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March 20, 2014

Jakob Gollon

Langston Hall

Bob Hoffman

Bud Thomas


MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to Raleigh, North Carolina, and the PNC Arena for the NCAA basketball tournament, second and third rounds.  The first press conference we will have is Mercer University.  From Mercer, we have with us Bud Thomas, Jakob Gollon, and Langston Hall.  At this time, we'll go ahead and open up the floor for any questions.

Q.  Bud, talk to me a little bit about has the reality set in that you guys are here at the big dance?
BUD THOMAS:  I think so.  I think after watching the selection show with our team and our school and the supporters we had, that was kind of a pretty special experience and it was kind of like surreal at the time.
But the next day, we got back to practicing and kind of started going over a scouting report and we're treating it just like another game that we're going to prepare for, obviously.  And we all feel like we can win this game.  And I think as of right now, it's just back to business for us.
MODERATOR:  Other questions for the student‑athletes?

Q.  1985 was an awful long time ago.  I think that was the last time Mercer made the NCAA tournament.  Does that history weigh on you?  Motivate you?  How does that‑‑ how do you view that?
MODERATOR:  Langston, if you could answer that first.
LANGSTON HALL:  It kind of motivates us because it's been so long.  It's kind of like we're a special team to get back here.  I know these guys have been working so hard all year, all summer to get ready for this, and a lot of us for four years.  We're excited for the chance to get back to the tournament.

Q.  What a lot of people forget about last year's tournament, when Florida Gulf Coast had their run.  They weren't even the 1 seed in the A Sun.  You guys were.  When that happened, what were you thinking?  Now that you guys have gotten through that, what did your run make you think about this tournament?
JAKOB GOLLON:  There was mixed feelings about that.  Obviously, it was really good for the Atlantic Sun, so we were happy about it in that aspect.  On the other hand, it was hard to watch because we took down some mid‑major schools.  We know that had we been the team that got the bid, we probably could have done something similar.  It was tough to watch.
At the same time, we knew it was good for the conference and get everyone in the conference recognition.

Q.  Langston, you mentioned some of you guys have been working together for four years on this.  It's a senior dominated team.  You've basically grown up together.  Can you talk about that process and where you are now as opposed to four years ago when you came in together?
LANGSTON HALL:  I think when we came in together four years ago, it was a tough process at first.  We had a tough year our freshman year, lost a lot of games.  At the end of the year, we started gelling together.  That showed our sophomore year when we made a big run in the CIT, ended up winning the championship.  Junior year, we came up short to Florida Gulf Coast in the tournament, ended up going to the NIT and beating a good Tennessee team, having a tough loss to BYU.
For the last year, everybody wanted to go all out and work together, work as hard as we can.  I think it shows on the court how good a chemistry we have together.

Q.  Langston, this is for you.  I'm assuming you've watched some film of Duke.  In the backcourt perimeter, they rotate guys in and out of there all the time.  How does that impact your preparation and how do you think it will be with different people guarding you at different times?
LANGSTON HALL:  They all want to guard the same way.  They want to pressure up and kind of disturb your offense.  Tyler Thornton is a really good defender, Quinn Cook as well.  Sulaimon has a lot of length.
I don't know who is going to be guarding me.  We're going to do a great job of getting open, running the plays as hard as we can, executing.

Q.  I want to ask any of the three of you, this is kind of the model now that the so‑called mid‑majors come in with veteran teams and take on some big‑‑ the big powers that have rookies.  I mean, Jabari Parker is obviously their key guy.  Can you just talk about going up‑‑ your experience against a group of guys that might not be quite as old, but, you know, very talented?
BUD THOMAS:  Obviously, most of the mid‑majors aren't going to get too many top 50 recruits that are just planning on going to the NBA after one year, so I think that's a big benefit to us.  We get to develop our chemistry.  We get to develop our friendship, both on and off the court, as teammates and roommates and everything, really.  I think that helps us a lot and I think it's shown in the past, these past couple of years especially, with so many mid‑majors coming in.  And even if they don't win, they're competing hard and they're right there with some of these big boys.
So it's been‑‑ I think we're in the same case.  We feel like we can beat anybody because of the four years we've had together and all the chemistry we've developed.
MODERATOR:  Jakob, could you comment on that?
JAKOB GOLLON:  Well, I think also it's safe to say at this point in the year, being a freshman isn't as big of a deal as it is at the start.  So Jabari and the other young guys that they have, at this point in the year, they've played an entire seen, an entire ACC season.  They've got a little bit under their belt too.  But we do have a lot of experience, and I think for us the thing that works best, that Coach Hoffman's system is really complex.  It requires guys that have a high basketball IQ.  Definitely, the difference between when he first got here as a coach and now after these four years that we've all spent together is that we've kind of mastered that system.  We've come to learn how to play our own game within his complex system.

Q.  For any of the players, I apologize if you've been asked this, but what was your initial reaction when you saw Duke come up‑‑ you come up on the line opposite Duke, knowing that you've got one of the blue bloods of the whole tournament.
LANGSTON HALL:  Everybody was really excited.  As soon as it came up, we were all yelling and happy and our coaches had been telling us all week that they thought we were going to play Duke in Raleigh.  We are ready for that.  We know it's going to be a great game.  They have one of the best coaches of all time.  They have great players.  We'll have to come out, play our game, and execute.

Q.  Who does Duke‑‑ what do they do that is anything familiar from anybody you've played, anything that gives you a little edge in preparation?  Anybody they look like that you've played as a team?
BUD THOMAS:  They're probably the most individually talented team we've played all year, obviously.  We played Texas.  We opened up at Texas and they had a great year and were in the top 25 for most of the year.  I would say in our conference, USC Upstate, just with the individual talent, you know, Torrey Craig has scored over 2,000 points in his career and grabbed over 700 rebounds.  So they have some pretty individual talent, pretty good individual talent that we've had to go up against and kind of focus our defense around.  So I would say one of those two probably.
MODERATOR:  Gentlemen, thank you very much, and good luck with everything.  We'll now continue the press conference with Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffmann.  We'll start this segment with an opening statement from Coach Hoffman, please.
COACH HOFFMAN:  Well, we're really excited as a university and a program and middle Georgia community to represent Atlantic Sun Conference in this amazing tournament.  So we're excited about the days ahead and opportunity lies for us tomorrow against a tremendous team.
Our guys have worked hard to get to this point, culmination of four years for a lot of guys, most of them getting to start a lot of those games.  And I think it's going to be a fantastic journey.  And there's no way in the world that they're going to walk out on that floor tomorrow without anything in their mind other than trying to find a way to win, and that's what motivates me to help them try to find a way to get that done and our assistant coaches.  I know we all are going to walk on that floor with that same mindset.  That's what we've done with all the victories we won on the road because it is a road game tomorrow.  No matter what anybody wants to say, it will be a road game.
The great thing for us is we've won our last two ACC road games in a row.  Maybe that will play out well for us.
MODERATOR:  Questions for coach at this time.

Q.  Coach, I asked the players, you guys beat Florida Gulf Coast last year.  What were you thinking when they made their run and does it make you hopeful for your shot at it?
COACH HOFFMAN:  Well, I'm sure that leads‑‑ it was bittersweet to watch them make a run because it was from our league.  We were right there, had won the regular season, and then they beat us on our floor, cut the nets down.  And for 365 days, our guys worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment.  It was amazing how they were motivated by what transpired.  I know‑‑ you watch those games and you're excited for them because you know those guys and you played them close and you were right there and beat them.
But NCAA tournaments are all about matchups and then what your draw is and where you're going.  There's a lot of factors that go into it.  But they made the most of their moment, and I know our guys used it as motivation to become the best they could be, and that's what they did.

Q.  Speaking of matchups, can you talk specifically a little bit about how you match up with Duke?  I'd like you to talk also specifically about Rodney Hood and sort of his role on this Duke team.
COACH HOFFMAN:  Well, I mean, he's an unbelievable pro that can get a shot any time he wants.  Speaking specifically about Hood, he can rise up over anybody going right or left.  Doesn't matter to him.  He bails them out a lot of times by hitting big‑time shots.
They have several guys that can hit those big‑time shots and they're top five in the country for most of the year in 3‑point percentage.  So you understand going into the game that no matter how great a defense you play for 20, 25 seconds, there's a chance they could just raise up and hit a three.  So that makes it very difficult.
But the other part is that they're not a traditional power conference team.  I mean, they're power conference athletes, but they don't have multiple guys running in that are 6'11" or 6'10" in the center.  They spread you out.  They could play five out.  We've played against a lot of that and not just mid‑major teams.  Oklahoma plays a lot of guys out that we had trouble with earlier in the year.  They can all shoot shots.  The matchups are going to be difficult because we are big.  We're not a traditional mid‑major team.  We've guys who can play post, offense, defense, but sometimes they have difficulty out chasing a Jefferson if they're running dribble weave.  That could be difficult.  If it's Parker playing the five and they've gone even smaller, that presents even more problems.  Those are things we've talked about, we've worked on, and I think we'll have an answer for, we believe.

Q.  Does history matter at all?  1985, the last time Mercer made it.  Is that something that you use or ignore?
COACH HOFFMAN:  I think history definitely matters.  It's a huge moment.  We're thrilled to be here.  I don't think the history of what Duke has accomplished over all these years, we're playing this year's Duke‑‑ Duke's a really good team.  We're not playing all those other guys who have made runs.  That's what we've talked about.  We're playing the team that's going to walk on the floor tomorrow.
Once we get on the floor, it's the 94 by 50 we need to concentrate on, not the hoopla and the people yelling in the stands in blue.  It's going to be running around.  We hope to have some orange in the stands too.
I think as far as not being here for a long time, these guys have played in a lot of big moments.  Not exactly like this, but we've been in postseason play for three years in a row and been very successful in tough environments.
May not be to this level, but it will give us at least something that we can pull from and the guys can see what they've done in the past and I think that will help us going into tomorrow's game.

Q.  Coach, one of your players told me in the previous session that you predicted you would play Duke in this round.

Q.  Why did you feel that would happen?
COACH HOFFMAN:  Well, I actually thought it would come down to Duke or Virginia.  I don't know this to be truth, but I thought whoever won that game‑‑ or whoever lost that game was going to be a 3 seed.  I don't know why I thought it.  They'd probably already made the brackets.  Nobody told me that.  It was just my own stupid beliefs, I guess, or thoughts.
I just had a feeling we were coming to Raleigh and I thought we were playing Duke, and I told the guys that that day, multiple guys.  Just, you know, it was blind luck probably.  But at the same time, I felt like that was going to transpire and sure enough, it did.  We're excited about the challenge and should be a fun day.

Q.  Bob, the tournament always gives us strange subplots.  Sometimes.  Jeff Capel on Duke's staff, we know what happened in 2006.  Is there any raw emotion or hard feelings about what happened in Oklahoma?
COACH HOFFMAN:  No.  I tried to get the job.  I would liked to have had the OU job.  I'm an Oklahoma guy.  I was there.  We were in the office together for a couple of weeks.  He's a great guy.  Just as if I would have had the job, he got his own dudes.  You need to have people you trust.  I talked to him about staying.  It just didn't work out.  I'd helped recruit a lot of those guys he ended up getting to coach and they had a great run.  He's a really good guy.  I enjoyed getting to know him a little bit, but I haven't seen him other than out recruiting, and it's all been cordial.  I think he's‑‑ all their families are really good people.

Q.  You mentioned that physically you're not like a mid‑major, and physically they're not like a big power team.  But in certain ways, this is the model.  You have a veteran team that you've kept together for four years, senior dominated team, whereas they're a transitional team, a lot of talent but a lot of short‑term guys.
COACH HOFFMAN:  Big‑time talent.

Q.  Can you address that model, the mid‑major with the experience and all that against the talented but short‑term?
COACH HOFFMAN:  When I got to Mercer, the team we needed to beat was Belmont.  And Coach Byrd, as you guys all know, is a special coach.  We've known each other forever, competed in NAI tournaments against each other for a long time.
I knew the way they'd been successful, they had shooters and had bigs, huge guys inside.  We didn't have that at the time.  So we recruited big guys to be able to have a chance to compete against them.
Then they changed conferences, and so we couldn't really get rid of our guys, you know.  We had to keep who we had as part APR, plus I liked them.  So we‑‑ that became who we were.  Because everywhere I've gone, the most important thing, if you're going to be successful, is figuring out who's winning in your league and what are you going to have to beat them and try to get to the championship.  That's the whole deal.  So that's how that came about.
I don't know that we'll ever get a chance to be as big as we were or are.  It felt kind of strange that year.  We were blessed.  And those guys making decisions to come be a part of us and they continue to grow and work at their games.
I think you are right in that what I mentioned, we are different from that standpoint, and that's what's given us an opportunity to be successful on the road against high‑major teams in the past, because whether they double‑team us or they're broad people.  We were as tall, big, wide, long, whatever you might want to call it.  We might not have been as athletic as them, but we had all the other pieces that give us a chance to be successful, and I think that's‑‑ that will help us tomorrow.  There will be difficulties to it, but I think that will help us, because it gives us something they'll have to plan for also.

Q.  Coach, if you can forgive a hometown question, can you talk about your reserve point guard, Kevin?
COACH HOFFMAN:  Oh, yeah, I love talking about Kevin.  How long do we have?  He's the best dancer on the team.  He keeps the guys loose.  In fact, we practiced over at North Carolina State yesterday, and the last time I was in the building was watching him win a state championship and see him play live.  He was a walk‑on at the beginning for us, came on academic scholarship.  He is one of those guys, if you're a coach, you need multiple guys of, because he's an energy giver.  Every day, he's giving himself to everybody on the floor, bumping fists, slapping fives, slapping you on the back.
When we gave him a scholarship this year, I mean, it was till this year I finally got smart and gave him that opportunity.  But he'd always helped us win games, even though he wasn't a scholarship guy.  And he never acted different.  He felt like he was part of the team and that's because of who he is, how he was brought up, and the character of that young man is going to make him successful forever.
He's going to graduate with honors and, I mean, it's everything you'd want in a student‑athlete.  I mean, he's a poster child for the NCAA.  I mean, they should come out, take pictures of him, put him all over the country, this is what you want to recruit.
He is the guy that helps us get it done every day.  And he doesn't get the minutes.  He doesn't get the points, but he's a huge difference maker for our program and big stimulus of what we've been able to accomplish.
Thanks for asking that, by the way.
MODERATOR:  Any other questions?  Coach, thank you very much and good luck with everything.
COACH HOFFMAN:  Thank you.  Go Bears, huh?

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