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March 17, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by George Mason University student-athletes Ryan Pearson, Cam Long and Isaiah Tate. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Ryan, when you went to George Mason initially, is this the kind of opportunity you were looking for, just to get into the tournament and kind of prove yourself?
RYAN PEARSON: Yes. I think that's what every college basketball player looks forward to, you know, having a great season, winning a conference championship and getting an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
I think that we worked hard as a team here, and I owe it all to my teammates.
Q. I know this is your first time in the tournament, I think, but you had a lot of success at Christ the King. How does that -- the high school success, does that have any bearing? That experience in playoff atmosphere, does that help you at all in this kind of situation?
RYAN PEARSON: Yeah, Christ the King was a winning program, and coming to George Mason, also another winning program. So basically just -- it's like the same thing, just a different group of players. There's more talent here. And just like at Christ the King, I try to come with the same attitude, with a winning attitude.
Q. Cam, when you look at Villanova, do you see them as the 16-1 team that started the year or the team that finished 5 and 10?
CAM LONG: I don't really look at teams' records. We know Villanova is a great team in general. I mean, they always have been a good team in the past years, and even with this year, they're still a great team. But you can't really look at the teams' records or how they've been playing, because any game's going to be different. Every game's going to be different. Regardless of when it comes down to the line or what team you're going to play, regardless of their RPI or ranking or anything like that, the game can be different just based on that one day.
So we want to take them as being the best team ever.
Q. Cam, how good was the CAA this year? Was it as good as it's been in your four years, average, way above average? Because the league got a lot of national attention this year, three teams. What's your read on how good the league is this year?
CAM LONG: I definitely can say the league was tough. I've been here a while, this is my fourth year, senior year, and, I mean, I can actually say that the level of play, the competition level, has been a lot higher than it has been in the past years.
There's probably three or four teams, I think they said, that's in the top 100, and RPI-wise, we definitely have a group of guys that's very capable of playing in the CAA, and I'm glad that three of us are in the tournament trying to prove ourselves.
Q. Ryan, how much did George Mason's run to that Final Four play a part in your decision to go there?
RYAN PEARSON: I wouldn't say that the Final Four run played a big key in me picking George Mason to come here. When I came on my visit, I just -- I came with my mom, and my family members was a big key in me coming here. My mom fell in love with the program. The Patriot Center has great fans, and Fairfax is a great area. And the guys on the team who took me around and showed me the campus, it was a great campus. I just felt like I was home here.
The Final Four, it caught my eye. But you know this is just a great program, a great coaching staff, and I'm just glad to be here.
Q. As a kid from New York City, was maybe that Final Four run maybe the first time you'd heard of George Mason or were aware of them, maybe?
RYAN PEARSON: Honestly, yeah, it was. But they were following me since my sophomore year of high school. So I knew a little bit about them, but the Final Four kind of like made me start looking into them more and doing more research on them, so yeah.
Q. Did the Final Four run ever kind of cast a shadow over this program? You hear a lot like, hey, they did it before when no one expected much out of them, you guys can do it again. Does that ever bother you guys or do you use it as motivation?
CAM LONG: Well, I mean, we actually get this question a lot of times. But, yeah, I can definitely say that the Final Four is a great thing that was accomplished. And we definitely -- we definitely look forward and try to do it ourselves. We're definitely capable of doing it. We're a great team and we definitely are together and have enough talent level to reach that possibility.
It just comes down to confidence and heart and effort. If we can stick to those three things, then the possibility is great.
RYAN PEARSON: I look at it as basically that '06 team, they did a great thing reaching the Final Four. I know a lot of them guys from that team and they talk about it and they tell us about it.
But I think with this team we're just trying to build our own legacy and have our own identity and just trying to make them, well, not forget about it but talk about this year's George Mason's team and what they're going to do in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Isaiah, do you sense this Villanova team as being vulnerable because of their results in the last couple of weeks, or is that kind of a dangerous mindset going into the NCAA Tournament for you guys?
ISAIAH TATE: I think you could look at it either way. But through Villanova's eyes, I mean, they're thinking, hey, we've been playing bad, probably, we need to come out with a sense of urgency and ready to hit the ground running.
So we just need to be ready to take their best effort just like any other game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
Up next we'll have head coach Jim Larranaga. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, I'd like to begin by wishing everybody a happy Saint Patrick's Day. Very exciting day in the history of our program to come to the wonderful city of Cleveland where I did a lot of recruiting during my days at Bowling Green, and to come here and play in the Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and to play an outstanding Villanova Wildcat team in the first round, our first game of the NCAA Tournament in 2011, we're excited to be here.
We have two seniors, Cam Long and Isaiah Tate, who played in the tournament in 2008. We have 12 guys who have never played in the tournament before. But they sure liked the police escort from our hotel here to the arena, and everything about this trip is very exciting and almost new to every single guy on the team.
So I'll be happy to answer any questions.
Q. You're of a certain age; you'll recognize this reference. Do you think the CAA gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment nationally in some ways and also was this as good a year as the CAA's had in terms of top-to-bottom strength?
COACH LARRANAGA: First of all, I asked my players if they knew who Rodney Dangerfield was, because I was going to use that, "We don't get any respect." Not a single guy on our team recognized the name. I asked them if they saw the movie "Caddyshack." They never heard of it.
But I do understand the question, and I will say this: Number one, this is, in my opinion, the best year in Colonial Athletic Association history since I've been in the league. That's the last 14 years.
And I say that with deep respect for my brethren within the conference. Six teams were in the top 100 in the RPI, and I thought there was some great games and some great battles within the conference.
I think we try to promote our league nationally. We try to play a tremendous non-conference to gain national exposure. But there's no question that the BCS schools, the top six conferences in the country, get a lot more recognition and media coverage than we do.
And I remember telling my team: One of the things about our league, you'll hear the experts predict that someone's going to beat so and so, or this league is not as good, and the funny thing is, most of the guys doing the talking have never seen us play, never seen the teams in our conference play because we're not on television as often as the BCS schools. They're not as familiar. They don't cover them with their networks. And so they don't have the familiarity.
But as a coach who has coached at this level for 25 years, I can tell you, the CAA is now producing NBA-caliber players. There are some outstanding teams, and with the respect that we earned from the Selection Committee, we now have three teams in the NCAA Tournament; already one, VCU, with a win.
And we're excited to represent our conference, and I know our guys are excited to be here, and we'll play as hard and as well as we possibly can tomorrow.
Q. When you look at Villanova, is it a concern to go up against a team that's had kind of a schizophrenic season like that? Do you know really what you're in for? Are they a 16-1 team, a 5-10 team coming down the stretch? It's almost like two seasons for them.
COACH LARRANAGA: I think we make a little bit too much of the winning streak or losing streak or what have you, whether it's our 16-0 run or their 0-5 at the end of the season. It's really not as significant as people would make it out to be, especially when you look at who they lost to. Four of their losses were teams in the top 25. If two really good teams play, you know what, one of them is going to lose.
And in the situation we find ourselves in now, both teams are basically 0-0 in the NCAA Tournament. And you're now trying to win six games in a row to win a national championship. And that's all that matters.
Q. Can you just give an update on the minor injuries that you've suffered this week and some of the lingering things that have been going on?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, I guess the answer to that question is everybody practiced yesterday and did a very good job. Everybody's going to practice today, and hopefully they'll do a good job today. It's open to the public; you can watch and see for yourself what the physical condition is of our team.
I'm very, very happy with where we are right now. The guys are in very good shape mentally, and we're in pretty good shape physically. Although, you know, it's been a long time since we've played a game. And I don't know if there will be any effects of that tomorrow.
But chances are I think our guys will play very hard and very well and there won't be any excuses, that's for sure.
Q. You probably, I don't know, maybe get tired of talking about this, but what five years ago meant, does it make any difference now, white jerseys I guess instead of green? Which shows a lot about the strides you've made, right?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, the first thing, I never get tired of talking about '06. You know, who would get tired of people talking about a great time in your life. It just brings back great memories every time it's mentioned. And whether I'm at the barber shop getting a haircut or in the airport or restaurant, someone always comes up to me or even the guys on my staff or the players on the team and bring it up and they talk about, Hey, I was at the game or I met my wife at a bar the night you guys beat Connecticut.
So it comes up all the time. And our president,
Dr. Alan Merten, uses the quote that it's the gift that keeps on giving. And so it's a great part of our tradition.
But it is only a part of the tradition. We've continued from '06. We won our conference championship in '08 and we're back in the NCAA Tournament. Now for only the second time in our school's history, we've won an at-large bid. We got one in '06. Now we got one in 2011.
It's only the fifth time in the conference's history over the 26 years of our conference, there's only been five teams to earn at-large bid. And two of them were this year, us and VCU.
So we're very, very proud of that, we're proud of the job that our guys, this year's team, have done. They've put a great deal of effort into it. I'm very proud of the coaches, both past and present, of what they were able to do in their recruiting arena to establish our program.
I think one of the statistics that I like very much about the direction of our program is before the Final Four we were averaging about eight TV appearances a year. After the Final Four, we moved up to about 25 TV appearances a year. And last year we did a research project and found out we were one of the top 4 mid major programs in television appearances with Gonzaga, Xavier, Memphis, and George Mason. Those four.
So our program has come a long way. Our school is only 40 years old. We just keep getting bigger and better. And the university has spent a billion, a billion, that's with a B, dollars on campus improvements. We've built like ten new dormitories, classroom buildings.
We've added a whole faculty housing area. The university just gets bigger and better, and the program kind of follows that vision.
Q. We were just talking to Ryan Pearson, and you got him to commit pretty early in his senior year, and then he had a great senior year. Is this kind of what you thought he would develop into when you signed him? And did you kind of feel fortunate that you did get him before he really exploded his senior year?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, first of all, I'm always happy to sign someone in the early signing period so I don't have to worry about that all through the winter. I have to go back and forth to New York and deal with the traffic in the city. You know what I'm talking about?
And to get Ryan early was a coup for us because we felt he could become an All-Conference-caliber player. The first time I saw Ryan play was in September of his senior year. My assistants had seen him in the summer, but each time I went to see him it got messed up. I went to New York, saw him play. The first thing I saw him doing was flapping his arms, dancing around the court playing like three on three with his teammates at Christ the King.
And I kind of fell in love with him there with his enthusiasm for the game and a little bit of an unorthodox style. He's very, very clever in around the basket. He's got some unorthodox shots. He's great at using the backboard. He can step out and hit a 3. He can put the ball on the ground and be like a perimeter player.
But we were very, very happy to get him early, because we knew if we didn't that some high major schools might come along and try to steal him away. He was Second-Team All-Conference this year, and we're fully expecting that even though he's had a great freshman/sophomore/junior year, we fully expect his senior year will be the best yet.
Q. To test your memory here a little bit, is there anybody who stands out in your mind when you were at BG that you might have recruited from the Cleveland area that might have played for you?
COACH LARRANAGA: There's a lot of guys. I guess I'd have to begin with Anthony Stacey from Elyria. He was a unique personality and a unique player. When we were recruiting him, some of my friends in the coaching ranks asked me the question, Where in the heck are you going to play this guy? He's like 6'2" and he's a post player. I said, I'm going to play him on the court.
And what I meant by that was I didn't care about his size. What I cared about was how he could produce. He was a young man that could score, could rebound, could defend, could play inside/outside. He had great heart, great determination, was a great competitor, and the thing I loved about him most was his personality.
He was kind of the Energizer Bunny who just practiced hard and played hard every single day. He came from a wonderful family. And we were very, very fortunate enough to sign him.
But we also signed Shane Kalinsky from this area, Tommy Hall, Vada Burnett, who were all major contributors during the course of their career and made my job much easier. All great kids and a lot of fun to work with. They'll all be coming tomorrow, by the way, cheering for George Mason.
Q. You guys in '06, Butler last year. ODU plays Butler tomorrow. Is there any reason to think with the one and dones with the change in the college basketball landscape, that there's not going to be fairly regular appearances by so-called mid majors deeper into the tournament, or do you think it will swing back towards the big schools?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, I think that you have to kind of understand the numbers. I think as long as we have 37 at-large bids and 30 out of the 37 go to high major programs that the odds are in favor of the high majors continuing to make deep runs into the Final Four, because just of the odds. You have 30 teams having a chance to get there as compared to six or seven.
Yet at the same time I would tell you that there is less of a gap in terms of talent between the high majors and the mid majors so that when you come across a mid major team that has older players, veteran guys in the junior and senior class who have maybe even had NCAA Tournament experience in their background, it gives them a great opportunity to advance in the tournament.
And those two teams you've mentioned, Old Dominion and Butler, both fall into that category. One of them is going to be in the round of 32, and whoever they play, the matchup is, I guess, favored to be Pittsburgh because they're the No. 1 seed, that is going to be a very difficult game, because those teams are very, very good. Doesn't mean they're going to win, but they have a chance because of their experience.
Butler got to the championship game last year. Old Dominion knocked off Notre Dame in the first round last year. So they both have veteran squads. They both have tournament-tested teams, and neither one of them is going to be intimidated by anybody.
And that's going to happen more frequently because the high majors are losing guys earlier and earlier to the draft. Now it's -- the popular term is one and done. There's just a lot of teams that fall into that category.
Q. In 2006, when you guys made your run, you gained some notoriety for the way you whistle. Have you ever been in an arena or situation since then when you tried to whistle to get a player's attention and he didn't hear you?
COACH LARRANAGA: The answer is yes, and it was right after we beat Connecticut and went to Indianapolis and we played in a dome. And because of the acoustics and how high the ceiling is, I was trying to get Tony Skinn's attention. I was whistling as loud as I possibly could. He paid absolutely no attention to me.
And finally, when he turned around and I was able to get eye contact, I said, Tony, I was whistling. Didn't you hear me? And he said, No. And that surprised me because it was a very loud whistle. But I think that's the only time in my coaching career that a player said he couldn't hear me.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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