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March 20, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
THE MODERATOR:¬† Please welcome the University of New Mexico student‑athletes, Alex Kirk, Tony Snell, and Kendall Williams.¬† Questions for our student‑athletes?
Q.¬† Playing in the Mountain West Conference, which in this neck of the woods we're all familiar with, but maybe it doesn't get as much attention out east.¬† What kind of test does that put you through?
ALEX KIRK:¬† Well, it was a very deep conference this year.¬† There wasn't a top‑heavy at all, and I don't think it gets a lot of recognition back east.¬† I think it's one of the toughest conferences in the country like our RPI showed, but the test it puts you through, you play all sorts of different teams in all different atmospheres from Air Force to San Diego State to UNLV.
So we have been well tested all throughout the year.
TONY SNELL:¬† It's definitely a tough conference to play in.¬† There are no guarantees that you will win a game because every team is great to beat any team.¬† And as far as not getting recognition, that motivates us to play harder and try to win more championships.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† I think going on the record is probably the most underrated part of the conference.¬† You have different elevations, different crowds, getting into it top to bottom.¬† So holding down home court is very difficult and going on the road as well.
People want to talk about eastern conferences and their defense.¬† I think it's one of the better defensive conferences in the country.¬† So all of those elements prepare to you adapt to different atmospheres in the NCAA Tournament and prepare yourself for that stuff.
Q.¬† Your coach was adamant after the tournament last weekend that you guys should be in consideration for a 1 seed, should at least be a 2.¬† When you got a 3, what was the reaction?¬† Did you come to terms with being a 3, and do you feel slighted by your seating?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† I don't think we necessarily feel slighted, but whether or not there is a bias throughout the country or not we feel like we're an underdog in any situation, whether we're talking about our conference or our program as a whole.
We go out there and compete to prove ourselves and we play together.¬† So a 3 seed, we like where we're at.¬† We like the location.¬† So we're going to go out there and play our hardest.
TONY SNELL:¬† I like our 3 seed because it's close to New Mexico and it's definitely like a home court advantage because our fans have been here since day one and been cheering for us, so I'm definitely happy it's a 3 seed.
ALEX KIRK:¬† I agree with the guys, we're not feeling slighted.¬† I feel like we have an advantage of where we were seated out west being close to home, like Tony said.¬† We focused in right away on Harvard and we're ready to move on and see where we can take this thing.
Q.¬† Obviously, big news today for your coach.¬† What does that mean for the future of the team in the coming years?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† I'm sorry, I didn't understand the question.
Q.¬† Your coach resigned for ten years.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† Oh, okay.
Q.¬† Wondering what you think that means for the team?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† Good news for everyone.¬† We have a couple of years left, so it's good news for us.¬† But obviously he's been a big deal for the program, and I give him a lifetime supply of contract if it was up to me.¬† I'm happy for him and the program.
TONY SNELL:¬† Same as what he said.¬† I'm happy that he signed a contract because ever since he's been a Lobo, it's been a good winning streak; and he's a great coach.¬† He knows how to coach his players.
ALEX KIRK:¬† As a New Mexican and seeing the coaches come throughout my lifetime it's definitely a great thing for the university and for the state because the success he has brought to the program and the recognition has helped out the state a ton.
Q.¬† In terms of recruiting, how important was it for you guys to know going in that a coach might be around and how do you think it might impact the recruits you have had come in?¬† How do you think it would impact the recruiting knowing that he's going to be around for the long haul?
ALEX KIRK:¬† Going back to my recruitment, that was huge.¬† I think it's tough for a player to come in and have his coaches leave and have to learn a whole new system halfway through his career.¬† So as a recruit and with recruits coming to UNM, it's going to be a huge advantage to know he's in for the long haul.
TONY SNELL:¬† For me, I didn't know where New Mexico was until I seen 'em on TV.¬† To see Coach Alford and how he coached his players that helped me out to make my decision easier.¬† So for the recruiting class it should be a big advantage.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† Building on what they said, the parity in college basketball, a lot of competition, you can talk about coaches and players for him to show that consistency and being a coach and I think it's been proven in the five, six years he's been here; and he will continue that tradition of success.¬† So it's nice to see he has put his faith into the program, and it's been really rewarded.
Q.¬† I was wondering what you know about Harvard and what impresses you about their team and what problems they might pose to your team in the game tomorrow?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† You know, just the couple days that we have been scouting them, they look like they have some good guards.¬† We're going to have to contain their dribble penetration.¬† They can shoot the ball really well and they play at a high level.¬† So we're going to have to match that.¬† Hopefully we can implement our game plan and our style so we can get 'em to play our game.
Q.¬† I know you guys are trying to stay focused on the game tomorrow and the tournament in general, but Cosmo put out that your teammate, Hugh Greenwood was one of the hottest men in March Madness.¬† There has to be some kind of stuff going on in the locker room about it.¬† Talk to me about it?
TONY SNELL:¬† I didn't know about that.
Q.¬† Is that a dig?
TONY SNELL:¬† No, I didn't know about it.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† I think Cam should have got it.
Q.¬† Have you talked to him about it?
ALEX KIRK:¬† I give him‑‑ tease him a lot about it from Instagram and tagging, Cosmopolitan and his photos and stuff like that, but‑‑ it's funny, but I guess he's deserving.
Q.¬† Alex, Harvard has no starters over 6'7", have you been licking your chops?¬† And has there been extra focus on you and playing your game?
COACH ALFORD:¬† Well, all teams in the Mountain West kinda do play the four‑guard lineup, and with me and Cam down low there has been an emphasis to us getting the ball in down low and then getting it back out to these guys.
It's a normal game for us, we will try to attack them and see where their weaknesses are and we will try to exploit that and get the win.
Q.¬† Kendall, you mentioned earlier building a program.¬† Obviously, you guys had success in the regular season and in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.¬† Is there any thought that you need an extended run in this tournament to show the rest of the country what you can do on the bigger stage even though you know you have accomplished a lot?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† It's definitely motivation in this tournament.¬† Kind of proves your worth against the rest of the competition.¬† So we're pleased with what we have done, but we have pretty much been playing the whole year for this tournament.¬† So it's nice to kind of accomplish those championships along the way.
But we feel like we're just getting started.¬† We're going to take it game by game, starting with Harvard and try to take a run just like everybody else is.
Q.¬† Is Air Force the most likely candidate to be comparable to Harvard?
TONY SNELL:¬† Kind of like Boise State because they play a four‑guard lineup, also.¬† So that's a comparison.
ALEX KIRK:¬† I agree with Tony.¬† Kind of with their four‑men shooting so many threes and a point guard that likes to get to the lane, I kind of think that a comparable team in the Mountain West would be Boise.¬† But I agree with Air Force, too.
Q.¬† Guys, talk about Tony and what he brings to your team.¬† A lot of us took notice after the Mountain West championship game the other day, but I hear that you're soft spoken.¬† So I will let the guys talk about you a little bit.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† For me, Tony has been with me for three years.¬† Sometimes I've gotten the accolades or whatever, but we call each other fire and ice and we balance each other out really well.
Just in terms of what he brings to the program, obviously, I'm just happy that he's been boosted into that category of one of the elites after the tournament.¬† But he's been doing it for us all year, shooting the ball, defending, hustling, doing whatever Coach needs from him.
It's nice to see him finally get more recognition, but to me he's been doing it for three years as a Lobo.¬† So he really helps the program.
ALEX KIRK:¬† I got to agree with him, kinda coming into this thing.¬† He's a great player, 6'7", 6'8" and to be able to handle the ball like he can and shoot the way he can and the way he picks us up on the floor.¬† He does so much more than just score the basketball and play defense.
He's positive.¬† He's focused on what the team needs.¬† He's never been someone that comes out and has to talk so much about his game.¬† He's quiet and he plays with his game.
Q.¬† When you guys were installed as a 3 seed here, a lot of the pundants predicted that you could go all the way to the Final Four.¬† To what extent did last night's game, Kentucky, Robert Morris serve as a cautionary tale for teams such as yourself not to get‑‑ stumble out of the blocks here.
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† With all due respect, we don't compare ourselves to Kentucky much at all.¬† We were in the NIT our freshmen year and now we are a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.¬† We came in the season a fifth seed in the Mountain West and to finish in the Mountain West. ¬†Now that we have these expectations, we're not putting too much emphasis or weight on that.
Like I said, we're taking it game by game, playing for each other and playing for our families.¬† A lot of our family members have come out here and pretty much for the pride of New Mexico and this program.¬† So we don't listen to too much of anything else.¬† We just take it possession by possession, game by game.
Q.¬† Did you watch the game last night?
KENDALL WILLIAMS:¬† We did, and Calipari seemed to have a tough season, and he tried to make the best of it.¬† But we're focused on our game.
THE MODERATOR:¬† Thank you, gentlemen.¬† We're now joined by Coach Steve Alford.¬† Questions, please.
Q.¬† Coach, the news of the day being the contract extension or the new contract, rather, as opposed to an extension.¬† Can you comment on that first of all?¬† Getting that out of the way at this time.
COACH ALFORD:¬† Just excited about it.¬† I've had a lot of fun through six years.¬† It's something that I think we have started to put our imprint on our program, and we've got things there in place to, one, continue to be successful.¬† Got our whole starting five coming back, great recruiting class.
There are so many good things‑‑ some things you can't go around, and that's your fan base.¬† Our fan base is second to none.¬† When you get an opportunity to coach in that kind of fan base, every game, including exhibition games, I've said it all year, but there can't be too many places in the country that average 12,5 in the exhibition season back in November.
It's a very special place, and we feel like we've got it going in a positive direction.¬† To be signed in there long term was a commitment that I appreciate out of the school, and hopefully they're appreciative of my commitment as well.
Q.¬† Was the timing of it in any way to‑‑ I know your name starts popping up in arms around the country about other openings.¬† Was the timing to avoid that or have there been talks?
COACH ALFORD:¬† You're not going to avoid all that stuff anyway.¬† It just happens every spring and you're humbled by it and you're appreciative when it does happen because it probably means you're doing a good job.¬† If you're not getting talked about, you're probably not doing a good job.¬† Those things change yearly.
It was really just about‑‑ I don't know about timing as much as it was just coming to terms and knowing that this is where I wanted to be.¬† This is a commitment that I wanted to make more than anything else, because I found an institution, I found an area of the country that I really, really like.¬† We're extremely successful, and we think we can be even more successful in the future.¬† I think that was more of the reason than anything else.
Q.¬† Coach, two‑part question.¬† Talk about how you're enjoying or thriving off the fact that New Mexico is really getting noticed right now on a national stage?
COACH ALFORD:¬† We have made some steps in the right direction, and I think that's what's fun about this process.¬† When you look at it three, four years ago when we were in the NCAA Tournament, I don't think anybody even knew about us and we were 30‑5 that year, actually 30‑4 going into the NCAA Tournament‑‑ 29‑4 because we won the first game and loss to Washington.
We won our league, had a big‑time year that year.¬† Then you follow it up last year where we won the league and won the league tournament, going into last year's NCAA Tournament and we drew a very good Long Beach State team and not a lot of attention nationally, get Louisville in the next round and started to come on to the forefront, but picked third or fourth in our league this year.
Now there is more attention and there is more momentum there.¬† That's good for us nationally, something that we have been thriving and striving to do in the last six years and we're seeing headway now.
As I mentioned, regardless of what happens in the tournament to win 29 games to date, be a hot team coming into the tournament and knowing all five starters return hopefully we can take this momentum into the following season as well.
Q.¬† Your players are getting noticed, too.¬† I brought it up to the players before, but Hugh was mentioned as the hottest basketball player for Cosmo in March Madness?
COACH ALFORD:¬† I don't know who voted on that.¬† His mother and father were over here for about a five‑week span from Australia, so I don't know if there were two votes on that on or what.¬† But it's good.¬† We're getting attention in publications, a lot of attention nationally, whether it be newspapers or things happening across the board in television.¬† Our name is getting out there, and I think that is a big piece of the puzzle if you're wanting to take that next step.
Q.¬† Obviously, New Mexico has been a place for decades that has had a ton of potential and hasn't quite made it, but now that you seem to be get to go another level.¬† What was going on when you got there, or I guess the question is, what did you see as the missing piece or pieces that needed to be filled in?
COACH ALFORD:¬† I'm not sure, because I knew nothing about New Mexico as a basketball team, program, state.¬† I knew nothing about it, never‑‑ I had been there once before to see a Coach Knight team playing in the NCAA Tournament, and that's the only time I had been in the state.
I don't know if I had any things going in.¬† I knew, as you mentioned, there was potential.¬† I wouldn't have interviewed‑‑ I was in the Big 10.¬† I don't think the interview would have taken place had I not seen potential.¬† Coach Knight was pivotal in that, and he's been in the game longer than I have at a much higher level and much higher success.¬† I have always leaned on him, and he has always thought there was a lot of potential there and I saw that.¬† I saw the passion, felt it in the interview.
So you look at everything that's been done there, we have renovated The Pit.¬† We have one of nicest facilities.¬† I don't care where you go in college basketball, when you look at the arena to the practice facility, the training facility, the weight room, the locker rooms.
We have one of the nicest facilities anywhere in the country.¬† Then you match that with arguably the best fan base in the country, now it's your job to put a great product out there and things can happen.¬† I think we have been able to do that in the last six years.¬† We have put a great product out there, won games, won championships and now we're trying to take that to another level.
Q.¬† Going back to your contract.¬† What were the main reasons, your sons being part of the team, the fan base, any of those things have a factor?
COACH ALFORD:¬† Well, there is no question my sons have a lot to do with it because they mean a great deal to me.¬† So there were talks with them of, is this what you want?¬† Are there other things that you would like to look at?¬† Because I've made a lot of moves‑‑ not so much against the family, all of our moves are talked about as a family, but you still‑‑ you're the driving force, and I wanted to make sure that as this was thought through it wasn't just about me or my career and those type of things, because I do have two boys that love basketball and they're playing the game and Kory is wanting to get into coaching some day.
Bryce, with the career that he has had at La Cueva, can play in the country and the whole family has been this is what they want to do and be and they have grown up in the last six years going to The Pit.¬† And really you only need one Pit experience to understand how special that is to rundown the ramp and to get to play on that floor.¬† So we're impressed that they're going to have an opportunity to do that.
Q.¬† Coach, Tony Snell doesn't seem to get the accolades that the other guys do.¬† But what has he brought to the game?
COACH ALFORD:¬† I think it's hard because every week those accolades can change.¬† It wasn't about three weeks that Kendall Williams scored 46 points.¬† I don't know if he's combined for 46 in the last two or three games, but he does so many different things for us.
Tony is the same way.¬† I think we have a lot of guys on our team that can have very good games and lead to success without scoring 20 points every game.¬† Tony is one of those guys.¬† In the conference tournament he became a very good scorer in those three games.¬† But he was a better defender.¬† What he did defensively in those three games in my mind are just as impressive as what he was doing offensively and he has gained great momentum because of what he is doing defensively.¬† You hear coaches talk about offensive confidence, and you don't talk about the defensive confidence very often.¬† I think he's developed that confidence at the defensive end and it's freed him up, and he's doing a lot more for us, as far as driving the ball, getting out in transition and getting to the free‑throw line.¬† He's always been a great shooter.¬† But now he's doing all those other things for us, too.
Q.¬† Coach, I asked the guys to compare a Mountain West team to Harvard.¬† Boise State surprised me.¬† They said Boise State or maybe Air Force.¬† Do you agree with the Boise State comparison, and what do you see for Harvard?
COACH ALFORD:¬† I'm not for sure.¬† I don't know if I'm ready to make those comparisons.¬† Just seeing a team on tape that's hard to do.¬† I've not seen Harvard live anywhere and on TV I haven't seen them.¬† So everything has been over tape the last three days.¬† I don't know if I can compare them to any of our league teams just as I don't know if they can compare us to any of the Ivy League teams, I just know they're extremely well coached.
Anytime you play against a team as well coached as they are, you've got a lot of concerns.¬† Tommy and I go way back, we graduated from high school the same year he played for Coach K. I played for Coach Knight.
So we had an opportunity to play for the two best minds, in my opinion, the game has seen so we got an opportunity to do that and he with kind of come from the same tree.¬† Already watching them on tape they do a lot of sound things fundamentally, and they've got experience.¬† They have won the Ivy League consecutive years.¬† They were here last year. ¬†
So they got their feet wet just as our young men did in our locker room.¬† Now you have a couple of teams with a little bit of experience and it's about now trying to advance further and that's why it's a great match up.
Q.¬† Talk about the improvement Alex made over the last couple of years and how much of a match‑up issue he is.
COACH ALFORD:¬† Alex was having a good freshman season and got wore down in his freshman year.¬† I think he got tired, that's what freshmen do, especially big men because it is different than high school and then the back injury happened in the summer and he missed an entire year.¬† He had back surgery.¬† So there were question marks coming into the season just how he was going to be able to perform and he's gone beyond every expectation.
That's a great credit to him.¬† He got cleared to go full‑time late January of last year, so you have to give him credit.¬† He worked hard at his game, his conditioning, his strength.¬† He listened to trainers and strength coaches and he did all the things you have to do to come back from a serious injury like that.
If there was a comeback Player of the Year that had nothing to do with red shirting, he would have to be at the top of the list.
I think he has more blocked shots than five or six of our league teams combined and we play in a pretty good league.¬† So he does the job defensively.¬† He's such a tough match‑up offensively because he can beat you in the post, and he can step out and hurt you on the perimeter in a pick and pop.¬† So his play has meant a lot to the team's success this year.
Q.¬† What are going to be the keys to the game?
COACH ALFORD:¬† Anytime you get in postseason play it's about being who you are.¬† You don't change things now so if Harvard can play the way they have played all year and we can play the way we have played all year, those would be keys for both of us.¬† Does one team get out of character or get in foul troubling or you have to change substitution patterns in how you want to play?¬† Does one team turn the ball over more than the other?
Those are big issues when you get to a tournament where it's one and done if you lose.¬† We have done a good job of taking care of the basketball.¬† Our last ten games we have averaged 9 turnovers or less in that span and that wasn't there a month and a half ago.
That's why we're playing at a higher level.¬† Our defense has always been there.¬† Our offense has taken time to get there.¬† That has really developed in the last month.¬† We want to be who we are.¬† If we are who we are and it's not good enough, we shake the hands of Harvard and tell them congratulations and tell them good job.
We just hope we don't get beat being somebody we're not.¬† That's the risk you try to guard against this time of year.
Q.¬† Doesn't matter who you talk to in the locker room, each one of them said, "I know my role."¬† Do you instill that in each one of them, saying, "This is who you need to be"?
COACH ALFORD:¬† I hope so.¬† We always talked about New Mexico.¬† We're a program.¬† We're not just a seasonal thing, a yearly thing.¬† We don't want to have one good year, three bad years.¬† We want to build a program, and I go all the way back to that first team, they believed.
They bought in right away and we were able to win 24 games in that first year and gain momentum.¬† We were able to get out of the starting block a little quicker than what we thought, and I think that's been great.
Roles change during the year and I think our players have done a great job of understanding that.¬† If you remember in Octoberwe were talking about a four‑guard lineup, and by the time we got back from the Virgin Island trip in Thanksgiving we had thrown that out and‑‑ so the roles do change during the year and these guys have done a tremendous job of accepting that and moving on and trying to get better at the roles they have.
THE MODERATOR:¬† Thank you, Coach.¬†
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