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NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 28, 2007
DAVE WORLOCK: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this afternoon's teleconference with the head coaches of the 2007 Final Four teams. We will conduct a 15-minute question and answer session with each coach.
We'll start today with questions for John Thompson III, head coach for the Georgetown Hoyas.
Q. John, when you first got to Georgetown, there were some people who said that the Princeton offense couldn't work at Georgetown. What was your gut reaction when you heard that?
COACH THOMPSON: Well, I mean, I've never believed that. I never thought that that was true. You just have to look around. You see the influence that coach Carril had when he went to the pros. You look at all the active pro teams that are running bits and pieces, some semblance of what we do here.
If it can work there, it's just playing basketball. You've heard me say this: too much is made of it. I'm not trying to push away from it, but we're just playing basketball here. Having five guys on the floor that want to play together.
Q. Against North Carolina, they had a rebounding edge, particularly on the offensive glass. In the last seven minutes of the game, one offensive rebound. What was the difference in the last seven minutes?
COACH THOMPSON: I think we just got lucky. We got a few lucky bounces. I believe that we knew that that was key because they were scoring so many points on second shots. I think we just got the -- the ball bounced our way. Our guys made more of a concerted effort to go get the ball instead of hoping that it came to us.
Q. How does Hibbert match up with Oden? What has been his biggest area of improvement in the last couple years?
COACH THOMPSON: I think we'll see on Saturday how they match up. I think they're both very good players. It's something that people are talking about.
It's not too often we have two low-post centers going against each other, particularly this late in the tournament. I think he's improved in every area. If you weren't around, it's almost hard to describe.
He's been extremely willing. He's worked extremely hard. His game, his overall -- his body, from the time he's in the weight room, he's improved in every area.
Q. We often hear coaches at their first Final Four talk about the distractions. Do you feel like you have an advantage in that area because you watched your dad go through it several times and you yourself have been at the event in the past?
COACH THOMPSON: Well, I think -- I don't necessarily think it's an advantage. Still there's a lot going on, for lack of a better way to put it. That has changed, quite honestly, since when Pops was coaching, when they could go 30, 40 miles outside of town and not have to deal with a lot of the stuff that is going on.
You work hard to get to this point. The attention that the program is receiving is positive. You have to enjoy it. At the same time, we do need to hone in and stay focused on trying to win.
Q. There have been quite a few big-time rallies in this tournament. Do you think it's the three-pointer? What do you think the reason is teams are never out of contention?
COACH THOMPSON: It's probably a lot of factors. I don't necessarily -- I don't think we had too many three-pointers. Maybe I'm wrong. With us specifically, you know, we have an extremely focused group. We have a group that believes in what we're doing, how we're doing it.
So we just stayed -- we stuck to our guns and stayed with our stuff, for lack of a better way to put it. We were fortunate that we were able to methodically get back in that game.
Q. As you look at what you brought to the table, bringing the Thompson name back to Georgetown, what did you want to instill more than anything else when you took over that program that maybe had been missing? Not to slam the guys before you, but from your father's day to your day, what have you done to bring it back to prominence?
COACH THOMPSON: I don't know, to tell you the truth. I don't put much thought into that. What I wanted to do and what I said from day one, I didn't walk in with a five-year, three-year or ten-year plan. It's just let's improve in every area. We still have a long way to go.
We're still a long way from where I want to be as a program. We don't want to be a cute, trendy team. We just want to get the program -- we wanted to improve every day. I felt if we went about our business trying to improve on the floor, off the floor, the wins and losses would take care of itself.
Q. You mentioned the match-up between Oden and Hibbert. What do you attribute the drought, seven-footers, why are they so rare?
COACH THOMPSON: Obviously a lot of times kids are going right to the pros, not sticking around. I think also a lot of times it's because of the influences of so many quality players in the NBA. A lot of big guys now are shying away from the post, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we have two guys here that like the fact that they're low-post players.
Q. Watching three of Ohio State's losses this year, where do you find their biggest weakness? More importantly, what do you have to do to match up and knock down this Buckeyes team?
COACH THOMPSON: I haven't been able to find too many weaknesses. Obviously Oden is the focal point. He's such a terrific player, a lot of the attention, a lot of the focus comes back to him.
But when you look at their team, they don't have too many weaknesses. They have a nice combination of younger guys, experienced guys, inside players, outside players. They play extremely well together. They pose problems because they have answers. They have many different ways in which they can hurt you.
Q. In the last couple years, we've seen a lot of schools turn to the sons of fathers who coached there. Why do you think we're seeing more and more of that? How much better off were you in that you didn't directly follow your father at Georgetown, proved yourself elsewhere?
COACH THOMPSON: I don't know why we're seeing more of that, to be honest. I think maybe a lot of us sons are not smart getting into this coaching business instead of trying other things (laughter). There may be more around.
I was extremely fortunate and lucky to have played for Coach Carril at Princeton, have the chance to work with him at Princeton.
This is my dad's job. Then I was fortunate enough to be offered the job at Princeton. That's home for me. I said at my opening press conference here, I'm one of the few people that's fortunate enough to leave home and yet still come home.
My experiences there and the preparation and learning working with Coach Carril is invaluable.
Q. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert get most of the attention for you guys, rightfully so. How integral is Jonathan Wallace to your success this year?
COACH THOMPSON: He's key. As you said, Jeff and Roy are going to get the attention, and they should. But John is someone that from the time -- from his freshman year, he's someone that I recruited, told him, You're never going to play. You're going to be a starter from the day you walk in the door. That's just a testament to how tough he is, to his upbringing, to his beliefs in what we're doing.
He's a kid that gives you an honest day's effort every single day.
Q. Ohio State assistant said that Green has no weaknesses. Is that true? You talk about his improvement, what sort of matchups Ohio State might throw at him.
COACH THOMPSON: Maybe you can help me with what they're going to throw at him.
You know, Jeff Green, I've said this many, many times, is the smartest player I've coached. That's just relative to understanding what we're showing him, why we're showing him, when to apply it. He's a person that can place everyone on the court where they should be. But he has the unique ability to be able to see things happen two, three, four passes down the line.
Then you couple that with his intelligence, with his God-given ability, you couple that intelligence with his work ethic, you have a very special player.
Q. I was wondering how difficult it's been to market basketball in the area that you're in, what kind of a crowd you're expecting to follow you to Atlanta?
COACH THOMPSON: Maybe this isn't a good thing, but I haven't put too much thought into the marketing aspect of it. We just tried to win games. Our fans here have been terrific. Our fans, right from my first year, have been absolutely terrific. The support has been great through the university as well as throughout the city.
Hopefully as many people as can get tickets will be down there.
Q. Obviously the Final Four is in Atlanta this year. Do you have any ties to the area? What are your thoughts on having this game played in Atlanta?
COACH THOMPSON: Well, I mean, obviously there are four teams left and we're one of them and we're excited to be coming down to Atlanta. We have Octavius Spann, who went to high school down there. He's coming back home. Patrick Ewing spent a couple years in Atlanta during his high school time. We got a couple guys that have lived there. One lived there all his life. Pat had a couple years there.
We are extremely excited to be coming to Atlanta.
Q. Last year we saw you obviously in the Sweet-16. Can you talk about how much your team has improved since then?
COACH THOMPSON: I think -- I don't have to say I think. We are a dramatically different team than we had last year. That was a team that had three seniors that played significant minutes. This year's team is much younger. That's part of the reason for a lot of the stumbles that we had early.
We had Jeff, Roy, then John. Everyone else needed to gain experience. Everyone else needed to figure out how to help, fit in.
As the year's progressed, we have gotten better. I think our guys have embraced that thought. I said early in the year, Fellas, by the end of the year I want to be the most improved team in the country. Our guys have embraced that and gone about their business working extremely hard individually and collectively to make us the better team.
We're different. We're much different than we were last year.
Q. What has it meant for you as a son to be able to share in this experience with your father?
COACH THOMPSON: It's something that's extremely special to me, just to have him here, to have him around, to have him be a part of this. It's meant a lot to him. It's been special for me to have him enjoy it.
Everyone, rightfully so, has this image of John Thompson, former coach of Georgetown. That's my dad. To have your parents, both my mom and dad, be a part of this is extremely special.
He's walking around like the proud father. I'm glad to see that. I'm sitting here terrified of Ohio State.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Thompson.
COACH THOMPSON: Thank you.
DAVE WORLOCK: Coach Matta is on the phone. We'll get started with the question and answer session for Coach Matta, head coach of the South Region Champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
Q. Greg Oden's offensive repertoire when he was in high school, obviously delayed because of the wrist. How close is he to what you thought he could do when he got to the college level? What has been your impression of Roy Hibbert when you watched him on film?
COACH MATTA: I think with Greg, I think the thing I enjoy about him is he gets better every day. The seven months that his hand was immobilized obviously set him back. Even when he came back, the hand didn't work. We disguised it. We didn't tell anybody his right hand couldn't move.
But I think he's really made a lot of progress. Like I said, it just keeps getting a little stronger every day. The good thing is with all that time, he was working his left hand you saw the rewards of his free-throw shooting with his left hand.
With Roy Hibbert, we saw a great side of him last year in the NCAA tournament. He had a heck of a game against us. His size and his athleticism, I think that's the one thing that we really picked up on from last year, was just really how athletic he is, how well he moves. Great touch around the basket. Just seems like he's got a great understanding of how to play the game of basketball.
Q. It seems like a prevailing theme in this Final Four, big guys. Your view on how the big man has evolved in college basketball the last few years, what impact you think the NBA age limit has on that?
COACH MATTA: I think it's going to take time to tell the full impact of it. From our standpoint, with Greg, he had said all along he was going to go to college.
I think it's going to get the game back to where it used to be. Having that low-post threat, the size of the guys you just mentioned is truly amazing. I think it's a situation where, we've always said this, I've always looked at teams that have made it to the Final Four each year, they've always got a couple at least big post players. That was something that was very evident to us, is we've gone out and recruited that we need as much size as we can get.
Q. Do you remember the Georgetown teams of the mid '80s? What similarities do you see in the way they play maybe or make their approach? Also the Thompson touch from father to son there.
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I remember Ewing and those guys. I think the similarities would be very fundamentally sound, very authoritative in their system, what they want to do, how they want to play.
Great execution on offense. Players kind of look a little bit similar with the size, the length of the guys and the athleticism.
Q. You're known as such a positive, upbeat person on and off the court, games, practice. Any contradiction with someone who is that positive and someone who is incredibly superstitious?
COACH MATTA: I don't think so. I think honestly the superstitious has really gotten some legs and ran out of control, if you will. I don't think it's quite as bad as people have made it out to be (laughter).
But, no, I think from the positive side I try to be a coach that I'd like to play for. I know when our guys' minds are right, they play their best basketball. That sort of has been my approach from day one.
Q. There have been quite a few pretty big comebacks in this tournament. What do you tell your kids when they're down and how do you try -- what is the process of getting back into contention when you're facing that kind of deficit?
COACH MATTA: I think the first thing is getting them to understand there's not a 9-point shot or a 17-point shot in basketball. It really starts with the defense, getting some consecutive stops put together. Not panicking on offense, remaining focused on giving the best shot that we can give each time down the floor.
As I told our guys at halftime the other night against Tennessee, I said, We were down with three minutes to go; now we're down 17, but we got 20 minutes. That's a good thing.
I think just really keeping the focus. Why we're in those situations, I'm not sure. I've been proud of our guys, the way they've fought out of it.
Q. NCAA sanctions came down just over a year ago. Where are you now with the faith the players and coaches have in the program?
COACH MATTA: I can't put words to describe how important that is. You know, you think of, number one, the work that the guys did in one year at Ohio State. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was walk in and tell guys they couldn't go to post-season play for a crime they didn't commit, then motivate them on a daily basis, knowing it was going to end, and there was no chance of a reward.
But I think, you know, with the guys that signed early with us last year, the five guys, you know, they took a heck of a chance on us. I'll be forever grateful to those kids for doing that.
Without a doubt, their faith in our program and in the Ohio State University is very instrumental in the success that we're having.
Q. The Thompson coaching legacy is pretty well-known at Georgetown. Could you talk about the Matta coaching legacy, what influence your dad was on you as a coach.
COACH MATTA: The good thing is I got daughters, too. I told them they're not getting into coaching.
But, no, I think for me personally, the upbringing that I had, the values that were instilled in me, started with my parents. I was a kid that was raised in a gymnasium. I had the fortune of being in the winning locker room, losing locker room, in practices, riding the team bus.
There was no greater way to learn than to be in those situations. To sit at home and watch Final Fours on TV with my dad, who was a coach, was obviously something that was very instrumental in me choosing this profession.
Q. Kellogg was asked the other day about the coexistence of basketball and football. I know spring practice starts tomorrow, will grab some interest. Can you talk about how the sports coexist, where you feel the basketball program stands in relationship to the football program?
COACH MATTA: I think football has been one of our greatest tools. The one thing that it taught me as I attended my first football game here was the passion that our fans have for the Buckeyes. Coach Tressel has gone above and beyond the duty of helping us along the way. He's been a sounding board for me. He's pointed me in the right direction on numerous occasions.
I believe that we can have both here. You point to a Florida, you point to a Texas, that ultimately was what I was striving to do. I think the big thing for me is I don't wake up every day and say, My goal is to make this a basketball school. I don't want to do that.
I just want to put the best product on the floor. Knowing that our guys this year made it to the national championship game, they won the national championship in 2002, you know, I think quite honestly we can have both. Also I think that speaks volumes of what the Ohio State athletic program is all about, as well.
Q. You had those great comebacks, but also so did Georgetown in the last two games. What do you think that will could to harden both teams? No team is going to back down given that situation.
COACH MATTA: Right, I think that's very true. I think it says a lot about both teams. I think it shows you one thing: no lead is secure in the NCAA tournament. We've talked with our guys. The hard part of the quick turnarounds that we have, we really haven't dwelled on the past in this thing. It's been onto the next game, onto the next game.
We've showed some film of maybe why we were in these situations. But, you know, I think you're absolutely right. We talked about it. We're both very fortunate to be in this position playing this weekend.
Q. You mentioned that you watched some Final Fours with your dad growing up. Any particular years that stand out, memories that you're thinking about, especially now?
COACH MATTA: Gosh, honestly there's a lot of 'em. It all started for me probably in '76 when Indiana won it, because we had a guy from our hometown that was on the team. That was kind of my beginning stages of college basketball, following a great team.
But really just all the way through, we'd sit down and watch every year that Monday night game. We'd be glued to the team.
Q. Looking at Mike Conley's season as a whole, has he surpassed the expectations you might have had for him coming into the year?
COACH MATTA: He has. I think -- I felt when we recruited Michael that he had a chance to be a heck of a college player. I didn't know just how good he was going to be. His dad and I joked the other day in San Antonio, because I asked him one time, I said, Do you think Michael is going to be ready for college basketball, just the grind of it? He said, Without a doubt. And he was right.
But I think the one thing that has set Michael apart is his work ethic. He and Greg honestly are probably the last two to leave the practice floor every day. They stay and work on their game, very focused on getting better. I think that's been the big difference for them.
Q. With Mike and Greg playing such big roles at freshmen, how does it help you they've played so much together in high school, and how apparent was their chemistry when they first arrived on campus?
COACH MATTA: That's one thing that we're very grateful for. Not only did they play together, but they played in all types of arenas, big games. Really since about the start of their sophomore year of high school there's been a target on their back of teams are going to go in, make history, beat them, that sort of thing.
I think that's been very helpful for our team. Their chemistry together from the time they got here, I mean, they're amazing together. They're literally like brothers that get along great, argue, fight, poke fun at each other, all that stuff. Just great to be around.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Matta. Safe travels to Atlanta. Best of luck.
COACH MATTA: Thank you very much. We need it.
DAVE WORLOCK: We'll now continue this afternoon's teleconference with a question and answer session with coach Billy Donovan of the Midwest champion Florida Gators.
Q. Do you feel like you're going to be able to get through this week without hearing a lot -- without the Kentucky issue being brought up several times? Have you or will you address your players about it?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think there's been distractions all year long to our basketball team. I've already addressed this right now. My focus is on our team, program, this great opportunity to play in the Final Four. To me, there is nothing else to address. I think I've already addressed it.
Q. Mental toughness gets thrown around a lot, maybe a term that's hard to define. When you see a team in games that show mental toughness, what are the things you see and how much is that factored into you guys this year being able to get back to the Final Four as defending champs?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the mental toughness, when I hear that or try to look at it, I think mental toughness is when things are not going well for a team or a particular player and a guy has the ability to stay concentrated on what is going on, to not lose confidence, to keep confidence in himself, to keep confidence in his teammates. I think no different than life or anything else you do, there are going to be ups and downs.
The people I think that can stay tough, focused, confident when things aren't going well, and a belief, I think to me that shows mental toughness.
I think when things -- maybe you get a little frustrated, you got to stay in tune to what's going on. I think for our basketball, there's been all sorts of different challenges this year where we've had to display a level of mental toughness, physical toughness, play against a lot of different styles.
I really don't know if mental toughness is something that can be learned. I think as you get older you get more mature. I think you can handle it better. But I think our guys have been through a lot. They understand what type of mindset they need to be in to play to the very best of our ability.
Q. Can you talk about your team and how they are different from last year? How different do you think your team is this season?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think we're a lot different. I think we're a changed basketball team. I think when you go through the experiences we went through last year, we're all different. I think the coaches are different, the players are different, your team's different.
I think your circumstances and your experience in your basketball life, in your life away from basketball, changes you. I think we've all been changed through our experiences.
I don't think we're the same team that we were a year ago. I'm not saying that's positive and/or negative. I think Joakim Noah is a kid that's totally different today than he was a year ago. Al Horford is totally different today than he was a year ago. So is Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green, Walter Hodge. Our freshman class, they're totally different than they were a year ago. They were probably on spring break in high school right now.
Everybody is different because of the past experiences. I don't see that in a negative and/or positive way. We're all different.
Q. How invaluable is it to have a guy like Taurean Green at this time of year who is so experienced, seems so much at the point guard spot for you?
COACH DONOVAN: Taurean had a terrific year. He's done I think a great job ever since he moved into the starting position last year. A lot of people I think last year, when we lost some games in February, looked at our team and thought with a youthful point guard it would be very difficult to do what we did last year. Here is a young man that basically had no experience.
I think the thing about going forward right now, the point in the season we're at now, this is a totally new experience for us. I think people are going to talk about the Final Four, that we were there last year, but this is really a totally new experience.
Although Taurean has been to this point, this is a new year, a new set of circumstances, some different elements. But there's no question he's been through it. I think you always gain confidence the more experiences you get thrown into. I think Taurean is a confident player because of the experience he's had an opportunity to go through the last year and a half.
Q. Things are totally new, you're going through a second in a row, that hasn't been done in 15 years. The kids talked about it all year long. What does that challenge mean to you now that you're two games away?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, I don't know if the goal was for us necessarily to, you know, have it happen again. Certainly you want that to happen. But I really wanted our guys to enjoy it.
I think the main reason they came back was the enjoyment of each other, playing with each other, competing, trying to get better as players, and the fun that they were having. Then during the course of different challenges throughout the course of the season, there were goals set, trying to get an SEC championship, regional championship, Final Four championship. I think every team in the Final Four right now has the same set of goals we had coming into the season.
But I think they're just really excited to get back to this point because to me it's a great accomplishment right now. They did it last year without any expectations, and then this year they had to do it with all the expectations. I think that's a different set of circumstances than anybody in the country coming into this season, that these kids have had.
I think they're enjoying it. They're having fun playing with one another. They're having fun competing.
Q. Your team allowed one Oregon offensive rebound in the second half. What is it about the final 10 minutes of the game? Greater sense of urgency to get the ball? Why were you able to do that?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that's a great question and I'm not so sure I have the answer to it. To Oregon's defense, I think one of the things that happened is they got into some foul trouble. Leunen was in foul trouble, Hairston fouled out. They had to put some different guys in there. They are probably a bit smaller than they normally are.
But I think our guys make as good an effort as you possibly can to go rebound the basketball. At the end of the game, I think it's different rebounding at the end of the game than it would be during the game. Fatigue, foul trouble, I think all those things play a factor in coming down the stretch and trying to rebound.
I think our team, with Chris Richard, Joakim, Al Horford, there was definitely a size differential between us and Oregon. I thought Oregon did a real nice job in the first half and most of the game rebounding the basketball, even though we had a wide disparity in rebounding margin. I think we did a good job of keeping them off the offensive glass.
Q. You played three pretty small, fast, quick teams in the tournament. Does that affect your team on defense more than it does on offense?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, in looking at it, we played all different styles. Jackson State, no question, the smallest team in the first round that we played against. That was a very, very fast-paced, up-and-down game. We played against a Purdue team. Purdue I felt was very, very physical. They had Landry up front, probably as big and strong as any player we played against that. Coming out of that, playing Butler, they had their own unique style.
Although height-wise we had a height advantage, when you're playing on the ground, there's no height advantage. If Joakim Noah or Al Horford is trying to receive the basketball, there's no height advantage when you got two bodies physically banging on top of each other.
Oregon's style and system was a lot different. So I think we faced just about every style of play you could face this year. We faced teams that have been very, very slow. We've faced teams that have run a Princeton-style offense. We faced teams that want to race it up and down. We faced teams that have big size, physicality. We faced teams with four guards.
I think the thing that makes everybody unique this time of year, as it did with Purdue and Butler and Oregon, they all have their own unique style of play. I think the same can be said for UCLA. They're going to play to their identity and what they've done all year long to get them to this point. I think that we try to play our identity, what got us to this point.
Q. A couple of the analysts the other night were saying you were doing so well, it was hard to find anything wrong. They pointed to the free-throws, turnovers. How concerned are you about taking care of the ball against the UCLA guards?
COACH DONOVAN: The thing about it is I remember coming out of the Butler game, because the Purdue and Butler game, we did a terrific job shooting free-throws down the stretch, did a great job the entire game.
Someone asked me about what is it about our free-throw shooting. I said, You can't embrace it because the next day you never know what's going to happen. We got to the free-throw line a lot against Oregon; didn't do a good job converting.
We have to focus on it each and every day, as all teams do this time of year.
The other thing is you want to take care of the basketball, and turnovers this year, any time of year, are not good. There's been some times we've been careless with the basketball and we need to do a better job of taking care of it.
The one thing I try to do with the speedometer of giving our guys the freedom to play, there comes a responsibility of taking care of the basketball. I mentioned to those guys, Every time you have a ball in your hands, there's an entire team that's relying on you to take care of it. We had some against Oregon, and Oregon did a nice job of making some steals.
We got to certainly -- the fewer turnovers we have in this game, any game going forward, the best we can shoot our free-throws, that's only going to help us.
Q. Could you evaluate the state of the program now compared to when Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard were there, and where that leaves you now in terms of being able to recruit the blue chip players around the country now?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think in recruiting, a lot of times you never really know what you're going to get. I think we've gotten a lot of credit for recruiting some very, very high-profile guys. A lot of those high-profile guys didn't play here very long and certainly helped our program, but they weren't here very long.
Chris Richard and Lee Humphrey have done a great job for us. They've been a tremendous -- both have been tremendous to coach. But it's been guys like that, Brent Wright, Brett Nelson, the guys that have been around here for four years. Lee Humphrey, a four-year player, Chris Richard, both guys have done a great job.
The state of the program, whenever you're out there recruiting, so much of the recruiting comes down to a guy's mindset. What I mean by that is how hard is he willing to work, what kind of teammate he is, what kind of unselfishness there is, what kind of competitiveness there is.
I think there's a certain amount of things you can control as a coach, but there's also a way that a young man has played the game or views the game that sometimes can be very, very difficult to change over three, four, five months, a year period.
I've been very blessed here that the kids that have come in here, all different teams I've coached, really have embraced our system, our style, have been very, very coachable. I think sometimes when you don't make deep runs into the tournament, you look at it like, Where are things at right now?
I think the most important thing right now is try to get into a tournament. If you look at the programs, for instance, UCLA, their tradition is so rich, they've won a lot of championships, but you first have to go back to the fact that they've put themselves into a position to even get into the NCAA tournament.
I'm sure they've been to the NCAA tournament more than anybody else in the history of NCAA basketball, if not they're in the top five no question. I think you want to get into the tournament to make some things happen and have some things happen like happened to us last year, like happened to us in 2000, like happened to us last year where you give yourself a chance to grow.
Recruiting, I think every coach out there will agree is not an exact science. We can evaluate ball handling, shooting and passing, but there's so much more to it than that.
Q. As someone who played and coached in the Final Four, what do you figure it is that makes it such a special event, a little different than some of the other major sporting events in our country?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think the exposure that comes with this, the Final Four, it's the pinnacle of college basketball. When March Madness starts, the NCAA tournament starts, those first four days, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I think the entire country is tuned in.
It's interesting the way the sport goes throughout this country. In October everybody was focused on the World Series, what's going on in baseball. Then as you move into September, October, people are watching college football, the NFL. Then all of a sudden people start paying attention to college basketball, then the NBA. Then you have the Masters.
It's interesting to me the way the country, the sports fanatics in the country, the sports people in the country, it's a paradise when you talk about being able to flip on your TV, all year round, 12 months a year, be in tune to what's going on at that time.
I think what makes the Final Four so special is the amount of attention on the event. It's no different than the NBA Finals or the World Series in baseball, the Super Bowl in football, the Masters here in golf.
There are certain events that everybody is gravitating towards at one time. That's why I think for us as coaches, it's hard for us just to focus. I've been coaching these guys since August. Here it is August. We had practice in August, Labor Day weekend, we've been working out since August. Here it is moving towards the end of March, beginning of April right now, it's a long year.
But I think most people take the NCAA tournament, we look at it, we magnify it so big, it's created such attention throughout the country.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Donovan.
COACH DONOVAN: Thank you very much.
DAVE WORLOCK: We'll start the question and answer session for Coach Howland of the West champions UCLA Bruins.
Q. How much time did you spend in your summer dwelling on that championship game loss, looking at the tapes, so forth? What did you learn from it?
COACH HOWLAND: You know, I was obviously disappointed we lost the game, but I was also very proud of our team last year, all that they accomplished. There's only one team that's going to be truly happy at the end of the year, and that's the team that wins on Monday night.
That didn't diminish the great year we had last year. Of course, you always try to learn from games that you lose, from defeat, from adversity. You watch the tape. There's a lot of things. Just about everything we could have done better, but also have to credit Florida, the great game they played a year ago, how they handled every aspect, phase of the game.
Q. If you look around this tournament, prevailing theme is the size with Hibbert, Oden, Noah, Horford. You have Mbah a Moute. How do you see the role of the big man evolving? What do you think the NBA age limit plays on that?
COACH HOWLAND: You threw Luc in there, a 7'2" guy, a seven-footer, a couple of 6'11" guys. Luc is 6'7". We are by far the smallest team in this last remaining Final Four.
I think it's great to see the big man in college basketball. UCLA boasts possibly the two greatest big men at the college level ever in cream Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. Those were obviously special eras where players stayed for four years of college. In fact, both of them weren't eligible to play as freshmen.
Today a much different landscape with kids that were allowed to go straight to the pros right out of high school until just two years ago.
I think it's great for the college game. I don't think it's fair to the student-athlete that they don't have the right to go right out of high school to the pros. I do like the idea if a player does go to college, then he's got to stay for two years, but if he goes right out of high school, that's his right, and I understand that.
We have a number of young men representing this country around the world, in the Armed Forces, that are 17, 18, 19 years old. I have great respect for them. I think it's been great for college basketball to have Oden have to go to college for a year. Dwight Howard would have been in that same situation a couple years ago. LeBron James. I don't know how long they'll remain. I like the idea for them to go to college. Kind of like college baseball, except I think they have to go for three years.
Q. What is it that makes Darren Collison so special? Has his improvement been that significant this year? Was he that good last year?
COACH HOWLAND: Darren had a great year for us last year as a freshman, playing 19 minutes a game. Had some big games for us where he made huge plays. At Michigan he made some huge plays. He was outstanding at Arizona a year ago as a freshman. Those are three that come to mind against very good opponents.
He's also just normal maturation from freshman to a sophomore, having gained all the experience. Compound it and combine it with the fact that he worked very, very hard in the off-season between his freshman and sophomore year.
One of the things he really improved on was his shooting. I think last year he was in the low 30s from three, now he's at 46%, which is an incredible jump, and a real credit to his work ethic, his desire to be the very best.
Q. Other than being top seeds, what common traits do you see among these Final Four teams, comebacks or anything else?
COACH HOWLAND: The common traits are that they've all had outstanding years, come out of power conferences where you're tested every night you go on the road in the PAC-10 or at home. The same is true in the Big East, in the SEC, obviously in the Big-10.
Also in the Big 12 and the ACC. Those six conferences really force those players, those programs, to bring it every day.
It's very, very competitive. Our league boasted six teams that went to the NCAA tournament this year. Oregon played Florida tough; were in the Elite 8. Obviously SC was in the Sweet 16. Washington State was very close to Vanderbilt, double overtime loss. I think that's helped all four of the teams get to where they are, is being pushed throughout the season by the competition within their own league.
Q. You went against Georgetown for a while before moving out west. What was missing during those years for that Georgetown program? What do you think they got back now?
COACH HOWLAND: John Thompson, III is doing just a terrific job, both recruiting, where it all starts from. Those Georgetown teams when I was at Pitt were good. One year they went to the Sweet 16, went to Boise. I can't remember who they played, who finally beat them. They had a very good team. Seems like Georgetown always has a lot of big guys year in and year out. They continue to have that during my tenure there. Sweeney I always loved as a player. They had very good players.
I think John Thompson, III has definitely proven he's one of the very best coaches in the country in a short time at the high major level. His time having played for Pete Carril, having coached at Princeton, has influenced him to where I think they have a great system that is very difficult to prepare for.
You have to commend what an outstanding job the players and coach have done there in that program.
Q. Last year Arron Afflalo had a difficult time shaking Corey Brewer in the title game. Did that motivate him to improve? What improvements has he made this year?
COACH HOWLAND: Everybody had a problem, not just Arron. Our whole team had a problem with Florida last year in the championship game. They thoroughly dominated us in that game. I don't think there's any secret about that.
But you have to credit their whole team, not just Corey. It's a team defense that wins and a team on offense that wins. Although Corey I think is a great player. Arron was definitely motivated more than anything by the loss of his team in the championship game to come back and be better this year.
I think he's better off the bounce this year. I think he continues to do a better job reading screens. I think he's done a better job at playing without the basketball. I think he continues to take great pride in his defense, guarding the other team's players.
Q. Could you talk about how different you are from last year when you played against Florida, how different your team is?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we're different in that we're a year older. There's six players on this team currently that played in that game last year. Four really significant minutes. We had Josh Shipp who was there but wasn't applying for us. We've added two freshmen.
The biggest thing is just a year of experience, getting a year older, a year of maturity. But I don't know that that gives us any great advantage over Florida in that they have everybody back starting from there team a year ago.
I'm so impressed at the Florida team. When you look at their numbers, the numbers are just shocking. The balance, number one, of having five starters that all average in double figures. They shoot 40% from three. The way to equate that is like shooting 60% from two. Twelve points on four shots out of ten, shooting 60% from two, that's how I look at a three-point shot. Then they shoot 59.8% inside of three as a team.
Basically they're shooting 60% from the field as a team, the way I look at it. Then they also are holding their opponents to 40%. That's a 20% differential between the two teams. They outboard their opponents by seven boards a game, which is incredible. Their blocked shots, 185, are just really, really impressive. They outscore their opponents by 17 points a game. They force a number of turnovers.
They're the No. 1 overall seed. Deservedly so.
Q. Is too much being made of your team's desire, being motivated because of losing in that championship game last year? How much has it driven them since that game?
COACH HOWLAND: I think the motivation is to win. Again, we were very, very proud of our team last year, disappointed in the last game last season, but overall had a great year. There are only four teams that get to make it to this each and every year. It's a great honor to be in the Final Four.
Our team is motivated to do its very best, to play the best that we can possibly play. We're more concerned about UCLA than anything else about trying to reach our potential and be the best team that we can be.
Q. You look at the team, all five starters are back from last year, but Billy Donovan says they're a different team because of the experiences. Can you see a difference now going back to the championship game, something in the way they play?
COACH HOWLAND: I would say when he uses the word "differently" I would say -- they're better than they were a year ago. I guess that is different. They've even taken it to a new level.
Again, you have to commend them so much. To be the defending national champion, have all five starters back, to go through and have the kind of year they've had, with everybody shooting at 'em because they're No. 1, is quite a feat in its own right.
As you read their comments about how it was harder this year, I'm sure it was because everybody coming at 'em. Yet they dominated the SEC. The SEC had three teams in the Sweet 16. They're just an incredible team.
Billy is obviously a great coach who has really done a great job at both ends of the floor, off the floor, in helping these kids reach their potential.
Q. You're different and better as well from last year. In what ways?
COACH HOWLAND: I think the biggest way is our experience level. I think we're better in terms of having gone through a successful campaign a year ago, and now another one this year. Just being a year older, a year more experience. You all see, for example, the change that we talked about in Darren Collison earlier in this conversation.
One of the reasons that he's better than he was, he's a year older. He worked hard in the off-season. A year of maturity, going from a freshman to a sophomore. In the case of Noah and Horford, sophomore to juniors. Each year good players continue to improve and get better. That's what good players do.
We have very good players. Obviously they have great players. It's a thing where I think experience really matters, especially when you're having experience in a successful framework where you're winning, getting to conference championships and getting a chance to move on to the NCAA tournament.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Howland, for participating. Safe travels to Atlanta.
COACH HOWLAND: Thank you.
DAVE WORLOCK: This concludes this afternoon's call.
End of FastScripts