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March 18, 2009
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA
AMY YAKOLA: We're joined by Texas student-athletes: A.J. Abrams, Damion James, and Dexter Pittman. Let's start with questions.
Q. Has it been your experience that in tournament play you have a little bit more freedom because you're finally seeing some teams who don't know every sign for a play and what you're going to do at every moment?
A.J. ABRAMS: Yeah, I think that helps quite a bit, actually. You know, going through conference play you pick up on every detail that every team runs. So we're playing somebody new that hasn't really watched us. I think we can execute some plays that are more difficult to execute during the conference season.
Q. You had a chance to watch the film of the Gophers. Can you talk about what you've seen so far? Also, Lawrence Westbrook, their top scorer, what you think of him?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think they're a great defensive team, and they've got a great coach. They're tough on going to the glass and rebounding. And we're also like that, too, because we're in the Big 12, and I mean, that's what we live off of. So it's kind of identical.
DAMION JAMES: You know, we know Coach is a great coach. Coach Smith. And he's really going to make them guys come out and play hard, like Dexter said, play great defense. And they really crash the glass, and they really like to get the ball in transition, and like to get at a run and get easy baskets. So we're going to have to come out and match their intensity.
A.J. ABRAMS: Pretty much like these two guys said. We're going to have our hands full because they're coming to the glass hard. We've got to make sure we're blocking out because they're going to make the second effort.
We've been talking about it from watching film. That's going to be a big part of the game just making sure we run down the long rebounds and we're blocking out.
Q. I heard you were working out late last night. Is that still a regular routine? How often do you do it and for how long?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I mean, it wasn't really like a workout. It was just to get open, get my body open because of the long flight. I have to readjust my hips and back. I mean, I do it before every game. And every road trip. Or if we're at home, I do it in our weight room. So it's something me and Coach started to do all the time.
Q. Did you have a chance to look at Lawrence Westbrook at all, their top scorer? A.J., I think you'll be matched up with him, probably. And your thoughts on him and his game?
A.J. ABRAMS: Yeah, just watching him on film. He's a very aggressive player. He looks to attack the basket pretty hard. So, you know, we're going to have to play a good help defense, and just be a solid defensive game overall for everybody.
You know, they have a lot of sets that we need to guard. But him as an individual, he can break out and go one-on-one. So if I'm matched up with him, I'm going to have to try to stay in front.
Q. With Dexter coming on as an offensive factor late in the season, it obviously helps you a little bit. Do you think it helps maybe Damion more and maybe he benefits as much? Because you're obviously going to get a ton of attention, still?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think with Dexter coming on the way they did in the past tournament, in the Big 12 Tournament, I think it's going to help not just me and Damion, it's going to help the whole team. We can play off him. He's going to get his inside looks. And by doing that, he's going to open the floor for everybody.
So if he can continue to play hard, and finish the run on the basket, It's going to benefit us.
Q. Minnesota plays up to 11 guys a game. Do any of them stand out to you? Did any of them catch your eye when you're watching film?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I mean, all of them to me could play. They wouldn't be on the team if they couldn't. So it really doesn't matter. It's just all about us going out there and playing hard, and throwing our bodies at them. I mean, it's just like a war, you've got to go out there. That's the main thing.
DAMION JAMES: I think Damian Johnson, he's a pretty good player. You know, from just watching him on film. He likes to draw the ball, drive bigger guys. If you've got a smaller guy on him, he likes to post-up. I think he's a pretty good player.
We've just got to come, like Dexter said, it's about us right now. We've got to come out and secure that game plan and play hard and match their intensity and just see what happens.
A.J. ABRAMS: I think their depth is key for them. I think they pretty much used it all year. So playing 11 guys, they're going to be fresh. Like they said, we have to focus on our game plan, and you know, just worry about us.
For the most part, I think they're going to use everybody, and we have to know the scouting report and who to play. That will be a key factor for us.
Q. For all three of you guys, would you just talk about what you're pleased about with this team and frustrated about? What has frustrated you during the year, and if you're confident you can make a nice run through this thing?
A.J. ABRAMS: We've had our ups and downs this year. But we've had to play a lot of different styles. We've had to play through our big men, play through our guards. Had to switch up styles of play. Doing that is going to benefit us for this tournament. Seeing all those different types of defenses, it makes you better, even though you might struggle in the beginning.
But I think we're a really confident bunch. We know what to expect from the tournament. We pretty much have a lot of experience. So it's going to come down to executing our game plan and staying focused.
DAMION JAMES: I'm just really happy that we just continue to play through the struggles. You know, we get frustrated because we can be one of the best teams and we're struggling at the beginning. It made me realize that it's not us because we can beat all the good teams, the Villanova teams and we can beat them teams. And we came out in a new season, and we're really looking forward to starting and getting it on the road again tomorrow.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think that we got better as the year went on. And I think we're better than we were at the beginning of the year and the middle of the year, too. The thing about our team is we don't let anybody play harder than us. I mean, that's what we thrive on. I mean, we know when we go out there between the lines we're going to give it our all and not let anybody play harder than us. If that means six guys playing against 11 guys. So, yeah.
Q. You're playing a young Gophers team, two guys that haven't been to the tournament in four years. Can you talk about what factor you think experience will play in tomorrow's game?
A.J. ABRAMS: Experience goes a long way. You really can't teach that. I think that what we have going for us, we're bringing back a lot of guys that have a lot of tournament experience. I don't think we're that wow factor, we don't have that. We're just taking it as one game. We have Minnesota ahead of us, and that's what we're focused on.
Q. I heard mainly coaches say that you got really hot early in the season before people game planned November and early December. Did you find people weren't game planning for you specifically as much when you were playing some of those teams like UCLA and Villanova when you were getting some shots?
A.J. ABRAMS: I mean if they didn't, you know, I guess you saw that it benefited me and it helped us get wins. But I think the more the season goes on, people are going to make adjustments, and you're going to watch more and more film. So they looked at what we were doing and trying to take away our strengths, so we had to counter that.
Q. You guys have played so many people this year, it seems like a lot of teams shorten their bench during the postseason. Do you think that's something that would help you guys? To play fewer guys or do you like the depth you have?
A.J. ABRAMS: No, I definitely like the depth we have. Especially inside. I think we can wear people down. Our guard play is good, but if we can continue to use all the players that we have, that can take a toll on our other team.
Q. How important is pace in this game tomorrow?
A.J. ABRAMS: How important is what?
Q. Is pace and dictating pace? And would you like to get running so you can score up higher than Minnesota's used to?
A.J. ABRAMS: Our game plan, we've got to like always get out and run. We want to get as many easy buckets as we can. And playing against the set defense is really hard to get points off. So any chance that we're good, we're going to try to push the tempo and get the game playing in our hands.
Q. Rick was saying the other day that as he has gained experience as a NCAA an NCAA Tournament coach, he's backed off in his career, not making it like it's the end of the world. Have you seen his approach change at all during your time with him, and he just preparing you and saying, hey, guys, go play?
A.J. ABRAMS: Yeah, definitely. At this time of the year, he lets us play. I mean, we're still practicing hard, but they're not as long. I think he does a good job with that because it keeps us fresh. But I can see the change as far as from the beginning of the season to the end. Because like I said, the practices aren't as long, and it's more of a mental game right now, if anything. So I think he knows that, and he's instilling in us as far as watching film and making us watch the details of the game, and letting them go out and play.
AMY YAKOLA: Thank you.
Joined by Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes.
COACH BARNES: It's good to be home today. It's been a long time since I've been here at the coliseum. But as far as the game goes, I've known Tubby Smith for a long time. We were actually talking today about the first time I ever saw him. He was a senior at High-Point College, and came into Lenoir-Rhyne College, and held the ball for 18 minutes as a player, and the score at halftime was 5-2.
But I've known Tubby for 30-of-something years now while he was an assistant at BCU and I was at George Mason. And we spent a lot of time, and a lot of the same gyms over the years. I'm not sure there's a more respected and more humbled person than Tubby.
When you look at his teams, hard-nosed. Defensively rebounds the ball. They're not going to give you much. But from our point of view, we're excited to be back in the tournament and hope that we can play well.
Q. Can you talk about growing up in North Carolina, and basketball, who you followed early on, and how you followed them?
COACH BARNES: Well, what I can most remember, I think it will be back in the early 60's, watching the ACC basketball. You know, seeing and the pilot and all that. But what I remember most back then, it seemed like North Carolina was always on TV. And Duke, during the days with Bob Cremins and those guys, and I remember the Larry Brown years. Then became a fan of South Carolina, believe it or not, when they got good. I just kind of followed the whole league.
I can remember when Terry Holland went to Virginia after he left Dave, and went to Maryland. Also, remember coming near 1977 into this building. At the time I was trying to get into coaching, but I did want to be a high school coach, and a PE teacher and couldn't get a job. I was working at UPS in the mornings and substitute teaching after that.
A friend of mine, Paul Avid, invited my wife, Candy, and I down to the ACC tournament. And I remember leaving that day saying to her that's something I'd really like to do. We started writing letters, and I was fortunate that actually I went up to Boone, North Carolina. A friend of mine, Andy Anderson, got me an interview with Bobby Cremins. And Bobby was coaching up there. And he had an assistant, Kevin Kentwell who y'all will remember. And I said how do I get into this?
And they said you'll probably have to volunteer because you don't have a lot of contacts. And Bobby said to me, you can come up here, but I don't know if anybody will see you up here on the mountain. And a couple of weeks later, Eddie got the job at Davidson, and the same guy that brought me to the tournament got me an interview with him, and I got lucky that Eddie let me come and be his volunteer coach.
But unless you've grown up in this state, I don't know if you understand how big it is. I've told all the coaches just what it's like, what the ACC tournament was like here. Not only as a kid, but also then having a chance to coach in it. Greensboro is a special place. There are certain things that should always be left alone, and I always felt like the ACC tournament should always be in Greensboro. I always felt like that because of the way the city adopted it and made it such one of the great events. I can remember every session was always sold out, and that's the way it should be.
Q. Can you talk about the lineup you're going to use tomorrow or probably use? Also, is it difficult to game plan for a Minnesota team that uses so many guys, but you never know from one night to the next who is going to step up for them?
COACH BARNES: We're kind of the same way. In some ways our teams mirror each other. I remember this year we were playing a game, and afterwards we -- we were -- I mean, to be honest with you, I wasn't sure what we had done even after the game was over with. And I didn't feel like we had had done the things we talk about.
But we had 11 different lineups on the floor during a 40-minute game, that's hard. So I understand a little bit about it. But I think because of what we went through, and I think Minnesota's done the same thing where they've evolved to where they are today that they can play a lot of different people, a lot of different ways and do some different things.
But again, we're at a point now where we think that we can play different ways. Because we play teams that refuse to guard us. We play teams that basically played box and one on A.J. Abrams. And teams that have put two guys in the lane and dared guys to shoot it. We play teams that get out and pressure us. So I don't know anything else that can be thrown at us that we can't handle, hopefully.
In this game, in particular, I think It's going to get down to rebounding the ball. They do a tremendous job of doing that, getting second and third opportunities. But, again, I look at their team and think it's very similar to where we are.
Q. What do you suppose it was within the two of you that made you and Tubby become friends? And has enabled your relationship to flourish over the years?
COACH BARNES: Well, one thing about Tubby I can tell you is he's never taken himself too serious. He's always been a really hard worker. You know, when I was at George Mason and he was at VCU we were the new kid on the block. Mason had just gone to Division I a year before. I was the first full-time assistant coach ever hired at George Mason. And Joe Harrington was the first full-time head coach.
Tubby, and J.D. Barnett had it going pretty good at VCU, and VCU and Old Dominion and James Madison were the big guys on the block. And Oliver Purnell was actually the assistant coach at Old Dominion. We seemed to be always around each other. All three of us.
And I say the same thing about Auburn. Those guys never made me feel like I didn't belong. And believe me, George Mason hadn't done anything up to that point. We were really trying to build that program. But the thing about Tubby, he's never met a stranger. He's a great story teller.
We've always kidded and picked at each other. A couple years ago we were in Kuwait together. There's not a better -- Tubby's one of those guys when he tells the joke, it's hard for him to get the punch line out because he's already laughing at his own joke before he gets it out.
But we were on the trip with the Nike Coaches Association, and we were riding rapids. And the boat that he was in was Coach Smith and some other people. At the very end he asked the guy to get up on the front of the boat, the raft and hold on. They called it riding the bull.
So I saw Tubby do it. So when he did it, I did it right behind him. And I don't know what possessed me to do it. But when I got through and Tubby was still sitting on that boat, I took a running start and grabbed him and tackled him, and we went in the water together. Funny thing was when I came out of the water, the first person I saw sitting right here was Dean Smith. And he said, Rick, that could have been dangerous. And it could have been, because I had actually hit a rock when I dove in.
But two nights later, we're out there having another thing with the event, and I'm casting the fly fishing and I'm dressed for dinner. And out of nowhere, Tubby comes and tackles me into the water. And so here I have to sit at dinner -- and he was wet, too. But that's the thing. He's never taken himself too serious. He's always fun.
I don't know that there's a more well-respected, well-liked person than Tubby.
Q. You mentioned different ways people guard your team this year. Some of your guys have not shot the ball as well as they have in the past. Have you figured that out at all. Does it have that much to do with D.J. not setting them up?
COACH BARNES: We're going to shoot it well tomorrow. We've weighed in. Yeah, you can't take that factor away. I was asked about D.J. today. And obviously, D.J. was the guy when things weren't working, he could make something out of nothing. But the fact is, I yeah, D.J. made people around him better, that's why he is where he is today. But we knew coming in we were going to have to work some things out with this team.
Overall, at times with people backing off certain players and players having to learn to handle that individually, and we had to learn it as a team. It can be frustrating. I think we've seen that because as you he said, we've seen guys this year have a tough time shooting the ball, and a year ago they shot it well.
As a coaching staff and as a team, every game you're hoping maybe this is the time we're going to do it. And that's what we're hoping for right now.
Q. You mentioned about how you've learned not to overprepare for NCAA Tournament games over your career. Do you feel the guys have bought into that and feel the same way in terms of not getting too high?
COACH BARNES: Yeah, I think they do. They understand. They know what's here. Everyone knows what this time of year is about. So we, again, they've worked hard to get her. They've gotten to enjoy it. But winning makes you enjoy it more. But still they've got to go out and they've got to play.
So we just try to keep them focused on what they have to do without overselling it, and hope that we can go out and execute.
Q. Can you talk a little about Lawrence Westbrook, sort of what he adds to this Minnesota team?
COACH BARNES: Well, he's explosive, and he does a great job, I think, in transition he gets out on the open floor. He's a guy that will pull up and shoot it in transition. He does a great job getting the ball to the basket. I think he's very important to him.
And a person that we obviously have to game plan for and know that we're going to have to get him under control as much as we can in transition. And on the other end, you can't give them much separation. You've got to certainly hope that you can have the ability to stay in front of him. Because he does a great job in creating things.
Q. On the one hand, you're a native of this area. On the other hand, you're a competitive guy who coached at Clemson against two Giants who have teams here. How do you think you'll be treated by the Carolina and Duke fans? Or fans in general?
COACH BARNES: Oh, they love me. Both of those fans love me. You know, I actually -- obviously, I have great respect for ACC basketball. Certainly unbelievable respect for Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski. And I actually interviewed for a job with Mike, I want to say 19 -- I think it was at the end of Tommy am acer's freshman year, whatever year that would be. And Mike treated me tremendously. He always has.
But you look at those two guys and what they've done, not only from ACC basketball, but for basketball in general. And it is competitive. There is no doubt about that. Everybody wants to beat each other.
You know, part of it are the fans. Because the fans have such great passion and great love for their programs. But regardless of who wins the game, I would imagine if we win the game that Carolina's going to pull for Texas. Because I think they dislike Duke more than they dislike me. And if Tubby Smith wins the game, I think they're going to be a lot of Carolina fans that are going to pull for Minnesota, if Duke does their job and gets there.
So fans are loyal. I can't imagine them sitting there and being quiet. But who knows.
Q. Can you talk a little about you and Dean? Is this the first time you've been back since that quarterfinal? And if so, how did you guys work through that? Are you a different coach emotionally, intensity-wise, today than you were back then?
COACH BARNES: Yeah, if I could go back and change that, I definitely would. But I remember sitting right here in this same spot discussing that after that game period. I said it then, and I really believe it's just two teams being very competitive. Really going at it.
When you're in the heat of battles, some things happen. But the thing that I most regret about it is I would not want anybody to ever think I disrespect Dean Smith. Because, again, I grew up in this state. You ask about ACC basketball. That was the first team I can ever remember pulling for. So, again, I hate that it happened.
I mean, again, I'm not sure how it all happened, to be honest with you looking back. I think it was a spontaneous type reaction that I have. But I'd like to think that I've matured a little bit more, yeah. I would. Would I do it different today? I think probably, I would. But, again, the whole thing could be done over, I would probably like to do it over in a different way.
Q. Do you recall you two getting together the first time after that? I mean, I assume you feel things if you're rafting together?
COACH BARNES: Well, I'm going to tell you a great thing. We ended up having to come to Greensboro and having a little conversation with Gene Corrigan began that cost us both a little bit of money. But the day that he quit I'll never forget, my daughter was in the fourth grade.
When I actually told candy, I said Coach Smith is quitting. And my daughter said, he can't. I looked at her and said what do you mean? She said he can't quit. Why is he quitting? And I said I don't know. My wife said why don't you write him a letter and ask him. And she wrote him a letter, and about a week later she got a great letter back from him.
And he was kind enough to say some nice things about me. That's a true story. He wrote her right back and told her that it was just his time and time for him to move on on. But said your dad's got a great future left in this game.
But I thought it was nice of him to do that. But, again, I just wish the whole thing would have never happened the way it happened. But to answer, I think I answered your question. We definitely had to get some things worked out, and I think we got it worked out.
Q. Do you have to game plan for any individuals on the Minnesota roster? Is there anybody who worries you offensively?
COACH BARNES: When we do game plans, most of it is towards personnel. We feel like at this time of the year we've seen most action that we're going to see for the most part. So it really does get down to personnel. We'll obviously put an emphasis on their key guys.
But, again, that's a big part of what we do is personnel.
Q. Anybody in particular?
COACH BARNES: Westbrook is a guy that's very important. They're big guys inside. You've got to be aware of the fact that they get their hands on a lot of balls and keep a lot of balls alive. They do a great job of coming to the glass. So, again, we game plan for all of them coming for the rebound. They do as good a job as anybody we've seen. We haven't been very good in the last two games in terms of keeping people off the glass. But Westbrook's a guy that you've got to give him some attention, obviously.
Q. Covering Binghamton, a team with a lot of newcomers to this stage, I was wondering if you could reflect back on your first trip to the tournament, and the number one challenge you faced or number one thing you were struck with leading the team on to this stage in this tournament?
COACH BARNES: Yeah, the first time it happened, there's no doubt I did a poor job looking back where I got our guys so excited about it. And acting as if it were -- I'm not sure we did it the right way in terms of changing everything that we've kind of done. Trying to keep everybody away.
So, yeah, at that point in time there was no doubt that I was still overworking teams. I don't think we came into the tournament as fresh as we needed to be mentally and physically, because I felt like we had to work, work, work. So, we kind of came in where we were grinding a little bit too much. I think that over the years we've learned or I've learned to taper it back, and hope that this time of the year guys are really excited about playing and looking forward to competing every time.
Q. You've been going with the young point guard as well. It's Balbay. Can you talk about what impact he's had on the team, and in the last 11 games that he's played? And whether or not you might use Gary Johnson against this Minnesota team in your starting rotation?
COACH BARNES: Yeah, well, does is the only player I've been around in my life that doesn't want to shoot the basketball. I would assume, you know, one day he said to me Coach, my job has always been to set up other players. I said it's hard to set up a guy when your guy's guarding him, too. So you need to make people guard you.
He's a terrific player. Very fast, and he can shoot the ball, believe it or not. He just doesn't want to. But he can really defend. Very athletic. Makes some terrific plays for you. Offensively he can do some things. He sees the floor well. If he'd just shoot the ball a little bit more, people would respect him a little bit more that way, he'll be that much better, which I know that is something he'll continue to work on. You asked me about Gary Johnson?
Q. Yeah, in the starting rotation.
COACH BARNES: We're not going to change our starting lineup. We're going to play the way we play. We've never been big on who starts in a way. If we had to sub ten seconds into the game we'd do that if we thought that was necessary. Again, Gary Johnson's important. I look all the way down our bench, we're going to need help from everybody.
Q. A follow-up on what you were talking about the changes you've made coaching in the tournament over the years. Actually, a two-part question. What difference can a coach make? And a separate question, is there somebody here not on Minnesota or your team that you're excited to watch play?
COACH BARNES: Well, yeah, I think coaches can obviously make a difference. They need to make a difference at times. But sometimes your players, I've said before, I've never coached a guy that changed me more than T.J. Ford. He taught me a lot in terms of making me understand. He used to say to me if you'll let me, I'll make you look good. And I said, well make me look good.
So I think at times when you're younger, you want to be the guy that thinks you can control everything. And trust your players, let them play, if you've done your job you've got to believe so. T.J. has always had a fact that he wanted to be fun, and when the lights came on, he was a guy that believed me. He was better at 7:00 o'clock than he was at 2:00 o'clock. When the lights came on, he thrived. So I think as a coach, I've learned to let players probably a little bit more tolerant. So, we've tried to do that. What was the second part of your question?
Q. Is there anybody not Minnesota or Texas, somebody not in your game that you're excited to see play here?
COACH BARNES: Here? I'll be honest with you I'm the worst in the business with keeping up with college basketball throughout the year. When I went to the meeting today I had to look down to see who all was here because I've yet to look at a bracket to know who all is here.
But you look at the teams that are here. You've got to be excited for teams like Radford and Binghamton, and teem teams that are here to play. We obviously get to see Duke and North Carolina throughout. How can you not impressed with the job that's happened at Butler. It just keeps going.
If you're in this tournament, believe me, you have no idea how hard it is to get in this tournament. It's not something you ever take for granted. Getting here, obviously we want to be here every year, but we expect more than to be here. It would be a major disappointment not being here. But it's obviously a major disappointment if we don't do well.
It's going to be a great tournament. I look at some of the seeds. I was talking the other day. I was doing my last radio show. You think about Washington this year, they have an incredible year where they win the Pac-10, and I think they end up with a 3 seed or something. They had to open up with Mississippi State. That tells how hard this thing is. Win the Pac-10 and that's your first round opponent. And it's hard. It really is.
But the fact of the matter is when you get here, it's something you should be proud of. We're all here now. We get greedy. We want more.
End of FastScripts