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NCAA MEN'S REGIONALS SEMIFINALS & FINALS: PHOENIX


March 21, 2012


Keith Appling

Draymond Green

Tom Izzo

Austin Thornton


PHOENIX, ARIZONA

Q.  Could you talk a little bit about Derrick Nix and his importance in terms of passing and what he does and how different your offense would be if you didn't have that element to a big man?
DRAYMOND GREEN:  I think Derrick Nix is very important to our offense, just for most importantly the work that he's done with himself and his body in order to have the kind of impact that he have on our team.  And the way he scores down low and just the knack that he has and the feel he have around the rim.  I think he has a great feel and great touch.
And I think the most important thing is the way he can pass the ball when teams start to really clamp down and start to bring all their guards in and suck the defense in and try to stop them, he can always find open guys on the perimeter, which changes the huddle offense because there are not a lot of big guys that can pass like him.

Q.  How many big guys have you seen that have that skill set, not only the drop steps and the ability in the post, but also to pass?
DRAYMOND GREEN:¬† There's not many out there that has a skill set like him.¬† But I think the most important thing about it is there's probably none his size, with the size that Nix has, there's not any, really, that ‑‑ especially college that has the skill set that he have with all the drop steps, the jump with both hands.¬† He can shoot, turn around and jump where he never shoot it.¬† He can do all those things.¬† There's definitely not many, and none with his size that can pass like he does.

Q.  How big an adjustment is Louisville after St. Louis, is there anybody in the Big Ten regularly that might remind you a little bit of Louisville?
DRAYMOND GREEN:  It's a complete difference.  Louisville is more up and down pressure type defense, as opposed to St. Louis, who is more conservative team, kind of pack the lane in.  I think Louisville extend out more.  And of course they pick you up full court and they pressure you.  I think there's a big difference there.
Louisville is more athletic than not only St. Louis, but a lot of teams we played.  If I had to put with anybody in the Big Ten, it would probably be Purdue, because of the scrappiness on defense.  With the scrappiness on defense, all the things that they do, the little tricks to what they do on defense, I think you would compare them more to Purdue in our league.

Q.  Could you talk a little bit about Draymond's versatility and what that means to your ball club?
AUSTIN THORNTON:¬† Well, Draymond is a special player.¬† And he's one of the main reasons why we've had the year that we've had.¬† He's done a lot of things for this team and there's no doubt about it coming into the year he could have been a lot more selfish and could have understood that he had the opportunity to put up some big‑time numbers.¬† But he did a great job all year long of really involving everyone, both on the inside and the outside.
He's a special player, and he's our guy.¬† He's our go‑to guy.¬† Anytime you have a guy that's as unselfish as he is, it rubs off on the rest of the guys on our team.¬† If our star can be that unselfish and help this team, the rest of us can do the same.¬† I've been glad to be able to play with him.¬† It's been fun.

Q.  Could you talk about that versatility and where it comes from and how you developed the various aspects of your game?
DRAYMOND GREEN:  I think it first started with my elementary school coach, which is my uncle.  I was always bigger than everyone.  He had me play point guard.  And he always used to tell me, I asked him, Why do I have to play point guard, I'm bigger than everybody, I can score.  He told me, Some day you're going to stop growing, and we don't know how tall you're going to be, so you always need to have guard skills.  I really didn't understand it then.  But as I kept growing I understood it more and more.
And I think it started there.  All through high school, my high school coach did a great job of it.  Then when I got to Michigan State, as a role player my freshman year, I didn't get to show much of it.  Coach Stevens told me to make sure you keep on working on those skills.  I always kept working on them.
Then he started working on some skills with me, whether it was changing my jump shot, who had a big, large, impact on me, the way I shoot it, getting the ball away from my body and helping me out with my jump shot.  And then he kept telling me, Keep working on your ball handling.  He showed me a few post moves.  And the different things he did with me helped my versatility.
And then Coach Izzo, putting the finishing touches on everything, allowing me to do it and still stay within the system.  A lot of times when players show versatility and do different things, they're probably getting out of the system.  I think Coach Izzo has done a great job of keeping everything in the system and just so I'd know how to do it without necessarily throwing everything else off.

Q.  I think virtually every player that's played with Tom Izzo has made a Final Four.  Is that the culture that you guys talk about a lot?  Is that meaningful when you come to Michigan State?
KEITH APPLING:  Definitely.  One of the main reasons why all of us came to Michigan State was the opportunity to play in the Final Four and win a National Championship.  That means a lot to this program and to us as individuals.  That's pretty much what drew us to come to Michigan State.

Q.  If you had to put something specific on it, both with your own coach and with the coach you guys are going to be facing off against tomorrow, Rick Pitino, what do you think is a consistent key to success over a long period of time?
DRAYMOND GREEN:  You said with coaches, and coach Pitino?  Both of them really demand toughness.  And both of them are no nonsense guys who expect everything to be perfect.  I know that from the inside with Coach Izzo.  But looking at the outside in at Coach Pitino, the way his guys are tough and physical.  You can tell that's what he demands is toughness and perfection.
You can tell when Peyton Siva makes mistakes, he pulls him to the side or he'll snatch him out of the game for making a crazy turnover, you can see that they both really expect perfection.  And if it's not perfect, it's not good enough.  We all know none of us is perfect, so it's never good enough.
I think that's been the key behind Coach Izzo's success, I know for a fact.  And looking from the outside in, I think that's been the key behind Coach Pitino's success.

Q.  With the way Louisville presses, obviously everybody knows about it, do you look forward to that or is there a little nervous anticipation of how to handle it?
KEITH APPLING:  A little bit of both.  They're a pretty scrappy team.  They're going to cause a lot of turnovers.  We're going to have to keep our composure, and get to their offense as fast as we can.

Q.  Can you talk about the concept of improvement with this team?  Not necessarily as a team, but the improvement you've seen in some of the individuals on the squad over the last couple of years?
AUSTIN THORNTON:¬† Yeah, it's, like I've said before, this is a special team.¬† Coming into the year it was ‑‑ other than Draymond and myself and maybe Derrick Nix, there was a whole bunch of new guys.¬† And it's been fun to be part of it.¬† It's been fun to kind of watch each guy develop individually, as well as the team has developed.¬† It's been a special year for us.
There's been games where some guys haven't played as well or been in foul trouble or bothered with some injuries, where other guys have stepped up and made plays.  And it's, like I said, it's been really fun to be a part of and to watch.  When you see guys who put a lot of work in, take care of business both on and off the court, it's fun to be a part of and watch them be successful.

Q.  You've been compared to some players in the past like Danny Manning and Mateen Cleaves from Michigan State, as a guy who can put a team on his shoulders and carry them to a Final Four.  Austin talked about your unselfishness.  How do you balance getting everybody else involved and when maybe you need to be a little more assertive and aggressive and take a little more of the load?
DRAYMOND GREEN:  One thing I've always been about was sharing the ball.  I get off more by getting assists than I do scoring a basket.  And that's just the way I've always been, not only in basketball, but in life.  Just helping others out, giving something to someone else instead of me having it.
I think that carries over to the basketball court.  And just being compared to those guys mean a lot.  I think the credit that I've gotten this year, of course, some of it is deserved, but I've had a lot of help from these guys, especially Austin.
Like I always say, we complement each other so well in the leadership role to the point where Austin is the type of guy who will talk and say what's needed.  But he's not going to ramble off all day every day.  And I will talk all day every day.  So we complement.
Sometimes it's like the good cop/bad cop deal, where I may see somebody doing something and I may get on them.  And it may feel more like a coach.  And Austin will come behind me, and say, Keith, it's okay, do this, do that.  And cover up for something I may have messed up.
I think with the help of these guys, it hasn't been completely everything about what I've done.  Because without the guys up here and the rest of the guys in the locker room, I couldn't have done all the things I've done.  One of the most important things that's been special about us has been winning.  Without these guys I can't win games by myself.
I think that's been a key thing that I think the most important thing that I've done with the help of Austin is making sure that the team stays together, sticks together, through no matter what the situation is.
If you want to give credit, I think that's what should be given credit to is helping guys to stick together, because I think that's the most important thing with any team.

Q.  You guys have talked about how this team might be a little bit younger than people realize in a lot of key positions.  How do you get the younger guys, especially the ball handlers, prepared to face what Louisville presents?
AUSTIN THORNTON:  Well, it's going to be tough.  Give Louisville a lot of credit.  They've got some very good guards, experienced guards and they're very athletic.  And what they do is full court press the entire game and put pressure on you when you're in the half court.  They try their best to turn you over and lead to some points.
It's going to be important for them.  They've done a great job these last couple of days of locking in and focusing, when we've done our film sessions and walkthroughs and understanding that.  You're going to get fouled, get pushed, you have to fight through it and battle through it.
It's hard to prepare for because we don't really have the guys on our scout team or whatnot to really show that type of pressure that they're going to apply.  But they've done a good job so far.  And they'll be ready for the game tomorrow.
DRAYMOND GREEN:¬† Like Austin said, with the way ‑‑ that's more of Austin's job, because I handle the bigs more and Austin take care of the guards more.¬† One thing I've been hearing a lot is him standing on guys about pressure.¬† I think that's the thing.¬† Keith has been doing a better job of, as well, helping other guys out.
I think they've been doing very good with the stuff that we've been practicing in order to make sure we handle the pressure well and I know they'll be fine.  That's something that's hard to simulate with the pressure that they put on and the guard play that they have and the scrappiness.
I think we'll be fine.  Playing Louisville a few years ago, Austin was a part of that game, so we know the type pressure that they put on and it's two completely different teams.  But we kind of have an idea, so we can help share it, and more so Austin than me, because he is a guard.  So he gave more of a feel for it than I do.
COACH IZZO:  Excited to be in Phoenix, that's for sure.  It's been a great run for us.  We had a tough weekend last week in Columbus, yet won two games.  St. Louis gave us a heck of a game.  And it was two very good teams.
And now you come out here and you look at the field and it's Final Four field in a lot of ways, when you look at the teams in it.  And playing Louisville right off the bat, we played them three years ago in a game that I thought we were very fortunate to play well.  I don't think they played as well.  We won.
So those payback games are always interesting games.¬† And I think we're a team that can play different styles.¬† And we're going to have to against this team.¬† We just came off a smash mouth game, and now it's going to be a racehorse game.¬† So we're going to see if we can adjust in this four‑ or five‑day period.

Q.  You talked about your ability to play different styles and the necessity to do that, especially in a tournament.  How important is Draymond's versatility in being able to do that?
COACH IZZO:  Well, I think the only way you can have some versatility as a team is if you have some versatility as individual players.  I think we have one of the more versatile players in America in Draymond.  There's a lot of guys that can hurt you in rebounding or hurt you in scoring or some point guards who are in assists, and there are some great defensive players.  But not many times is somebody able to capture all of those things where he can be not average, but pretty good at all of them, maybe great at only two things.
The two would be his leadership skills and his intelligence.  He has an incredible basketball IQ.  Those two things, I'd say, he's phenomenal at.  The others he's very good at.
And that helps your team be versatile enough to play fast, play slow, play big, play small, being able to move him around gives me the ability to make it harder for them to home in on a guy, we don't have to just put him on the post or the wing, I can play him a lot of different places.

Q.  When you were talking to the Cavs a little bit, I think you talked to Rick and went to him to see what he thought.  Can you talk about the conversation you had with him and maybe how it swayed what you actually decided?
COACH IZZO:  Well, you know, Rick was one that came out publically, before I talked to him and said, stay put, you know.  So whenever you talk about things like that you look at people that have done it and been there.  I talked to a couple of different people that have gone from college to pro.
It's like buying a car, if you have success with one style you buy another one the next time.  If you don't, you change.  And I think since most college guys have had a lot of success there, I don't think anybody was saying this is a great move for you.
Thank God I had an AD and an administration that at least let me look at something that was an incredible offer.  The owner was phenomenal.  I made the right decision for me, hopefully for Michigan State, and hopefully for them.
Yeah, I tapped into some people, because that's what you're supposed to do if you've never been somewhere, you try to find out from the people that have been there.

Q.  Rick has said during his career he thinks maybe this level, when you get to the Sweet 16, it's maybe the most fun there is.  You've weathered those first two rounds and the goal is in front of you.  I wonder if there's something different once you get to this point with the teams and experience?
COACH IZZO:  Well, I do think the first weekend, some things I've learned as we've gotten better as a program, and especially when you're a 1 seed, you have to survive that first game.  Because it's going to happen.  We do all know where a 16 is going to beat a 1 because 15's are beating 2's, and 14's are beating 3's.  It's right around the corner with the parity there is.  So there's pressure on that now.
But getting out of that first weekend is, I think, the work.  And you should start enjoying it.  But I think the real time you enjoy it is when you're done.  That's the way it's supposed to be.  And yet if you make everything so pressure packed, I think with this team it's been easier for me to know that I can take my foot off the pedal a little bit and they won't think that we're giving up anything.  We've been a pretty competitive team and a pretty focused team.
I think I would agree with Rick.  You do have a little bit more fun.  You get here, you know you're only 16 teams left playing, and everybody has an interest in what you're doing.  I think that's a pretty cool part of being in college basketball.

Q.¬† It's actually a good follow‑up to that because I don't know if you remember this conversation we had after you won the National Championship in 2000.¬† But you talked about how basically you could get in any living room you wanted at that point and recruit even a different caliber of player.¬† And you certainly recruited some of the higher profile guys.¬† I'm not sure they were guys ‑‑ this is me talking, now ‑‑ that fit your personality as well as that group or as I observe this group.¬† Is there some truth to that, do you think, or not?
COACH IZZO:¬† I've talked to more and more coaches ‑‑ yes, I'll give you the real answer, there is some truth.¬† I think you've got to do who you are and what you are.
I've always said I'm a blue collar guy and I belong to a blue collar university and damn proud of it, really am, in all aspects.  And that doesn't mean you can't have excellence.  But I think you have to be careful.  You have to be able to coach guys.
That's why I never understand sometimes the NBA or the NFL, where the general manager makes one decision and the coach, you know, you've got to be all on the same page.  If my president, AD and myself aren't on the same page, we're going to be good, we'll never be great.  And I think that's the way it is.
And I think if you take guys, Mateen Cleaves was ‑‑ that's who he was, you know.¬† And so his personality kind of formed our program and Draymond comes in and they're best friends.¬† People who appreciate the people that were there before them.¬† People who appreciate the university they're at.¬† People who appreciate the other sports.¬† That's what I've been.¬† One AD called me a program guy.¬† And you know what, I'm proud of that.
Because I just love ‑‑ and maybe that, to go back to the Cavaliers, was one thing that I think I would have missed.¬† I'm a Saturday morning football guy.¬† I just love those guys.¬† I can walk around campus.¬† I like going to a baseball game when they're winning the Big Ten championship, and sitting in the stands when it's packed.¬† Those are the things, being around the students, that are really cool.
The only way you can do that is if you have people that are regular people.¬† And sometime the highest profiled athletes, you've got to make sure you surround them with some regular guys.¬† I don't think I'd be as effective if I had ‑‑ sometimes I'd like to have, you know, some of these rosters.¬† But I like my roster.¬† I like the way it was built and I've got some pretty good players that are getting better.
And yet, this is not the most talented team I've had, and not even in the top five, six or seven in my mind.¬† But it's been ‑‑ it should be a learning team for a lot of people out there in high school or college that a lot of ways you can get it done.¬† And if everybody sticks together you can get it done, certainly.

Q.  Your young guards against Louisville's press, and how you prepared them for it, and do you think they're ready for it, the young guys?
COACH IZZO:  I said if there's one thing that has been a problem for me when you came off that Sunday night and you're leaving Monday night, I would have loved to have brought Mark Dantonio's defensive backs and receiver over to press us.  I have my scout team, I call them my Iron Mountain 5.  And those guys are not quite as athletic.
This Louisville team, what I've always done against pressing teams, I put 7 guys on the floor.  But the way they press, there's reads you've got to have and run and jumps and there's things that it's harder to do that than a normal zone press.  Their zone, they kind of play the zone man.  It's a little different, I call it a U pick them.  So it's hard to put six guys out there, because you have to be able to read things.
That's been the most difficult thing.  You can see a lot of things on film, but you can't see athleticism or chaos.  And Rick's teams create chaos, they really do.  And they're very, very good at it.
I don't want to walk the ball up.  That's not the way we really play our best ball.  But I don't want to get into a track meet that makes us play at a level for 40 minutes that we can't handle, either.  Finding the happy medium has been more difficult because we just can't match that athleticism in a practice and especially at this time of year you don't want to wear your team down.
Even though we've played everybody you could play, we really haven't faced a team that brings this much pressure.

Q.  How much is on Appling?
COACH IZZO:  A lot is on Appling, and a lot will be on Trice.  Another week he has taken part of the tape off the ankle, and he's better.  And yet, him and Kearney, who are going to be part of it, they struggled a little bit last week.  And I think part of it is the first time on the big stage.  Hopefully they learned from that.  We had a couple of meetings about that.
This is what's cool about college, too, there is a learning curve.¬† They come in with some of the great bodies and some with high rankings, but there still is ‑‑ you better learn how to take the steps up the ladder that you have to take to get yourself to Final Fours and this is another big step.

Q.  How much does it help against that pressure to have a couple of guys in Austin and Draymond that have faced this team and have at least some idea, maybe not these same players, but about this system?
COACH IZZO:  Well, again, they tell our players, just like I tell them, and we watch film altogether.  But seeing it on film and hearing it from a coach or hearing it from another player, and all of a sudden getting in one of those traps and having to get the ball out is a little different.
So we try to do what we can do.  But we have played a million different styles.  That's not going to be an excuse for this team.  We're going to take care of the ball and make some shots and make sure that our defense doesn't let them get a lot of layups and make some shots or we're not.  And I think that's what the game is going to come down to.
They've got to handle our physical size inside and we've got to handle their pressure outside.¬† That's what basketball is about, is the match‑ups, and who exploits whose, and who plays better against whose strengths will probably determine the winner.

Q.  Can you talk about the importance of keeping Siva out of being unable to penetrate and Appling, and the job Appling has done thus far this season in this tournament against some good point guards?  Siva would be a difficult challenge?
COACH IZZO:  Siva is out of control, in control.  He's a unique guard.  He can spin dribble, he can do all the things that sometimes you tell your guys not to do in traffic and he does it very well.  How do you keep him out of there?  Change the NCAA rules, let us play with six guys, maybe, would be a big help.
He's a guy that one‑on‑one, I mean, we're going to try to keep him out of the paint.¬† That's going to be a big part of our game plan.¬† But that one's easier said than done.¬† Because I've seen a lot of teams in the league and they know he's the straw that stirs the drink.¬† And not very many have done a very good job of that.¬† But we think we've got a great guy in Appling to give him some problems, but it will be done by committee, not by one man.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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