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March 17, 2011
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Mario Little, senior guard, and senior guard Brady Morningstar. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. As the seniors on this team, could you discuss what leadership roles you might have are in terms of getting back here, getting started in the tournament again and putting the disappointment of last year behind you guys? Is there relief to finally be here and get moving past all that?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: I think it's exciting to be back here. Being seniors on this team, we've been in this situation numerous times, so I think we know how to prepare and get other guys focused and in the right mindset.
But as far as playing, we've just got to go out there and have fun. We missed our last go around, so there is a little bit of a sense of urgency. But it's going to be excite to go get out there and play and just go out there and have fun.
MARIO LITTLE: Just like Brady said, just different roles now. Last year it was Cole and Sherron's team. They did a good job of getting guys ready. But they failed short this year, me, Brady and Tyrel, the twins took on leadership roles.
So we're just getting guys ready. Making sure we don't take no teams lightly. And as you can see, you can't take any teams lightly.
Q. How many different ways have you been reminded of last year? And I don't know if you have any examples, but how tired of it are you and how ready are you to put it to bed, I guess?
MARIO LITTLE: I mean, we had reminders all during the season, and during the season when we win big even sometimes somebody will bring up the Northern Iowa game. But that was last year. We're moving on. We've got bigger and better things to accomplish right now. So we're just trying to move forward and put that behind us and play every game.
Q. There have already been a couple of upsets this afternoon. Is that something that you guys maybe follow when you play in a Friday game and some of the Thursday games and the fact that some teams like Louisville have already been knocked off? Does that get your attention as far as understanding that, yeah, this is March Madness and anything can happen?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: Yeah, I think so. Coming back from practice we were sitting in the hotel room and we watched, I think it was the Louisville game. The guy put up and hit a three. And that's the NCAA Tournament for you, you know. Seeding is a big deal sometimes, but everyone in this tournament is very capable of winning games and you can see that.
So you can't take anyone lightly like Mario said, and you've got to come out here ready to play, because if you're not, you could be an early exit home.
Q. There's a saying that game follows game, if you understand that expression, players follow players. In that respect how aware are you of John Holland from Boston University? Do you know anything about him, or what do you know about him?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: I know he's one of the most efficient players in the country. He's 11th overall, nationally. And I thought Marcus on our team was about as efficient as they come, and I think he's 22nd or somewhere around there. So that tells you a lot about him.
He's going to be a tough match-up, whoever guards him. And you've got to be ready to play team defense, especially in the NCAA Tournament, because a lot of guys on different teams can score different ways. So just helping one guy isn't going to be the answer.
But I'm impressed with what I've seen from him so far. He looks like he can do it all. It will be exciting to get to guard him.
Q. I know I asked Mario this, but is there any specific example you can give of maybe frustrating examples, whatever, from fans, coaches, family of how they've reminded you of last year and maybe not let it go?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: The only example you can give is during conference play. When you go to K-State, you go to Missouri, you go to Ohio State and just listen to their students. Those are about as good of examples you can get. Which when you're mature enough and old enough you just laugh that stuff off. You know what I'm saying, it wasn't a joke back then, but you're past it now. You're over it. You've got to move on and focus on what you have ahead of you instead of what was behind you.
You're reminded of it all year, but that's what fans are for, I guess. I'm sure our fans heckle some people when they come to the field house anyway, so it's all fun.
Q. Would you discuss, after the performance in the Big 12 title game, do you feel like you're peaking at this point?
MARIO LITTLE: We show signs of being good all during the year and sometimes we take a step back. But it's crunch time now. We're going to feed off that game, I guess, and just keep trying to make strides and getting better. Every game could be our last, so we're playing with a sense of urgency.
Like I said, it can be our last game, so we're just going to take it one game at a time and making sure we do the things we need to do to keep moving on.
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: Just like he said, it's always good to take a little momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. Playing a good team like Texas who I think is the Top 5 team in the country. Playing them the way we did, that's good.
But just because you played them that way doesn't mean you're going to come out and play in the first round like that. Because we played K-State really good in the Big 12 Tournament and we came out flat the next game. So we've got to be mentally focused, mentally prepared and be ready to play.
Q. Didn't Coach Self leave some press clippings in your lockers this week about that game? And did it have the effect he hoped, or did you laugh about it?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: No, we definitely didn't laugh about it. Yeah, there were some clippings in our locker of Farokhmanesh pumping his fists, or what not, after he hit a big time shot against us. All credit to him. He knocked down a shot that was probably the biggest day of his career.
It's a little reminder of if you don't show up, you're going to go home. No one wants that. No one likes that feeling. I felt the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, so I'm just trying to make sure that doesn't happen again this year.
Q. Mario, could you answer that too? When you saw those clippings, what you thought?
MARIO LITTLE: Kind of got flashbacks. Couple of guys took the clippings and threw it in the garbage. I don't think anybody laughed, but it just brought back memories. I couldn't really do anything last year. Only thing I could do is talk to guys and try to wake them up and like we've got to go.
But that's all I can really do is cheer and try to get guys ready. But this year I'm in a position where I can help the team and make sure it doesn't happen this year.
Q. What do you think you need to do to win a title? Everyone talks about you as a contender. What do you need to do to get it done?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: Number one, you've got to defend because I think playing good defense and getting out in passing lanes starts your offensive game. If you can get some fast breakpoints it makes your half court offense a little easier. You're in a little bit of momentum.
But I mean I think on the defensive end that is the number one thing you have to work on. And the offense will come to you. You've got a lot of guys on offense that can score. If one player's not hitting their game, you can always hit it to another guy.
But defensively number one is definitely where we have to start if we want to make it far in this tournament. That's where we have to start.
Q. Certainly the tournament brings its own pressures. But do you feel any extra pressure knowing that the president of the United States picked you as his team to win it all in his bracket?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: I mean, he picked us -- I think he picked us last year also. So shows how much he knows I guess, right (laughing)? No, I guess he likes college sports and wants to pick his team that he thinks is going to win. More power to him.
Just because he said that doesn't mean he can make us win, so I don't feel any added pressure from him. But I'd like to go and meet him in a couple of weeks. That would be pretty fun.
Q. Do you feel like you owe him one?
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: Why not?
MARIO LITTLE: I don't know. I don't think we really owe him anything, but I would love to go to the White House and see him. No pressure though.
Q. You mentioned Cole and Sherron. Either one of you heard from them? Have they talked to you anything about last year and how to change it this year?
MARIO LITTLE: Cole texts the guys. Sherron texts guys about every game, not every game, but every big game like the ones that we've got to win like K-State, Missouri, Texas. They both text everybody and say get the job done, bring it home. They keep tabs on us. We're still close to them, so they text us. We text them back. So we've heard from them a couple of times.
BRADY MORNINGSTAR: Yeah, he gets the same texts I get, so pretty much what he said.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. Coach, an opening statement?
COACH SELF: Well, we're obviously excited to be in the tournament again and represent the Big 12. It's especially nice coming back to Tulsa where my family spent seven years here and had a lot of fun.
Q. How would you describe the change in the Morris twins from the day they walked in as freshmen until now?
COACH SELF: Well, everybody matures emotionally and physically when they go to school. They were gifted physically, and obviously big. But they hadn't really matured into their body yet and from a strength standpoint, and emotionally they were young like a lot of kids are.
To see the development they've shown over the last three years is pretty remarkable. I had a chance to work with a guy named Bryant Reeves big country at Oklahoma State. Very similar, and I would almost compare their progress with that of his. It's unbelievable to me how they've matured and they're ridiculously smart.
They're very, very bright players and understand the game. Probably have about as good a feel as anybody I've ever coached.
Q. Could you offer some perspective at this point for some of the challenges that you and your coaches faced over the course of the season and bringing that all together to what appears to be your peaking or recently played probably your best basketball this season?
COACH SELF: Well, you know we really haven't played our best basketball of the season. We've played our best basketball game of the season. So we haven't been consistently that good at a high level.
But we have been through some stuff. But teams across America everywhere go through stuff, lot of times they just don't become public like the majority of our stuff has. I think that's one thing about teams. That's what makes them teams, is they're able to fight through some things when the appearance is that it shouldn't be easy to fight through.
Certainly we've dealt with some individual things. But the biggest thing we dealt with, obviously, was the death of Thomas' family. I think our guys did a remarkable job for him when he was a rock for us, and certainly we rallied around that in a lot of different ways, which I think helped us become a better team.
Q. The players mentioned that you gave them some motivational clippings in their locker about last year. Could you discuss what that was?
COACH SELF: Well, I didn't do it, but I had a coach ask me if I thought it was a good idea, and I said, "Sure." And then what it was after we were defeated in the second round last year, we made the cover of "Sports Illustrated", along with Northern Iowa, which they deserved it.
It wasn't anything to bring back negative thoughts as much as it was a reminder of what can happen this year if you're off just a little bit. I hope our guys get that. We've already seen today in the tournament. I mean, this is wild. Expect the unexpected.
Certainly if anybody has lived out all ends of the spectrum, we probably have, because we lost in the first round a couple of times and we've cut down nets. I don't know if there are too many people that can say they've done all those things. So our guys understand that one or two possessions is the difference in advancing or going home sad.
Q. Also wanted to ask you, I know the media timeouts are I guess about the same. But it's about three minutes. Do you ever run out of things to say in the huddle sometimes?
COACH SELF: If you've watched us play, my guys are up 30 seconds before the other team even comes out of the huddle. So I've run out of things to say 15 or 20 seconds into each timeout. So this will be a real challenge for me. Maybe I should be like the NBA guy and just huddle up on my coaches for two minutes and talk about what we're going to have for dinner and then go in and talk to our guys.
That's one reason why depth is important, there is no question, only primarily because of injury or foul trouble. Fatigue is not usually a huge factor this time of year.
Q. How much of last season's disappointment fueled your guys throughout the off-season and continued into this season? With regard to the clippings, do you think it had its intended effect?
COACH SELF: I don't know. I don't know how many read it. I've been told from things that the media has told me is that some of my guys looked at it and just tossed it, which is fine too. At least it jogged their memory; but, you know, I don't know. I really don't. What was your first question though?
Q. How much last season fueled them?
COACH SELF: I really think it has. I see something in the twins that I really felt like when we left that locker room in Oklahoma City is that there was a commitment that they made which led to commitment of other guys, because without question, they lead us. They can get guys to rally around what their focus is better than anybody else.
This has been a committed group. I haven't coached a team that likes to play as much as this year's team. Last year's team didn't enjoy playing as much as this year's team. You could go back to April 1st when we were basically in the gym by ourselves wishing we were still playing.
Q. I think you've said at least once or twice this year is that Marcus is the best player you've ever coached or maybe the most complete?
COACH SELF: Yeah, he's not the best player. I tell him that all the time. I've coached a guy who arguably is the best point guard in the world for a brief period of time. He's not the best, but he's the most complete player I've ever coached. He can do more things on the basketball court than anybody I've ever been around. He's 6'8". He can post. He can score over the shoulder. He can face. He can drive it. He's a great passer. He can stretch it. He can slide. I mean, he is a complete basketball player.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that he's near as good as Wayne Simien at scoring or somebody else at rebounding, but he can do a lot of things.
Q. How close is his brother to that?
COACH SELF: Well, Kieff is different. He's a low post presence. He didn't have the perimeter skillset that Marcus has. But he can stretch it, and he's a great passer like Marcus. He just doesn't put it down as well. He's not far behind. Everybody talks about Marcus, but Kieff's improvement has probably been more rapid from last year to this year.
Q. Can you talk about your time in this city and what Tulsa has meant to you in your career and what it means to be back here?
COACH SELF: Well, Oklahoma's my state. Of course, I grew up in Edmond, but lived in Claremore for a period of four years, and spent a lot of time in Stillwater. But for my coaching career perspective I got my first opportunity at ORU and was able to move across town four years later, and it was a remarkable ride.
I don't know if I've ever had more fun in my life than what I had the seven years I was here, without question, I'd say the last five years I was here. The first two years weren't that much fun.
But seriously, it was a great run, great kids, and I'll never forget. Lot of people asked if I learned how to be a coach at Tulsa and I would say the answer is probably yes, in large part because at ORU our mistakes weren't magnified, and I made a ton of them; and I was able to work through that, where I'd be fired in today's time at an Illinois or a Kansas.
So I was able to kind of grow and cut my teeth there and move on to bigger and better things isn't the right thing to say because that's not what happened. I've had some opportunities, but I don't know if I've ever had it better than what I had it here when I was at Tulsa.
Q. In your study of Boston University and once you found out what the pairing would be, what was your impression of John Holland and his overall efficiency?
COACH SELF: He would be a terrific player in our league, without question. I look at their team and I think -- I was surprised they were on the 16 line to be honest. When I was in my mind going through the bracket, I didn't have them as one of the teams on the 16 line.
Coach has done a good job there in a short amount of time. And their stats defensively are better than ours, and we take quite a bit of pride in that.
I think they're hard to score on. I think they mirror Jay Wright's teams a lot, and how they do some things. They're very good at beating you off the bounce. And Holland to me is a potential pro. He can do a lot of things. He can post. He can face. He can drive it. He's certainly athletic.
So they're good. They've got a good team and it's going to be a good challenge for us, no question.
Q. When did you realize last year's team wasn't having much fun? As a coach, what do you try to do?
COACH SELF: I don't know if I ever said last year's team wasn't having much fun?
Q. I thought you said this year's team's having a lot more fun than last year's team?
COACH SELF: This year's team's a little looser. But I think I said is that last year going into the tournament we didn't appear to be as loose as what this year's team is. I think the burden, even though it's not a burden, Illinois went through it several years ago when they had that great, great run. They handled it probably better than we did.
We were No. 1 last year, basically from April 1st to April 10th through the NCAA Tournament starting, except for two or three weeks. You talk about it not being important, talk about this, talk about that, but you get the mindset with kid that's we're trying to protect that and hang on to it. If you're hanging on to it, you're not in attack mode. You're in the defensive mode.
I kind of felt like we operated that way last year. We had a fabulous record, but I didn't feel like we let it go like I hope this team does. Of course, it remains to be seen if we do, but certainly I hope we're much more aggressive this first weekend than what we were last year.
Q. Coming back to your state, and I know you've talked about it and it's been well-documented. Have you found yourself maybe trying to figure out how you could just be a coach and not have to please everybody by getting them tickets and talking to them and returning phone calls and all the family that you have here? Have you had to settle that down a little bit?
COACH SELF: It's kind of settled itself down. The first time -- first couple times you come back, I think those are issues. But that wasn't an issue last year. That wasn't why we lost. Here I haven't talked to a family member since I've been here. I haven't talked to one this week. I haven't talked to any of my boys this week that would want tickets, and I don't want to talk to them because they may ask and I'd have to tell them no.
I've done a decent job personally of eliminating those type of distractions, but that was before. I don't think it's -- it's good to come home. It's nice to see familiar faces and I've seen a ton already today. But it doesn't play into what's going on at all. I even see some familiar Illinois faces out there too.
Q. As good as things are going for you right now, can you just reflect personally on what you really felt like was the toughest struggle for you to go through? I'm sure it had to do with Thomas, but what was that like? Can you sort of take us inside that a little bit more for you on a personal level?
COACH SELF: Well, the thing is I thought Thomas was a terrific young man before we recruited him. I thought he was a great kid coaching him. I thought all that. After this has occurred, I didn't even give him credit for as good as he is. The kid is off the charts. That was tough for everybody. It wasn't just tough for coaches or whatever. We hurt for our players because if you do your job, they should be like your own. And certainly we did.
But our school was unbelievably accommodating for him, which was very important because the support staff doesn't exist the way he knew it, and the NCAA certainly was very student-athlete friendly in allowing the school to do some things for him to he help him get through that.
As a coach, I think so many times so much is put on us, and the view is what kids learn from coaches. This is a prime example of what a coach can learn from a kid. That's what made that deal unique and special. I just sat back and let them teach me, because that was a unique way to see a group come together.
Q. Can you talk about Elijah's growth toward the end of the season, and how important he is to what you do in the postseason?
COACH SELF: I think he's real important. Elijah started when Ty had his issues and played very, very well. Then we made a decision to start Tyshawn, and Ty was lights out against Texas and played well in the Big 12 Tournament.
But we need them both. That's what I tell them, we need them both. One is more a possession guard, and the other one's kind of a road runner type guard.
But we need Elijah's athletic ability, and maybe even play some of those guys together or play those two together more than what we have.
Q. With the press clipping situation and watching the upsets on Thursday, is it a good thing in some way that you guys are playing on Friday? You can up close and personal see that there are upsets to be had?
COACH SELF: I've always thought it was a slight advantage to play on Friday. But I think other teams may think the same thing too so it probably balances itself out. Certainly we played on Friday and have been beaten, so that doesn't guarantee anything. I think it's kind of good sometimes to see other teams play and see how the games come down to the last possession.
We haven't watched a lot of games together today, but we had a chance to watch the end of the Old Dominion-Butler game. What a finish. We tell them all year long, our season will come down to one possession. I guarantee it will come down to the last possession or last couple of possessions of a game.
We saw firsthand, 1/10 of a second was the difference in overtime in winning. I think it gives the guys that extra juice, I believe, going into the game tomorrow watching others play.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports