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March 26, 2009
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll get started with our first news conference of the day. We of course are joined by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim along with sophomore guard Jonny Flynn and forward center Arinze Onuaku. If you do have a question, please raise your hand. We have a couple floor mics out there. Allow us the time to get a mic to you. Coach Boeheim, if you would like to get us started just with some opening thoughts.
COACH BOEHEIM: We're happy to be here and still playing. We know Oklahoma's a tremendous team and a tremendous challenge for us.
We're looking forward to playing them tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Syracuse? If you case your hand, please.
Q. Guys, people always talk about your two-three zone. Can you talk about your offense? You led the conference in scoring. And just what you try to do offensively against people you play.
JONNY FLYNN: Well we just try to outscore people. You know, we have so many weapons on the court at one time. We got a nice inside presence. And Arinze over here and Jackson really helped us out. We have two deadly shooters, and we have enough guys on our team that can get in the middle, penetrate, and make plays for other people.
I think that's what really makes us so effective on the offensive end.
ARINZE ONUAKU: I brought our team balance. When we have all five starters in double figures and games like that, we tend to win. It's about having great balance on the offensive end.
Q. Coach, for you and the players, your impressions of Blake Griffin?
ARINZE ONUAKU: Maybe the best big man in the country. I mean, he's just a great player down low. I mean, a little bit more versatile than most big men, finishes well around the rim.
He's going to be a tough battle tomorrow.
JONNY FLYNN: Well, he's just like a great talent. Probably going to be the number one pick in this upcoming year's draft. There's nothing really to say about him that everybody in this world doesn't know.
He's just so tenacious on the offensive end and on the defensive end. He controls the game. He takes his time, passes out of double-teams well. He just really plays the game at his own speed. That's what makes him good.
COACH BOEHEIM: I mean, he's a tremendous scorer, but he's a tremendous rebounder as well. In the double-teams, he passes the ball as well; gets it to open guys. You know, he's a tremendous player. If he hadn't gotten hurt, they would have been a number one seed, which would have been good for us. We wouldn't have had to play them. That's just the way it is.
Q. Coach and Arinze, if you all could talk about Jonny's role on the team and how important he is to your success.
ARINZE ONUAKU: He's our floor leader out there. I mean, the ball is in his hand most of the time. He runs the offense. Gets us going on defense.
We just look to him to call the plays, and run the team, and he's been great for us in that position. As a point guard, you've got to lead the players. He's done that for us all year.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think Jon's gotten better as the year's gone along in getting that to people. He's always been a great scorer and a great play-maker. Even better, his improvement has come from getting the ball to the people in the right spots better.
He's cut his turnovers way back. And, you know, he's out there 40 minutes for us. He's there every play for us. He's involved in every play on the offensive end.
You know, he's -- our system is a point guard oriented system in terms of point guard has to make a lot of decisions, a lot of plays. We have to have a good point guard to be successful.
Q. Jonny, for those of us that are not from the east, can you explain Eric's reputation as being so hated. Is that a misnomer? I mean, I assume you guys don't hate him. Can you explain how he got that reputation on the court?
JONNY FLYNN: Eric is a great guy. I think he's really misunderstood, you know, to the tenth power. He's an emotional guy and plays with so much emotional energy on the court, some people can take that as a negative thing.
Without him playing like that, he wouldn't be Eric Devendorf. He wouldn't be the Eric Devendorf that's been averaging 20 points in the postseason. He wouldn't be the Eric Devendorf that a lot of players fear going up against.
A lot of players in the country play with the same emotion as him, but without that, he wouldn't be a great player. We wouldn't be sitting right here talking to you without Eric Devendorf playing the way he plays and helping us out on the court.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think the other side of that is that he's emotional and a lot of times he's yelling and screaming things. People think he's screaming at them. Sometimes he's just screaming just because he likes to do that.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your impressions of Jeff Capel, whether you guys have a relationship, and just your thoughts of him as a coach.
COACH BOEHEIM: I know Jeff. We've done some things with USA basketball. He's a great guy, and he's a good guy to be around. He's obviously been a great coach both places he's been. He's just outstanding. Outstanding young coach. He's a good guy. Really good guy.
Q. Jonny has gotten better this season -- you talked about his progression. Have teams been able to defend him straight up, or are they having to do a lot of things to slow him down?
COACH BOEHEIM: You know, everybody plays differently. Different teams play different ways.
At this stage of the season, you get to -- you've seen just about every kind of defense you're going to see.
Jonny's able to get things involved. You can't really leave shooters out to get to him. We have a good balance. We have a good balance in our offense.
At this stage of the season, every team has seen all different kinds of defenses, whether it's box and ones or zones, different zones or mans.
We are -- we're pretty well prepared to play against anything right now as I think everybody is at this stage of the season.
Q. Jonny, can you remember when you won last weekend, you found out you were playing Oklahoma, your first thought of the Sooners. And then, coach, Blake Griffin, everybody talks about him being the best player in the country. You had a guy like that in Carmelo a couple years ago. Can you talk about having a star lead you through this month and what the other guys have to do around him as well.
JONNY FLYNN: Knowing that we had the Oklahoma Sooners on the draw, going back to what coach said, if Blake Griffin wouldn't have gotten hurt, they would have been the number one overall seed in the country. Just a tremendous team and a great team. Not only do they have Blake Griffin, but they have the three perimeter guys that's really, really good that people don't talk about as much because Blake Griffin is a terrific talent.
It's always great to play against teams like this. Getting past the first two rounds, every team you play from here on out is good. You have to take the same mindset in every game and just prepare the way you do it.
And Coach Boeheim been doing a great job of preparing us in every level of this tournament. I'm really confident going into this game.
COACH BOEHEIM: The answer to your question about Carmelo, when we won, Carmelo had a couple games where he wasn't even a factor in the games. Oklahoma State, a couple other games. You have to have a balanced team to win six games in a row. You're not going to win with one guy.
One guy can be the difference in a couple games maybe, but you've got to have good balance. We had good balance on that team. That's why we were able to win. We had a real good balance.
Q. For Johnny and Arinze, could you guys talk about the game that you guys played Memphis here back in December and how that changed you guys. That was the game where Rick Jackson became a starter, and Andy had to play for Eric.
ARINZE ONUAKU: Eric wasn't able to be with us during that game, and Andy had to step in and take that role. Rick slid into the starting spot. From here on out, we've kind of got that team balance because everybody felt like they were the starter whether they're coming off the bench or not.
That's where that balance kicked in, and we were able to go from there. That definitely helped us out. Just being thrown into a situation like that with Andy and Rick Jackson. When your best player on the team is not able to make a trip like that and knowing that you have to provide and provide as quick as possible as they did in Memphis.
I think coming out of there with a win like that gave them confidence boost. You see after that Andy Rautins just went through the roof with his jump shot, his defense, and all the ways he helps our team.
Getting a win like that when you don't have a player like Eric Devendorf does something for the team. After that, we said in our mind we're a good team, and we're on the verge of doing a lot of things in this NCAA tournament and even this season.
Q. Jim, as effective as the zone is against everybody else, is this the kind of game against a player who's basically been indefensible, that it's particularly good to have that zone as a weapon. And that said, do you just play the zone you play? Do you tweak it in any way for a player like Blake?
COACH BOEHEIM: Our zone is different against every team we play. That's the only way you can be effective playing zone. If you play zone and do the same thing, it's everybody. You won't be playing many zones. You won't be winning many games.
Zones are always different. It's just like man to man. Everybody thinks there's some difference. Man to man defenses are always different. They're never the same. Depending who you're playing against. And zones are the same way.
So you have to adjust your defense, whatever it is, whenever you play.
The hard thing about coaching zone, when you're a man to man team, and you play man to man and you're losing, they just say, well, you've got to play better. When you're a zone team and you're losing, they say you've got to play man to man.
Fortunately, I don't listen to those people.
Q. The Big East gets such a reputation nationwide, power league, most teams in the conference. Do you think all of that is justified, or at this time of the year when you're in the Sweet 16, every league that has teams that have advanced are all equal?
COACH BOEHEIM: I'm not sure what that question was really. Or even if it was a question.
I always let the facts speak for themselves.
Q. Speaking of the Big East, you all went up against some pretty darn good big men, Blair, Thabeet, how can they help you prepare for Griffin? Or is he just a totally different kind of player? Is it any help having faced those guys?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think anything you do helps you get prepared. He's a better player than those guys, though they're pretty good players. Obviously, they're different.
Thabeet is different. He's a shot blocker. Blair is an a offensive rebounder. That is what he does that, better than anybody almost. I think he's got the most offensive rebounds than anybody in the country.
Blake Griffin is more. He can do both, offensive rebounds, and he can score without offensive rebounding, and he's a better passer. Than those guys. So he's unique. He's a different kind of player.
Clearly, I don't think anybody has any question but that he's the best player in the country.
ARINZE ONUAKU: Just like coach said, I mean, he's a different type of big man. I mean, he's great. I mean, the other guys in the Big East, every guy's a little bit different. He's the best we've seen. So it's going to be a tough battle from the beginning.
Q. Paul Harris says, if he can play for you, he can play for anybody. Have you at any time during his career made a calculated decision, this is a guy I need to ride and that he can handle it. Jonny thinks it's funny.
COACH BOEHEIM: Sit with Jim Calhoun for a week, and he'll like playing for me then.
Paul and I battle all the time, but Paul is a really good player. You know, as a coach, you're always going to have certain things you want from a player, and it's never going to be exactly what the player wants.
We've battled a little bit about that. You know, we need Paul Harris to be effective for us to win. But, you know, we've been battling for a while. I think we've come to a pretty good point.
You know, Paul's a very, very good player, and he's very important to what we do.
Q. You two players, it's been two weeks out since the six overtimes. Have you guys been able to sit back and sort of reflect on how monumental of a game that was? How historic? Or have you been on such a ride that you haven't been able to do that yet?
ARINZE ONUAKU: Maybe the day after when you turn on the TV, you see it as an instant classic already, and they keep showing it over and over and over.
But after that, it was back to business, back to work. At the Big East tournament, you play every day. So you had to keep going with it.
After that, get ready for this. So I mean, after that next day, it was just right back to work.
Q. Do you get any kind of -- you talked about the Memphis game and how that kind of helped the confidence as a team. Did that six overtime game maybe provide an extra dose of confidence that you guys can withstand just about anything at that point?
JONNY FLYNN: I think just beat a Connecticut team that's a number one seed in this tournament, well coached team, and just a great overall team. You know, that should just give you confidence in itself.
To withstand six overtimes, fatigue, and all that, that's the extra things. The main thing is we beat a good team. Whenever you beat a good team, your confidence is going to take another step. It's going to go to that next level.
I think that really did wonders for us.
Q. Jim, can you talk about Rick's development during the season, basically since you put him in the starting lineup back in December.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think he's gotten better lately. I think it took a while.
I think for a while he was in the starting lineup, and I don't think he really changed who we were too much in the beginning. I think he's definitely gotten better. Which you expect from a sophomore big guy.
I think he's playing very well right now. I think he's really improved over the last six, seven, eight games. You know, he's made a difference.
Q. Bob Knight said that Oklahoma played on Saturday, you played on Sunday, and that would be a big advantage for them getting an extra day. Considering what you've been through the last couple of weeks, do you agree?
COACH BOEHEIM: I generally don't disagree with coach Knight about much. But I think we'll be fine. I don't see a problem at all.
We played 12:00 Sunday. We didn't play at 9:00. We'll be fine. We've played a lot of games in the last -- we've actually had more rests lately than we've had in a while.
So we're fine. That will not be a factor, at all, in the game.
Q. Coach, one more question. Blake Griffin was asked if he'd ever had an occasion to come in contact with you. He said with USA basketball you were part of the selection committee that had cut him. Would you like to apologize or anything?
COACH BOEHEIM: First of all, no. He shouldn't have made the team. He was hurt. I think he did say that.
I had one vote out of ten. I'm not going to say that I voted against him either. In fact, I'd say I voted for him right now. I would say that if I had to reveal my vote.
But he was hurt coming in. And he just, you know, wasn't anywhere near the player obviously he is now.
If I was coaching the team, I'd like to have him in the lineup, but I don't think that will make a difference in the game. I think he'll play just as hard tomorrow night as he would or wouldn't have.
That was really what happened.
Q. With all this talk about Blake Griffin, sometimes the guards get overshadowed for Oklahoma. Can you talk a little bit about the Sooners' point guard play and sort of perimeter game.
COACH BOEHEIM: First of all, the thing I'm concerned most with Oklahoma is Blake Griffin, his brother outside, his guards are all shooting 34% from the three-point line, all of them, four guys.
A lot of times you play against a team, and they have one or two shooters that you've got to be concerned about. Oklahoma has four guys that can hurt you out there. That's my major concern going into the game tomorrow night.
As good as their inside guys are, those four guys present big problems. They're very, very good offensive basketball team. As we are.
I mean, both teams play well, it will be a pretty big offensive game, I think.
Q. You had a slight dip at midseason. What led to that dip? What got you out of it? Is it safe to assume that you're playing your best ball right now?
COACH BOEHEIM: We played as well as we played all year. When we beat Kansas and Memphis, that was before the dip. Then we had Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Villanova, most teams would lose to those people.
So we lost -- actually, we beat West Virginia, Georgetown, and another good team in that ten-game stretch.
We had Villanova twice. We were at Connecticut. We were at Pittsburgh. We were at Georgetown.
We didn't play that poorly in those games. But we didn't -- you know, we didn't play really -- the only home game we lost was to Louisville. That was a tie game late. They made a couple good plays at the end of the game.
I would say we're playing -- we're better now than we did during that stretch. You know, that's, I think, fairly normal. Eric and Andy did not play last year. We still don't have a senior in our starting lineup.
I think we would expect the team to get better during the course of the year. Anyway, we're still relatively -- even though we have experience, we still have young guys that are a key part of what we're doing. Again, Andy and Eric missed last year. I think you would expect that we would be playing better now.
And we are playing better. We're probably playing -- the most improvement has been on the defensive end. We've gotten better there. I think our offense has been pretty good all year.
Q. Coach, the zone has been so good for you throughout your career. What has it been with that that's made you so successful?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I think it's just any defense you -- whatever defense you play is what helps you be successful. So we happened to be more of a zone team.
There have been times at Syracuse that we have played a lot of man to man. But we have played more zone this year. We have played man to man over the years. But our zone has been our best defense, particularly the last few years.
It's changed. It's gotten a little better. But, you know, it's -- you can't get to this level without playing good defense. We led the league in three-point field goal percentage defense, and I think we're the top three in our league, three or four, in field goal percentage defense this year. You have to play good defense to win.
Q. Jim, when you just said that you'd played man defense before, Jonny's eyes lit up. I think he wants to know when it was.
COACH BOEHEIM: He's smart. He knows.
Q. Jim, you're going for 800 wins. How far do you plan to go? 900? 1,000? How far?
COACH BOEHEIM: I plan on finishing this year for sure, Barry.
Q. Jonny, as a kid coming up a couple years behind Paul Harris, do you remember what it was like? He was considered like a man among boys. Was there a time when you looked up to him and said, wow, you were almost in awe of him as a basketball player?
JONNY FLYNN: Definitely. When you're 6'5", 225 in high school, all you can do is look and be like wow. When you're a little ninth grader just scratching. 155, 5'8", you look at somebody like that and just, you know, your eyes light up. Be like this is a human specimen right here.
Paul has always been a guy that I always looked up to. Coming into Syracuse, he showed me the ropes on the team. You know, he's my roommate and showed me how things is ran.
Showed me what not to do, the do's and the don'ts of college. Not only of basketball but just of college life.
Our relationship stretched from high school, and it's got even stronger now in college. He's a great talent, and he's also just a great person to have in my life.
Q. Coach Boeheim, you had success when you came to Tulsa and got Etan Thomas. Have you recruited any other guys? Did you try to recruit Blake or any other guys out of Oklahoma since then?
COACH BOEHEIM: That was a funny thing. Etan, his coach had called us, and we just happened to go to see him. We saw him in the summer. We liked him. That time, nobody was really recruiting him that much.
We got in there early. You know, it was really -- Connecticut always tries to go if we go after a kid. But they did -- they were recruiting him a little bit too.
He wanted to come back East. He was a tremendous player for us. Normally, we wouldn't just go to Oklahoma to recruit. If somebody called us, then we would try to follow it up.
That's pretty much the way we recruit anyway. We're mostly in the Northeast. But if somebody has an interesting and we look into it and think the guy would be a good fit, then we sometimes we recruit outside of our area. But rarely. Rarely we would do that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
End of FastScripts