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March 21, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Joining us today are student-athletes James Anderson, Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris. Questions for the student-athletes, please.
Q. Byron, is this the first time you'll have ever played against a point guard as big as you are, as thick as you are?
BYRON EATON: No, I done played against him three times. We played against each other in summer league, as well. So we played against them guys last year. They gave us a pretty good whooping last year at their place. I definitely played against them before.
Things have changed. You gotta go out there and just have fun with the opportunity that we have at hand playing against them guys again. We're 1-1 against them, so a tie-breaker is always good.
Q. James and Byron, how have you guys changed in the way you play since last season under Coach Ford?
JAMES ANDERSON: I think we're going to have more confidence in our game, and I know I have more confidence in my ball-handling from what I did last year. Last year I had the ball real loose, loose-handed, and this year I'm more confident going to my right, and just my overall game, more confident. I think all us just sticking together and just helping each other, just giving us more confidence and believing in one another, and that's way more different than last year.
BYRON EATON: Like James said, just more confidence within ourselves. During the offseason we did a lot of ball-handling and things like James said to get our game a lot better.
And, you know, Coach Ford has been bringing out the best within this whole team. I'm pretty sure we could have made it to the tournament a few other times since I've been here, but Coach Ford, he just dug deep inside of us and he brought out the best. We all just started playing great at a certain time.
We got a great opportunity to make it to where we are today. So the main thing was we just played hard, and Coach Ford did a great job of coaching us.
Q. I understand that Coach Ford locked the doors of the gym and took the basketballs away after the loss to Texas. Can you guys describe those practices and what effect it had on the season?
TERREL HARRIS: When he did that, it was right after we lost to Texas almost by 30. And really what it was, it was just a full-out no basketball, we didn't touch a basketball for about two hours. It was just straight defense. And straight defensive rebounding, actually. I think that's been the difference in our game in the last 12 games.
I think that's really what got us into the NCAA Tournament and helped us win the last 10 out of 12 games. It's defensive rebounding, because if we do that then that plays a big part in our transition game and in our offensive strikes.
BYRON EATON: I just thought it was the first week of practice again. I guess they just was in the back-thinking of every defensive drill they could think of. Like Terrel said, we didn't touch a ball for about an hour or two. It was just back to the basic. Coach didn't think we were disciplined enough on some of the things we were doing so we got back to the basics.
We did everything possible for us to get our rotations right, get our one-on-one defense right, and like Terrel said, it definitely helped us because we were standing at 3-6 in the league and we could have went one of two ways. Either we could have played like we did and put ourselves into the NCAA Tournament or we could have just won one game and make the NIT tournament. That was definitely the turning point in our season.
I'm pretty glad we went through that one week of, how can I put it, torture, because now we're seeing all the positives that come out of all the hard work we put in for that one week, and like we put in during the offseason.
Q. Byron, could you talk about your relationship with Coach Ford? I know being a former point guard he seems like a competitor, was he maybe a little tougher on you than some of the other guys, and how has that adjustment been?
BYRON EATON: It's hard when you're going from just going into a new situation and you get a new coach when you're a freshman. But to experience that when you're a senior, it's that much harder, because I got used to the Suttons.
But Coach Ford and I have definitely bumped heads a few times in practice. But I had to understand that he has played in the Final Four. He coached in the Final Four and everything he's telling me is for the better for myself and for my team.
It was definitely hard to bite my tongue a lot of times, but I just have to realize he's telling me something that's going to better myself. And I'm glad that he did do some of the things he did to me, come down on me the way he did, because to my team I'm always coming down on them. So when things not going right, he comes to me and then I go to my team. I'm like a coach on the floor through him.
And I'm very happy that I was able to accept everything that he told me in a good and bad way and just lead my team where we are at today. We've just got to get ready for tomorrow.
Q. Terrel, seems like the last thing you guys would want to see is another big man. You faced Blake Griffin three times. Now you get DeJuan Blair who you called a horse after he had 20, 10 and 5 blocks against you guys last year. How do you feel about facing DeJuan Blair again?
TERREL HARRIS: We have played a few big men this season, just like every other big man, you have to really focus on trying to contain him as much as possible. He's a great player, very aggressive, offense and defensive rebounding.
I just think it's a big point of emphasis in our game plan to try to contain him and keep him off the boards.
Q. Byron, how many times did you watch your shot last night on television? And whoever your roommate is, did he finally say, "Hey, can we please turn the channel and watch something else?"
BYRON EATON: (Laughter) my roommate, the one that actually told me that they showed it on, I can't remember what it was, it was on ESPN, and I think I mean Jay and Vitale them were talking about it, they were talking about our team against our matchup against Pittsburgh, he told me it was on.
I just tried to leave it with the game after the game was over. I just started concentrating on our next opponent. But immediately after the game was over my little sister sent me a picture, like she video-recorded it and sent me a picture of it. I watched it a few times on the bus. But I've got to get it out of my system now.
It's a quick turnaround, so we gotta get ready for Pittsburgh. We've got some great things we're going to have tomorrow in order to get this win. I hope I can make another play tomorrow. Throughout the game, at one point in time, I hope that it can be a game-changing moment.
Q. How much does it help, a lot of guys might look at this game with Pittsburgh and not have played a team that physical, but how much does it help having faced them so recently, even though it was last season?
TERREL HARRIS: Well, it kind of helps us, because they have some of the players they did last time we played them. So as far as personnel goes, we kind of know what to expect from those players, how great -- three or four great players that was there last year. And I just think just knowing that style of play and just the personnel, it really helps going into this game at this point in our season.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Coach, an opening statement, please.
COACH FORD: Just excited to be able to play another game and playing against one of the best teams in the country, a team that's very experienced, very well coached, got great players, got size, got great guards. Haven't seen a lot of weaknesses from them watching tape. But our kids are excited to be able to advance in this tournament and excited about being able to play on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. At this point in the year, are you one of those coaches who believes the lower seed can play free and easy and the higher seed has more pressure? Or are all things considered equal in your mind right now?
COACH FORD: I think all things equal in the way I approach it. I like my team to feel some pressure. We want our kids to be on edge. We don't want them -- our guys, especially our team, seems to play better when you challenge them a little bit. I think playing Pittsburgh is a challenge enough in itself. I don't think we have to do a lot of motivating factors to play against a No. 1 seed.
But we don't approach it as some people have said to me, "Oh, you've got nothing to lose," things like that. I'm not approaching it like that. Our guys understand the challenge at hand. They played Pittsburgh last year. They understand how good these guys are.
But we want to hold our guys accountable. We want to pressure our guys into trying to execute our game plan and challenge them, see if we can do some of the things we want to do.
So we don't approach it like that as a coaching staff as far as, hey, you know, we're the 8 seed they're the 1 seed, got nothing to lose. No, I think anybody that's still playing at this point in the NCAA Tournament has something to lose. So we're approaching it in that fashion.
Q. There's been discussion about this famous post-Texas, no-basketball defensive practice. Have you done that frequently in the past at your other stops?
COACH FORD: As far as defense is concerned? I think, again, when I've taken over programs, again I've taken over programs. I mentioned it the other day, I've always had to come in and try to make it better in some aspect. And when you're doing that and you come in, there's usually a point in the season where adversity sets in at some point.
And I've always been a believer how you handle adversity is going to determine what type of success you're going to have later, however you handle it. And this group has had a tendency of, when things aren't going their way, taking the approach of, "Well, we just of expect this is what's supposed to happen." And defensively we weren't where we were supposed to be. We weren't a great defensive team to begin with.
We went to the point of, oh, after 10, 12, 14 games, whatever we were playing, we weren't playing great defense and we were spending a lot of time, so we went back and watched what they did in the years past defensively. It was the same category we were in at that point, as far as where they were ranked in the conference, field goal percentage defense, 3-point field goal percentage defense, rebounding, and we said subtract that from the two-time defensive player of the year, which this team lost was Marcus Dove, two-time defensive player of the year in the Big 12, lose him and you're still in those categories.
So we approached it at the Texas game defensively as far as we don't have a choice to get better. And so we would have started every single -- we started especially at the Texas game for the first three or four days our guys did not see a basketball for the first 45 minutes of practice. Never saw one. I literally told our managers to hide the basketballs. When I tell them to bring them out, bring them out.
And we're going to get better defensively. We're going to get better rebounding. Now, offense may suffer, but I wasn't too concerned about that. But our guys, they understood the approach we were taking. They understood that I, as a coach, was not going to accept where we were headed at that point. It was just not something I deal well with.
And I think it started with our defense. We were a team that was getting a lot of easy layups, a lot of easy layups. Teams were shooting a high percentage on us.
Now, we were making excuses, players, coaches, hey we're not very big. We start a 6' 4", 6' 5" center and we don't have a lot of depth and not blessed with the best big men and all these other things, and we were using these excuses, and I was at the top of the line. And I told our guys, "You will not ever hear that excuse from me again. You will not hear me say anything negative. We're going to focus on what we can do rather than focus on the things we can't do."
And, yeah, all these things happened after the Texas game because we were very disappointed with ourselves, not glad with how we performed. And things changed, things definitely changed, to say the least.
Q. Can you talk about whether you can go to school on DeJuan Blair after facing Blake Griffin three times? And also factor into that mix that you also deal with Sam Young.
COACH FORD: Yeah, there's a lot of similarities, no question. We've played against a lot of great big men. And I don't know too many teams that's had to go against Blake Griffin three times. I don't think there's any that's had to go against him three times. And obviously he's a very special player. We learned a little bit about ourselves each time we played him.
I think we got a little bit better maybe each time we played him. But, again, I relied on these guys a little bit. My UMass team did play Pittsburgh two years ago, some of the guys still there. We relied on our guys a little bit, as I did, when we watched tape last night, you tell me about Levance Fields, you tell me about Blair, you tell me about Young, because these guys remember. They remember playing against these guys.
So I think any time you can rely on history and experience, whether it be playing against a particular team or playing against a low-post player and things like that, I think all that can help you. Once that ball's thrown up tomorrow then we're playing against Blair, who is a special player and just an incredible rebounder. You let him around the basket, he's virtually unstoppable.
All the things that we were saying when we were playing against Blake, as well. So hopefully our guys can learn from the history and learn from the experience of playing against some other great players and use that for our advantage tomorrow, hopefully.
Q. Would you just talk about your relationship with Byron and when you first got here and what you saw out of him, and he indicated that there have been some ups and downs, but talk about your path as a coach and player to get to where you are right now?
COACH FORD: It's been fun for me to coach somebody like him, who is in his senior year, who is eager to be better than he's ever been, who is eager to accomplish more than he's accomplished as a person and as a player. And it's great to be able to get a player like that.
But, also, I had to realize what he's been through. I was the third coach he's had in four years. But the first thing we had to address was his weight. That's the first thing I heard about Byron. I'd seen Byron play on TV but I didn't know him personally, but all I heard was his weight issues and conditioning issues. First meeting I had with him, "I look forward to coaching you, I think you fit our style of play," but I said, "I'm having the same conversation with you as my college coach had with me. You're either going to lose weight or you're not going to play. Plain and simple."
And I said, "I don't have to play you. I've got a seven-year contract, and first couple of years I'm supposed to be rebuilding, anyway. So I've got a little point guard coming in that I'll just let him play for 40 minutes." And he'll tell you that's what I told him. I said, "It's up to you if you're going to play or not because I'm not going to play you. And I was very serious about it."
But I'll tell you, not one single time -- and he went through a tough summer. We had a program our strength and conditioning coach put him through that every day he came in weighing a pound over than the day before that he had two workouts that day. He got tired of doing two workouts, so he gradually started losing weight, gradually. He reported to me on June 1st at 249 pounds, I believe. Right now he's about 206. So the commitment was there. I knew that, first of all, all right, this kid's committed. This kid we can be successful with.
And I did it with him. It wasn't one of these things I told him I'm going to check on you every single day, yeah, sure, I've heard that before. Every single day, when I was out recruiting in July, he got a call from me and the strength coach, "What do you weigh today?" We had a plan, what he needed to eat. I said, "I'm doing this with you, not that I'm going to fast with you, but I'm going to do this with you." (Laughter).
And he did that. And once we started coaching him, I quickly realized after the very first practice this is going to be difficult for him, because he was used to walking the ball up the court, literally. And we didn't realize what a difference the systems were until that first day of practice.
I realized that first day we gotta stop a little bit and just teach them our mentality first before we teach them the X and Os of it.
And it had to start with him, obviously, because the ball's in his hands 90 percent of the time. But as time went along, after practices, after games, spent a lot of time individually with film and teaching him how to be a true point guard rather than a score-first, pass-second, teaching him how to pass first, score second point guard, he hit a stride where it was even before the Texas game, though.
He hit a stride where he had about six or seven straight games where he made every right decision. We broke down every tape with him. He made every correct pass. He made every time he should shoot he shot it. And he started making great decisions because that's what it boiled down to, to decision-making for Byron, what type of decisions is he going to make after he gets past by that first guy, what's he going to do after he gets past that guy, or whatever decision is he going to make?
He didn't always make great decisions. We worked with him on decision-making, got his body in great shape. And now I think we've got one of the best point guards as far as putting the ball in somebody's hand and, say, make a play for you in the country, because I think he's learned a lot. He's matured a lot. His body is in great shape and he understands what winning is about. He understands what it takes to be successful now.
We've had to instill with this whole team, as well as Byron, a lot of confidence in this team. We've had to be demanding, but on the other hand build them up and let them know that success is in front of them and that good things are going to happen for them.
Because they had heard a lot. They had heard a lot, especially these two seniors who were sitting up here. They've never been to the NCAA Tournament. When is the last senior class that hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma State and all these things I heard, all these things they brought up to me when I first got the job, hey we hear it.
So we had to instill a lot of confidence in these guys as well to believe in themselves and to understand what winning is all about.
Q. I know this is a little bit off your radar at this point, I don't know how much you caught of Siena's improbable win last night. But I wonder, could you give me your impressions what you remember of them after you played them earlier this season?
COACH FORD: I know a lot about Siena coming from UMass. We played Siena three years, whenever it was, and Fran gave us everything we wanted in Amherst. He's just a terrific coach. Done a great job recruiting there.
He's taken some players that might not get highly recruited, made them some of the best players in the country. And I think that's a sign of a good coach developing guys.
But we did, we played them earlier in the year, I think we played them earlier in the year when we both needed a victory. We were in one of the toughest preseason tournaments there is when you're playing against Gonzaga and Tennessee and Maryland and Michigan State. And we both played each other on that third day.
And I just know they were very talented, they've got some guards that can really, really score. It's a group of guys that have played together for a long time, which I think can really pay dividends. I think you saw that last night. Those guys believed they could win. They've been in this position before. That was my biggest concern with our team yesterday, being in this environment, being in a close game, how are they going to respond against a team that had been there before.
But I just think their experience right now, it paid huge dividends for those guys last night. Huge dividends for a team that's been there. And I think obviously Ohio State wasn't in the NCAA Tournament last year. So I think that's huge this time of year.
Q. Pitt didn't play particularly well in the Big East tournament against West Virginia and didn't play well again yesterday. As a coach does that give you encouragement or maybe give you pause?
COACH FORD: Doesn't give me encouragement, that's for sure. No, they won yesterday, and I think that's what matters this time of year. As I wish -- I know we won, I wish my team had played better, I think Jamie wished his team played better yesterday. You don't dwell on it you move on. We know what type of team Pittsburgh is, believe me. We know they're definitely one of the top teams in the country. As we told our team, you don't get a No. 1 seed just for the heck of it. You earn that No. 1 seed, and Pittsburgh definitely earned that No. 1 seed. We know what type team they are.
Q. You played for Coach Pitino, and a little bit off subject, with his team, how does he get guys to accept playing fewer minutes, take fewer shots, score fewer points than they would probably if they were on other teams?
COACH FORD: Well, he's the best at it. He's the best -- as I said, he's the best motivator in college basketball and the best X and O's guy in college basketball. He's the master of all.
He gets his players to believe in winning, first and foremost. That's what it's all about. And if you're not about winning and being successful and getting better as an individual player and getting better as a team, then you're just not going to play, period. Period. The best motivating factor is obviously playing time, and guys know if you're not fully into the team picture, whether you're playing 10, 20 minutes, starting, not starting, then you're just not going to be tolerated and you'll just kind of be pushed to the side. But if you want to be a part of something special, if you want to be a part of possibly getting to a Final Four and playing on a great team, you want to be a part of this, then you better accept your role.
If you do accept your role, then good things will happen for you as an individual. He's the best at getting players to understand that. And I think first and foremost he's got the background that proves it.
He sent tons of players to the NBA. He's won national championships, took many teams to the Final Four. So players, when he speaks, you listen, and plain and simple. And he's just the best at getting the most out of any player that he coaches.
And if that player does not want that, then they don't last.
Q. Considering the quick turnaround, how important were those three hours that you got yesterday that Pittsburgh didn't get?
COACH FORD: Again, I think this time of year it can't hurt. I think this time of year, I think once that ball's thrown up, I think Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, whoever it is, they're not worried about being tired this time of year. We're trying to figure out how to win a basketball game and put everything we've got into it. There's no question we don't play a lot of guys, and that was a very physical game we played yesterday, very mentally draining game. So those three hours definitely can't hurt.
We didn't allow our players to stay around and watch. We wanted them to get right back to the hotel. We told them, "You can watch it on TV, but get off your feet." Any advantage we'll get we'll take it, anything we can get we'll take it, for sure.
But our kids have played hard whether we've played this morning. I think they're just excited to be a part of this.
Q. Yesterday Obi was talking about the zone, and you got the big steal out of it and he was saying everything is coming together on that a little bit. Do you see these guys finally picking up some things like that at this point?
COACH FORD: No question, especially Obi, who made some mistakes in zones and things like that, made that rotation. We've been asking him to make it for a month or so now. He made it at a crucial time yesterday. And you bring that up, because we said that last night as a coaching staff, it's just taken the first game of the NCAA Tournament to finally understand how to play the zone and make some rotations that we've been trying to teaching our guys.
As we told our guys before the NCAA Tournament, in order to move on somebody's going to have to make a big play somewhere. And that was a huge, huge play for our basketball team. Big plays have to be made, especially a team like us. We're not the most talented, the biggest, but we need to make some big plays along the line in order to be successful. That was a huge play. We made some other steals as huge plays. But we're just not going to go out and beat anybody physically, just beat them with talent. That's not who we are.
But if we can put ourselves into position to make a few plays and use what we can, use our strengths, then we have a chance, we have a chance.
Q. Travis, you were part of the legendary tradition at Kentucky. But there's a tradition at Oklahoma State, as well, includes national championships, as well, even before I was born, I'm glad to say. Actually by a month.
COACH FORD: '45, '46?
Q. Exactly. But how have you measured the weight of this particular tradition with the Ibas and the Sutton and the Gallagher-Iba Arena and all that, how have you measured that up against what you knew at Kentucky?
COACH FORD: There's no question, playing Kentucky, I was fortunate to play against for some of the greatest fans in college basketball, and the Rupp Arena speaks for itself, and Kentucky basketball speaks for itself, no question.
When I started doing my homework on Oklahoma State when they first contacted me and wanted to meet with me, obviously I started doing my background work, started calling people, doing different things, and that's one of the things that was immediately brought up, was the word "tradition" and the fan support that they have. And Gallagher-Iba Arena, it's been ranked by a lot of different people. Number one basketball facility in America. It was voted a couple of years ago.
So all those things got me excited, because it did sound like something that I played in when I was at Kentucky. And there's no better motivating factor as far as working hard and recruiting players and getting excited about getting up and going to work every day and staying late at work at night knowing you're going to play in front of a great crowd and play for a group of fans that really love their basketball and be coaching for a basketball program that has great tradition, that just motivates me and it motivates the players and it gets you excited about doing your job every single day.
So once I got there -- and I knew a lot about Oklahoma State. Watched it on TV. And one of my closest friends, college roommate, John Pelfrey, he spent a year at Oklahoma State as an administrative assistant, I called him and talked to him about it.
And I said: Hey, that sounds like the type of place I'd love to go to work at, a place I'd love to work hard at, because of all those things. But when I got there, I quickly realized that everything I had heard was very true. Our fan support is very rabid. They love their basketball.
I do think it took a little bit of time for people to realize there wasn't a Sutton coaching over there. And there's a transition period that goes along with that, which I fully understood, appreciated, and I knew it from my players' standpoint, when I took the job I understand the players, I knew walking in I'm not the coach that recruited these kids, I've got to earn their respect and get them to trust me.
It's a process. It doesn't happen overnight. It's not my way or the highway. That's not an approach I took with the kids. We had a great balance between the players and myself, and let's work together to make this thing successful and let's have fun doing it.
But when there's been a coach somewhere for 17, 18 years, you know there is a transition period. And I think we started seeing it at the end of the year, we started selling it out, and Gallagher-Iba being what I heard it to be, and a place where I'm trying to call out plays and my players -- you can't hear yourself think in there. It's an exciting atmosphere. Yes, like Rupp Arena, no question. I think the fans of Oklahoma State really love their athletics, love their school. It's one thing I've been impressed with from day one when I took over Oklahoma State, just everywhere I went, whether they're alumni, especially the alumni, how much they really love this school, really love it and support it.
There's a true connection between the alumni and their love for their school. So it's been very impressive. But, yeah, people ask me a lot about that, because Oklahoma State does have a lot of tradition, and obviously there's not too many programs in America that has more than Kentucky.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
End of FastScripts