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NCAA MEN'S FINAL FOUR


March 30, 2012


Aaron Craft

Thad Matta

Jared Sullinger


NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

THE MODERATOR:テつ We'll start with questions for Coach Matta, please.

Q.テつ Coach, do you pay any extra attention to getting your shooters acclimated to shooting in a building like this?
COACH MATTA:テつ I take the approach they have to adapt.テつ I think we're a team that shoots the ball a lot during practice.テつ Being in here yesterday, being in here today, being in here tomorrow for game day shoot‑around, I'm not that concerned about it.
I do like the dark background.テつ I think that helps.テつ It kind of is what it is.テつ But to sit down and talk about it and all that stuff, I don't even want to mess with that.

Q.テつ It comes down to bounces sometimes.テつ All coaches know that.テつ What can a coach live with?テつ A good player taking a good shot, you live with that?
COACH MATTA:テつ I think it does come down to a lot of times the way the ball bounces for you.
Without a doubt, at this stage of the season, you're going to trust the guys that have put you in a position to be here.テつ We talk about it all the time with our guys.テつ There comes a certain point in the season where players have to make plays.テつ We're constantly trying to put them in the right position to do that.テつ But they have to make the plays.テつ They have to get the stops on defense.テつ They've got to make the shots, the free throws.
I'm thankful that we've got guys that want to take those shots and make those plays because that's what it's all about.

Q.テつ Three of your players wore low‑top shoes, at least in practice.テつ Is it a concern for you?テつ Do they have to get them approved by you?テつ What are your thoughts about that?
COACH MATTA:テつ I don't want to sound like unintelligent here, but I didn't even notice.
Whatever their comfortable with.テつ Our trainer, Vince O'Brien, the LeBron shoe is made with the highest quality.テつ Whatever they want, taped, braces, whatever they've got on.テつ I don't even know what numbers they wear, to be honest.テつ I just know who they are and what they can do on the court, so I apologize.

Q.テつ You've gotten a lot out of your bench this year maybe than you have in past years.テつ I'm wondering if that represents a change in philosophy for you at all or if you want to play players more?テつ This year you've gotten more guys in there in key situations.テつ Was that a conscious effort?テつ Were they good?テつ Was it necessity?
COACH MATTA:テつ Well, all of the above from the standpoint of, you know, you always want to play a sizable bench.テつ I think the guys have earned the right to be out there.テつ There's a lot of times where a guy may go from playing 20 minutes to two minutes.テつ Everybody the next game says, Why did that happen?テつ Well, there's matchups.テつ Maybe a guy wasn't in foul trouble.
I think that's been something we've been able to do this year, is really develop some depth at some positions.テつ Being as young as we are, I think that's probably helped us.テつ You know, Amir getting the last nine minutes of the first half against Syracuse bodes well for his future, what he's capable of doing.
I've never gone into a season saying, I'm going to play seven guys or I'm going to play 10 guys.テつ We just sort of let it, you know, work itself out.

Q.テつ Can you describe some of the biggest challenges when you took over this program that wasn't in the greatest shape in the world.
COACH MATTA:テつ Well, I think first and foremost, the biggest challenge was creating a culture that was conducive for our players to be successful from all angles, from academics, to how we traveled, just everything, to really put our stamp, the stamp we wanted, on the program.
I think the other obstacles were the post‑season ban.テつ That obviously was important.テつ I can still remember early December day, Mr. Geiger calls me and says, Hey, we're going to announce today we're doing a post‑season ban for the year.テつ Five minutes later he calls me back, Don't say a word to anybody.テつ I was thinking, there must be a complication.
Next year, people forget this.テつ We didn't know that season if we could go until 10 minutes before the Big Ten tournament opening rounds.テつ We won that tournament.テつ Those were just the unknowns that were involved.
But I still give all those guys, when we got there, credit.テつ They did a tremendous job of helping us stabilize the program.

Q.テつ After seeing what Thomas Robinson did with Jared not there, do you think Jared's presence tomorrow can help fix that a little?テつ Do you anticipate that will really help you out in that matchup?
COACH MATTA:テつ It's definitely going to help.テつ He's a tremendous player.テつ He's a tremendous talent.テつ You look at his story, all the work he's done to put himself in this position.テつ Those are kind of things, even as an opposing coach, I love to see.
Us having Jared, he obviously makes us a better basketball team.テつ It was unfortunate that he didn't get to play in the game in December.テつ By the same token, I think that probably helped us in the long run that he wasn't out there.

Q.テつ Is there a possibility you could go big tomorrow with Jared, Ravenel and Deshaun, depending on how the game is going, maybe try those three bigs against Kansas?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I mean, there's a possibility.テつ We haven't played that, per se, in games.テつ But we've been in that position in practice a lot of times.テつ We would know how to function, what to do, that sort of thing.

Q.テつ What do you think it's done for Jared that he's had the extra year in college before going pro?テつ What are your thoughts on guys not staying long enough, maybe not being mature enough to leave for the NBA?
COACH MATTA:テつ I think, first with Jared, it's helped him enjoy maybe one of the greatest times of his life.テつ College is college.テつ It's fun.テつ There's not a person in this room that wouldn't beg to go back to college.テつ He's enjoyed that experience.
I think that he's put a stamp on this program.テつ He's going to be known as one of the all‑time greatest players to wear the scarlet and gray.テつ I think that is something that is important to him.テつ He's won at the highest level.
In terms of guys leaving, if they're ready or not ready, the thing I've learned over time is that's not my decision.テつ It's more the young man and his family's decision in terms of if he wants to go and they feel he needs to go.テつ You know, there's probably not a lot of changing of that.
I don't know what's right.テつ There's so many guys that have done it one way, so many guys that have done it the other.テつ I do know this:テつ the ones that are going to make it are going to make it.テつ I've always said, the greatest players I've ever coached were a little bit different in terms of who they were, how they thought, how they acted.テつ Those guys have gone on and been successful.

Q.テつ Only one top seed made this year's Final Four, none last year.テつ Is that becoming more of a curse than a blessing?テつ What does it say about parity and the depth of college basketball in general?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I think this:テつ the depth in college basketball, the parity in college basketball, it's at an all‑time high.テつ You know, you could probably replay this tournament and possibly come up with four different teams here.
In terms 1 seeds, I think maybe one of the toughest jobs in the country today is selecting 68 teams to get in, then trying to pair them.テつ So much of it comes down to matchups, who you're playing.テつ As we talked earlier, just kind of the luck of the bounce, that sort of thing.
But, you know, we were the No.1 overall last year and couldn't get past the Sweet 16.テつ So I don't know.テつ I think you get in, you throw all that out the window, and you go at it.

Q.テつ Could you elaborate on how you think Kansas has improved since your earlier meeting.
COACH MATTA:テつ Number one, I think the players have gotten better.テつ They've made the progression, as our guys have, as Louisville's, as Kentucky's players have.テつ They've got great talent.テつ They are extremely well‑coached.テつ You know, they've got their system.
I think just as a season wears on, the system gets better.テつ They've got more trust in listening to Coach Self talk about his team last night at the dinner we were at, there's great trust in that locker room, there's great trust on the floor.
I think when we played them in early December, I don't know, they were probably a little bit like us.テつ Guys were still finding their own way.テつ Guys were trying to, you know, define their own role to the coaching staff.テつ Eventually it hits and guys say, Okay, this is what I need to do.テつ I know that has been a big thing for us.

Q.テつ Curious about the comment that Jared's absence may have helped you in the long run, that he wasn't out there in the game.テつ Can you expound upon that, please.
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah.テつ You know, I think at that point playing without him, as much as I didn't want to, as much as the rest of the guys didn't want to, you know, it forced Evan Ravenel, Amir Williams, Deshaun, everybody to kind of step up.テつ You didn't have 18 points and 10 rebounds that you could count on.
I think playing in that environment was something that probably helped us throughout the course of the season, just that we had been there.テつ Fortunately we were able to throw Jared back into the fold.テつ Took us a little while, but I think we got back to playing the way we wanted to play in the end.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Thank you, coach.
COACH MATTA:テつ Thank you.
THE MODERATOR:テつ We'll start with Ohio State student‑athletes.

Q.テつ Aaron, when you have to stop one of their big guys, what do you look for there that you've done?テつ What do you want to do there?テつ How do you accept it?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah, I mean, they're great players.テつ You can't assume that you're going to make them not score a basket.テつ They're great players and they're going to make plays.
They're going to make shots.テつ Just being able to have a short‑term memory loss, just come right back the next possession.テつ The worst thing you can do is when they make a shot, go around you, is to let them do it again, over and over again.
It's a big team effort, going to be for tomorrow.テつ Tyshawn is a great player.テつ Just try to contain him as much as possible.

Q.テつ Jared, you are here as the No. 2.テつ Last year you were the overall No.1.テつ Was there more pressure because of that last year?
JARED SULLINGER:テつ Not really.テつ I think personally we had a bad day overall last year in the Sweet 16.テつ Went to shoot‑around, missed a lot of shots we normally make.テつ Missed some layups in shoot‑around we normally make.
I think it was just our preparation for the game last year.テつ We just thought Kentucky last year was going to roll over and die.テつ But they came ready to play.
This year I think we took a different approach.テつ We was focused and now we're here.テつ So, I mean, you got to give big ups to these guys.テつ We're young, but we still have that maturity level to know that we have to play a basketball game.

Q.テつ Jared, what has it meant to your development on and off the court to have had this extra year in college?テつ Do you look around and see other guys maybe make the mistake of coming out too early?
JARED SULLINGER:テつ My development I think off the court was just handling people.テつ There's a lot of times I'm out with my family.テつ I mean, people come up to me.テつ At an early age, you're just like, Can I just sit here with my family?テつ But it comes with the territory and I think I learned how to handle that very well.
On the court, I'm developing the right reads on the offensive end, how to guard a ball screen on the defensive end.テつ I mean, it's just learning reads more than skill.

Q.テつ Jared, you didn't get a chance to play against Robinson in December.テつ You're impressions of him?テつ Do you think your presence tomorrow can make up for the game he had against you guys?
JARED SULLINGER:テつ Uhm, impressions on Robinson?テつ Great basketball player.テつ Plays hard, plays smart.テつ In my eyes, college Player of the Year.テつ I know some think different.テつ But with his season, the way he took his team to the top, you just got to give it to him.
And then, I mean, like I say, he plays hard, plays smart, strong, physical, quick, athletic.テつ He deserves everything that's coming his way with everything that happened to him.テつ I mean, he's a good guy.

Q.テつ How tough was it to sit out that game at Kansas, Jared?テつ Looking back now, it was the right decision.テつ How excited are you to get to play in this game?テつ Aaron, what will it mean to have him back?
JARED SULLINGER:テつ I would have hurt the basketball team if I'd have played in December.テつ Could barely move.テつ Was very stiff.テつ I mean, they would have just attacked me all day on ball screens or in the post because I was just like tippy‑toeing.テつ It was just a smart decision.
On top of that, we thought about the long run.テつ Prime example, we're in the Final Four.テつ So we'd rather risk losing a game early in the season than one in the NCAA.テつ I think it was the smartest decision for this basketball team.
AARON CRAFT:テつ Uhm, yeah, you know, Jared's a great player.テつ He may or may not have made a difference in that game if he was healthy.
I think the worst thing we can do now is anticipate him being the quick solution to the game, him being able to fix everything and we'll be okay.
Kansas is a great basketball team.テつ They've gotten better since we played them in December.テつ We've grown as well.テつ Can't be about one‑on‑one matchups or anything like that.テつ It's two great teams going at it in a great atmosphere.テつ Hopefully we can come out, execute our game plan, do what's gotten us to this point and see where it goes from there.

Q.テつ I know you're focused on your runner‑up.テつ There's a lot of buzz on the rivalry of the other game.テつ Have you seen anything or heard ridiculous stories of Kentucky and Louisville fans?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I haven't noticed too much.テつ All four teams here are great.テつ I think as a basketball team we've done a good job of focusing on our game and focusing on Kansas because, you know, they're a great basketball team.テつ If we overlook them, we have all the outside distractions going on, we're going to go home.
I think we've done a great job of just focusing in on what we need to focus on and not letting too many outside things get inside of our circle.
JARED SULLINGER:テつ It's a battle for who's best in the state at this point.テつ Blue versus red.テつ It's an intense matchup.テつ Two great coaches.テつ Two great basketball teams that's playing very, very well right now.テつ It's just going to be a good game.
But like what Aaron said, we can't focus on that game, we have to focus on our game.テつ Because if we overlook Kansas, we'll be packing our bags up and heading home.

Q.テつ Aaron, when Jared gets on a roll, can you talk about what it's like to be on the floor with him those moments?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I really appreciate when he's in a groove on the defensive end of the floor.テつ But that doesn't happen too often.テつ So I really cherish those moments (smiling).テつ I'm just kidding.
He's done a great job.テつ Offensively that's kind of what you come to expect from Jared.テつ He does a great job of being unselfish enough to understand, you know, if he doesn't have a shot, he's willing to pass it out and give us opportunities to make plays, as well.
I think the best times when he's in a groove is when you're not noticing, the flow of the game is just going on.テつ The end of the game you're like, Wow, when did he score 26 points?テつ That's happened the last few games.
It's been a great team effort as a whole.テつ You don't notice one person going off, you notice multiple people going, and Jared is one of the pieces to the puzzle.

Q.テつ How glad are you that you came back, Jared?テつ How much are you enjoying all of this, considering that Brandon Knight poster was on your bathroom mirror all off‑season long?
JARED SULLINGER:テつ You look towards this all your life.テつ Me coming back was pretty much I wanted to make a statement, you know, that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go to the next level.テつ That there's more than money and endorsements.テつ There's championships that you got to win at every level.テつ That's what I pride myself on.
I've won a championship all the way from elementary to now, and now trying to look towards the bigger trophy in the national championship.
I pride myself on winning.テつ That's the biggest thing.テつ That's why I came back.

Q.テつ Aaron, when he decided to come back, how excited were you?テつ Did you guys envision being here in the Final Four once he made that decision?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I was a little distraught because I was going to have to spend another year with this big man (smiling).
No, this is year five with Jared.テつ He's one of the greatest guys to be around on and off the court.テつ He's done a great job of dealing with everything that's come with him coming back, the pressure, the outside influences that kind of tried to get at him.テつ It's just been great to see him handle it.
I've been real excited to have another year I can learn with him and learn right beside him.テつ I know he's helped me a lot, and I hope I've done the same for him.

Q. テつJared, Thomas Robinson, if I understood him correctly, said he does know you from summer league play, that he had a pretty good relationship with you.テつ Can you describe the personal relationship.
JARED SULLINGER:テつ Oh, we're cool.テつ I mean, he's a great guy off the court.テつ I mean, everybody expects this big, strong man with tattoos to be like ultra aggressive off the court.テつ I mean, he's a good guy.テつ He's very chill.
He handles his business.テつ I think that's the big thing about him, is he always wants to handle his business.テつ He has fun here and there, but, I mean, he's a good guy.
Our relationship, I mean, when we went to Amare Stoudemire Academy, adidas Nations, King James Skills Academy, we was helping one another out.テつ Even though we knew we was playing each other, we still was helping one another out, explaining, You could have made that move or that move.テつ We was just learning off one another.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Thank you, gentlemen.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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