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March 31, 2000

Billy Donovan


Q. Billy, if there weren't summer programs for the high school players how would it have affected a guy like Mike Miller or was he so good he would have been visible anyway?

COACH DONOVAN: I tell you, I think there are so many scouting services right now, so much publicity surrounding my kids, certainly the AAU Programs enable these kids to be seen. But I think the country is scoured pretty well. Certainly there's guys that maybe fall through the cracks that end up developing and improving and maybe everybody overlooked them and they pan out to be a great college player and weren't heavily recruited coming out. I think Mike had a pretty big reputation even when he was a sophomore in high school, people knew who he was. Going into his junior year, a lot of people started making visits to Mitchell, South Dakota, to watch his play.

Q. Billy, last year there were three No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. This year only one. Do you think this is going to be a trend or is this kind of an abberation? How do you view the tournament this year?

COACH DONOVAN: I think you have to look at it this way. I don't think you can place a whole lot of emphasis on the seedings. I think Craig Thompson has done a great job. Carolina, a lot of preseason publications ranked No. 1 in the country. Without question, top five. To me, them having an 8th seed is not indicative of the type of team they are. Bill Guthridge has done a great job, they're playing as well as they are. They're gelling, meshing, playing great basketball. Michigan State, preseason, a lot of publications ranked No. 1. We were ranked in the Top 10. I think for us, like a Wake Forest, because we were eliminated early in our conference tournament, we -- obviously there was a lot placed on the seedings with regards to the conference tournaments; therefore, the seedings may be a 5 for us, which people maybe thought we should have been a 3. Carolina, an 8, probably could have been a little bit different. But I think that once a tournament starts you can really throw the seedings out because of the parity in college basketball. I think for Craig Thompson and the Selection Committee, it's very, very difficult seeding all these teams. Obviously, Dick Bennett's done a terrific job with his team at Wisconsin. I think at one point they were 11-10, 10-11 and reeled off a bunch of games. There's so much parity right now.

Q. Billy, could you talk a little bit about what you took from your career working with Rick Pitino, and have you talked to him at all this week?

COACH DONOVAN: I have not. I heard from him through a fax. I took a lot of things from him. I think the first thing that comes to mind was obviously his work ethic, his preparation, preparing for opponents, scouting reports, took from him recruiting. Things away from basketball, probably his ability of being so successful and still having a tremendous ability to listen, to be innovative, to be a risk-taker, to create a style of play that, I think, he wanted all of his assistants to build upon and try to make it better. I'd say outside of my mother and my father, probably the most influential person in my life. I think he's someone that taught me that through hard work and a lot of confidence and dedication and preparation, you can accomplish just about anything.

Q. Billy, how much better is a full-court pressure-style team like yours at the end of the season versus at the beginning of the season?

COACH DONOVAN: Well, the one thing I would say, and I think for a lot of teams when you start the season, you're in better shape when the season starts than you are at the end. There's a fine line, from a coaching standpoint, as you start to get into your conference play and you start to get into January and February of doing too much, and your team just fades at the end of the year, at the same point keeping them fresh. I think our guys are really in great shape. I think they're fresh, I think they're well-conditioned right now. I would say that right now, for us, in our style of play, most people do not see teams like us in preparation. And, you know, I remember there was a lot of talk playing Duke that we resembled Virginia. Well, I've had a chance to see Virginia play Duke on film. Virginia does not press one bit like we press. It's different. So I think our style of play is unique. It's different. And there's not a lot of teams out there that play the way we do. So when you see us for the first time, it can be a little bit difficult and a little bit different. But I think the one thing about the NCAA Tournament in teams that advance, it's the system. You hear so much about North Carolina's system, Tom Izzo has his system in place, Dick Bennett's got his system in place. I think systems and guys buying into the system is really what enables you to win. I would say probably all the systems in the Final Four are different and unique. We probably, from our perspective, haven't quite gone against things like the Carolina system. It's going to be new to us as well.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the importance of imposing what you want to do on Carolina, or do you feel like you could win a game in the 60s, or would that really make you nervous about your fate tomorrow if they were able to more or less impose their tempo on you?

COACH DONOVAN: I'm not nervous about a game in the 60s. The one thing you realize if you're going to play in the 40s and 50s, for the most part it's going to be a close game. You never hear of a blowout 50 to 20. It doesn't happen. If you're going to play in the 50s and 60s, the game is going to be very, very close. We had a situation like that with Butler, it was a close basketball game. That's generally what happens. Certainly, when you get games in the 70s, 80s, 90s, there's much more room for disparity in scores. I think we can play either way. I think that we can play half-court, we can play full-court. We've got the ability to do that. I think for us, our style of play is important. That's what we've done. So I think our shot selection, our ability to be able to score against Carolina defense enables us to get our press on. I think with our system and our style of play, people think that we force tempo with offense. We don't force tempo with our offense; we force it with our defense. Because our offense, by scoring, allows us to press. So if we come down offensively and take bad rushed shots, that's fewer times we get a chance to press. So by running your half-court offense, being patient, executing, that now enables you to press, get tempo going, allows you to trap, be a little bit disruptive on the defensive end of the floor.

Q. Billy, I'm wondering what of your experiences playing in the Final Four in '87 you've drawn on and tried to relate to your players? I have a fuzzy memory of you getting sick during that game or something. Can you talk about that?

COACH DONOVAN: I probably played like I was sick when we were in the Final Four. I did not play very well against Syracuse. But, you know, obviously I think the one thing I realize going through as a player, I think I can understand and relate a little bit to the emotions that they're going through. This is the first time any of our kids had the privilege to be part of something so special, the pinnacle of college basketball, it's different right now. It could be overwhelming. I think the big thing right now is for me, as a coach, to get them to a point where they're relaxed, they're confident, they go out there and play fearlessly, they go out and try to win because it can be a situation where you've got so much time in between games right now where there's a lot of anxiety and there's a lot of buildup and guys don't sleep well and you get nervous the night before the game. I think all those emotions are normal. So I'm just trying to draw upon my experience a little bit, things I went through, the emotions I was feeling the day before playing in the Final Four.

Q. Billy, Coach Guthridge was in here earlier and said he agreed with a question that your depth, your style of play reminds him of the Kentucky teams that you were a part of with Rick. But he also said you've added some stuff, you've subtracted some stuff. How is -- how are you the same? How are you different?

COACH DONOVAN: Well, the mentality of the system is the same. You want to utilize a three-point line. You also want to try to defensively take the three-point line out of the game. You want to try to force a lot of turnovers. But at the same point you want to keep your turnovers down. Those things have always remained the same in the system. Now what happens is our personnel, we don't have Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and those guys. It's different. So if I was to take every single offensive play we run and every single thing we did defensively and how we played 100 percent the same way, I'm doing our basketball team a disservice. Before every season starts, I try to sit down by myself, with our staff, and figure out what are we going to run offensively to utilize our personnel to the best of its ability? What do we need to do defensively to maybe camouflage our weaknesses quickness-wise, size-wise if we go small with our guards. I think the one thing I learned from Coach Pitino and mentioned earlier, is to take the system as a whole and to make it better. Certainly I've taken his ability to prepare for each game, scouting reports, having everything down, going over how you are defending every screening situation, every action, what you're going to run, all those things. But I've got to coach my personnel to my personality and put in things that are going to enable those guys to be successful when they step on the floor. So I think that it is different. We're not Kentucky of '96 or Kentucky of '93, when they were at the Final Four. We're just not those teams. We're the University of Florida, plays or utilizes the same system. For us, it would be similar to going against South Carolina or Tennessee, Jerry Green, Eddie Fogler, North Carolina disciples, Roy Williams' disciples, they have that system. There's so many systems that have been handed down. Kevin Stallings, Jerry Green, Steve Robinson at Florida State, these are all teams we had a chance to play who have obviously taken a great, great system and to the best of their ability have tried to make it better.

Q. Billy, could you talk about the learning curve that your freshmen have gone through this season from the beginning until now, and why is it that so many freshmen are making such a big impact at this level?

COACH DONOVAN: There's a tremendous learning curve. It's amazing, someone asked me a question earlier, I answered this, did you think you would get to the Final Four. I said there was times after games I didn't think we'd ever lose a game the rest of the year. There was times I thought I don't know if we could win another game. There's obviously an emotional roller coaster throughout the course of the year, and that's what you have when you deal with young guys. They have gotten better. They have improved. The reason freshmen now are able to make impacts is because of the sole reason that we have one senior on our basketball team. There's just not a lot of juniors and seniors playing college basketball anymore. And it has opened up a door and an avenue for a lot of freshmen and sophomores to step in and play. But there are those teams that are junior-, senior-laden teams that maybe are not quite as talented as some other teams, but because of their experiences they can overcome maybe that lack of athletic ability, talent, and make it up with their mental preparation, their experience. So hopefully, you know, I'm hoping for our basketball team going against a guy like Ed Cota and Capel and guys that have been around for a couple of years. I'm hoping our past experiences this season have helped our younger guys grow up and they've learned they're different players today than they were as younger players back in Maui.

Q. Coach, you mentioned before about Carolina's style and their talent. What concerns you most about either their style or their talent? What are you focusing on going into that game?

COACH DONOVAN: To me they are a great, great basketball team. They have a combination of great, great perimeter play and great low-post presence. Haywood is a very, very difficult guy to defend. This will be, by far, the biggest team we have ever seen. Cota, there's not anything that guy has not seen over a four-year period in his career defensively. He has great court awareness, court vision, he's crafty with the ball, he doesn't turn it over. He knows how to play 40 minutes a night. He's conditioned to do that. Forte has stepped up and obviously has impacted college basketball as much as any freshman. Then you have Capel, a guy who can knock down three, 6-8, athletic, can do a variety of different things. That's only the perimeter. Now you have to deal with Lang up front, great jump hook, great presence; Haywood, size. The fact that North Carolina in the tournament has a plus eight rebounding differential on their opponent, that's huge. When you're an 8 seed, you're playing against great competition every night. To be outrebounding your opponent by eight rebounds speaks volumes of their basketball team. They pose a lot of different problems both with their back court and with their front court.

Q. You talked about the height. What are you going to do to try to neutralize that? Does it put more emphasis on running and getting the big guys tired?

COACH DONOVAN: You hope so. Hopefully, you know, we can create a situation where some of their front-court players are playing top of the key to top of the key a little bit. The one thing about their front-court players is I have not seen a team this year where they post feed by just throwing the ball up as high as they can and no one can get to it because Haywood is so long and so big. What we've got to try to do is eliminate those lob passes to the basket that lead to turn score and dunk. And try to somehow, as the ball's lobbed in the air, get back behind him and force him to finish plays over our defense. Because I'm going to tell you what, we played Tennessee twice this year. That was as big of a team as we played against up to this point in time. And watching that game film, for the people that saw Tennessee play against North Carolina, C.J. Black, Hathaway and Isaiah Victor, I couldn't see them on film, standing behind their guys. They were eliminated and removed out of the post. And we're not as big as Tennessee is. So we've got obviously a tremendous challenge as a team collectively trying to deal with their post and try to deal with their perimeter. Not one guy on our team is going to guard Forte one-on-one, Cota one-on-one. Not one guy is going to guard Brendan Haywood up front one-on-one.

Q. Billy, any team that plays a pressure defense like yours is going to give up an occasional layup, especially against the better competition, an occasional layup and occasional jump shot. It seems to me it would take kind of a strong conviction, a strong stomach for a coach to be able to sit back and know that that's part of the process. Can you talk about that a little bit?

COACH DONOVAN: I think that's the biggest thing, if you're going to have to deal with that. I think that this system and that style of play is very, very difficult to coach because you take the control away a little bit. Because I got to teach these guys to make decisions in transition. When you extend 94 feet, there are more decisions that need to be made. There's more room for error. We're taking more chances. Obviously percentages tell you just fall back, guard the basket. But you're going to have to live with some of that. Now, I compare it this way. You get teams that get out, play great half-court defense, deny, deny, deny, they get beat back up for a layup. Coaches live with that. In our system and our style of play, we're going have to live with, hopefully, not too many, but some gimmes. I will give up one or two, three of those baskets to create pace and tempo and fatigue. Now what I want to see happen is if we do give up an easy basket is to have the ball outlet at the neck as quickly as we can and race down the floor right back at them as quickly as we. I think that's what you try to do to offset a quick score. I know with Ed Cota being a senior in college a game is going to start, he is fresh. Carolina's team is fresh. They are going to do a great job handling our press. That is just the facts of the matter. So, you know, what do you do? Do you go back, play zone, try to jam the lane up, not give up anything easy, or do you try to do the things that have gotten you to this point in time? From a coaching standpoint, each and every day with a young basketball team, I can't tell you how challenging it is, how much I want to pull back the reins and control every pass. If I do, I'm taking away from their system and creativity. I have to coach them how to play offensively and defensively.

Q. Bill, would you discuss the challenge of taking a scorer in high school like Ted DuPay and trying to develop him into a complete player and making him effective in a ten-man rotation system?

COACH DONOVAN: I think the one thing for us right now is we've got a lot of guys that came out of high school averaging a lot of points and were very successful. Generally, things that they do in high school, they're not going to be able to do at the collegiate level. No way at 5-9 this level of playing in the SEC, one of the best in the country, he's going to score 48 points in a game. What I have to do to the best of my ability is get them to play within a system and teach them how to play the game of basketball. I look at it this way, shooting the basketball takes about two seconds. So if you take ten shots, that's 20 seconds that you've done something. If you're playing 25 minutes in a game, my question would be for the other 24 minutes and 40 seconds, what are you doing while you're out there? And I try to make a guy like Mike Miller understand, who's 6-9, there's so many other parts of the game than shooting and scoring. Same thing with Brett Nelson, same thing with Teddy DuPay. Anybody can shoot it, but to me, the great players affect the game when they're not shooting the basketball. Teddy DuPay is as intelligent as any kid I've coached. There's other ways he can be effective defensively. There's other ways he can be effective offensively. That's what I try to teach these guys, how to play the game.

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