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March 18, 2010
BUFFALO, NEW YORK
THE MODERATOR: Joining us from Syracuse, student athletes closest to me, Scoop Jardine, Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins. Guys, welcome to Buffalo. We'll go ahead and open it up to questions.
Q. This is a question for Andy Rautins. As you can imagine, a lot of Canadians are following the Orange exploits right now. As the son of a Syracuse Orangeman and as a Canadian, tell me about how significant this experience is for you in your final season?
ANDY RAUTINS: It's big. The NCAA tournament itself is a wonderful experience to be able to represent Canada here. It's also something that's great. I love to represent my country. Going to be playing against another guy tomorrow in Joseph, who also represents Canada basketball. So Gonzaga has a few guys who represent too. So I think Canada is well represented throughout this tournament.
Q. Andy and Scoop, can you talk about last April when Flynn and Harris and Devendorf left the program, what was your outlook for the season at that point in time?
SCOOP JARDINE: Our main focus was trying to get back to where we are at right now, NCAA tournament. We lost three of our main starters and we knew Andy had to come in and play big roles in this year's team. Our main focus was just working out and getting better, getting stronger in the off season and also becoming vocal leaders in this team because we lost so much fire power last year.
ANDY RAUTINS: I don't think that our confidence ever wavered on this team. I think we knew we had a ton of talent. But our work ethic was there too.
When you put all those things together, I think it was a successful team. Last year we may have had a few more individuals. This year's team is exactly that: It's a team.
Q. I just wanted to ask, do you have a sense that losing those top three scorers you could be even better coming back?
ANDY RAUTINS: I don't know. Certainly hurts to lose your top three scorers. But at the same time it made us into a better team. We have a lot of chemistry this year. Everybody is always on the same page regardless of what five guys are on the floor. I think we're a very unselfish team. That's what has made us so successful.
Q. For all three of you, do you recall that 2005 game against Vermont and what memories do you have?
WES JOHNSON: Honestly, I just know that we lost. That's the only thing I know. I know it's going to be a real big game tomorrow for Coach and I think all of us coming off a two-game losing streak. So I think it's for us to bounce back.
ANDY RAUTINS: I certainly recall watching the game, being a hometown kid. I think all of Syracuse was destroyed by that game. So this is definitely a little bit -- serves as a little bit of motivation for us, try to redeem ourselves a little bit, not have any letdowns. We know Vermont is certainly a great team. We have a hard week of preparation. We have some good practices in. We're not taking anybody lightly at this point.
Q. Andy, if you have to think of one thing your dad helped you in your career basketball-wise, what would it be? A particular skill or an attitude he thought was important to have as a player?
ANDY RAUTINS: I think the main thing he always reiterated was to stay confident with myself. Just to keep working as hard as I can. I have the skill sets and the available tools. I just think the work ethic took me over the top.
He's been there since day one for me, whether it be in the gym or the weight room or just being there for me with some encouraging words. I appreciate everything he's done for me to get me to this point.
Q. Just talk about, for any of you, being able to play so close to home and there will be so many of your fans here; does this first round location give you any type of advantage at all?
SCOOP JARDINE: It's great to play in front of your hometown crowd. 'Cuse Nation is going to be out. Buffalo being so close to Syracuse. We love playing in front of Syracuse fans. It's going to be like a home game for us. We're going to feed off the crowd as usual. But we've been a good road team as well. It's an honor to play in front of our hometown crowd.
Q. I know you guys just answered the question about Vermont. From the moment you saw that pairing come up, you guys probably knew you were going to be bombarded with questions all week. How exactly did you guys decide to deal with it, and would you prefer to not hear anymore about it? Does hearing about it drive you a little bit more for the game?
ANDY RAUTINS: I mean, it certainly fired us up when we saw that. It's just another game for us. That's been our motto all season. Look forward to the next game. I think that's been a huge part of our success is that we haven't looked forward or looked behind us. Vermont is a great team. We have our preparation down. We did our scouting. Our coaches did a great job of preparing us. We're not feeding off the past right now. We're just looking forward to what we have to do tomorrow.
Q. I guess I'll ask Wes, I assume you saw what happened to Villanova. Does that get your attention and make you even more aware you can't look past anybody?
WES JOHNSON: We did that the whole season. Can't look past anybody. But seeing that game knowing how the NCAA tournament is, we can't go into this game looking over anyone. I know Vermont is a great team. We have to go out there and play our ball. If we don't we can end up losing. Villanova escaped today, we can be doing the same thing tomorrow. We have to go with a mindset ready to play.
Q. What do you say to the people who don't believe you deserve this number one seed based on what happened the last two games of the season?
ANDY RAUTINS: I think we've proven game in and game out throughout the whole season that our body of work, you know, certainly got us to where we are right now. We've been proving people wrong all season. It's nothing new to us at this point. We're taking it as a little bit of fire right now and using it to light us up. I think that we have something to prove every game. That's what we feel like. I think that's what's going to continue to feed our will to win.
Q. We interviewed your dad today in Ottawa, and he was talking about how much he has enjoyed watching your final year. He played in the tournament years and years ago. I don't know if you've spoken to him lately. What advice has he given you?
ANDY RAUTINS: I think -- he says time and again there's no pressure out here. Just have fun. You put your work in throughout the season. Now is when it really matters. So just go out there and play Syracuse basketball. Keep the theme of being unselfish with the guys. Your hard work and what you've done all season will take you to where you wind up. Hopefully that's the championship.
Q. Scoop, coming off the last two losses, what's the mindset of the team?
SCOOP JARDINE: Basically we are just trying to look forward and look past the last two losses and get back to playing defense, the defense that got to us this point as the number one seed. We know now we lose again, we're out. We have to put the losses behind us and move forward from it and just learn from our mistakes, which I think we've done. This whole week we had to practice, get back to our defense and back to the unselfishness that got us to this point.
Q. This is for Wes or Andy. We're assuming Arinze is not playing tomorrow. How much of a motivation has it been and has it weighed on your minds that you guys keep winning there's more of a chance he'll be on the court? How much of a motivation is that?
WES JOHNSON: Him being -- his presence is going to carry us. He's getting better. Unfortunately he's not going to be able to play tomorrow. Him being on the sideline and being the leader is going to help us. If we keep winning, he'll eventually get back to playing. Other than that, him being on the sideline and around us is going to uplift us and really carry us throughout the tournament, hopefully.
Q. Just talk about Arinze a little bit. What has it been like running your practices without him, and will we see kind of a different team, I guess, without having your center tomorrow night?
SCOOP JARDINE: Arinze has been with us all through practice. Of course, he hasn't been on the court playing with us, but we play a lot -- our lineup has been different. We can play with Kris Joseph at the three and Wes at the four. Is he there, is he not there because we switch up so much. Arinze has been with us the whole time.
Q. Andy, I believe your uncle played at Niagara in the early '70s. How familiar are you with his career and is he someone you played with --
ANDY RAUTINS: I heard my uncle had a great career at Niagara. I don't remember seeing any games like that. From what I hear, he was kind of a legend growing up in Canada, St. Mike's. Definitely I grew up every summer playing basketball in Canada. He's always there with us working us out there with my dad. I certainly tip my hat off to him for that base of work that I have right now. It's always great to kind of play and represent Canada like he did as well for the national team. So it's a special feeling.
Q. Wes, what's your impression of Marqus Blakely from Vermont from watching video, or have you seen him this season?
WES JOHNSON: I just saw the top ten dunk he had. I know he's a freak. And I think he leads his team in all five categories. So he's a great athlete. So he can come into the BIG EAST and be an impact to any team he's on in the BIG EAST. I know that. He's an animal.
Q. For Wes and for Scoop, a lot has been made about how you guys were under the radar at the beginning of the season, no one expected this from you. When did you guys start to believe that this could be a special team?
SCOOP JARDINE: We knew this coming into conditioning, to pre-season conditioning. Our whole team, we all worked hard together. We all clicked and gelled right away. When the team does that as fast as we did that, you've got something special.
When we got to the Garden, we put on a show where everybody knew we were a good team and we were a top team from there. Plus it was the coming out party of Wesley Johnson. We had a whole year to see him. Nobody had seen him yet. He kind of played really great down at the Garden. Once he came out there, we wasn't looking back.
WES JOHNSON: I think the Garden too. He had a good game against Cal. So can't just throw me out there. I think it was both our coming-out parties. For the team in general, after beating North Carolina and coming back to the 'Cuse we took that to a whole other level. Our defense stepped up and than carried us from that moment on. Our momentum coming out of New York City really helped the team.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thanks for your time. Good luck.
COACH BOEHEIM: Just a clarification of Arinze.
Obviously he's still very sore. Just to clarify what -- there's been some question, anyway, in the newspaper what happened with Arinze. When he hurt his leg in New York, we had no idea obviously. We wanted to wait until we got back to Syracuse. Friday we did the testing and thought there was a chance that he could possibly get back to practice on Monday. It just -- Sunday night it was obvious that he just wasn't going to be able to make it back to practice. He's getting better. At no time -- to clarify, we never talked to anybody from the NCAA or the committee. I never did, the doctor never did and our trainer never did. So -- and we're still in the same position we were Sunday.
He's being treated. He's still got pain when he puts pressure on his leg. So we've been practicing and playing and thinking that he would not be able to play tomorrow night. Beyond that, we still don't know. If we were able to win, whether he would be able to go Sunday, it's doubtful, in my mind. That's really where we stand with him. He's definitely not going to play tomorrow night. And that's the only definite that we have right now.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions at this time.
Q. As much as you want to treat every game differently when number one seeds are 100 and 0, can you ever totally take it out of your kid's head that they're supposed to beat this team and avoid the pressure that occurs when they start to play with you?
COACH BOEHEIM: I've never really thought about what we're supposed to do or what people think in the few games that I've coached. We prepare to play, we get ready to play, and I don't think about those things. We just think about getting ready to play. Vermont, we know, is a very good team. We know they played very well this year, particularly over the last part of the year. They've got a very, very good basketball team.
Q. Some people think that with Joseph in the starting lineup, smaller lineup, you're just as effective if not more effective. How will you be different with that kind of lineup?
COACH BOEHEIM: We played that lineup 60 or 70% of the time this year. We think it's an effective lineup. But without Arinze, we don't have the depth and the size that's been very helpful to us all year long. It changes our rotation. It changes how we can play, how we can attack the game. With Ricky starting at forward, we have a backup center who is in the game and used to playing. He moves over to the center spot. It also gives us more depth at forward as much as at center. And enables us to rest both our forwards when he's healthy. That gives us depth up front and we have the three guards in the back court. So we have good depth there. But certainly it definitely affects our depth. Our starting lineup, the difference when most teams lose a starter, they're bringing in a guy that's playing 15 to 20 minutes or so. We're bringing in a guy that played 30 minutes a game. So we think our starting lineup is fine. We just don't have the depth.
Q. One follow-up. For the time that you use Riley, how well prepared is he to fill the role in the zone?
COACH BOEHEIM: He's practiced every day, from the beginning of the year till now. If he had played in games, he would have played about five minutes, maximum. So we're asking him now, he'll probably have to expand that a little bit. We have had a week to kind of work with him a little bit more and try to get him in there. I think he's had a good week of practice. I think he's prepared to play some minutes for us.
Q. Back to the question of the depth. Obviously the games come quicker now. With one day off in between. Is there anything you can do for these guys at this point or do you tell them you've been through this all season and you're just going to have to deal with it?
COACH BOEHEIM: I'm not concerned at all. We've had a lot of rest. I'm not concerned at all about playing two games.
Q. Just your thoughts on being here. This city as an opening round location and being so close to home; does it offer you any advantage at all?
COACH BOEHEIM: You know, I don't think there's a tremendous advantage in this tournament. I think that hopefully we'll have some fans here. But I think that, you know, the bottom line when you get to the NCAA tournament, you have to play. The team that plays the best is going to win. And, you know, it's all about playing good at this stage of the year. We've worked hard. We've had a good season.
These guys coming out of where we started the year, to win the BIG EAST conference for these guys was probably as good a regular season as we have had at Syracuse. We have had a few good ones. But I think what they've accomplished this year, they've earned everything that they've got -- the one seed. They've earned that. They've really played hard and they've played well over the whole season. We played well in our last two games on offense. We slipped a little bit on the defensive end. But Georgetown is a pretty good offensive team and so is Louisville. I'm not concerned about our last two games. This team has been consistent from the beginning of the year. They played well at home. They played well on the road. So I expect us to play well here tomorrow night.
Q. Jim, I'm wondering what kind of advantage, if at all, or resource is maybe a better word, to have a guy like Gerry (McNamara) in the locker room who has won a national title, a young guy who can relate to these kids at this time of the year?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think we have a great staff. I think Gerry is a part of that staff. It's good to have him around. But we've got a great coaching staff. They've been tremendous all year. But we have two point guards that played in the Final Four on our staff. Not too many staffs have that.
Q. Why is this year's team better than last year's team, at least so far?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think this team -- last year's team -- don't forget the team went to the Sweet 16. Last year the league was much tougher, the top teams were much better. I think that last year's team won 28 games. I think people for some reason think that team wasn't very good last year. It was pretty good. The league was tougher. I think the thing that makes us a little better this year, I think our defense has been better. I think offensively we led the league in scoring last year. And we're second I think this year in the league in scoring. So I think offensively we were just as good last year. I think our defense is better. And the reason it's better is Wesley is bigger up front and Andy is bigger in the back court. And Brandon and Scoop are bigger.
So we have more size. That's the big thing with our defense. And I think size does matter and our defense. And I really think that's the difference between this year and last year. The size that we have, physical ability.
Q. What kind of defensive adjustments do you have to make without Arinze?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think the biggest thing is our depth. We just -- he's so physical and so strong out there in the middle, takes up so much space. He's a big part of our defense. And offense, the same thing. He's a guy you have to account for. Sometimes some teams have to double team him which opens up things for other guys. But he's a very good low-post offensive player. And defensively, he's a physical presence out there.
Q. How do you describe what Brandon is going through in terms of not playing as well now as he did earlier in the year?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think Brandon typical freshman, he actually started better than I had hoped and played really well earlier in the year. I thought he was through that part. He hit a little bump in the road during the conference, which freshmen do quite often. And he started to think about things a little bit too much instead of just playing. Which is not unusual for a freshman. Particularly not unusual when the guy behind you really plays well. I think you start thinking about it more. But I'm confident. He's had some really good games this year. I think he's a really good player. And I think he'll play well up here.
Q. I don't know if you can remember all the way that far back --
COACH BOEHEIM: I can remember a lot farther back than you can, boy. I wouldn't be wearing that green shirt. The Irish people in this town are going to be really probably insulted.
Q. That I missed it by one day?
COACH BOEHEIM: What would you like me to remember?
Q. If you can remember when you first got into the tournament, do you approach things any differently now? I mean, do you sleep better now? What have you learned from back then maybe that helps not just you but maybe --
COACH BOEHEIM: I'm 34 years older. I do sleep a little better now. If I don't I won't be able to get up. Yeah. The tournament -- I think the first round now is like the third round used to be. It used to be it came to the -- the first round there were no stupid questions -- no questions and no people bothering you and you just kind of played the first two games. And then the people, the stupid people -- the other people came around and you had to deal with all that stuff. But you had a bye, really, a pass on the first two rounds. Now it's just starts a little sooner. And you know the teams, the quality of teams are just really -- it's unbelievable to me how good the teams are in this tournament are. The 16 seeds, they're good. Vermont should -- a few years ago would have been a 13 or 14 seed. We had trouble with them when they were 14. I'm sure we'll have trouble with them when they're a 16 too. There's just -- we played Robert Morris earlier this year. They're a really good team. Murray State, these teams are all good.
I watched the NIT over the last couple of days. Those teams are good. There's just a lot of good basketball teams. I differ with some of our -- your colleagues on the TV sets. I realize you don't associate with those guys. They're a little different level. I'm not sure which way it is, up or down. They keep talking about well there's mediocre teams. Really, all it is is there are teams that got beat by the top three or four teams in their league. That's why they've lost 10 or 11 or 12 games, because they couldn't beat the top three or four teams in the league. I've always felt like if you lose three or four times, five or six times to the teams in the top 20, that doesn't mean you're a bad team. It means you're just not quite a top 20 team.
I always thought the object of this tournament was to be in a tournament. I didn't realize you had to have a chance to win it to get into the tournament. I thought it was just a matter of we try to get the best teams around the country to play in a tournament, because if you just took teams that had a chance to win it, you would only take about 12 teams or 16 teams and play. Some years you might just take two like they do in that other sport. The object of this tournament is to give everybody a chance to play in this tournament. And I'm really tired of hearing every time they mention about any kind of expansion, it's for coaches. There's one coach on every team. There's 15 players. Ask those 15 players what an opportunity to play in this tournament is. When we don't like something, we try and attack somebody.
There's a lot of good players out there in this country. And until people realize that, I don't believe it's mediocrity; I think it's balance. I think they talk about that in football all the time now, about balance and mediocrity. It's the same thing. Just depends on your point of view, which words you use.
Q. Coach, when did you become aware of Andy Rautins as a possible recruit? You probably had known him much before that.
COACH BOEHEIM: I would say what grade he was in; seventh or eighth. I'm not sure. He was a good player in high school. Really good shooter. We liked him. There was only two Division I schools that really liked him. You know, I thought he could really shoot. But I always thought he did other things. He was a very good passer, like his father. He plays a lot like his father. He doesn't turn it over quite as much as his father. But some days he tries to. He hasn't quite got to that level yet. He's always been a player that I liked. I just felt he could develop into a very good player. And he's really worked hard. He's really just done an unbelievable job of improving himself, making himself a better player. He's really been a key guy for us all year at both ends of the court. He's a much better defensive player than people might think. And he's been tremendous on offense all year. He's played some games where he hasn't scored much and been the key guy for us. He's really made himself into a tremendous player, tremendous player.
Q. A lot of people when they got recruited thought it was only because of his dad. Did your relationship with Leo maybe give you some information or insight into Andy that would allow him to become the player he is?
COACH BOEHEIM: No, no. My only conversation with Leo was that I'm not sure that Andy can be a great player for us. I think he can. I think it's going to be a close call. He's going to have to work really hard. And I think Leo said he wants to come to Syracuse. That's what he wants to do. You know, he'll do what he has to do to be able to become a good player at Syracuse. He's been a very good player for us for all -- his whole career. He's really had an unbelievable year this year.
Q. A few guys on your team who sat out a year because of either injury or transferring, what type of value does that year without games but still in practice add?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think guys that are able to sit out -- Arinze did, obviously Andy, and Wesley sitting out this year -- I think it can be a tremendous year. It can really benefit you. Andy particularly benefited. He got stronger. He worked hard in the weight room. Wesley I thought really worked hard last year. The one thing when you sit out, you have to work hard. You have to really work hard. We have had tremendous success over the years with fifth-year players, guys that either redshirted a year because they were hurt or just needed to redshirt a year. Going back to Rony Seikaly redshirted half a year. Lazarus Sims and we have had a lot of guys redshirt one year. It's a big help in today's world, a guy that's a fifth-year player playing against freshman and sophomores a lot. They have an advantage in that situation. The experience of our team has been very important to the success that we have had this year, without any question.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks.
End of FastScripts