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March 26, 2014
THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement, please?
COACH FISHER: As every team still playing, we're very excited to be one of the final 16 and anxious to come out and play really good basketball. We have a comfort level in this building. We played here in the championship of the Wooden Legacy Classic. The people that ran the event, the Big West administrative staff and the people that ran this building were phenomenal with us as they continue to be now as we're here for the NCAA tournament.
We were here in 2011 playing in the Sweet Sixteen, so we've been in this building before. We like the feel of it, and our goal is to come in and play not only Thursday, but play Saturday. We're excited about the challenge. We know we're playing a really good team, but we feel we're a really good team.
Q. Steve, could you tell us a little bit about the arc for Dwayne Polee since he arrived with you, the things that you felt that he needed to work on and improve and how he has done with addressing those things?
COACH FISHER: Dwayne Polee comes from one of the premier high school programs in the nation, Westchester High School. He committed to St. John's before we had a real, real chance at recruiting him. When he chose to leave after his freshman year, we were his school of choice, and in no small part, because we had Tony Bland on our staff who was also from Westchester.
When he became eligible, he had a lot of press clippings and accolades that followed him. He was a preseason newcomer of the year, and most people said, what happened? We started this year, and he didn't play against Arizona when we played them the first time. Coach's decision underlined. Not injured.
But Dewayne, and I've said this before, Dewayne is where he is now because of Dewayne's attitude from the neck up. And his dad and mom had a lot to do with that. He never, ever did anything other than cheer for his teammates, and smile when he was in the locker room, the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when you're that ballyhooed. He was sensational. Then when he started to get significant minutes, he played well, and obviously he's been crucial to the recent success of this team. He's been terrific. He's probably our best athlete, so some would say why didn't you play him sooner? And maybe it was as much opportunity as anything else. Sustained opportunity, which he now has and he's taken full advantage of iter better than anyone.
But I think his success has been hugely related to Dwayne Polee being Dwayne Polee, just a nice person who never, ever says, well, I'm not getting a fair shake and on and on and on. But he's good.
Q. How important is it to have a veteran point guard at this time of year?
COACH FISHER: It's extremely important to have a good one, and we have a good one. Xavier Thames is a fifth year senior. He knows what it's like to sit and wait. He knows what it's like not to play as much as he wanted before he transferred. He worked harder than anybody I've ever had between year one, sitting out that year. Then he had injuries his sophomore and junior year that he didn't want to talk about, but they impacted him. He's been relatively injury‑free this year, and he's been sensational. He's had stretches where he's been as good as anybody in America. He's been on one of those little runs right now offensively, and we're hopeful that he can continue that. But he's a great decision maker, too. When he wasn't shooting well, he went like 180 minutes without a turnover, and he has a ball a lot. He's our best on‑ball defender. He's our smartest player, so it's helpful to have really good ones, and Xavier Thames is one of the better ones in the country.
Q. How or why have you become such a haven for transfers?
COACH FISHER: I think in today's world in college basketball, on the men's side at least, there are too many transfers and it's well‑documented. I think 40% of those that sign to a school are gone by the end of their sophomore year, so there are a lot of them that leave. We had/have a program where transfers are on our radar. 20 years ago, ten years ago, they were not on the blue bloods radar. They are now. Take a look at some of the premier programs in America and look at the guys they've taken as transfers. So if you are selective, it will work. Even though we've taken quite a few, we've been selective as to who we've taken.
We've taken them, and the first few we took were successful. That lends itself to others saying boy, do you see what Lorrenzo Wade did when he went there, and Tony Bland when he went there, and it helps us get in the doors of others. Some of those kids are JJ O'Brien. I was heart broken when he didn't come to San Diego State out of high school. He went to Utah and after one year, there is a coaching change and he transferred, and we were right at the top of his list for those that he wanted to look at. So I think a lot of reasons. A lot of reasons why we've gotten as many good ones as we have.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about your road to success at San Diego State, building from the ground up as compared to obviously what you went through at Michigan?
COACH FISHER: When we came, Dutcher and I, in March of '99, and I don't mean it to be disparaging, but it was apathy at best what we had. Nobody came. Nobody cared. So we looked at what we had to sell and offer. We sold a lot of things. We sold from the pulpit from where we came from. Lot of people wanted to hear about where we came from.
But we said if we're not talking about San Diego State, we're talking about where we were before three years from now we're not doing enough work here, and you were.
Early on our future was in somebody else's gym, and we talked about it. I loved the kids we had. We just weren't good enough. We weren't talented enough, and it took us‑‑ we didn't win our league game the first year. We went 0‑14. We didn't win a road game for almost two years. But I think we did it in a fashion where we didn't feel like, well, let's take 1,000 transfers and hope one or two of them can play and not worry about what the others might bring with them. I thought we did a good job recruiting. We sold a vision, and said hang the first banner, and we've gone from there.
We worked. I spoke at 75, 78 different events my first year to sell San Diego State. I had tickets in every pocket, well‑documented. Passed them out, begged people to come. Now we're as tough a ticket as there is in the country. We've sold the building out the last few years. It's as energetic‑‑ it's as good a college atmosphere as there is in the country. We're playing a team in Arizona that's got a great atmosphere in their building. None as better as what we have in Viejas Arena in our building. So now we're selling a Final Four banner, and we're closer to reality to that than some people might think.
Q. Coach, what stood out about Arizona and the loss to them in November?
COACH FISHER: They were good, real, real good. We pride ourselves in saying we're a good rebounding team. They beat us up on the boards. They are tremendously athletic. They're obviously very well‑coached. We played from behind the whole game. It was in our building. We're down 14 in the first half, and our crowd kept us going. We closed the four points with like two minutes to go. We never led. That was because of them. So they're very athletic. They know what they want to do. There is no agenda in how they play. They guard, guard, guard, and they share the ball. That is a winning formula, and they've got it.
Q. Coach, the one word that Sean Miller used when he was describing your team on Sunday night knowing that he was going to play you was fearless. He said those guys aren't going to be afraid to play us. Where does that come from? I know a lot of players say I think we can win. But I get the feeling that your players really think that they can win. Is that from you? Is that from something else? Is that something you pride yourself on?
COACH FISHER: I think every coach in America prides themselves on the fact that you get good players that feel they can play with anybody. Part of it comes from winning. When you win, you back up talk with reality. And we've won. We've won at various places against big‑name teams, home, away, neutral sites. That adds to your belief in who you are. We've done that recently. We've done that this year, obviously. We've beaten some really good teams in some tough environments. I think our league is such that where if you go on the road to these places, like NewMexico and Vegas and Wyoming and others, these are hard places to play. We've told our kids, if you can win here, you can win anywhere. So I think obviously winning helps. But our kids believe.
Good players, you've got to walk that fine line between confidence and conceit, but you've got to be confident in who you are, and we sell how good we are. I tell them they're good.
Q. Coach, you were sitting in that exact seat three years ago. Is there a different feeling this time around? Different team, obviously different players, but from yours and the coach's perspective this visit to Anaheim?
COACH FISHER: I don't think so. Everybody aspires to make the tournament first and then win in the tournament. We've made it now five straight years. This is only our second appearance ever in the Sweet Sixteen. When we got here the last time, I think a lot of people in San Diego expected us to have a really good team. We were rated for the first time in the history of the school, pre‑season, 25th in the AP poll. This year we were on no one's radar to start the season. We got no votes. We weren't rated. We got no votes, period. We were picked fourth in our league, but we were closer to second than we were fourth, to be honest with you. We thought we could be good.
But in San Diego, people were saying, well, this could be a bridge year. This could be a year where boy, look at the class we've got coming in, and Angelo Chol from Arizona is going to be with us next year. We felt like we'd be good. I don't think many people‑‑ maybe if we had to say how many games will you win, 31 wins is a lot, a lot of wins. So there was less stress on us this year because of the pre‑season expectations. So we slid under the radar, and I think that helped us early on.
Then we just said, hey, we're good. We want to let the whole world know that we're good. The more you win, the more that gets out there. So last time we came here though we were playing a really good team, we were the higher seed. We played Connecticut. They won the National Championship. I still haven't watched the tape, and I still think we were better than Connecticut when they won the National Championship. So here it's a little different. We're playing the No. 1 seed, and maybe the No. 1 seed in the country or close to it. Not many people right now probably other than ourselves think we'll win. So it's a little different. But there is pressure when you come to this level and when you make the tournament if you're who you are. You feel pressure, but it's the right kind of pressure I think that we have.
Q. Coach, what is the what has the process been like for Aqeel Quinn transitioning from a lower profile program to now contributing for you guys?
COACH FISHER: Aqeel Quinn transfers from Northridge, was playing for Northridge on full scholarship. I didn't know Aqeel Quinn when he transferred. Somebody knew somebody who knew Tony Bland and he transferred in. No scholarship, no promises. Sat out last year. No scholarship. We put him on scholarship this year, and he's been sensational. He's everything you want your players to be. No ego, no agenda, but when he plays, he plays to win, and he knows how to play. He's been great for us. He's been absolutely terrific, and I'm very happy for AQ.
Q. A quick follow to my earlier question. What in the college landscape do you think has changed in the last 20 years to create this level of transfers, of kids not finishing where they started?
COACH FISHER: I think there's always been transfers. Obviously, there are more now. It's the way of the world. We all want instant gratification. Especially the kids who are recruited to Division I basketball, they're all hyped to be better than they are. Sometimes they're not willing to roll up their sleeves. When the pothole is there, fight through the pothole, the bump in the road. They cut and run too quickly. I think that's part of it. Part of it is expectations of families. They're the same way at times. It can be hard.
But sometimes recruiting today‑‑ used to be 20 years ago the kids really got to know the coaches. The coaches really got to know the kids. Then they started limiting access. You can't call them until then. You can only see them this many times. In the old days when I worked for Bill Frieder, they had two months you couldn't do anything. Other than that, nothing was barred from you. You could call eighth graders. You could call freshmen. Nobody likes that.
But I think sometimes kids commit, they commit to the hot name or biggest name. They don't know what they're doing. They don't know what they're getting into, and they do it too quickly. For a lot of reasons they say, why did I do that, and they leave.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by student‑athletes Josh Davis, Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. We're going to open it up to questions from the floor.
Q. Xavier, you guys haven't been underdogs too often this season. Is that something you think about as a motivating factor for this game?
XAVIER THAMES: No, not really. We just go out there and play the game and have fun and compete. We can't worry about being the underdog in different things like that. We've just got to go out there and compete.
Q. Xavier, why was it so important to you coming out of high school to play in what was then the Pac‑10? Why did you overlook this school and others for that?
XAVIER THAMES: Well, during that time the Pac‑12 was or still is the best conference in the America. So I just wanted to compete at the highest level, and that is one of the reasons I chose there. Plus Tony Bennett was coaching there before he had left, and he recruited me. He's a great coach, and you see what he's doing at Virginia. So those are two of the main reasons I committed to Washington State.
Q. Dwayne, talk about how excited you are that you're getting an opportunity this time around? It's the second time for the team as a whole, but getting this opportunity to play Arizona?
DWAYNE POLEE: I'm very excited. It's not even about just playing Arizona. But I'm excited to be in the Sweet Sixteen itself no matter who we'll be playing. I didn't play in the first match‑up, but it's the second time around. I'm going to go out, bring a lot of energy to the game, try to pump my teammates up, try to pump the crowd up. I'm just excited this go around.
Q. Josh, when you decided to come to San Diego State last year, is this kind of what you dreamed of? Is this even better than what you dreamed of?
JOSH DAVIS: It's even better. I wanted to make it to the tournament, be around a great group of guys and coaches. And everything has been working out so far.
Q. If all three of you could answer this since you're all transfers, but start with Dwayne. When you're in high school did you have this feeling there was only one right road to take, and has your experience here maybe opened your eyes that as long as you play well there are a lot of different ways to get to your goal?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, when you're in high school you want to play in the best of the best. You know, coming from a marquis school like Westchester, and you want to play a top competition every night. But coming to San Diego State, it really did open my eyes, because even in the non‑conference we played a tough schedule. The conference is tough, and now we're in the tournament, Sweet Sixteen, where we're still playing a tough schedule. So it's not all about really going to the big school. It's about going to the right school.
JOSH DAVIS: Kind of growing up I wanted to play in the ACC. Living in Raleigh, that's everybody's dream coming from my area. But coming to San Diego State opened my eyes. We still had a tough schedule, like Po said. It's a great place to be, especially playing under Coach Fisher. Your dreams can come true from anywhere.
XAVIER THAMES: Similar to what they said. Growing up and as a kid you want to play in the Pac‑10, you see the Arizonas, Washingtons and different teams like that. Me growing up on the west coast, I wanted to play in the Pac‑10. But coming here to San Diego State has been fun. This is a big family here. I'm just glad I came here after leaving Washington State.
Q. Dwayne, Coach was talking about the first few weeks of the season, the Arizona game and how you handled that situation. How difficult was it for you to sit and watch, and what do you think was the real difference maker in terms of getting you on the floor?
DWAYNE POLEE: It was really difficult because I'm a competitor. So I love the game. And nobody takes sitting out of an important game easily. It was hard, but I just kept working on my game, kept working hard in practice, getting with the coaches and trying to do whatever I had to do to get on the court. I just wanted to bring energy whether it was on offense, defense or whatever I needed to do, rebound, guard the best player, make a three. Whatever I've got to do, I'm going to do it.
Q. I have a question I'd like all three of you to answer, but start with Dwayne. The National Labor Relations Board today ruled that Northwestern football players can create the nation's first college athletes union. I'm wondering what each of you might think about possibly having a union represent you?
DWAYNE POLEE: Well, I mean, I'm not too familiar with it, but if it's going to benefit us in a positive way, then I'm all for it.
JOSH DAVIS: I'm not familiar either, but I'm definitely open to that option. So we can look more into it.
XAVIER THAMES: Yeah, same thing they said. I'm not really familiar with it, but just like what they said. We're just focused on Arizona right now.
Q. Dwayne, can you bring us back a little bit to the decision to leave St. John's, and what it was about San Diego State, and how you feel it's all worked out for you?
DWAYNE POLEE: My mom had gotten kind of sick and had to have surgery, so I just came back for her benefit so she'll be able to still come down the freeway and watch my games. That was one of the main reasons I left St. John's. Coming to San Diego State, Coach Fisher is a legend in college basketball. He knows how to deal with the big players and egos and just bringing a good group of guys in and make them play as one. So that was my main reason I came to San Diego State was because of Coach Fisher.
Q. Xavier and Josh, can you guys talk about your first match‑up and the defensive intensity Arizona brought at you in San Diego? Secondly, you have a lot of similarities when it comes to defense and how you rank nationally as well and how that helps you, in a sense, deal with such a tough defense in Arizona.
JOSH DAVIS: They're very long, very athletic. Similar to us. Oh, they really rebound the ball very well, so that's one of the things we do. They're very good in transition.
XAVIER THAMES: Yeah, kind of what Josh said, but the first game they got a lot of offensive rebounds on us. We didn't box out really well, but we learned from that. Also when we penetrate, they get their hands and steal a lot of basketballs, so we've just got to be aware of that, take care of the ball and rebound and get back in transition.
Q. Josh, since you mentioned Coach Fisher, what is the quality that he brings to coaching that you most respect or have come to appreciate?
JOSH DAVIS: He instills belief in all of his players. We can go out there and play as hard as we can for him, for the team. I mean, there is just something about him that we can just work as hard as we can and know that he's always trying to help us and believes in us.
DWAYNE POLEE: Oh, I mean, like Josh said, he just puts the most confidence and belief in you. You can go out and miss your first five shots; but you know, Coach Fisher's going to be right there saying you've got this next one. You're going to make the next one.
Even when times are hard, for example, in the NewMexico game when we played them at San Diego, even though we were down by 16, Coach Fisher just had that belief in us that we could come back and we could do it, and we did just that.
Q. Xavier, obviously everyone in high school wants to score. When you get into college and particularly with this team, how difficult is it to transition to a mindset that we're not going to outscore people? We're just going to hold them defensively and make it difficult for them?
XAVIER THAMES: Well, for me it wasn't too difficult. For me growing up my favorite player was Gary Payton, and my mom and dad made me play defense if I wanted to play basketball. So I think that's the way it is for everybody here on our team. We love playing defense. We know offense is going to come but if we want to win and win big, we have to play defense.
Q. Dwayne, what was it like during Aqeel's transition? How much did you talk to him when he decided to transfer to San Diego State? He said he stayed at your house for a little bit too. What was that like?
DWAYNE POLEE: Aqeel was in a difficult situation because his school was going on post‑season probation. So I just kind of reached out to him. I brought him out to San Diego. He came and played in the open gym with the team. He loved it. We accepted him with open arms. He just got real close with us; and he said, man, I'm trying to transfer. Whatever I've got to do. I'll walk on, pay for school. His whole first year he was here he worked his tail off.
So that is a testament to him. He paid for school, and eventually Coach Fisher blessed him with a scholarship, and now he's in the position he's in.
Q. The National Labor, the whole thing about that is making a differentiation between whether you're student‑athletes or employees of a university. So do you guys consider yourselves student‑athletes or employees? Starting with Dwayne?
DWAYNE POLEE: Student‑athletes because at the end of the day I know my goal is to get a degree. I'm pretty sure Josh wants to get a degree. I know X wants to get a degree. We need something to fall back on, because we can't play basketball until we're 50 or 60 years old. I think we're still student‑athletes because at the end of the day we want that degree to fall back on.
JOSH DAVIS: We all want to play pro basketball, but at the same time, like he said, we always need something to fall back on. Schools provide a great education, so I would say student‑athlete.
XAVIER THAMES: Yeah, me too as well, student‑athlete. Especially with my mom being a teacher. We've all got to go to class and do things like that. And I for sure want to graduate and everybody else does on our team as well. So student‑athlete.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports