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March 18, 2009

Keith Dambrot

Nate Linhart

Chris McKnight


COACH DAMBROT: I think the biggest challenge that we face in the tournament with Gonzaga is simple. I think that a lot of times when you coach you can handle tremendous size and terrific -- and/or terrific skill. But the biggest problem we have with Gonzaga is they not only have tremendous size, but terrific skill and that presents difficulties for us.

Q. What concerns you most about Gonzaga?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: I'll say the thing that most concerns me would be the fact that they're so big inside. We faced big guys all year, and rebounding has definitely been a factor for us. But I feel as though if we play like we did toward the end of the year then that can all be nullified?

Q. What about being on the big stage here?
NATE LINHART: Definitely the goal of our program heading into the end of the year we wanted to be where we are right now. The biggest thing for us right now is try not to be satisfied. We saw how much if meant to the community and all the fans of Akron. 25 years of heartbreak, and to finally make it. We wanted to keep it going for their sakes as well as ours as long as possible?

Q. Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach, said he's never seen a team play as hard as you seem to play on film. What kind of intensity in practices does that come from or that habit comes from?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: It comes from just working so hard earlier in the year, I'd say during preseason, coach always pushes us to go hard, especially in practice, because if it comes easier in practice then it will be a lot easier in the games. And that's one thing that we concentrate on, we try to out scrap, we try to do all the little things that teams don't really like to do and playing hard is one of the things that coach always preaches to us every day. And if we continue to do that it's going to be a good game for us.
NATE LINHART: Just kind of along the same lines that Chris was touching on. It's always been our motto to play harder than the other team. Coach is always constantly reminding us that we're not very skilled or talented (laughter.) We had to find other ways to win. Playing hard is -- just goes hand in hand with that.

Q. I know you guys are focusing on preparing. Is it more important to focus on what they are going to do or focus on what you guys do best?
NATE LINHART: I think it's more important for us to kind of focus on what we do best, and that's guarding the ball and play hard. We can't worry about what advantages they might have against us, we just have to play defense like we always do and scrap and make it into a slugfest and hopefully hit some shots and hopefully it will work out for us.

Q. All your stats, like you have six guys score between 8 and 12 points or something like that, and your highest score is your 6th man. Obviously you guys work well together. What do you like off the court? Do you guys hang out and everything when you're not playing basketball?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: Yeah, it's really like a big family. We have a lot of fun off the court. We're real young, so just having that connection and that camaraderie between the team is something we needed for us to do as well as we did this year. And I feel like that played a big part in how we did. So off the court we're just like a big old family. Coach plays with us. We mess around and just have a good time.
NATE LINHART: I agree with Chris. In my four years I've never been a part of a group of -- a team here that's been as close as we are now. And I think it has to do with just No. 1 the adversity at the beginning of the year and No. 2 everyone is closer in age and hangs out more in the past. We are a lot more tight knit than we have been.

Q. What has it been like for you to share this with your brother, getting here?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: For me to share this with my brother is a great experience because my two older brothers didn't get a chance to play with each other. They both went to two separate colleges. It's great. I can't really explain it. It's unbelievable just for the simple fact that there's not a lot of brothers that play and get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament with each other. It's an unbelievable feeling and hopefully we can just keep it going.

Q. With all the travel and things, what worries you most about this match-up?
COACH DAMBROT: You know, there's a lot of things to be concerned about, but I think the biggest thing is we're going to play hard. We're going to compete. The biggest thing is we have to make shots to win the game. We have to defend like we've never defended. We could play great defense and they may be able to throw over the top of us or drive it to the basket or second shot us. We just have to scrap. The ball has to bounce our way a little bit. And when we have opportunities to make open looks, we must make open looks.

Q. Has LeBron shared any tips about playing at the arena, any nuances of the court, anything that might help you? He's been a terror here.
COACH DAMBROT: About the only tip he said, last time he came in here he had 51, I think. If we could get one guy to have half of 51 we'll be in good shape, I think.

Q. What would a run here and success in this tournament do for your basketball program at your school?
COACH DAMBROT: We've made tremendous strides over the last five years. Other than when Coach Huggins was there, and maybe three years when Coach Hipster [phonetic] was there, our Division 1 history so-so. Pretty good Division 2 history, but not so good on Division 1. We've become a solid mid-major program. I wouldn't say a great mid-major program. But an upper-echelon mid-major program. A run in the NCAA tournament opens doors for us.
I said all along Akron was a sleeping giant in its own right. We're close to pro sports in Cleveland. We have a big University. Our fans just have to remember how good a program it can be. Not much different than Gonzaga. With John Stockton, we have LeBron. So that is a great equalizer, to have one of the greatest players in your program and part of your program.
So a win in the NCAA tournament I think solidifies belief in the program. And continues to let the program take that next step. The NCAA tournament alone is the next step for us, but a run into the tournament would be another step.

Q. You mentioned the city and the people around the program. How much of your style of play, the scrapiness, the feistiness, just the blue color work ethic is a product of the area you're in and the kids you recruit from Ohio and those of us who know things about Ohio know the qualities those people have.
COACH DAMBROT: I think it plays a major role. Most of our team are Ohio kids and a couple of kids from the Pittsburgh area, so they've gone through the same things with the steel industry and the automobile industry. The economy in Ohio is not very good. I think we have scrappy kids. Guys that want to show that they can play. I think Ohio basketball is very good, from the high school all the way to the pro's and college. We have five teams in the NCAA tournament. That's a tribute to our state.
It's challenging when you have 13 Division 1 schools in your state. We're scrappy, there's no doubt about it. And I don't know if it's the most talented team we've ever had, but it's the team that has played the hardest, and it's the team that probably likes each other the most and probably has the highest character of any team we've had. I think that carryover, when you hit adversity, I think that character shows up.

Q. Have you ever had players like Jeremiah or Nate since the MAC championship win?
COACH DAMBROT: We have heard from quite a few of our guys, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Matt Futz, just a bunch of them. And I think they all know that we were playing for them. That 45 foot bank shot two years ago is hard for those guys to swallow and they put a lot of time into the program. They're happy for us. There's no question about it. And we're happy for them because without them laying the foundation we wouldn't be here today.

Q. Can you elaborate a little bit more on the hard work of this team? You said that they're very hard working. Mark said it was the hardest working team he's ever seen on film. Is that something that comes from within them or is there something more that you're pushing them on?
COACH DAMBROT: Well, if you followed my career, I kind of have a little chip on my shoulder, also. I'm the worst male member in my family as far as basketball goes. My dad was a good player. My uncle was a great player. And I guess this is my way to kind of make my mark, so to speak. And I think we play with tremendous heart, we do. And I think we play with a chip on our shoulder. We don't always play well.
But I have a saying, and I tell them this every day, I think to me the process is more important than the results. I think the results follow when the process is correct. And the process to me is every play, every day. And this group has been the easiest group I've ever had, maybe going back to when I was a high school coach with LeBron.
I thought that group had a good attitude. But this group has needed prodding very little. And that's a tribute to them, because there's lots of times they could have quit, or not played as hard when we were 9-8. A lot of teams would have given up the ship. They kept fighting. And I think it was the culmination of those -- that every day work ethic that has really helped us.

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