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March 20, 2009
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Could you just talk about how you developed as a three-point shooter. When you were growing up did you play against bigger guys? Did you idolize somebody that shot the three? How did you develop your three-point shot?
A.J. ABRAMS: I don't really just idolize a three-point shooter. It was mainly just working with my dad at a young age. Kind of knowing that I wasn't going to be the biggest guy around. So just working on trying to find ways to get my shot off against bigger guys.
Q. In your class you came in with five of you guys on the team now, two in the NBA. Did you realize right away that you guys were that good? And are there any stories that you have of that class?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think knowing coming out we were that good, because if we weren't, the coaches wouldn't have selected us. So having Kevin and D.J. there, they taught us a lot. With them being gone now, it's like we have shoes to fill, too. So I mean, we're just doing our job.
DAMION JAMES: Really just taking advantage of the opportunity. You know, we had two All Americans on our team with D.J. and K.D., so just really just taking advantage of the opportunity we have to come out and play our game.
Q. How do you feel you match-up against Duke?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think it's going to be a good game for both squads. I think we're going to try to get out and run. But as far as matching up, I think we can match-up with them. I think, you know, just we'll have some match-up advantages, and as well they can try to spread the court a little bit. But overall, it's going to be a well-fought game.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think we can match up with Duke good, because we've got players that can play any position, basically, and defend any kind of way. Like Varez Ward coming off the bench. He's like a lock-up guy on defense. And also Dogus, and Justin, and A.J. out there on the perimeter. So they make our team versatile.
DAMION JAMES: I think it's going to be areas to exploit because we have really force with Dexter. They have a lot of perimeter guys guarding inside. So we just got to take advantage of the opportunities we have with Dexter inside and trying to get them going early and take advantage of hitting the glass.
Q. I guess before the season started, if you guys thought you're going to be a 7 seed you might have been a little disappointed with that. But then you played pretty well yesterday. Can you talk about how the season is coming together, and whether you guys feel like you're peaking at the end?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think we had our ups and downs this season. You know, we had to play a lot of different styles as far as going inside, changing up the lineups a few times. But doing all that, it's going to pay off for us because we had to do so many things. It's going to help us for this tournament. So even though we had our growing pains, I think we're peaking at the right time.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think we can play any kind of way. If that means me not being in the starting lineup or Connor being out there to have a more five-out game and motion game, then we can run that. Or we can just go to a power game or just like have me, Damion and Gary out there and make it big. That's the thing about our team.
DAMION JAMES: I wouldn't say we had a disappointing season. I'd just say we went through our ups and downs. It's a lot of great teams that weren't able to make the tournament. So by us making the tournament we were pleased.
And it's good that we're coming up long at the right time with the three guys and Justin, and Varez and Dogus, all of us coming along at the right time. We're all going to get together at the right time, and we're going to make a great run in the tournament.
Q. I just wanted to know how have you developed as a leader? Did you feel you had to step up that responsibility, particularly this year with D.J. gone? And for Dexter and Damion, just what A.J.'s meant to the program in terms of not just shooting, but the leadership?
A.J. ABRAMS: I'm not too much of a vocal person, but I know coming into the season I was going to have to kind of break out a little bit and start talking. Not getting the guys in the right position, but just saying like huddling up during games and just getting us in and out of plays like that. But I think I've come a long way just as far as talking. So I think as a leadership standpoint, that kind of helps a lot.
DAMION JAMES: He means a lot to this program, not just what he does on the court but off the court, too. He's a senior. He's going to graduate, so it means a lot to this program just in all aspects of the whole thing.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think A.J. means a lot to the program because he's setting standards for people to come. Like the freshmen that are coming in next year, they know that when he leaves they're going to have to try to fill in his shoes. I mean, also he's set an example to be a role model for people and fans out there, too.
Every basketball camp there's a little kid out there trying to wear the sleeve, trying to be like A.J. it's kind of funny. But once he's gone all of that is going to be missed.
Q. I apologize, this is probably a dumb question and everybody in the Big 12 knows the answer. But I wanted to ask you about the sleeve. When did you start wearing it and why do you wear it?
A.J. ABRAMS: I mean, it's not because off Allen Iverson. That's what everybody tries to think that. But actually, there is like something going on in my elbow, so if it gets hit it will blow up real big. And I get hit on it pretty much every game. So if I keep some kind of compression on it won't be as bad after the games.
Q. The stands tomorrow will be filled with North Carolina fans who will hate Duke, and who will cheer you on as if this will be a home court for you. Is that going to be kind of fun? And how might that help you guys to hear that?
DAMION JAMES: I think it's nothing like, you know, fans behind you. But it's nothing like the Bernard fans. It's gonna be a lot of North Carolina Blue the Burnt Orange Fans. But if they don't cheer for us, that's a good thing.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I kind of find that funny because we were walking out to the locker room after the game, all the North Carolina fans were like give it to the Blue Devils and stuff. And I looked at them like okay, I thought the A&M fans were worse, but they're worse. So they said they're going to be in there cheering for us.
But either way it goes, we come out and play, whether you're against us or for us.
A.J. ABRAMS: It's going to be a fun atmosphere to play in. You don't go into a season thinking at the end of the season you're going to have North Carolina fans yelling for you but it's going to be fun. We've just got to go out and play the game.
Q. Duke has a lot of great perimeter players, do they look long inside to you?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I just look at it as an advantage for us. If that's for me, Gary or Damion going inside, sometimes Mason, too. So, I mean, just like us they're going to have to make adjustments too, to the game.
Q. A.J., has Coach Barnes talked at all about what it means to him coming back here to North Carolina to play? And also after your freshman year, were you at all concerned that he might go to N.C. State?
A.J. ABRAMS: Was I concerned what?
Q. He might go to N.C. State after your freshman year?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think he's excited to be back to his roots and everything. You know, anybody would be proud to come back and show off where you're from. But as far as after my freshman year I wasn't too worried about him leaving. I think he loves Texas, loves being there, and he loves coaching.
Q. I wonder with all three of you being a lower seed, do you feel all the pressure is off you? I know you want to win and everything, but do you feel most of the pressure resides with Duke?
A.J. ABRAMS: I don't think the pressure goes off us because we're a lower seed. We still have Texas going across our jersey. So we hold ourselves to a higher standard. So no matter what the seed is, we're going to have pressure on us to go out and play well and get as far as we can.
DEXTER PITTMAN: Just like A.J. said, we still have Texas going across our jerseys, and we're one of the elite programs in the country. So we've got to go out there and play hard like we're known for.
DAMION JAMES: I think just the season doesn't really matter, because sooner or later you're going to play a really good team. I think since we got the first one under our belt yesterday now we're able to go out there and let loose and compete.
Q. I might be wrong in this assessment, but can you tell me, it seems like Damion's kind of been an X-factor for you guys. When he's on you're on on, when he's off you might be a little bit off. Can you tell me a little about how his role has helped you guys?
DEXTER PITTMAN: Damion, I mean, he's like the best wing man in the country probably. I mean, well, guaranteed. He can take you inside out, he can shoot the three. I mean, it's hard to stop him if you're on another team. I mean, if I was the cope, I'd be confused. I on how to stop him defensively. I mean, that's his strength. He can rebound. He's a great rebounder. He'll lead the team in rebounding.
A.J. ABRAMS: Like Dexter said, he's a great rebounder. He brings versatility to our team. He can play inside and out. Even if he's struggling on the offensive end as far as shooting, he does so many other things like rebounding, you know, putting fouls on the other team, getting to the free-throw line. When he's doing that and being aggressive and attacking it, it makes everybody on our team better and makes everybody a better team.
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes.
Q. I think A.J. Abrams is generally recognized as one of the great shooters in the nation. But what else does he provide in terms of leadership, intangibles and other things that have made him special for you?
COACH BARNES: From a coaching staff standpoint we've told our team a number of times, and actually used him throughout the season showing our players how he effects games without making shots. He's become a complete basketball player on the defensive end. He really worked hard at doing the right thing and trying to do his job on that end.
It's really remarkable how hard he plays. I guess he's averaged what, 38 minutes a game, I'm not sure what it is right now. But he really has worked very, very hard at doing not just what he does on the basketball court, but helping these guys grow as a team.
Q. There are no plans to wear black jerseys tomorrow, is there?
COACH BARNES: Unless you want to on bring them out. No, we're not going to wear black jerseys, we'll wear the burnt orange tomorrow.
Q. You haven't had success against Duke since you've been at Texas, but you've had some before at Clemson. Any particular reason for that?
COACH BARNES: No. I don't know. Obviously, they've beaten us pretty good. And we've played them in I think New York, and New Jersey. It's like Duke North, obviously. But they just beat us. They've pretty much had their way in terms of he thinking back to the game in New Jersey, we weren't very good that game. And J.J. Redick was unbelievable. It's one of those nights where he was just unstoppable.
They're a team that when they're making threes. They're obviously a tough team anyway. When they're starting to shoot the ball when they're capable of, they're a really hard team to guard.
Q. How does coaching against Mike Krzyzewski, with your experience in the past helped you, perhaps, in this particular game?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think teams are different. I think this team is different than any team that we've had probably that Mike's coached against, too. But I think there are some staples in their program that they do. I mean, obviously, every game they come out extremely aggressive to start with.
I think they're going to really apply a great deal of pressure in the first four or five minutes of the game and see how you're going to handle that. They're a team that they do a tremendous job of driving the ball, trying to create the drive and kick opportunities where if you come in and help they kick on out for the three. Baseline drives are going to look to kick over to the opposite corner. And they switch. They do a great job, which a lot of teams don't do as much switching as they do.
They probably this year of any team we've played, they'll switch more than any team we've played up to this point, and that can present some problems.
Q. If you look at your junior class and include Kevin and D.J. in that, how have they compared to any other class you've had before? And how have they dealt with the expectations of when they started?
COACH BARNES: Say that again?
Q. The junior class, if you include Kevin and D.J. in that, how have they dealt with the expectations from when they first got in?
COACH BARNES: Are you asking me if can we include those guys?
COACH BARNES: Well, that would be pretty good. We'd be a little bit different team if we had Kevin and D.J., but I think our expectations have grown over the years where our goal is no different than any team that's in this tournament that we want to play and be the last team standing. So I think we've got our program at that point. That's what's important to us.
But we've also, you know, we could talk about what ifs here, there or whatever. But there's no need to do that. But our group that we've got here right now, I don't think our expectation has changed with this group, even though we don't have Kevin and D.J.
Q. You talked the other day about what this building means to you. Under different circumstances you might have seen more of Duke in here. Obviously, your destiny is at Texas and all that. But do you ever wonder under different circumstances what it might have been like if you had come back to the ACC at some point?
COACH BARNES: Obviously, I grew up. That was my goal to coach in the ACC. Once I got into coaching, that's the league I grew up with and watching. And I was given that opportunity at Clemson, and those were four really special years for me and good times. But obviously, I left Clemson for what I thought would be a better situation. But since then I would tell you I've never looked back. I really haven't.
Q. Duke's gone four years without going to the Final Four, and the last two years have lost in the first or second round. Do you feel like the program has lost any of its mystique at all?
COACH BARNES: Duke?
COACH BARNES: No, I don't. I go back. I was fortunate that while I was at George Mason University as an assistant coach, I got to know Mike and I know how hard he worked recruiting guys like Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, and I was fortunate to have a chance to interview with Mike back in, I think it was -- it was after Tommy's freshman year, I think. The way he's always treated me from those nights sitting in the gyms out in northern Virginia and knowing what he's done and what he went through to start with, and the way Tom Butter stuck with him and what he's done, it's Legendary what he's done with his program and where he's taken it. I think when you think of college basketball, you name five, six, seven schools, Duke will always be in that mix.
But, no, I don't think they've lost any luster at all.
Q. I didn't see your comments yesterday, so if this is repetitive I do apologize. When going back to your days at Clemson and having to come to Greensboro for the ACC Tournaments, was it hard being the outsider in North Carolina? And I also want to flip it around that you you know what the North Carolina fans are going to do tomorrow. They're going to cheer for you against Duke. So is it going to be sort of a home-crowd feel for you?
COACH BARNES: Well, that will be nice (smiling). You know, again, growing up in North Carolina I do know how special it is. I was one of those coaches at times that felt that when you're outside the Big Four here and having to come here and play the tournament in their backyard, you know, it's hard. Maybe they have a competitive advantage.
But with that said, I think as I've gotten a little bit older, one thing I've always thought the tournament here was the best I'd ever been a part of. The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, Greensboro, the way this team, this town embraced it. I can remember what was most impressive was every session was sold out.
What I realized was if you're fortunate to play against some of the teams here that are close by that you are going to have a pretty good advantage, because they don't pull for each other. So I've probably changed like that.
So I think that sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone. I've always believed that the ACC's tournament should be here. I always coached here for four years, and it never went anywhere else. So I'm sure those other places do a nice job. But there's just certain things that, you know, I just know that it was unbelievable not only as a spectator, but having a chance to coach in it.
Q. Tomorrow night do you expect the home court?
COACH BARNES: I don't know. I hope so. I don't know. We'll take all the help we can get. It goes back, I think what happens will get done between the lines.
But it would be nice, obviously.
Q. Your players refer to the ups and downs of this season. What were the downs? What frustrated you about this team at times? And how frustrating was it to have the inconsistency? For you?
COACH BARNES: Just that, inconsistency. Just not knowing from one game to the next. We knew we had guys that have the ability to do certain things. As a coach, that's what you want night in and night out. You want to know what you're going to get. We were just inconsistent.
I think a little bit, too, where we had built our program to the expectations and maybe players feeling like somewhere along the line they weren't living up to those expectations. But that part never concerned me as much as the fact that we just couldn't get the consistent effort what we were looking for on the court. Not so much effort, I wouldn't say effort. I'd say more results. Because I think this group is giving us the effort.
I can't look back and tell you at any point in time they didn't try to give us the effort that we needed. It's probably maybe more the mental side of it that I didn't feel like we were being as consistent with.
Q. The tournament is celebrated lots of times because of the Cinderella's. But there are a lot of McDonald's All Americans, Duke, North Carolina, you've got a lot of high-level recruits, LSU has Tasmin Mitchell. How important to get deep in this tournament is it to have that kind of talent?
COACH BARNES: As you continue to go, there is one common denominator, and it's talent. I don't think any coach would disagree with that. The further you go in this, you need talented players that can make some plays, because the game is such a fine line.
The possessions, you know, you're fighting for those one or two possessions along the way. As you continue or even as you start, you've got to, and probably the biggest difference in our team this year and last year is the fact that D.J. Augustine, that's what he did for us. When things broke down, he was able to go create something.
As the season has gone on, that's where we have improved some. But early that's where we bogged down a little bit having a guy that can do that. So there is no doubt that it's a player's game as you continue in March.
Q. You've got this new weapon inside with Dexter. Yet Duke seems to be really good not letting people put the ball where they wanted. What is it they do so well over the years with their defense?
COACH BARNES: Well, they pressure a lot. They work hard at denying wings. They'll get into the ball. I think it's almost like they want to see if you have the ability to go and beat them one-on-one. They're going to try to run you out of in I kind of offense. You try to play horizontal with them, it's really hard to get the ball going side-to-side.
You've got to go vertical and attack right at the middle of the lane. I'm sure with Dexter, they could create a situation to try to pull him away from the basket defensively to see if we're going to -- what we're going to do or maybe ball screens or how we're going to help on certain kinds of screening and actually want to try to set up. Or see what goes on with him.
So I'm sure those are some of the things that we have to be ready to deal with in terms of, not only Dexter on the offensive end, because we've got to make sure that we are strong with the ball, that we can put the ball where we need to put it, but we've got to think about the defensive end, too. How we can best use him.
Q. You've had pro point guards in your class. How would you characterize your point guard situation this season?
COACH BARNES: I think if would shoot the ball, I mean, Dogus, yesterday I was surprised because it's the first time that I've had some of our local writers ask me about him, and I said I wasn't concerned at all about him being nervous, because I've watched him go into some tough environments and play well. He definitely was nervous yesterday, and it showed up because we came out and absolutely did not establish what we wanted to do early in the game with our transition, and getting him going.
But the fact that he in his mindset doesn't want to shoot the ball is a little bit different. Because we've had D.J. averaged 18 points per game, or 19 points per game there. T.J. Ford, one year averaged 16, one year averaged 9. He had 9 or 10, but led the nation in assists. But Dogus, a guy that just wants to set people up, I've told him he's going to have to shoot the ball some, and he's capable of doing it.
He just has to get that mindset. This is the first time he'd tell you this, he's played and people have backed off of him. He's had to learn to adjust that even though he never shot the ball a lot. That's something that he's had to adjust to. And not being guarded. He's gotten better with it.
Q. Duke doesn't have Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer inside. Is the inside an area where you think you might be able to exploit tomorrow?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think we have to try to establish what Dexter does in there. I don't think it's any question that we've got to do that. It wouldn't surprise med to see them try to get up and down the floor. Again, get him away from the basket some on the defensive end.
I think that he will get the ball. I think that they'll probably come down and offer some kind of help, however they decide to do it. Because, again, he's a tough match-up for anyone. He gets his position and it's going to be really important that he does establish position. But I'm sure they know that that's an area we're going to try to go after.
Q. I'm intrigued. Tell me about the interview with Mike?
COACH BARNES: I don't know if he remembers it. But it was a really -- I got to know Red Jenkins, Tommy Amaker's high school coach. Again, when Mike would come up and I learned a lot watching Mike, how hard he worked to recruit Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker. I mean, it seemed like every time he had a free moment, because I was right there at George Mason, and I was out every night working the D.C., Maryland area. Obviously, northern Virginia area.
But Mike would come in and he was very gracious. But I think through Red Jenkins and Tommy Amaker, they both got me an interview with Mike. I remember him telling me to come down. He wanted me to be casual. What I remember is he and Mickey and they had taken me to a barbecue place here in town.
We were talking, and I remember him saying to me the one thing that concerns me with you coming back is you know about ACC basketball and just how many people are going to be wanting you to do this, do that. You know, being from Hickory I never really spent much time in Durham. I said, you know, Coach K, I said I don't think that that many people down here in Durham know me or any of that.
All at once, I kid you not, someone from Hickory walked by the table we were eating and Rick Barnes, what are you doing here (laughing) and I remember looking like, I don't know you. (Laughing).
A question that he asked me that I'll never forget. He said why would you want to come here, because we're just getting this thing started. But we haven't gotten it started yet, and there's a lot of people speculating about what's going to happen here. And I remember telling him I watched what you do, and I believe in you. Obviously, I wanted the job. I said I believe in what you've done, and there is no doubt you're going to get the job done.
But when he actually called me and told me he was going to go a different way, it was just the way he handled it. From the very beginning, he was honest, open about it. But, again, that's how he had always been from the time I got to know him from his time up recruiting Tommy.
Q. Can you talk about Dexter Pittman's development throughout the last few years?
COACH BARNES: Well, you know, we've been asked the question a lot why did we recruit Dexter. Because whatever his weight was, 383, 300, 400 pounds, whatever it was. The one thing you notice when you watched Dexter even at that weight was how athletic and how quick he was. You could only envision what he could be if he ever really got himself in shape.
When we first started watching him, he didn't know there was any court outside the lane area extended. He didn't know there was a wing, a wing. He just went from block to block. But he could really jump. Believe it or not, you would not know, Dexter can really, really jump. He can -- he's got great hands. He's got obviously big hands. And anything that goes in that direction he's going to catch. Then as you got to know him and you knew Coach Hatton and his family, you knew that one, you're dealing with a good person here. We said to him, if you'll buy in, there's no doubt you've got a chance to be good at this.
You know, once he got to campus the time that he spent with Todd Wright, and it really was miraculous what he did in terms of getting up in the morning and doing what he had to do. He got to where he'd call Todd and say I'm here. What can I eat? He had to change a lot of different things.
But what's really been interesting is in the last three months as we continue to watch his body continue to change. I've said before I think he's just really scratching the surface to how good a player can he be. There's not a kinder, finer person. Again, everybody pulls for him.
What took some time was for the players to take him serious. They took him serious in terms of how hard he worked to lose the weight. But he struggled at practice at times. He'd play a couple of possessions and he'd want to come out. This year for the first time, and we've made some concessions for him, Todd did, during our conditioning workouts in the fall. He didn't quite hold Dexter to the same level that we did our other players. But this year we started out and told everybody that Dexter was going to do what everybody does, no exception. If he doesn't make times we're doing this, whatever. And practice times, we wouldn't let him out of practice. Instead of two or three possessions, we've kept him in it, and he's never once complained about it.
Q. When Coach "K" went in another direction, who did he hire?
COACH BARNES: Bob Bender.
Q. Dexter was telling us in the locker room last night he challenges A.J. to three-point contests in practice. And now that Dogus hitting threes, is Dexter your next three weapon?
COACH BARNES: Actually, Dexter, he and A.J., everyone knows how close they are. But I noticed they were out there today right before we got ready to get done, and Dexter had taken A.J. over in the corner, and they were shooting threes. And I saw Dexter's go in and A.J. miss. So I'm sure that's something they'll be talking about.
We'll let him start shooting some threes. He made some strides. He caught that ball last night at the half court. He picked it up and passed it back. But a week ago he tried to dribble that ball to show off his point guard skills. But, yeah, we get a chance, we might let him step out and shoot one.
End of FastScripts