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NCAA MEN'S 2ND & 3RD ROUNDS: COLUMBUS


March 15, 2012


Rick Byrd

Ian Clark

Drew Hanlen

Mick Hedgepeth

Kerron Johnson


COLUMBUS, OHIO

THE MODERATOR:¬† We're joined by Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, and student‑athletes Mick Hedgepeth, Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson and Drew Hanlen.
Questions for the student‑athletes.

Q.  Drew and Kerron, although you guys lost to Duke to start the year, from a confidence standpoint, what did playing at Cameron do for you guys, just to show you you could play with the big boys?
DREW HANLEN:  Definitely.  We knew Duke was a top 10 team coming into the season.  Obviously it proved they were a really good team throughout the season.
And for us we've been hanging with those big guys for a long time now, and obviously our goal going in there was not only to prove that we could hang with them but actually get a win.
And we came up a little bit short from that, but it definitely proved to us we could hang with anybody in the country.
KERRON JOHNSON:  I think he covered it all.  We know that we can compete at that level.  We just wanted to be able to show everybody that we had that talent, we had that capability, we had that team, and we had the confidence to step out there and hopefully deliver tomorrow and whenever we step on the court.

Q.  Mick and Kerron, can you talk about defense and obviously a lot of people are talking about what this team has to do offensively, but what do you guys have to do defensively to pull out a victory here?
MICK HEDGEPETH:  They present a little bit of a mismatch for us starting four guys over 6'8".  I think it's really important that we box out and try to control the boards as best we can.  I think that's one big key for us.
KERRON JOHNSON:  Definitely, I think all three of us as guards are going to be a little bit of a dogfight, but I think you just gotta be tough and physical and try to keep them off the spots that they want to be at and just guard them, guard them the best you can and make them take tough shots.  And after they take tough shots, that's when the game starts again because you have to box out and keep them off the boards.  They're really dangerous on the offensive boards.
So that's the problem that we have and that we're going to have to face tomorrow night.

Q.¬† Kerron, could you tell us a bit about the key to your team's 3‑point success, you know, whether it's pure skill, talent or mindset or strategy, just a little bit about what makes that so effective?¬† And also how you think that's going to stack up against a tall defense‑oriented Georgetown team?
KERRON JOHNSON:  I think it's a combination of things.  I think when our post players, Scott and Mick, are delivering down inside, it poses a big problem.  Our offense depends a lot on them down low.  And then with these guys, they're so confident this year, everybody is, knocking down big shots at big times, it really helps us to get out in transition and get a lot of easy looks, hopefully, and not let them get their defensive set.  Because we know when they get their defense set, they're long, they're athletic, they're physical, and they can pose a problem.
So we're going to try to keep the tempo up and get these guys the ball down inside, and when the time comes for them to kick it back out, we'll be ready and knock down shots.
As far as that goes for helping us win the game, I think that's a big part of our game, but it's not the only part.  Like you said, the defensive part is going to be a big part of the game.  And if we can get that done, I think we'll score enough points to pull out a victory.

Q.¬† Kerron and Drew, the 3‑point shooting again, how does it change just your ability to hit that shot when you're going up against a team that is so long and can guard you on the perimeter the way that the Hoyas do?
KERRON JOHNSON:¬† They're solid.¬† They're really solid.¬† They don't take chances, and we know that it's going to be tough.¬† That's why I said we have to use our transition offense to get open looks.¬† We gotta penetrate when we can and be strong when we penetrate and find shooters on the perimeter and hopefully get inside that defense; that they do a good job of keeping you out on perimeter and make you take contested shots.¬† You have to find a way to penetrate their defense to get open looks for these guys, shooters and dump‑offs.

Q.¬† Ian, can you just talk about the legacy of this program? ¬†Belmont has gotten better over the course of the years, and how do you guys know that you're on the‑‑ ready to take that next step and not just getting to the tournament but getting a victory in the tournament?
IAN CLARK:¬† I think it's big for us.¬† Belmont's been to the tournament.¬† This year will be five times.¬† And every year I think that the team that got to the tournament has gotten‑‑ has gotten better.
The games have been, I think, as far as the team would say, more winable before us, as far as us getting there and not just being happy to be here.
Last year we had a good team, 30‑5, and I think last year Coach talked about it earlier in practice that some of the guys' mindset was just coming to get here, people were happy to get here.¬† And this year it isn't the same.
We got a lot of guys on this team who have been here, last year, a lot of new guys coming to the tournament, and this year I think a lot of us are ready to take that next step and ready to get this win and continue moving on.

Q.¬† Along those lines of what Ian was just saying, Drew, what would it mean‑‑ this school has had so many near misses in the tournament.¬† What would it mean to be that team to get over the top, to get that first win?
DREW HANLEN:  We talked about that a lot this year.  We had three goals really coming into the season.  One was to win the conference regular season title, and another one was to win the conference tournament title, and our third goal was to win a game and win multiple games in the NCAA Tournament.
We know the next step is obviously winning a big game, and there's no better time than in the NCAA Tournament.  We think obviously the recruiting's got a lot better, and just the name recognition.
Obviously that doesn't help you, doesn't put extra points on the scoreboard, but what it does is it gives you confidence.  I think we gained confidence from the teams in the past, and our ability to win a game like this would give teams in the future confidence that they can hang with these teams, can get wins.
And I think ultimately I think it would just give us a sense of satisfaction just from the standpoint that we put in tons of work in the offseason and we've been waiting for this day since that Wisconsin loss last year.

Q.  Drew, I imagine you are all aware that Georgetown lost in the first round of the tournament both last year and the year prior to lower seeds.  To what extent, if any, is that kind of in the back of your mind?  Is that in play either for good or evil as you get ready to play them?
DREW HANLEN:  I think every year they have new players.  Obviously Otto Porter is a guy from Missouri that I am familiar with, and I don't think last year's team is going to have that much effect on this year's team.  Obviously they had a different schedule.  They played different opponents.  They had a different core group of guys.
And I think actually that's going to make the guys that are coming back a lot hungrier.¬† I think it's going to make the guys that have lost in the NCAA Tournament, those upperclassmen that experienced those losses, I think it's going to make them hungrier.¬† They're not going to want a first‑round exit again.
But really, again, it's about the two teams this year.  A lot of people look at last year's team.  We got compared to last year's team as far as our standpoint, and really we feel like we're a totally different group of guys, we offer different problems.  And we think the same thing with Georgetown.  They're going to have a different team and they're going to be ready to play tomorrow.

Q.  Drew and Mick, this is for you two, you guys are seniors.  How are you going to approach this game as seniors?
MICK HEDGEPETH:  I think obviously it's a bigger game, this being an NCAA Tournament game.  But I think we have to approach it like we do any game.  Our coaches have done a great job of getting us prepared for this game.  Georgetown runs a little different style offense than Princeton.  And no one in our league runs it.  That's been a little adjustment.
I think we just have to approach it and give it our best shot.
DREW HANLEN:  I think the same thing.  I think that obviously if you look at it as this is a chance where it could be the last game of your career, I think it hurts your mindset.  I'm coming into this game, as well as the rest of these guys, that we want to extend the season and we're coming into the game to get a win.
So I don't think it's in the back of our mind at all.  Obviously after the game we'll be excited or sad, but I think going into the game you just have to focus on the first play and then after that every play after that.

Q.  Mick, can you just talk a little about the challenge that Henry Sims presents, what you see in him as a player?  You see he's made a lot of improvement this year and seems to be playing well right now.
MICK HEDGEPETH:  Like you said, he's a great player.  I think he had like 22 and 15 last game.  And what's good about him he's not only a great scorer but he's also a great passer.  I think he's second on their team in assists.  So he presents a problem for us.
And Scott and I are‑‑ like I said, the coaches have done a great job in preparing a game plan for us, and Scott and I are going to do the best job we can to go out there and execute.

Q.  I'm curious as you guys have been around a little bit, are you still hearing "who" and "where" is Belmont, or is that starting to diminish a little bit?  What kinds of things are you hearing like that?
DREW HANLEN:  I definitely think so.  I know that I get it a lot.  Over the summer when I'm back at home in St. Louis, people are starting to get a little more familiar with it.  But when we're in areas outside of the country where none of our players are necessarily from and we maybe haven't had an opponent in that area, people often ask, you know, is Belmont in North Carolina just because of Belmont Abbey.  We get that a lot.
And I think that over the past couple of years I think the name recognition has definitely grown and you can see more and more people that just recognize us in airports and see the Belmont name on our chest and say congratulations on a good season, good luck in the next game.  And I think the name has definitely grown over the last couple of years.

Q.¬† When you look back at that open‑round loss to Wisconsin last year, what went wrong and what do you have to do differently to get stronger start against Georgetown?
MICK HEDGEPETH:  I think we executed pretty well last year.  Jordan Taylor hit some huge 3s at the end of several shot clocks and they had some guys come off the bench, make a couple of 3s.  I think one guy hadn't made a 3 all year in Big Ten play.
So I think it's going to come down to making shots and players making plays.
KERRON JOHNSON:  I think we just have to come out and be a lot more confident.  Just Coach has talked all week about playing like you belong.  I think that's going to be a big thing for us, is playing with confidence.  We know we can hang with these guys.
We just have to play with that confidence and come out and attack and be aggressive and do everything that we would do in any other game.  Don't stop.  If you can penetrate, he tells you to get in there, find shooters.  If you can shoot, shoot it like it's going in.  If you're a post player, post up like you want the ball.  If you want to defend you've got to defend without fear.  Coach always says that.
So for us it's going to be about coming out and taking the fight to them and just not backing down and being physically and mentally ready for the game that we're going to be in.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Coach, an opening statement.
COACH BYRD:  I don't have one prepared.  Obviously we are glad to be here.  And I've tried to talk our guys into not just being glad to be here, but all you gotta do is look around the country and there's a lot of teams that had outstanding mid major seasons.  I mean, maybe best ever.  And they weren't able to win their conference tournament when they were heavily favored.
And there's a lot of pressure, I think, these past two seasons when people were just kind of handing us the conference tournament championship.¬† At least I felt‑‑ I sometimes think that we all think that the players feel more pressure than they really do.¬† I think they just like playing.
But it's still not easy to do is the point.  And so we are happy to represent the Atlantic Sun and to come back for the fifth time in seven years, if you would have told me or Mike Strickland, our athletic director back there, that that was going to happen 12 or 13years ago when we turned DivisionI and we're trying to not get beat by 50, which happened, by the way, I think we both might have taken one shot at it, if we could ever go.
And so can't take it for granted, and we're looking forward to the game and the challenge.
And I think our guys passed it along pretty good.  Us feeling like we can win a game this year doesn't have anything to do with Georgetown.  I think we felt like if we could get back that just one more time knocking on the door gives you a better chance.  They're a 3 seed and we're a 14 seed and there's a committee that spends an awful lot of time looking at that stuff.  And that makes us a pretty significant underdog, even if we happen to be a trendy pick here and there by some folks.
And we know it's a challenge and we know they're favored and should be favored.  But I do think our mindset is a more confident one than it's ever been.

Q.¬† Will this game be decided on your team's ability to hit 3‑point shots against that length and perimeter pressure that Georgetown applies?
COACH BYRD:¬† I think it's an important part of it:¬† Can we?¬† And I do think‑‑ brought up the Wisconsin game a year ago, and I think we're facing in many ways a similar kind of defense, a defense that doesn't necessarily extend itself but they're always there and they make‑‑ I don't think they care too much about how many turnovers they create.¬† They want you to take tough shots every time down the floor, and their numbers prove they can do it in a big way.¬† I think they lead the country in 3‑point percentage defense.
So that's not a good‑‑ that's not a good thing for Belmont.
But, you know, games are decided in all sorts of ways, and I don't ever‑‑ I hear things if you score in the 60s, score in the 50s, the 80s, they win this many, you know, it's possession by possession.¬† If they make it tough for us, we better go down and make it tougher for them.¬† And we have won games where we didn't shoot it well from the 3‑point line, but we do rely on it and there's a big difference in making 11 out of 25 and 5 out of 25.¬† It's like 18points.¬† And that could be the difference.
So it's going to be hard to get great looks.  When we get them, we need to have a good shooting day.

Q.  In talking about that confidence that you mentioned before, can you just contrast that first team you brought to an NCAA Tournament to the one that you have here now?
COACH BYRD:  In any number of ways.  And that was a historic team for us.  And, again, as far as a lot of us knew that was our one time, that was our one time to be in the NCAA Tournament, you have no idea that you're going to win the next two and that you're going to come back again later on.
And you say all the right things, but your mentality really is like your first time at Disney World.  You're looking around and you don't know what to expect, and you are pretty much just happy to be there.
And in those first two years we were a 15 seed, first three years, and we faced‑‑ in the first year we faced UCLA, and they ended up being a Final Four team, and the next year we faced Georgetown, and they ended up being a Final Four team.¬† So we weren't really competitive with those teams and probably couldn't have been competitive over 40minutes.¬† We led both of them for seven or eight, but that was fool's gold and they were just better.
And so I think it's important to note that‑‑ I think Drew mentioned recruiting.¬† We have better players than those teams did right now, in my opinion, but it's because of what those players did.¬† And in that Duke game in '08 where we sort of became the game of the day and lost by one, it did wonders for us in terms of recognition and in terms of belonging, and that was the third straight year in the NCAA Tournament.¬† Every high school player, every recruit wants to play in the NCAA Tournament.¬† We could at that point say, well, the odds are pretty good here.¬† We've gone three straight years.
So these guys are a result of those teams and what they did.  And we have better players and more of them than we did at that point.

Q.  Is there a defining characteristic of your team this year?  Is there a word or a phrase or an attitude or something that would help us understand them?
COACH BYRD:¬† Your choice of two, I think, and they mean the same thing pretty much:¬† selflessness, unselfish.¬† Last year's team was remarkable in terms of the shared minutes.¬† I think the most anyone played a year ago was a little over 24minutes on the average, because we really almost had platooned in a way, not unit‑wise, but in position‑wise.
And this year's team is a little different because it became pretty obvious that Kerron and Drew, the guys that shared the point guard position a year ago, were two of our best players, and as it turned out they're both First Team All‑Conference players, and Ian was our First Team All‑Conference player from a year ago, and is again.¬† We may be the only program who's ever had three guards in the First Team All‑Conference team anywhere.
So we haven't had the luxury of moving people in and out as much, because I feel like we need those three guys on the floor when they're not breathing too hard.
So the unselfishness is not as much about minutes as it was a year ago, but it's the same guys with the same kind of attitude, and there's absolutely no concern that I can see at all over who shoots how often or who scores points or who gets credit for anything that we do.
I can't detect it in any way top to bottom in our team.  We've got two 4 men that shared all the 4 man minutes almost a year ago, and now Blake Jenkins has moved ahead of them into that role, and in the conference tournament one of them played well and important minutes, Trevor Noack, and the next game Brandon Baker fit what we needed more.  And he played and Trevor didn't, and Brandon hadn't played the game before.  And they were both just happy that we won the tournament, as far as I could see.
I mean, internally we're all disappointed when we don't get to play or we don't get to play a more important role.  I think that's the real important point about these kids and our team, is that not that they aren't disappointed that they're not playing the more important roles, they don't ever show it.  All of us have the natural feeling.  It's whether we drag the team down by whining, complaining, and talking in the locker room and the dorm and everything else.
So that's a long answer, and you wanted one word, didn't you?

Q.  If I could like extend this even more.  Besides just making for a harmonious situation, can you connect the dots on how that helps this team win, like from a coach's perspective, what does the selflessness do for you in actually getting the result?
COACH BYRD:¬† I think it's one of those teams where‑‑ and I may not get this little phrase exactly right, where the sum is greater than all of its parts.
I think when you've got guys that don't care, if you've got guys that do care and he's Player A, he's going to make sure he gets his shots off, then he's going to take an occasional bad shot and make an occasional bad decision to force a play when it's not there.¬† And when our guys do that, it's not because‑‑ in my opinion it's not because of any selfishness, it just happens to be a bad decision that time.
And when you have a team where everyone at least, again, seems to me really likes one another, it's more of a team.¬† And all that that comes together, I don't know that‑‑ there's a lot of coaches that can obviously describe it better than I am right now, but it really‑‑ it just gives you a better chance.¬† And I think that's part of our whole approach to this program is to recruit people with character and guys that fit one another and that they will get along.
There's no sense in me bringing in a talented player that I know is going to disrupt what we've got in this program right now, and I'm not going to do it.
I think that's what's got us here five out of seven years.  It doesn't guarantee you any year.  But I think that's the key to why we have been sitting here five times in the last seven years.

Q.  I'm interested in these five times appearances and the name recognition spreading, how it affects you, how you feel a difference in recruiting that kids now know who you are and where you've been?
COACH BYRD:¬† Again, this team's a result of the '06 through '08 success.¬† I think what these guys are doing right now is going to build a foundation for hopefully better players to come in the future.¬† Gonzaga and Butler, they didn't happen in a day.¬† They didn't happen in a year or two.¬† It was built over time.¬† And those two programs, along with Davidson, similar institutions, I think, and similar philosophies in a lot of ways.¬† Gonzaga may be the point where they can outrecruit people in the Pac‑10 and that sort of thing.
But it took a while.¬† And hopefully now we can go into homes of guys that are getting SEC attention in that part of the country and say, look, look at all the things we have to offer.¬† I can go into those, but most parents want to know what kind of education you're going to get and how your team does.¬† And we had 13 straight years of a 3.0 as a team or higher, and we've had the most Academic All‑Americans over the last 10 years of any DivisionI program.
So the culture is‑‑ and most of that is because of my personal tutoring, by the way (laughter), but it's because we have chosen to embrace the fact that Belmont's a good school academically.¬† We haven't tried to circumvent it, we didn't try to bring kids in that admissions said couldn't get the job done at Belmont.
And believe me, parents like that when they see it.  And so when the parents are involved in our recruitment process, we've got a better chance.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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