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March 19, 2014

Niels Giffey

Shabazz Napier

Kevin Ollie


THE MODERATOR:  Welcome back to our afternoon session here at First Niagara Center.  We're joined now by student‑athletes from Connecticut.
I'm joined up here by Niels Giffey and Shabazz Napier from the University of Connecticut.  We'll open with questions for these gentlemen at this time.

Q.  What's the single greatest benefit that you got from coming back for your fourth year to play at UConn?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  I mean, there's no single benefit that's greater than the other.  When you play at University of Connecticut, it's always something we call 'brotherhood.'  That's one of the biggest things for us is we continue to stay together.  There's no other brotherhood that you would want to be part of.
And, of course, being in this tournament is definitely a special attribute of staying.  But at the end of the day, we just want to play for each other, play for the University of Connecticut.  Wherever that takes us is where we're going to go.
It's exciting to actually be back here.  It's exciting to be with this group of members of my teammates.  I can tell you, from what Giff's been telling me about, he's just happy to be here as well.  So it's exciting.
NIELS GIFFEY:  It's the same situation for me, just coming back for the fourth year and just being excited to come back to the NCAA Tournament with this group.  Having people around you that care about you and that definitely love you.
So we're just happy to be here again at the NCAA Tournament.

Q.  Shabazz, when Coach Ollie slid over that one seat from being assistant to being head coach, that's a big move, and obviously he was filling some pretty big shoes.  Did you accept him right away?  What was the transition like?  Did he appear to come into that role easily?  And just how was the transition for you all, too?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  We definitely accepted him very fast because he was a part of the UConn tradition.  He played here, and he was coaching under Coach Calhoun.  So we definitely accepted him fast.
It was just a big step for him because when Coach Calhoun was here, Coach was always yelling at guys, and Coach Ollie was the guy to put you on the wing and comfort you.  He had to switch that role.
It was quite difficult for him in the beginning, but we all understood what he needed to do to become as good as he is now.  We understood that, and we move forward from it.
For him, I think it was quite easy because he had the players that believed in him.  He had players that was with him when he was an assistant coach.  He didn't just jump into a new position, not being with the team before.  He was definitely with us beginning of my freshman year.  So it was much easier for him.
It was just a great opportunity for him to discover how well he is as a coach, and he's proven a lot so far.

Q.  Shabazz and Niels, you guys have won a National Championship.  How can your tournament experience help you now?
NIELS GIFFEY:  It's definitely going to help us to just prepare for the games and focus on the games.  Just put all that stuff that's around us to the side.
Obviously, we're going to enjoy the attention by the media, but as soon as you step on the court, you have to put that aside.  We've been through that whole process.  So we definitely benefit from that.  We're going to pass that on to everybody who hasn't been here, just showing them how focused you have to be on what you got to do on the court.

Q.  Shabazz, what was it like last year watching the NCAA Tournament?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  I mean, I didn't watch the tournament.  I was watching other things.  I didn't really think about watching the tournament.  It definitely sucked because I wasn't a part of it.  But it fueled a lot of motivation and hunger to get to where we're at now.  Not only for myself, the whole team took that as a sign of staying hungry.
You know, there's always going to be another opportunity, and we just roll with it.  Now this is the opportunity that we have now against a great team tomorrow.  We got to show up and just play as hungry as we wanted to play last year when we couldn't play.
Hopefully, we'll be on the winning end of that game.

Q.  What do you see out of St. Joe's?  Do they remind you of anybody in your current conference or in last year's conference?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  I think every team's different.  There's definitely some guys that are definitely similar, but they're just a tough A‑10 team.  There are no slouchers in the NCAA Tournament.  There's 68 teams make it, and not one of them guys are slouches, because they're here for a reason.
We know St. Joseph has great guards, great big guys, got a rich tradition, a great coach.  So we got to show up and show them a lot of respect because they deserve it.  We've just got to play the best basketball we can possibly play.

Q.  What were your impressions of your new conference this year?  What adjustments did you have to make?  What did you miss about the Big East?
NIELS GIFFEY:  Well, I had a very, very good impression of the whole conference.  I think, obviously, the top five teams in the conference did a pretty good job in the national rankings overall, and I thought it was really competitive.
You have great teams in Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, and then you had teams that pretty much not a lot of people had on the map like SMU.  I thought it was a real competitive league.
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  I did so too.  I thought it was super competitive.  Our first media day, I said that to a lot of guys that I think this is going to be a great conference, just off the strength of the guards.
The Big East, just miss the match in Madison Square Garden, that's the biggest thing.
But the AAC is definitely a great conference, and it's going to be good for the next years.

Q.  Shabazz, DeAndre' Bembry has had a pretty good year.  What have you seen of him on film, and how does he kind of break down defensively?  He's a pretty good defender.
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  What number is that?  43, right?  With the afro?  The freshman, right?

Q.  Right.
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Yeah, the freshman.  We've seen a bunch of film on St. Joseph's.  Collectively, they're a tough group defensively.  He's definitely one of them guys that's a glue guy that gets everybody together.  It's kind of crazy as he's a freshman.  He sticks out there.
For him to be that big and that quick, he's just a great three spot for them.  He gets them going.  He's a big X‑factor.  We have to make sure on defense we take care of him, but on offense we get good shots, because he's going to contest a lot of shots.  He's going to do a lot of things that's going to disrupt our offense.
But at the end of the day, when you move the ball around, you're going to get something good out of it.  So hopefully, we'll be able to do that, and hopefully we'll be, like I said, on the winning end of that.

Q.  You talked a little bit about the Big East a minute ago, and looking at the sheet here and Syracuse, Connecticut, and Villanova come in three in a row here.  Is it a little strange to see those three names in three different conferences and all being here at this site?
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  Not strange.  I mean, all three of them teams have always been good.  From Villanova to Syracuse to us, there's no strange reason why any of us are here.  We work hard.
Villanova having great guards and having great big guys, just like JayVaughn Pinkston, having great guards.  Having us playing so well and just playing collectively.  There's no strange reason we're all here.
We all worked hard in this big moment to play in the NCAA Tournament, and now we've just got to take the best of our opportunities.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you for your time, guys.  Good luck.
We'll be back with Coach Ollie here in a moment.
We're now joined by Connecticut Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie.
We'll go ahead and take questions for Coach.

Q.  Kevin, you spent the brunt of your pro career with a couple of stints in Philadelphia.  Is it a little ironic that your first game as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament is a game against a Philadelphia team?
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, it's funny.  Phil is a great friend of mine, know him real well.  In my days in Philadelphia, we used to practice over in the gym before we got started in PCOM.
I have a lot of respect for him, what he does for Coaches Versus Cancer and the different things he's doing in the Philadelphia area.  A lot of respect for Phil and what he's done there over 30 years at St. Joe's.
It's going to be a great test, and I'm looking forward to it.

Q.  Hi, Kevin.
COACH OLLIE:  Hi.  How are you?

Q.  Good.  Welcome to Buffalo.
COACH OLLIE:  Thank you.

Q.  What's it mean to you to have UConn back in the tournament right now after what happened last year?
COACH OLLIE:  It's just a great opportunity for us.  People see obstacles that we went through, I see opportunities.  We did a great job.  My guys stayed loyal.  We thought we'd be an NCAA Tournament team last year, and now we just took over that same mindset on into this year.
It's always a players' game.  They kept this university afloat when everybody else was jumping off the bandwagon.  I appreciate Shabazz.  I appreciate my seniors.  And I appreciate everybody having that same mindset that we're champions.
Everybody said we was buried, but we were just playing it.  We're going to keep going forward.
Love this university, and I love this time of year.  Being a coach, I also played in this tournament three years.  I also had an opportunity to be an assistant coach two years.  It's just an excellent time for us, and we're very excited to be on the stage once again.

Q.  To be in Buffalo, I'm not sure you're familiar with UConn's history here.  Jim had some nice times here, and in 2004, started here to spark the national title run.  Are you aware of that, and what might that mean to this program?
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, of course I'm aware of our history, but this is another year, another process, a different team, a different coach.  But one thing I always have, I do have Coach right here with me in spirit.  He's here on the trip.
So any time I need to run some things by him, he's always there for me.  So it's a great opportunity for us to have a great run, but we're not looking ahead of ourselves.  We know it's a process.  It's game by game.  I'm concentrating on St. Joe's, and then after that, we're going to cross that bridge when we get there.

Q.  When you slide over that one seat, it's a big transition to go from assistant to head coach, especially filling the shoes that you filled.  I know it's not yesterday now for you all, it's been a couple of years, but what was that transition like?  Were you confident going in, this is going to work, I know exactly how this path is going to work?  Shabazz was saying you used to be sort of a good cop, and now you have to be sort of like not always a good cop anymore.  What was the transition like for you personally as a coach and when you slid over that one seat?
COACH OLLIE:  Like you said, 18 inches is a lot.  It's a lot of pressure.  You get suggestions, but you've got to make the final decision, and I take that with the mindset that I have to make the decisions.  I have to be stern in my decision, and I can't waver.
I always believed in myself.  I always believed in my university, and that never stops.  I think that activates your power as a program when you believe.
I could never fill Coach Calhoun's shoes.  I could never do that.  But I could be the best Kevin Ollie I'm going to be.  I never went in there like I'm going to fill those shoes and try to be Coach Calhoun.  I've got to be Kevin Ollie.
I kind of say it like we're from the same fabric, but we've got a different suit.  But we're cut from the same fabric, though.  I want to play defense.  You know, I want to rebound.  I want to be the aggressor on the basketball court.
At the end of the day, I want University of Connecticut to be the best university in the country, and whatever I have to do to do that, I'm willing to do.
I want my players to sacrifice and understand what it means to be a brother to each other.  Hopefully we can do that, and hopefully we can continue the tradition.  I really love this team.  I'm going to miss the seniors.  I think we're going to go out on a special ride this year.

Q.  How often do you speak to Coach Calhoun?  And when you do, what do you talk about?
COACH OLLIE:  You know Coach Calhoun.  We talk about most everything.  What play have you seen last night?  It's not all about basketball.  Everybody thinks we just sit back and talk about basketball.  We talk about family.  We talk about all kinds of different things.
He's just such a well‑rounded person.  I mean, you could talk about books.  You could talk about anything.  Coach is an expert at everything, and that's why I love him.
We spent a great time, but we also spend time about basketball.  He's been there.  I'd be kind of naive if I didn't tap into those 40 years of being a head coach.  You know, I have Dee Rowe at my disposal.  I also have Geno at my disposal.  So I'll be kind of naive if I didn't take something from all those great coaches.
But Coach Calhoun is like a father figure to me.  He allowed me a great opportunity to perform at a high level in college, and then also picking me to become his assistant four years ago.  If it wasn't for him giving me these opportunities, I wouldn't be standing here today‑‑ or sitting down, I should say.

Q.  Kevin, can you just talk about St. Joe's?  What stands out to you about them?  Is there anybody they remind you of either in last year's Big East or this year's AAC?  Kanacevic seems to be a unique player.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, he's a unique player.  He kind of reminds me of Marcus Kennedy with SMU, where they run their offense through them.  He's leading them in assists.  He's an extraordinary player.  He can play on the house side, but he can play inside too.
We're going to have our work cut out for us.  Galloway is an exceptional shooter.  He's not just a stand still shooter.  He can go off the bounce.  He can step right and left.  They've got other players.  Bembry is a great freshman that's kind of their energizer.  He can get it off the rebound and push it.
And what makes them tough, four guys can get it off a rebound and push in and start their fast break because everybody is saying walk it up, team's slowing down.  I don't see it.  I see them getting out in transition.  They're selective in their transition.  But our first thing is getting back in transition and making them play against our half‑court defense.
Then they've got a great motion offense that Martelli, Coach Martelli has been using for years, and getting the ball from side to side.  We're going to have to stay packed in our principles and play great basketball.  We've got to be at a level five, and that's a championship mindset, championship effort.  We're going to have to have a great mindset going into that game and a great attitude.
I think our team is real focused right now, and hopefully we can get a good performance out of everybody that's able to play tomorrow.

Q.  Kevin, you know Phil Martelli, having been around the Sixers and that, you know the kind of guy he is.  Obviously, you play him, and it's all about that game.  But can you kind of feel for some of the tough things that have happened to him this past season, for him to kind of rise above that stuff?
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, I know he was going to rise above it anyway.  I know that wasn't going to defeat him.  I just know what type of person he is and that Philly mindset, that toughness.  He's going to fight through it, but it's definitely been a tough situation.
I bet a lot of people have been through tough situations.  But tough times, for tough people, last longer, and he just out‑willed and out‑worked that tough time.  I knew he was going to get through it.
I feel for him.  I see the emotion when he won a championship at the Atlantic 10 in Brooklyn after the game.  I just think he's a wonderful person.  He's going to even be stronger from this, and his family's going to be stronger from this if they keep staying together.  I know they're going to stay together.
So it's a great opportunity for them to believe and keep going on.  It's going to be a great matchup.  Wish him the best.
But I wish UConn more success in tomorrow night's game.

Q.  Kevin, a lot of guys talked about their last NCAA game, the Iowa State game, maybe they didn't respect the opponent enough.  They respected them but maybe not quite enough.  They say it's going to be different this time.  Do you get that sense that they're respectful of everything Temple can do, and they're capable of beating them?
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, yeah, not Temple.  It's close enough.  St. Joe's is a great team, a great opportunity for us.  I think for us not playing last year and us watching Selection Sunday and not seeing UConn going in, it just was fuel for the fire.
I think they're not taking anything for granted because they know a special moment can be taken away from them.  They want to thrive, and they want to make sure they're on top of their game.
I think they're focused.  They've been focused throughout the whole season.  And we've been through some ups and downs.  It started at the beginning of the year when we lost to SMU and lost to Houston and SMU back to back.  They've just been a resilient group.  They've always stayed together.  They love each other, and that's the most important thing.
I think the two most important things for a great team is that they listen to each other, they respect each other, and they care about each other.  I think this team epitomizes that even in the difficult times.  They always kept faith in each other.  I think that's a great attribute for any team.

Q.  Guys like Niels and Shabazz have been through a lot in their four years and they won a National Championship.  How much have you kind of leaned on them?  Have they kind of helped the kids behind the scenes preparing for their first NCAA Tournament game or some of them?
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, I always tell them, and I've told you before, they coach me too.  I'm just not a guy that's coaching them.  They coach me.  They let me know when different things happen and on the court, also on the back of the scenes.
And Niels and Shabazz has been great leaders for us.  I think that leadership character that they both have stands strong when the times get tough.  That's when I need them the most, when times get tough.  Then also, when we have big wins, can we come back and practice and still have that same mindset and still have that same focus?
Those guys have been rocks for me.  Niels, man, if anybody's got a problem with his playing time, it should be Niels.  I mean, he could come to my office, and I probably can't say anything, like Niels, you're right.  He's been a great player for us.  He's been selfless.
If I have him play 20 minutes or if I have him play 30 minutes, he just said, Coach, what's next?  Give me my assignment, and what's next?  You love a player like that.
And then Shabazz has kind of matured over his four years.  Everybody knows his story, and he's just matured into a great leader.  That's what you're in the business for.  You're in the business to see young men mature like that.  It's more than just being on the basketball court and making shots.  It's about them becoming men.  That's what I want them guys to leave when they leave campus, they're better men, not just better basketball players.
Both of those two guys, those two players exemplify that.

Q.  Kevin, in terms of your own development from your freshman year at UConn to your senior year and Shabazz, do you see any similarities?
COACH OLLIE:  No, he didn't have Coach Calhoun yelling at him.  Just got to start right there.  Coach was always on me right at my first practice.
You know, for me, I was a Los Angeles guy.  I mean, I was from L.A..  I didn't really know about the East Coast.  I mean, he's been growing up watching UConn his whole life.  I didn't know about the Big East.  Probably my junior year in high school.
So the similarity is not there the same.  But the one thing we both have, we have hearts big as this room.  And we want UConn to win.  That's the only thing I love my players to have, that want to win, and overcome and not stop when they hit the wall.
That's what he has.  He loves the big moments.  I didn't even score 1,000 points.  He's got 1,700 points.  I think he's got my assist record.  He's four or five away from me on that.  He can have it.  I want him to be the first player in UConn history to have two National Championships.  That would be a great honor.  And the first step starts tomorrow.

Q.  Kevin, good to see your former Big East partners around here.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, it's great to see Jay, great to see Jim.  I've got so much respect for those guys.  It was just great to see them and just always be around them.  They've been through so much.  They always have to lend an ear when I need something on the road.  And recruiting, they're always giving me some gold nuggets.
So I'm always just paying attention.  I'm sitting at their feet just listening.  It's going to be a great opportunity for UConn to be back in the mix, and I'm looking forward to whoever we play.  It starts with St. Joseph, and hopefully, we can get through that, and we can keep going on.
Our mindset, like I keep saying, and I keep saying that word because it's one game at a time.  It's nothing.  We're not looking ahead at anybody.  We're looking at this moment, and we need to win every minute of a game, and we can't lose sight of that.
Hopefully, our student‑athletes understand that.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach Ollie, appreciate your time.  Good luck.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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