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March 12, 2012

George Fant

Derrick Gordon

Ray Harper

Kahlil McDonald


THE MODERATOR:  I'd like to introduce our players from Western Kentucky.  We have Kahlil McDonald next to me and Derrick Gordon and George Fant.

Q.  George, do you have a lot of family and friends coming up?  I know you're from Cincinnati.
GEORGE FANT:  Definitely a lot of family coming up.

Q.  Make you excited or nervous?
GEORGE FANT:  Pretty excited.  First time they've got to see me play in a long time in person.

Q.  Are you nervous at all?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  Nervous, it comes with the territory.  But I'm embracing it.

Q.  Can you talk about the nerves, if any, tomorrow playing with President Obama in the house tomorrow night?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  Once you step on the court, it's like, and you get that first up and down, it goes away, really.  It's just butterflies, really.  I think the best players have that, but once it goes away, it's game time.

Q.  Also, Kahlil, you guys are the only team in the entire 68‑team field that has a losing record.  You've won six straight.  Does that mean anything?  Should fans read anything into that at all?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  People can read into whatever they want.  We're going to play like we have been playing the last six games.  That's what got us here, and that's what we're going to keep doing.

Q.  The fact that you won your conference tournament and you're here, was this somethingwhen you went into the conference tournament thinking we can get in the NCAA?  Just kind of what fuels you to get to this point?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  Just it's do or die.  That's what it is right now, too, once again, but it's just a bigger stage and we're going to keep that same mindset.

Q.  There aren't many teams that have ever changed coaches during the season and made this tournament.  It's very rare.  For whoever feels like talking about it, could you go back and remember what it was like when you guys made the coaching change and just what the mentality among the players was at that point, what was going through your heads?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  Basically just‑‑ we've been through a lot of adversity, and that made us tougher, really.  I'm pretty sure everybody's minds was like going crazy, but it shows how tough we are because we got through it and we got a conference championship.  And now we're here.

Q.  You're such a young team, and you've been through so much.  Do you have any sense that you guys are maybe sort of the underdogs rooting interest in this tournament?
DERRICK GORDON:  I'd say so.  A lot of people are underestimating us.  We can't worry about what people think.  We just gotta go out there and play our game like we've been doing the whole time in the conference tournament.
GEORGE FANT:  I can say for our freshmen we don't consider ourselves freshmen anymore.  Those days are long gone for us.  We consider ourselves upperclassmen, because it's toward the end of the year.  We're just ready to go out and play.

Q.  Going back to the coaching change, I'm sure there's some disappointment, there's relationships there, but a lot of times it reenergizes a team.  What was the mood when you guys changed coaches?  Was it disappointing or was it reenergizing?
KAHLIL MCDONALD:  Really, I just think that we looked at it as, I mean, just change.  It's a change, I mean, and then life.  What if you both get fired?  You still have to work.  That's how we looked at it, as work, and that's what we came to do.
GEORGE FANT:  Same thing.  This game is a business.  Once you get into college, it's a job for you.  It's not just for fun, but you also have fun at it.  But it's a job.
Things happen, we have changes in the game.  And you just gotta keep building off of it and look at it as a business, even with a new coach.

Q.  A lot of times you'll see a team have adversity, maybe they change a coach early on, you'll see the team come apart a little bit.  I was wondering if you could go back to that time, was there a time when you worried about that happening and did you have player meetings and talk about what you were going to do?
GEORGE FANT:  We definitely had player meetings, but as far as coming apart, none at all.  Even with a new coach, we all came together and talked like with our senior, and he told us just to keep our heads high and keep looking forward, don't look back.  It was middle of the season.  We had a lot of games left and the conference tournament as well.  So we had a lot of time to get better, which we did.
THE MODERATOR:  I'll introduce the head coach of Western Kentucky.  This is Ray Harper.  I'd like to open it to questions.

Q.  Just wanted to talk about the coaching change.  What was your first order of business when you took over?
COACH HARPER:  Just to make sure that we helped these kids get better each day.  We said there was 57days until the conference tournament.  Let's try to get better each day and hopefully be playing our best basketball at that time.
And we had some great guys to work with, and that's what we focused on each and every day.

Q.  Often when you see a team change coaches at mid‑season there's a real fall‑out, it affects the players in many ways.  How were your guys able to kind of pull through that and not come apart?
COACH HARPER:  That would be a question you'd have to ask them.  I don't know.  I mean, again, all we tried to focus on was the task at hand.  And the task at hand was to try and get better.  We weren't a very good basketball team, we weren't playing very well, and there were some areas we needed to get better.
And, again, I had a great staff to work with.  And the last three or four weeks we were playing very good basketball, and I'm just happy that these kids have an opportunity to play again tomorrow night.

Q.  Could you talk about tomorrow night's game is obviously going to be in the international spotlight with President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron being here.  What's it going to be like for your team playing with those two in the audience?
COACH HARPER:  I hope they don't notice those two.  I hope they notice those five guys in the other jersey, because they're the ones that are going to score all the buckets tomorrow night.
We just need to focus on the things that we can control, what's gotten us to this point, and we know what that is.
As long as we come out tomorrow night and play with the type of effort and intensity that we've been playing with, I'll be fine.
But I think anyone in the crowd, when they leave tomorrow night, they'll say that team is tough and they compete.

Q.  You mentioned in the last few weeks you guys started playing a lot better.  Which area specifically did you see the most improvement in?
COACH HARPER:  I think obviously the defensive end is an area that we've really focused on.  I thought it really started to take hold in the last two to threeweeks.  But, more importantly, our mental toughness.
We'd get down in the past.  I could see our guys, they didn't know how to react.  And now I think we trailed in every game in the conference tournament.  One game by as many as 13, with less than eight minutes to go, and there was no panic.
And our guys continue to believe that they could win the basketball game.  And they've learned some lessons that will carry them, help them much longer than this basketball season.  It's going to help them through life; that there will be tough days, but you must stay and believe‑‑ if you believe in what you're doing, you've got a chance.
And I'm proud of these guys for being so resilient.  And no one gave us a chance to be here today, other than the guys that are in that locker room and that coaching staff.

Q.  You guys are the only team in this tournament with a losing record.  Do you think much about that?
COACH HARPER:  I think more about we're 6‑0 in our last six games.  We're 10‑4 in our last 14.  Anyone that's watched our basketball team play, we should have been 13‑1.  We gave some away when we just did not know how to close out games.  We know how to close out games now.
But we're not going to live in the rearview mirror.  We're not concerned about who we were.  We know who we are now, and that's what I'm most excited about.

Q.  One more question about the coaching change.  Was there a time back then where you looked at you have such a young team and you're going through all this, you just kind of go:  Oh, my goodness, how are we going to do this?
COACH HARPER:  No, not really.  Again, our primary focus was let's get better.  And as a coaching staff, how do we help these kids get better, what are the areas that we need to focus on, whether it be mental approach to the game, whether it be on the defensive end, whether it be on the offensive end.
And, again, I had an unbelievable group of guys to work with.  And not just the players, but the other coaches.  And that's why we are setting here today.  We had a group of guys that believed in what we were telling them.
And did it happen overnight?  No.  But it's a process.  And once the process took hold, I could see a real difference in this team.
And we needed something good to happen.  I mean, we were working awfully hard, and we finally had something good happen when we beat Arkansas Little Rock at home.  And from that point forward, I thought our team started playing very good basketball.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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