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March 16, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We have the students from San Diego State.
Q. I know the game at Colorado was three years ago and the rosters have changed. I'm just curious what you guys remember from that game.
D.J. GAY: Definitely their style of play. They're a very hungry team. Very fearless. They crash the boards like crazy. They don't back down from anybody. And they came into our place, didn't matter what kind of hype we had behind us or anything like that, they came in and threw the first punch. That's what I remember.
Q. Did you guys really get booed off the floor?
D.J. GAY: Yep.
Q. What was that like?
D.J. GAY: Didn't feel good at all. Something that, you know, I'll probably remember the rest of my life. Not a good feeling. But definitely remember it.
Q. For Kawhi, can I see one of your hands. (Laughter).
KAWHI LEONARD: (Indicating.)
Q. How big is that?
KAWHI LEONARD: About ten inches.
Q. Obviously that has to help on the basketball court. What can you do that most average folks can't because of those hands?
KAWHI LEONARD: I can grab a rebound, palm it with one hand, pass the ball with one hand. I can dribble like easy. That's probably about it.
Q. Billy, I'm just curious, the way you played in your last four games, you individually, do you kind of feel a little sense of urgency, the clock's ticking on your senior year, things could come to an end at any minute? Do you feel that sense of urgency right now a little bit?
BILLY WHITE: Most definitely. You know, just my teammates just believing in me and coach Fisher just telling me he wants me to step up a little bit more. That's what it takes to get my team to win, that's what I have to do.
Q. Going back to your hands. Do you have trouble buying gloves? (Laughter.)
KAWHI LEONARD: I'm not sure, because I don't buy gloves. But -- I stopped playing football awhile ago. But I think it probably would be trouble finding gloves.
Q. You have no kind of work gloves or snow gloves, nothing?
KAWHI LEONARD: No. I don't have no type of gloves.
Q. D.J., obviously coach Fisher has been on the stage before and had this level of success. How has he helped you guys just handle the success you guys have had this year being in the national spotlight?
D.J. GAY: Just maintaining that confidence in us. Since day one, you know, he told us that we are a very good team and have the capability of having a very special season. And to make sure not to get caught up in the hype. Because, you know, with a couple of losses, all that stuff can go away. So just take it for what it is, enjoy the moment. But to know that, you know, we still have a lot of work and goals that we want to achieve.
Q. This whole season has been based on having the dominos aligned in this way for you coming here and potentially going to Anaheim. If something goes wrong along that path, is the criticism that will come with it, is that fair for you guys at all? Or do you say, We don't have any control over this, you can't judge us in this way?
D.J. GAY: I think that if things don't go the way that we want, I don't know if it's fair or not. That is not up to us. But, you know, all we can do is appreciate how far we have come as a program and as a team this year.
But we're trying to stay positive about the season.
Q. I wonder if you saw the Fab Five thing on ESPN the other night. Since Coach Fisher was part of it, at guys your age, what do you remember or know about the Fab Five?
MALCOLM THOMAS: I watched it. I really don't remember much. I just remember long shorts, black socks and they were the best team I've seen.
KAWHI LEONARD: Before the video I didn't -- the little movie, I didn't know too much about the Fab Five. I just knew they were all freshmen and they went far in a tournament. But after seeing the movie, I just learned a lot about them and Coach Fisher and it's inspirational for us on the team.
Q. This is for the seniors. How important has it been on this team to be led by seniors? Not many teams get this far anymore with five seniors on it. How important is that for you guys and the fact that you have actually played in a tournament game last year?
MALCOLM THOMAS: It's very important. You know, without senior leadership, you know, a lot of teams struggle. We just happen to have about five seniors who are good at leading. And I think it's helped us in the long run.
And, you know, playing in the tournament last year, I feel like we know what to expect. And I feel like we'll have a better chance to go far this year.
D.J. GAY: The senior leadership on this team has been a key thing for our success. But it's not just us as seniors, it's trickled down to the other players like Kawhi, Chase and those that were there with us last year through our good run, through the tournament, the conference tournament.
So this is a team that's been here before. But just to have a team of seniors and underclassmen that has been together going on two years now, it's been the key thing to our success this year.
Q. Kawhi, you had a growth spurt in high school; correct?
KAWHI LEONARD: Yeah.
Q. How tall did you grow and all that?
KAWHI LEONARD: My freshman year I was probably about 6'0" and as the year went on till about this summer, going into -- till about the summer going into my sophomore year I grew to 6'4". After that I probably grew an inch after each year.
Q. How long did it take you to get used to kind of your new body? Obviously playing at 6'4" is different than playing at 6'0"?
KAWHI LEONARD: Well, when I first started playing organized basketball in high school, I was pretty much in the paint a lot, playing like three or four. Once I got taller it was natural since I been in the paint playing close to the basket.
Q. This is for D.J. and Billy. Everybody's heard about the crowd you guys are getting now, the student participation. When you arrived on campus, how would you describe the level of interest in San Diego State basketball?
D.J. GAY: It's kind of been a circus back at home. You know, everywhere we go, you know, people know who we are, and over the past couple years, especially this season, we have a lot of new friends, a lot of new faces. And, you know, we appreciate everything that the city has done for us. The way they rallied up. And, you know, sold out, you know, almost every single game at home.
BILLY WHITE: Like D.J. said, it's just been crazy. I think each year that we improve, you know, we get more fans. And people just starting to get to know us. And it's just been thankful that, you know, people are just coming to our games and cheering for us.
Q. What was it like when you first got there?
BILLY WHITE: Oh, um, I think it was just, you know, people were always just in love with us. Just following us and stuff like that. I never really experienced nothing like that. It's been packed ever since we've been there and been playing for four years.
Q. D.J., you guys weren't able to beat BYU during the regular season. How important was it confidence-wise to do what you did in the conference tournament?
D.J. GAY: It was a great win leading into our next game. A team that beat us twice and gave us our only losses this season, for us to go out and perform the way we did in that last game was a big, big confidence boost, and reassurance that, you know, we are a very good. And when everybody's on the same page and playing great basketball, anything is possible.
Q. Obviously you guys know you have the idea of a championship. This is what we want. But still when you step off the plane in Arizona and go to the hotel, are you still looking around cracking a smile saying, Hey, we're here, we made it, we got through it; are you still happy?
MALCOLM THOMAS: Yeah, we're happy. We're happy to be here. But we know we still have work to do. We still need to stay focused. Because no matter what a team's seed is, they can still beat you at any moment if you don't play well. So we're having fun, but we're still focused.
BILLY WHITE: Like Malcolm said, we're happy. But to everybody we haven't really proven anything yet. We haven't won a game in this tournament. We just got to stay focused like Malcolm said. If we keep playing well it will take care of itself.
Q. Billy, I still haven't figured out who is supposed to be on the little Jimmer, or Beitzel. Do you want that to be your name since you have covered the real Jimmer before; do you want to cover this one?
BILLY WHITE: If coach puts me on him, I'll take him. I'm just trying to win. Whatever it takes, if coach wants me to guard him and that's the game plan, I'll do it.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
We have Coach Steve Fisher, San Diego State. Coach, we'll have you give us some opening remarks, then open it up for questions.
COACH FISHER: I'll start probably like every coach that's been up here: We're excited, anxious. Looking forward to playing this game tomorrow against a very good Northern Colorado team. I'm sure our players conveyed that same excitement and enthusiasm.
We are appreciative of the fact that we're relatively close to home and hopefully we'll have a lot of San Diego State Aztec fans here to cheer us on.
32-2. We've got a good team, you know that. We went back-to-back to win our conference tournament championship. And we're playing really good basketball right now. Hopefully we can continue to do that.
I'll entertain any questions that you might have.
Q. Steve, nobody's bigger than the team, but the way Billy's played in the last four games, I am wondering if you can talk about that a little bit, and how crucial that's going to be in the next how many games you've got left?
COACH FISHER: Billy had probably his finest hour in the Mountain West Conference tournament. Going back home, he's played good basketball for us for four years. He has not been as consistent as he was in that tournament run. What Billy brings to us is the length to guard anybody on the floor, from the point guard to a post player. And when he is as aggressive as he is, as he was in that tournament -- he had seven offensive rebounds in the last game. That is more than he had in the last ten games put together.
So we're hopeful that he will continue to play that way. When he does, obviously, we're better.
Q. Do you bring up the past at all to your teams? I mean, you have been to tournament games here and haven't won. Do you remind them that you haven't won a game in the tournament, or do you just skip it all together and say, We concentrate on what we've got going on here now?
COACH FISHER: Nick, one thing that I told our team yesterday was one team will get their first win ever in NCAA tournament play, one team will. We want it to be us.
What we have talked about is Northern Colorado in January of '08 when they came to our building and beat us 62-56. Then the following December of '08 we went back to their place and we won a very hard-fought close basketball game.
We showed them a little bit of that tape from both of those games. And I think that, as much as anything, helps us prepare for our first game.
They're well aware of the fact that San Diego State has never won a tournament game NCAA Division I. I like the fact that we've got a group that played last year in the tournament. I've never had that privilege at San Diego State.
We went three times before '2, '6, and '10. Now we're going again in '11. So that feels good to be back-to-back with a lot of guys that played for us.
Q. What specifically about having played in the tournament with this group of guys last year do you think helps them this year?
COACH FISHER: I think everything from this, from our players being up in this forum to the mandated open practice for 40 minutes, to the fact that it is the NCAA tournament. You grow up and if you are a basketball player, this is what you look forward to when you are in grade school watching. You call in sick. You tell your mom to call you in sick so you can watch some of the early games. As you get into college, you aspire to play in it.
The first time you play, I do believe, that you are a little extra nervous. We were like that last year. And it took us too long for that to wear off. Hopefully we'll be better prepared because of all that from -- that I just talked about, as we prepare for this game tomorrow.
Q. We talked a little bit with the guys about what the atmosphere was like when they were freshmen. But take us back further over your span there and how this crowd and how the show has developed. And at what point did it really become -- you called this year, there's no better crowd anywhere in the country. At what point did it reach that and what was it like when you first took the job?
COACH FISHER: Well, I'll go last first. We sold out every game in our building this year with the exception of one. That's 12,414. It was a hard ticket. You saw it. We had people standing, ready to rush the gate to get in to get the prime seats.
Twelve years ago you could mosey in any time you wanted and pick any seat you wanted. So it's a 180.
But this is not the first year -- and you know this being local -- that we've had good crowds. This is the best. This is the apex of what we've had. But we've had 20-plus wins for six straight years. Last year we averaged, I believe, 8,500, 9,000 for conference games, which is pretty good.
But this is what happens at very few schools what happened to us this year. I don't care where you are, there are not very many schools that sell out every game all season long, and we did this year.
Q. There's been a lot of buzz this week about the Fab Five movie and what was said in there. How did you feel that team and that era were portrayed? And how do your current kids respond to that? Do you think there's actually a high level of interest even 20 years later among basketball players about that team?
COACH FISHER: I watched it, like a lot of folks did. I got a rough copy of it. I watched it Wednesday before we played Thursday in the Mountain West Conference tournament. I smiled. It brought back a lot of memories. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a good portrayal of who they were, what happened.
Our kids found out that we had a copy. We bussed home after the game and they wanted to watch it. So they all watched it. They enjoyed it. I do think that they had heard a lot about it, but most of them weren't born when the Fab Five were playing. But they had fun with it.
They ribbed both myself and Brian Dutcher about how we looked then and how we look now and all of that stuff. So it was fun.
Q. Kawhi was showing us his hands about ten minutes ago. He said it's about 10 inches. What does that enable him to do on the basketball court?
COACH FISHER: Get every ball he touches. He's got huge hands. He's as good an offensive rebounder as there is. And I know Morehead State's got maybe the best statistically one. But Kawhi pursues every ball offensively and defensively. It's just not good fortune, he pursues the ball. But because of his length, his strength and his hand size, if he gets a mitt on it, he gets most of them. And I think that's evident not only by looking at him but by watching him play a little bit.
Q. Coach, sorry to bring up another Fab Five question, but just wanted to get your memories of bringing that Michigan team here to McKale back in 1993.
COACH FISHER: I can't recall any of that at all, not one thing (laughter). As we got torched by about 50. You didn't have to bring that up. And Jalen doesn't want to bring it up either. (Laughter.)
Q. Coach, can you be a little more specific on what you expect to see from Northern Colorado? You talked in your Monday press conference about Devon Beitzel and will it be likely that Billy will get the call to cover him?
COACH FISHER: I'm not sure who will guard him to start with. But they move him around. A lot of people will guard him during the course of the game.
This is a team that's very confident, as you know. They've won 7 in a row, 9 out of 11, and 19 out of 22. They're good. They're a good team in every facet of the game. They're well coached. They're a very, very good rebounding team. They hit you first. They run. And they're not afraid to quick shoot it. Got 4 or 5 guys, if you give them an inch they're going to shoot the three. And not just Beitzel. So they present a big challenge for us.
You know, I know some people have equated Beitzel to Jimmer Fredette. I think their team is a little like BYU. BYU sends kids on missions. Northern Colorado has red-shirted -- three of the four seniors are red-shirts and the sophomore point guard is a red-shirt sophomore. So they're older than us at every position. They're a veteran team. They've won 25 games last year and they will be confident coming in.
I've got great respect for them. I did when Tad Boyle was coaching them and I do now when Coach Hill is there. He's done a marvelous job. They're not surprised they're here. And we're not surprised they're here, either.
Q. You've told your team all season long to stop and enjoy the wins, enjoy the rankings while focusing on business. Can you enjoy the NCAA tournament while it's going on and not get distracted by all this?
COACH FISHER: Well, we're working now. We got no time to enjoy. We're here working. We're in a two-game tournament. That's how we viewed it. You have to minimize distractions and try to make it as normal and as routine as it can be.
The 40-minute open forum is atypical for all of us. So you need to make sure that you don't have an advantage turn into a disadvantage. We were so excited when we got to come to Tucson. It's a five-hour car ride, it's an hour plane ride. But also it's a five-hour drive and an hour plane ride, so we're going to have a lot of people milling around, going around, wanting tickets, wanting to be around. And we cannot allow that to cause any kind of distraction on what we need to do, and that's find a way to beat a very good Northern Colorado team.
Q. Coach, I know it's been 18 years or so, what do you remember about that Jimmy King tip-in game here against UCLA?
COACH FISHER: I remember we were behind 19 points in the first half. And if Chris Webber hadn't played like the number one player in the draft, like he was, we would have had no chance. We were very fortunate to be in the game at half-time. We made a couple buckets at the end of the half to come back. Then we had good fortune. We had good fortune in that game.
UCLA had a chance to win on a breakaway lay-up. Again, Jimmy King came from behind, knocked the ball out of bounds, or we go home before he has a chance to tip in Jalen Rose's misshot to allow us to win.
You have to get a little lucky. If you are going to advance, you have to play well, you have to have a good team. But you also have to have good fortune along the way. And obviously for us in that game, we got good fortune coupled with good play to allow us an opportunity to win at the end.
Q. Given the way the program struggled before your arrival, did anyone try to tell you that elevating this program to where it is now just wasn't going to be possible?
COACH FISHER: I didn't listen to anybody other than my wife when I went looking at this job. I felt that from the city to the university to the brick and mortar, to our arena -- and some of you have been in our building, we've got a really, really beautiful state-of-the-art arena -- I said why can't we be good? I knew other good coaches had been there. Guys with resumes had been there and struggled, but they didn't have the luxury until right at the end of Fred Trenkle's tenure of having that building.
So I had an advantage over the others. Then we said we love the kids that we have, but we've got to get better players. So we went out and worked hard on the recruiting trail. Which is what everybody has to do if you are going to get good. And, you know, we got good. And now we've gotten real good.
Q. Some of the Temple players were up here earlier talking about -- the Colorado team, about how everyone was asking how they've never won an NCAA tournament and they're worried whether they're going to break that streak or instead of talking about the 25-win season. You guys are maybe a little of the same position. Does it bother you so much emphasis by the public is placed on what you do in this tournament and that if you don't get to a certain point in this tournament, you know, 32-win season won't be considered as much of a success?
COACH FISHER: That's the way it is with everybody, Mark. Everybody in the tournament will be judged with double exclamation points if they've had a great season by what they do in the tournament. It won't -- whatever happens to us in the tournament will not take away from a great regular season; 32 wins, two losses, both to BYU, that's there. That's part of our resume.
And, yet, people remember those that advance. People remember those that get into the NCAA tournament and find a way to win. And that's our goal. We're no different than Northern Colorado or anybody playing in it.
We're excited. We expect to win. They do, too.
It will be bitter disappointment for whatever team doesn't advance from our game on Thursday, ourselves included. But it won't take away from what we've done in our regular season.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Good luck. Coach, thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports