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March 20, 2014
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA
MODERATOR:¬† Good afternoon.¬† We're now ready to start with the Virginia portion of the press conferences.¬† We have with us Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell.
Q.¬† Joe and Akil, what's the last couple of days been like in terms of preparing for Coastal Carolina and what do you guys know about them?
JOE HARRIS:¬† I would say we watched film the last couple days on them.¬† They seem like a very good team, very guard oriented.¬† They have three very capable guards that are all able to come out and contribute on any given night.¬† I think they all score above 14 points a game.
So from that standpoint, we've been preparing, practices from a guard standpoint.¬† We've been practicing preventing them from getting to the paint, lot of different driving lines, one‑on‑one, stuff like that, stuff where we're really working on our slides.
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† The last couple days have been, they've been interesting just with travel and preparation.¬† We've been preparing smart but hard at the same time.¬† Obviously, they're a very talented team and we've just been trying to prepare ourselves as best as possible to handle, like Joe said, their guards and all the actions that they run.
Q.¬† Both of you guys were on the team that lost to Florida two years ago.¬† How much different and how much better off is this year's team compared to that one?
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† I guess I'll start.¬† I felt like two years ago, kind of being on the bubble and not being sure, I feel like this team has a lot more confidence headed into the tournament.¬† I feel like we've been playing better basketball also.
That team two years ago, we had lost some games down the stretch and we kind of stumbled into the tournament.
This year, I feel like we're playing good basketball.¬† We're a much more confident team and a little bit more experienced also.
Q.¬† Along those lines, does it seem funny to you that you guys, that overconfidence might be something that needs to be addressed as you go into the tournament as a No. 1 seed after where you've been most of your careers?
JOE HARRIS:¬† I would not say that is the case.¬† I think we've done a good job.¬† I think we realize that once you get to the tournament, that number next to your name doesn't really mean anything at all.¬† Any team is capable of winning on any given night.¬† I don't think we worry about that a whole lot, regardless of what seed we might have.
Q.¬† For both of you guys, I've heard it mentioned multiple times this season, a key turning point in you‑all's year was the loss to Tennessee.¬† You went on a big run after that.¬† Just wondering if you could talk a little bit about that game and how you guys responded to it and why it was maybe that turning point.
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† We've kind of looked back at that game all season and that wasn't a good game.¬† We really didn't have a true‑‑ we knew what our identity was supposed to be, but we didn't live by it at all.¬† Tennessee really exploited us on the defensive end.¬† We didn't run our offense hard.¬† We all kind of came together.¬† There wasn't any big meetings or anything like that, but we all kind of decided we had to put our egos aside from our goals.¬† And all the guys since then have bought in and we've just been playing good basketball since.
JOE HARRIS:¬† Same thing, going off what Akil just said, it was all about just kind of we had an idea of what our identity should be, but we weren't living up to it.¬† Since then, we've bought into what we know is going to bring us success and that's hanging our hat on the defensive end of things.¬† That's what's going to win us ball games and that's what we take a lot of pride in.
Q.¬† Have you guys been watching the NCAA tournament?¬† I guess, most of the first round, whether you call it second round now, will have taken place before you play, or do you stay away from that?
JOE HARRIS:¬† I've been watching the games today.¬† We woke up this morning, had breakfast, and we haven't had a whole lot of stuff planned other than we had study hall this morning.¬† We've just been kind of hanging out.¬† I've been in my room watching the games.¬† I enjoy this time of the year.¬† It's a lot of fun just sitting back and enjoying good basketball.
Q.¬† Just looking back on your careers, how do you best explain what Coach has done to get the program to this point?¬† What's been the reaction and the feedback here this last week and a half, what you all have done?
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† I mean, Coach Bennett and all of our coaching staff, all the guys here worked really hard in trying to establish a brand of basketball, the hard‑nosed, defensive style of basketball that we play, getting guys in the system that believe in that.¬† I think we've all worked since day one, since they got here, to establish that brand.
And I think our fan base over the last week or two has really accepted that, really bought into it, and they're excited to see us be as successful as we have been.¬† It's been a positive reaction so far.
Q.¬† For Akil, this team, for a lot of the season, didn't get in the polls, didn't get a lot of attention outside of, probably outside of Charlottesville.¬† Are you guys playing with a chip on your shoulder because you were kind of under‑ appreciated for so long?
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† Yeah, I mean, it's not our goal to really be appreciated, but we kind of just take that as it is.¬† If people give us praise, we can't think too highly about it.¬† If people don't, then we can't think too lowly of ourselves.¬† That's what Coach Bennett has preached to us all year.
So no offense, but whatever the media says, I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with what happens on the floor.¬† So we just kind of take that as it comes and try not to think too much about it.
Q.¬† Did either of you see the infiltrator at the end of the game, the student from JMU, who ended up in your line to shake hands with the Duke players?
JOE HARRIS:¬† We'll let Coach Bennett answer that question.
AKIL MITCHELL:¬† Yeah, just pass it on to Coach Bennett.
Q.¬† This question is for Joe this time.¬† When you got here, did you envision this possibility, a season like this coming together in your time at Virginia?
JOE HARRIS:¬† I think we believe that we could have a chance to get to a point like this, but coming in, you don't really have‑‑ like I said, it was lofty expectations. ¬†You're more concerned with just trying to turn the program around from where they were.¬† They had a couple of losing seasons before Akil and I got here.¬† And even our first year, we had a losing year.
So it was more just trying to improve on what we did from the season before and a lot about that rather than looking ahead to what could possibly be in the future.
MODERATOR:¬† Any other questions?¬† Gentlemen, thank you very much.¬† Good luck this weekend.
We are now ready to continue the Virginia press conference with Head Coach Tony Bennett.¬† At this time, we'll go ahead and open up the floor for questions.¬† Are there any questions for Coach Bennett?
Q.¬† Do you have any connection with Coach Ellis at all?¬† Have you run across him in any circles?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Yeah, we were just talking about that when I saw him at our meeting.¬† It was 1989 or 1990, I was‑‑ I think I was a junior, sophomore or junior at Green Bay.¬† We were playing at Clemson and played against his team with Dale Davis.¬† They had a heck of a team and played them down there.¬† So I didn't think he'd remember me, but we talked about that.¬† So that was a time ‑‑ and he knows my father, obviously, and the coaching circles.¬† But goes back that long ago.
COACH BENNETT:¬† No comment.¬† No, we lost that game.¬† They beat us.¬† They got us.¬† I think it was a fairly close game, if I recall.
Q.¬† You've had a chance to look at Coastal on film now, get more familiar with them.¬† What stands out to you about them and this matchup?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Their guards are really good.¬† When you have three guards like they have that can dribble, pass, shoot, they spread the floor.¬† They're averaging 16, 15, 14 and then athletic fours and fives.
Coach Ellis has so much experience.¬† He's won so many games and been there.
But I like what their guards do.¬† You have to certainly spread out and you're going to have defend.¬† And they're very sound defensively, the way they've been playing as of late.¬† So certainly a well‑coached team, but some talented players and guys that can shoot and bounce it.
Q.¬† Coach, I'm just curious, three guys on your roster didn't play a single minute last year for you, when you talk about Anthony, London and Malcolm for different reasons.¬† Can you just speak to those three guys?¬† And I'm sure each one individually, you had question marks coming into the year and how they'd perform and how they've kind of meshed with the returning group and how that's gone?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Certainly, they've been important additions. ¬†We saw that with Malcolm because of what he did his first year before he was injured, some of the games he played.
And then Anthony, you know, we got to watch them as they were redshirting practice against us.¬† You could just see them practice.¬† Boy, they're going to give us depth.¬† There were times in practice where they just wore us out.
With London, you're always hopeful when you have incoming players, we brought a couple in, but you never know how they're going to react and respond to the college game.¬† He really grasped it quickly, grasped our defense.
Yeah, those three have changed us.¬† I think the improvement of the guys in the program has just given us more depth than we had.¬† So obviously, I think the balance of our team has been such a strength, and those three new faces, obviously, have been significant in our success up to this point.
Q.¬† We've seen the rise of the mid‑majors in recent years.¬† They're much more competitive with the top teams.¬† We've seen 14 and 15 seeds knock off 2 and 3s.¬† I'm wondering about ‑‑ we haven't seen a 16 knock off a 1.¬† I'm wondering if that gap is narrowing, if you think that's going to happen at some point too?
COACH BENNETT:¬† I do.¬† I think it's happening over the years.¬† The parity in college basketball, you can see it.¬† I think it's in a lot of sports, it's starting to happen.¬† In college basketball specifically, there's not a big separator.¬† There really isn't.
I know that‑‑ having played at Green Bay, which I talked about before, you knew that.¬† But I think as the years have progressed, I think you can only recruit so many good players.¬† There's such talent out there and those other schools are doing a good job.¬† So I definitely think the gap has shrunk and there's more parity.¬† Yeah, that's a possibility for sure.
Q.¬† Tony, Sunday after the game, Joe Harris was saying that he didn't know whether you would still want him for Virginia when you took that job after‑‑ when he was still in high school.¬† What did you see that you thought he would succeed at a higher level and was it because‑‑ you know, is there some kinship between coaches' sons, some connection there?
COACH BENNETT:¬† I think I made a good decision in choosing him.¬† I think I go back to that.
He comes from a very small town in Washington, and he just, he was really good.¬† And we saw him, obviously, it was shortly before I accepted the Virginia job, we were on him pretty hard at Washington State.
Then when I got the job, I just wanted to get a lay of the land, but I didn't know if he‑‑ he's very close with his family, if he'd be willing to come all the way across the country and try that.
I said, Look, why don't you come to our camp, to our advanced camp?¬† And I remember he took a redeye flight after playing in a tournament in Portland.¬† He got there, redeye flight, and he looked good at our camp even being that tired.
I just wanted to gauge would he consider doing it because of the ties to his family.¬† What I saw in him was a completeness, a guy that had succeeded even though he wasn't in a basketball hotbed.¬† Certainly, his IQ for the game, being a coach's son, all this stuff helps.¬† If you watch him play and he's been like that from high school and certainly in college early on, our guys can attest it, he's got a warrior's mentality. ¬†He plays real hard.¬† At times we'd have to play him at the four.¬† He played some point guard.¬† Obviously, the 2 and the 3, played with a broken hand.¬† One of the tougher guys I've seen.
He had that‑‑ he played some football in high school.¬† You could see that.¬† I think the combination of all those things with Joe and his excitement.¬† His excitement.¬† We've had success with guys like that.¬† Maybe not the five star guys or the most heralded guys, but he had it and he was good and he was hungry to come.¬† We knew it would be a little bit of a process, but he got thrown in the fire right away, and he showed those signs as a freshman.
Q.¬† Coach, congratulations on being named a finalist for National Coach of the Year.¬† What's been the biggest challenge in coaching this year's team?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Challenge.¬† I think initially it was because we had a lot of pieces trying to put them together to play our best.¬† At times we were playing, whether it was more guys, different rotations.¬† I think just trying to find the right mix, even how to play, I think we always knew defensively what we needed to do and how committed we needed to be to it.¬† But offensively, finding the right blend.¬† We just have made subtle changes.¬† When you have that many players, that's always a challenge.
If there's injuries, we say it's great if there's foul trouble, but using our depth in the right way.¬† I would say that.¬† But their attitudes, otherwise they've been great.¬† They show up to practice.¬† They work hard.¬† As you can see, they're a very unselfish group, the way they plan.¬† They're bought into the right things.¬† From that part, it's been very enjoyable.¬† But that's what I would probably say has been the toughest thing, or has been.
Q.¬† If I'm not mistaken, I think you played at noon, noon and 1:00 last week.¬† What are some of the‑‑ is there a knack to getting a team ready for a 9:30 or later start?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Yeah, it will be late.¬† We've done that a couple times this year.¬† We've changed our practice time and have gone in that slot, roughly in that slot, not exactly leading up to this.¬† Yeah, we played the three early games for the ACC tournament.
So much of it, we always say is neck up, being ready, but getting your body used to competing.¬† We'll be playing obviously late.¬† So our practices leading up to this have been that and we'll have our shootaround here and then go and practice after this at another place.
Q.¬† In writing about Anthony Gill, how does it work where‑‑ how do you find out somebody wants to transfer and then how did you find out about him and what does he offer?¬† What's he offered to your program?
COACH BENNETT:¬† We recruited him before.¬† He was coming to that camp I mentioned that Joe Harris came to.¬† It was not‑‑ was it the same year?¬† Might have been, actually.¬† I'd just gotten the job.¬† It was because Akil was at that camp too.
Anthony came.¬† He was at the South Carolina camp or the Maryland camp and broke his nose or broke his wrist.¬† He couldn't participate in that camp.¬† Coach McKay said there's a good young guy, because he was younger, and I think he really fits what Virginia's about.¬† I said I'm kind of new on the job.¬† I need to watch him.¬† I'm not going to offer without having seen him.¬† We obviously had our ties into him earlier and had a great relationship with the coach at that high school.¬† Coach McKay had coached the younger Curry boy at Liberty.¬† So there was a relationship there.¬† Then we recruited Akil.¬† So he followed our program.
Well, then when there was a coaching change and he decided to move on, we were certainly‑‑ boy, we are all over this.¬† We obviously saw how good he was his senior year in high school after he had committed.¬† Akil knows him well.¬† There were a lot of connections there.
We thought if he was interested, he really fit what we needed, and he brings another dimension to our team that we didn't have.¬† Just his ability to draw fouls, get to the line, he can score, does some things as you've been seeing him doing.
Q.¬† Coach, two years ago, you guys got walloped by Florida.¬† How much better are you guys now than you were then and why are you better?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Well, certainly played a good team in that Florida game.¬† We weren't as deep.¬† We were kind of limping into that tournament.¬† We weren't as deep.
And I think we're playing better basketball up to this point and we have more depth.¬† And I don't know if I'd say‑‑ I guess we probably have more maturity, more playing experience.¬† But I think the depth is probably the biggest difference.
Q.¬† Just going back to the beginning, when you took the job, what gave you confidence that a season like this was possible at Virginia when it hadn't happened for so long?¬† And what was one of the major breakthroughs that got you to this point?
COACH BENNETT:¬† What gave me hope was the experiences I had as a player, as an assistant for my father and then as an assistant for Coach Ryan, and then as another assistant coach for my father at Washington State, player at Green Bay, assistant at Wisconsin.¬† When I was always with my father in those situations, it always was a major rebuild.¬† Always had to figure out.¬† There's incredible wisdom.¬† That experience is priceless to go through that and see if you stick with it, if you get the right guys, if you can get some maturity, no guarantee you're going to win championships, but you can become competitive and then you can become successful.
I watched it play out three separate occasions, and being a newer coach, the one thing that I think I gained from that more than anything is when you're going to go through the hard times, which are inevitable, that's usually when you're not as willing to stick to your guns, say we're going to do it this way.¬† I know what I want.¬† I know the vision.¬† Usually when you hit the bumps in the road, that's when you say we got to make wholesale changes.¬† I got to change my philosophy.¬† I got to change a lot of things.¬† Those experiences shaped me as much as anything.
Q.¬† Along with recruiting Gill, what has Akil meant to your program and to what you've accomplished?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Akil, if you saw it on display in the game in the ACC finals, just his ability‑‑ he's become, for us, he just‑‑ he guards, he screens, he runs the floor.¬† He does all the tough things and he's really improved his game and given us that dimension that maybe not statistical, but he changes the games in so many ways.
Again, I've seen him really be a leader.¬† He's just a great young man and it's been a joy to watch Joe and Akil, you asked specifically, just develop.¬† When he wasn't, same as Joe, no high majors after him, not really highly touted, but hungry to get better and was excited about helping try to build a program.
Q.¬† Joe said‑‑ Joe and Akil said that they would leave it to you to discuss the security breach at the ACC tournament.¬† What was that all about?
COACH BENNETT:¬† Yeah, well, Doug, you said it when we were walking into the building today.¬† I said it's like the wedding crashers.¬† You said if it were Vince Vaughn, I probably would have recognized the guy that came in.
Honest to gosh, I noticed the guy, for some reason I noticed him once or twice during the game.¬† I thought he was security for the‑‑ you know, he was near but I thought that's probably the coliseum security they have during the game.
When the celebration came on and I saw the guy when our guys were bouncing and saying hoos and he was in there, I thought maybe he's somebody's son, somebody close to the program.¬† I noticed him but I didn't get too much‑‑ Ronnie Wideman said, Hey, are you with us?¬† What's the story?¬† I can't remember, but it was obviously kind of funny, but he slipped his way in there.
Obviously, he's getting a lot of play out of it, but glad he could enjoy some of the celebration.¬† I'm sure his friends are giving him high fives.¬† I doubt that will happen again.
MODERATOR:¬† I'm afraid that's all the time we have, coach.¬† Thank you very much and good luck this weekend.¬†
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports