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March 16, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We've got Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling and Curtis Kelly.
Q. Will, what have you seen on tape from the Aggies that concerns you going into this game?
WILL SPRADLING: I mean, they're real good inside. They move the ball real well. If we don't play our style of defense, then that will cause problems for us. If we don't get up in the passing lanes and let them pass it around, I mean, that will cause troubles for us.
Q. Rodney, there has been talk about you guys changing your offense at a certain time of the season, a little bit of some changing there. You look like you played better since then. Talk about what that's been and it looks like maybe it's helped your game and your scoring and things.
RODNEY McGRUDER: It's meant a lot to our whole team. It created a lot of different threats for each and every player, you know, with the offense, with us being so spread apart and everyone just cutting and just dribbling and there's different things you can do with that offense.
So it really helped me out. It's easy to get shots because guys are so lifted and worried about cutters and things like that that they forget about other guys.
Q. Curtis, you had a really good tournament last year. I'm just wondering how much, if at all, you are looking at this tournament as a way to sort of, you know, make up for maybe some disappointing moments during this regular season?
CURTIS KELLY: Well, it's been a tough season. A lot of troubles, a lot of trials and tribulations. But, you know, I think it's new season now. I don't look too much -- I don't look back at too much of last season's run. It's a new season. It's a new time. New players, new atmosphere.
So I'm looking to just play. I'm looking to just try to do the best I can to play. Try to do the best I can to perform and hopefully help my team win.
I don't look at what went on this season. I don't think about it too much. I moved on from that. I just want to spend as much time with these guys as I can. And right now it's a case of survival. And I'm just trying to keep playing. Trying to keep playing with them. Trying to stay with them.
Q. Curtis, let me ask you about playing Tai Wesley, what you've seen on tape. What you see about him, how he plays inside. Have you played people like that before? Going up against somebody like him, what are you seeing?
CURTIS KELLY: Well, on film he seems like a guy that reads off contact. He tries to post up. And he reads your reaction. Whatever reaction you give, that's his reaction.
He's good. I know he's good. Obviously he is player of the year in their conference. And I don't care what conference you are in, if you are the player of a year, that means you got to be a good player.
So I'm just looking to do the best I can. I'm looking to attack his weaknesses. I'm looking to make sure that I know what he like to do, what he don't like to do and capitalize off that. From then on we just got to wait and see. Hopefully I'll do a good job tomorrow.
Q. Curt, how would you describe the differences in mentality from a year ago headed into the post-season to this team that currently is doing the same?
CURTIS KELLY: Well, to start off, we're younger. We got a lot of new guys, a lot of young guys that doesn't have as much experience in the NCAA tournament. But that is when the older guys got to take over and show them the ropes, show them what to do. Let them know to pay attention to film and paying attention to scouting reports, that is important. Let guys know that we got a quick turnaround every game. So we got to learn as much as we can about each team, each player.
So it's tough. It's tough for younger guys. But mentally I trust them more. I love them more. I think they're prepared. I think they're ready to perform on such a bright stage. I think they played against Kansas on national TV. They played against Duke. They played against some of the top teams in the country. So at this point, going 30 games in, I think the younger guys and the older guys is prepared. We just got to go out and do the things we got to do and perform the right way.
Q. Will, Curtis was just talking about being a younger guy and having to still do some of the things that you maybe haven't had to experience being your first NCAA tournament. Talk about your experience thus far and how this may be different from the regular season, even the Big 12 tournament?
WILL SPRADLING: I don't see that much of a difference yet. It's almost an exact replica of the Big 12 tournament right now. We've had the same schedule since we got here. We've had the same practices. It's pretty much the same.
I mean, I feel really prepared. We played in the Big 12. That is one of the best conferences in the nation. I mean, our coaches say it, you're not a freshman anymore. You've been through a whole season now. So I'm good to go.
Q. Curtis, can you talk about what the frustration level was like when you went through that little funk and then where the confidence level is at now?
CURTIS KELLY: Um, I think we just -- I think a lot of us -- we was going through a lot of troubled times and we couldn't get to a flow as a team. As soon as we get into a little flow, unfortunately something bad would happen or some mistake that one of us made would cost us a game or just things like that.
And I think now we made such a great run because we're getting the flow of the game, we're starting to play with each other more. We're more focused in practice because we don't have to worry about the negative things off the court. And we're starting to gel. We're starting to gel.
The way I feel, I feel like we're starting to gel at a perfect time. This is the time when we have to go on the streak and that streak could be big for our program. I think it's the perfect time for us right now. I think we're on a roll. The only thing that's bad lately is the loss to Colorado. Besides that we've been on the road. We've been playing well. We're focused.
I think right now is the time. Now is the time we're finally getting it right. We finally knocked off all the negative stuff. We're on a positive note as far as mentally. And we just got to go out and do the things we're supposed to. As long as we do those things, I know we'll be fine. I'm not too concerned.
Q. A lot of the so-called experts are saying this could be the 12-5 upset. Do you guys feel like you're not getting the respect you deserve? And if so, are you using that as a motivational factor?
CURTIS KELLY: There is a couple things that is going on with me that I use as motivational factor. I don't really listen to the talk and what others say. I don't pay attention to what's going on with the outsiders. I worry about what's going on with my team, what's going on with my circle.
You know, they're a good team. Personally, me, I respect them. Any team that walks away with 30 wins and dominated the conference the way they did has to be a great team. So I respect them.
But I'm still going to go out and play. I'm still going to go out and do the things I got to do to get the win. Because I want the win more probably than them, in my mind. That's my mind. They probably think the same thing in their mind.
You know, it is what it is. Butler went on a run. They were a fifth seed. Butler went on a run and they made it all the way to the national championship. It's all about match-ups. It's all about paying attention to personnel and going out and play. I don't pay attention to the talk. I pay attention to my game. I pay attention to my teammates and I pay attention to things we got to do.
Q. Curtis, the importance in your life that you've already graduated going into this tournament, how important is that to you?
CURTIS KELLY: That is real important. I accomplished something great in my life. Something that no one in my family has done. So that's a great accomplishment. But most of all, you know, it takes some weight off my shoulders. I get to relax and worry about just basketball.
Unfortunately, my younger guys, they got to do a little work. And stick to the class work. And I get to joke with them because of it.
But me, I get to focus on basketball. That's all I have to focus on and worry about focusing on. Schoolwork is not -- schoolwork has to be done, but it's not something that's -- that I really have to focus 100 percent on.
Q. Rodney, last year you didn't play as central a role as you are going to be playing in this run this season. But you got a pretty good seat in watching and observing this team. Can you just give me a sense for how important that is for you as you go forward and try to apply that experience to this season?
RODNEY McGRUDER: It's very important. You know, just basically having the experience to come here and play last year, you know. The experience itself has prepared me physically and mentally for the road ahead of us. So it really has done a lot for me last year's experience.
Q. Will, tell us Jacob Pullen, what kind of game he plays. We haven't seen him on the court. We watch him on TV. But you get a chance to see him all the time. Tell us about him.
CURTIS KELLY: You doing some scouting, huh? (Laughter.)
WILL SPRADLING: He is our team leader. And I mean, we all look up to him. We know if the shot clock's running down, I mean, if it's coming down to late game shot we know he's going to take it. We have faith in him because he's made it all year. I mean, Iowa State, we needed a bucket at the end of the game he knocks it down for us. KU, we had a lot of times where it came down to the end of the shot clock and he knocked down big shots and gave us a big win.
I mean, he is our go-to player. He is tough and he did it last year. So, I mean, he's a big-time player.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, that will do it. Thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
We have Coach Frank Martin from Kansas State. Coach, if you can give us some opening remarks, then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH MARTIN: Just great to be here. Great to be here. Excited that in our fourth year we're in our third NCAA tournament. Couldn't be prouder of the group of kids we got in that locker room. The commitment they've made to stay united and continue to believe in the message while the season, which every season does, deals you a hand that you don't know it's coming. For them to stay the course, continue to believe in one another allows us as coaches to have tremendous trust in our team. That's what you got to have to have a chance to succeed.
Early in the year I might have questioned the leadership on our basketball team, but I'm telling you, I couldn't be prouder of the leadership that we've got right now.
Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly have done a phenomenal job here last five, six weeks of the season. But then again, I'm not surprised. When you take into consideration that they're kids, so they're always going to be growing. They make mistakes. But, you know, Curtis here, you are talking about a guy who played this whole year with a college degree. So he understands responsibility, accepts it, takes it, and takes advantage of it. Same thing with Jacob, who is about a month away from his college degree.
So great leadership and couldn't be prouder of those two guys.
Q. Coach, what have you seen from the Aggies on tape that concerns you that you really have your team focus on?
COACH MARTIN: Their discipline offensively. Their -- they got grown men. You look at their roster. They got six seniors, a couple juniors. They're old. They've been through it. They understand. They've got a championship culture in their program. They expect to win the games they play regardless of who the opponent is.
It's hard to overcome those things when you are playing against somebody that has those beliefs. They've got size, strength. They're physical. And, you know, Stew hasn't won a gazillion games by mistake. He is real good. And his teams show it the way they play.
Q. The shift in your offense, can you talk about what prompted that and kind of what that's done for you down the stretch of the season.
COACH MARTIN: Well basically you and I both had a bad right knee. So we couldn't run anymore. We had to make adjustments there, John, you know. No, just I wasn't happy with how we were playing. We had some games where we scored points. We had games where we didn't shoot as well. I thought our turnovers continued to be high during the course of the early part of the season.
I lost faith in our ability to score at the rim through post-ups the way that we had it set up. Then as early January started unfolding, I started to realize that we had to change a little bit. I mean, that's what we did. And from that first moment in practice where we started implementing the new concepts offensively, I immediately said this is going to really fit our basketball team.
And our guys, like they always do, you know, they're champs. They listened. They believe. They go out and do their best to believe in the message, believe in the views.
And it's been good. It's been good for us.
Q. Coach, just your thoughts of watching Tai Wesley play on tape and how he plays his game defensively. Your plans or thoughts that way.
COACH MARTIN: He is a grown man. You know, when you watch a young kid play, you immediately see weaknesses. You see how you can attack him. When you watch a grown man play, the game's played a little slower. You know, they understand angles. They understand when to do things, when not to do things. They know when to go, when not to go. With him, you see that. As you watch him on tape, he rarely makes a mistake.
He's always in the right place defensively. I mean, I don't coach him every day. From what I am watching on tape, rarely does he make a bad decision on offense. And he never speeds up. Which is a problem with young kids, they tend to play too fast. He never does.
He has both arms around their system. And it's easy to see as that game's unfolding.
Q. Henriquez-Roberts, just the development with the situation with the team, how he's really stepped it up and become a huge part of things.
COACH MARTIN: Yeah, I think you can go up and down our roster with that one. You know, we want guys in our program that don't have answers, that they're willing to work to find the answers. That want to be coached. They're willing to listen. And that's what Jordan is. From day one he's been an enthusiastic kid that has a dream, has faith, and he believes in the people that help him. And that's never wavered with him.
Lack of playing time, discipline, tough moments, doesn't discourage him. He continues to believe in the people that are helping him, be it his teammates, assistant coaches, people on our staff or academic advisors, whoever it may be, he is willing to listen to become better. He is willing to do the work to get better.
When you find people like that, they're going to continue to improve. You got no choice but to get better.
And I'm real proud of him. Real proud of him that, you know, he's -- last year he couldn't catch the ball. Now he's catching it and, heck, every 3 or 4 games he actually makes a couple baskets.
But, you know, he's been great. A great, great, great teammate. Players just love him. And they love him because of his enthusiasm and his belief.
Q. Coach, do you differentiate between majors and mid-majors or given your experience with that, they're all the same thing?
COACH MARTIN: You are either a good team or you're not. You either got a winning culture, or you don't. I don't -- I used to be at a mid-major and we beat high majors, and we beat them because of the belief in our kids and the belief our kids had that they can go out and beat big name schools. There's no such thing, in my opinion. You are either a good team or you're not. You either got a championship culture, or you don't.
If you do, and you got grown men like Utah State does, you got a chance to win against whoever you play. That is a great thing about college basketball. You see it happen every day?
Q. You told us at one point this season when things were not going well that you saw a light at the end of the tunnel, then you went out and lost to Colorado. Shortly after that, things really started to turn. What specifically did you see that made you say, Hey, this is going to be okay, even when things weren't going particularly well?
COACH MARTIN: Well, the outsiders judged our team based on wins and losses. I judge our team based on commitment, the desire, the enthusiasm, the willingness to learn, the improvement from day to day. That is why you practice. You don't just show up and play games. Our guys never wavered. Our enthusiasm never wavered. Their competitiveness never wavered.
I can see us getting better. You know, I can see us growing. I can see us accepting challenges, not running away from them. I didn't have to worry about being at practice and guys complaining or blaming one another. On the contrary. I saw guys just dying to become better leaders. Guys willing to follow. And when you have those kind of things, you know you are going to be okay. You know you're going to be all right.
You know, we lost that game at Colorado, but we were right there. Miss 15 free-throws and you get beat, it's going happen. It's hard to win on the road in our league. A lot of good teams went into Colorado and got beat. It's just part of league play. It doesn't mean that, you know, we weren't getting better as a team.
Then, you know, go out and you beat Kansas and you beat a couple other guys, then all of a sudden the confidence starts growing. I mean, you know, winning's never easy. But you can actually then see it before the game starts. And when you can do that as a player, then it becomes a little easier. If there is such a thing.
Q. Coach, Rodney, when he is making shots, some people will call him a, quote/unquote, "X factor." How good can he be this late in the season and what does he add when he's making shots in a basketball game at an NCAA tournament?
COACH MARTIN: He adds to my voice, because I don't lose it as much when he is making shots, you know. He's a sophomore. You know, we sit around and we forget just how young he is, but how willing he is to accept responsibility.
You know, when we went through some of the self-inflicted stuff that we went through and our two seniors weren't with us, Rodney was one of the guys that immediately jumped up and just embraced the responsibility of being a good player, of accepting winning and losing. And as a coach you see that. When you got kids willing to do that, you know you are going to be all right.
You know, he is a sophomore. He's had moments where he hasn't been great. But one thing he has never lost is that desire to compete. That desire and that trust and belief to make the next shot and not worry about the last shot. And we -- I don't think it's a secret. If you watch us play, when he makes baskets, we usually play real well. When he doesn't, we might struggle. You know, he gives us that opportunity because he can score the basketball. As he continues to grow and become more consistent, I think we'll continue to become a better team.
Q. Coach, it seems that reading stuff about your team is the pressure defense, then you talked about how well Utah State runs their disciplined offense. Is that the major match-up in this game?
COACH MARTIN: That's going be the battle of wills right there. You know, our willingness to be disciplined and pressure without fouling, which we got better at as the year went on, to disrupt. And Utah State's ability to deal with our pressure and still stay in their place and get the shots they want.
You know, then once that ball goes on the rim, who is going to have the bigger desire to go get it; them on offense or us on defense and vice versa when the ball's on the other side.
You know, it's a hard game, NCAA tournament. I've been answering for a couple days now about overconfidence and the name and all that stuff. You know, there is not an easy game in this tournament. I mean, it's -- every game, just go through history, every game is an absolute tug-of-war.
It's going be fun. You know, we're -- Utah State and us are two of the privileged 68. And both teams will go out and compete extremely hard.
Q. Can you just kind of talk about Jacob's growth as the leader and how that blossomed over the years, and then this year being such a good leader for you.
COACH MARTIN: Yeah. I'm glad, contrary to popular belief, four years ago that he actually did like me a little bit, you know. He's great. He's absolutely great. All the accolades he got early this year -- and you got to remember, when we threw the ball up for the first time this year he was still 20 years of age. Still a little baby. All the accolades that were coming his way, our team's way, his ability to accept all that at such a young age, to then deal with tough moments, not run and hide.
On the contrary, be more willing for more responsibility, you know, shows a lot about the character inside that young man. Shows a lot why -- a lot of the reasons why he's going to go down as one of the greatest K-Staters of all time. You also go back and look at it, been here four years. We've been in the post-season all four years. Not too many kids at K-State can claim they were part of that.
You got to understand when we did it his freshman year, it was the first time in a long, long time K-State had played after the end of the conference tournament, and no surprise that happened under his watch.
Q. What have you seen in him, his growth as a person from the first time you met him on the recruiting trail or whenever that was to where he is today right now?
COACH MARTIN: Well, he walked in on campus and he believed that the draft order was going to be Mike Beasley, Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen. That's what they all think when they come in as freshman. And as time started going on that year, he started to realize, well, that's not as easy as I thought it might be. There might be a couple little things I got to do before I maybe get that opportunity one day.
You see a young man that has to deal with that sudden thing hit him in the face called reality, and some of them run and hide. And he never did. To the contrary, he wanted more. He wanted more. And wanted more and wanted more. Then his sophomore year, you know, we got a team where we got a bunch of, I don't want to say no-name guys on our team, that's not fair to them, but unknown to the national world of basketball maybe is a better way of using words there. Yet at a very young age he immediately grabbed his team by the throat and said, Hey, we're winning, and I'm going to be a big part of why we win.
And then, you know, his willingness to learn. He learned from all his teammates. He learned from Mike when he was around Mike. He learned from Bill. Then started learning from Denny Clemente as far as just believing that you can win, believing how to win through work. Then he put all that together this year and the lessons that were thrown at him, once again, never ran away from. On the contrary, he took them on as a champ and raised the expectations of our team.
See, everyone thinks we were concerned with outside expectations. We don't care about all that stuff. We appreciate it. We appreciate the fact that people believe in Kansas State basketball to place expectations, to vote us whatever we were voted. We respect that and appreciate it. But we believe in the expectations we create ourselves.
And in the middle of a crisis, he didn't lower expectations, he raised expectations. For a 21-year-old kid to do that, that's to be commended. And he demanded that we all do our jobs better, starting with me, and we did. And that is a credit to him.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
COACH MARTIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports