coach and all the misconceptions people hear about him really aren't true. He is a genuine guy and real passionate about the game.

Q. Does Huggins ever talk about his heart attack? And if so, does he joke about it? What does he say?
ALEX RUOFF: Let Da'Sean start it off?
JAMIE SMALLIGAN: I just remember sometimes he'll be a little -- one of his more fiery moments in practice, say if somebody misses a blockout or somebody didn't get inside the opposite on the front offensive rebound, he'll just say, I was dead on the floor for two minutes and I could block that guy out or something like that. It is normally a joke for him.
ALEX RUOFF: We've had a couple bad first halves this year, and he's gotten after us at halftime. As players, it might be in the back of your mind sometimes when he is really going -- when he is screaming a lot, but it is not too bad. He's all right.

Q. He mentioned the treadmill. I don't know notorious or how infamous it's become. He mentioned how it is a healthier way to make a point. How brutal or how hard is it?
DA'SEAN BUTLER: He kind of threatened us a week and a half ago about bringing it out because the practice was kind of going slow. He kind of -- and practice kind of picked back up. But I have been on it a couple times. It's not fun.
JAMIE SMALLIGAN: I think I've been on it more than anyone else on the team (smiling). Sometimes I probably run, like, four miles on it during practice. But in the end, it's helped me.
It's been, I think, the hardest adjustment for me more so than anybody, getting used to playing with Coach Huggins, and I think it's helped me and I think it will continue to help the guys. Just force habits.
Before you know it, you are on there so much when it comes to stuff like rebounding and defense, it's -- the stuff is kind of like second nature. You don't even worry about punishment. You just do it without thinking about it.

Q. Last year at this time, the team was in the NIT and ended up winning the NIT. At this time this year you find yourselves in the Sweet 16. Couple years removed from the program having another long run in the tournament. Can you talk about how last year's run in the post-season helped you with momentum going into this year and this year's tournament?
JOE ALEXANDER: Well, it helped us by giving us more experience. But it also gives you confidence knowing that we have been in a tournament where you play consecutive games with a short turnaround and knowing that we can win those games even though it is a different tournament with not quite the competition in the NCAA, it is still the same feel as the NCAA tournament.
So being here is very familiar to the feeling of last year's post-season and knowing that we won last year really gives us confidence.

Q. You called him a players coach. I think the perception of him, people who don't see him every day, would be of the guy who gets upset but guys who have always played for him have always come back and really been behind him as who he is. Can you give examples or more than just putting his arm around you in terms of why you think players who play for him have a different opinion than maybe people who just see him coaching?
JAMIE SMALLIGAN: Well, I think the reason that his former players and his teams are so close is just because it's like -- when you are through something that is the hardest thing you have ever done in your life, you really got to come together through it.
At times maybe when you are getting yelled at at practice, you don't see why he is really doing it. But I feel like, you know, as much as he has yelled at me, while it may not -- I may not have had the best individual season, I feel like the things that he's taught me are going to help me the rest of my life as well.
So I feel like he is looking out for me more than just a basketball coach, more like a life coach or something.

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