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March 29, 2006
DAVID WORLOCK: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. We want to get started just as quickly as possible with all the callers, each coach only having 15 minutes.
I want to thank everyone for joining us and look forward to seeing many of you in Indianapolis this weekend. We will have a news conference available here telephonically for those of you who can't be in Indianapolis. We'll get that schedule out at the end of the call.
Right now we'll turn it back over to the operator so we can get questions for Coach Billy Donovan from the University of Florida.
Q. Could you tell me, I've been told you added Larry Shyatt to your staff to help you improve some things with your defense a couple years ago. Can you tell me how you identified him as somebody who could do that, what kind of job he's done for you.
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Well, that's not really why I hired Larry. I think that was the perception out there. Really what I felt -- I've been so fortunate here at Florida. I've got two guys on my staff that have been with me since I've been a head coach, Anthony Grant and Donnie Jones. John Pelphrey was with me for eight years before taking the head coach job at South Alabama. When you're together as a staff for a long period of time, it's great in terms of cohesiveness, chemistry, everybody knows what everybody is thinking. You're all on the same page.
One of the things I thought our staff needed to have was maybe just some new ideas, fresh ideas, all those types of things. I never hired Larry for defense at all. As a matter of fact, our defensive philosophy here is probably a lot different than what Larry's was when he was the head coach.
I decided to go with Larry Shyatt first and foremost, he's an incredible person. He's been in this business for a long time. He has great integrity, great character. I think the other thing I hired him for is he has a lot of wisdom. He has a lot of knowledge. He's been in the profession for 32 years. He's great with our players. I think he's great with our team in terms of team concepts. The thought process of bringing in Larry was more of just to get someone that has fresh and new ideas, and at that point in time Larry was out of coaching and just thought he would be a great fit here.
It's worked out very well for us. He's added to our program all way around from recruiting to coaching to the way he handles and carries himself.
Q. When you play at a place like Providence where it's sort of like the only show in town, what do you get out of the experience of playing up there that helps translate as you move along at times like this? With the exception of going to the Final Four, what is your best memory from that experience?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Playing at Providence?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: My best experience of playing at Providence is when Coach Pitino came in. Just him giving me an opportunity, and for me personally being able to play the style of play that I could be successful in. I think I needed a guy like Coach Pitino to come in to maybe get back to playing the way I did when I was in high school where it was wide open, had a chance to create plays in the open floor.
But I think that probably outside of the winning and getting to a Final Four as a player, you know, probably the biggest change for me is when he came in and gave me an opportunity, put in a system and a style that was very, very helpful to me as a player.
Q. This is a young Final Four as far as the classes of the starters. You think that's just an anomaly, something for this year, or is college basketball getting younger? Are you surprised of your team getting there having basically no seniors?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I am surprised with what our team has been able to do. In terms of the Final Four, I think this NCAA tournament, it's totally different than your regular season. Anything can happen. Anybody can get there.
I think college basketball is young. I think one of the things that's going to hurt college basketball, in my opinion, is the 19-year-old age limit. I think it was great for us as college coaches knowing exactly the guys that were going to leave and come out of high school, the draft in Europe was wide open. With the age limit, I think you're going to continually make college basketball very young.
I think a lot of teams in college basketball are young. Some kids can handle it better than others. The fact that you have a team like an LSU and Florida that have a lot of young guys that are playing, those kids have done a pretty good job in terms of handling everything that goes into trying to help a young team win.
Why this young team wins more than that young team, I don't know if there's any solution or reason for that. But I do think in college now there's a lot of youthfulness in a lot of different ways. It makes it very challenging, very, very difficult. The teams that have some experience and have guys that are seniors, some juniors, have a chance to be very, very successful, in my opinion.
Q. I know you've used Florida's football program, the tradition around it, that energy to build your basketball program. Can you be more specific, give me an example of where a place like the Swamp, which is a pretty unique atmosphere, has that helped you with recruiting and ancillary benefits for your program as well?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: I think the University of Florida has been more helpful. What I mean by that is when you're at Florida, certainly in the deep south football is the king, people are passionate about football, per se, as a sport.
But the thing that is so unique when you're talking about the flagship schools, state of Florida, the fact that you have a successful football program, you've got a successful woman's volleyball program, the baseball team played for the national championship last year. When you look at all the sports at the University of Florida, you realize you're a part of an entire athletics department.
I really believe all the sports have helped our basketball program. To bring a young man on campus, to see the enthusiasm at a football game is terrific. To bring a young man in the spring, when baseball season is going on, take him into a 7,000-seat baseball stadium, watch fans cheer for our baseball team, helps us.
I've often said this, at Florida, people talk about football, football, football. People love football. I think as a basketball coach, I've embraced that, I'm not trying to change the culture to make Florida a "basketball school." That's never happening here at Florida.
The one thing that people are more passionate about who support our program than anything else is they're more passionate about the University of Florida. That is bigger than football here. The University of Florida, you represent the University of Florida, that's bigger than any sport or individual or anything else. That's the one thing that makes this place so special, is that administratively there is a strong commitment to having the overall best athletics program in the country. It's not to have the best football program or the best basketball program, it's to have the best overall program.
2000, our soccer team won a national championship. The success in this athletics at the present time has a whole has been truly remarkable. I think as a basketball coach or any coach on this campus, you have to accept that you're a piece of a department. So I try to use all the sports and the successes they've had. The way our fans show up and support all this I think has been helpful to us.
Q. One thing I think is interesting is that you are on the complete other side of this whole phenomenon of George Mason. Everyone is talking about them. The whole country is intrigued with this story. What does it feel like to be the team that's playing them on the other side?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Well, George Mason is a great story. I've said this before. The NCAA tournament, people love two things: they love "the Cinderella story" where maybe somebody comes out of nowhere, and they also love a team that's so powerful and explosive that they look absolutely invincible. I think people love to see those two ends of the spectrum.
I would say from a basketball standpoint, looking at George Mason, I don't look at it, nor does our team look at it in relationship to conference or Cinderella or anything else like that. Our guys are not even caught up in that. What we're looking at is a basketball team that is as well-balanced as any team we faced all year long, that has the ability to go inside and score, that has the ability to shoot threes, has the ability to foul and get to the free-throw line, and they have experience.
Whether it's the SEC, if they're from the ACC, from the Big 12 or from the Colonial, they are a terrific basketball team. For us, it's another challenge against a great team whether they're from any conference in the country. They've proven with what they've done to a team like Connecticut, who a lot of people thought would win it all this year, they had a lot of depth, size, athleticism, great talent, they beat them. That says a lot about them.
Michigan State this year started off the season top five in the country. They beat them. Look at North Carolina, lost some guys from last year, but they won a national championship. They went on the road with a young group of kids, won at Duke, and they beat them.
I know a lot of people are so excited for George Mason. It's great for college basketball. Believe me, I'm mesmerized and I love watching them play because I get great pleasure out of watching basketball played the right way. Their kids are tough. They're hard-nosed. They play together. They play unselfishly. They have a lot of different weapons to beat you with. They're very, very good.
To us, conference or what people's perception or what people think or where they're from has no bearing on ourselves or our basketball team or our guys' mindset. We're looking at this, we're playing against one of the best teams in the United States of America.
Q. You went to the championship game in 2000. Now you're back in the Final Four. How much personal satisfaction do you take in getting back to the Final Four after the difficult intervening years?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think a thing, is people talk about difficult years in between. I never looked at it this way. I said this before, the NCAA is a total separate entity. I don't ever feel that your team or your season is ever defined by one game, win or lose. I think at Florida we're trying to build a program.
But I'll never, ever look at what our kids have accomplished before this. We've been to three straight finals in the SEC tournament. There's been a lot of things during those years where we got knocked out early that were accomplished inside of our program that were the firsts for the University of Florida.
I understand in the culture of college basketball people want to look at the only thing that matters is the NCAA tournament. I can tell you right now, I think I speak for most coaches, that is not what it's all about. To me, the greatest satisfaction I get is to see other people enjoy it. For me personally, I think as I've gone on and gone on, I've realized that what has made a guy like Coach Pitino such a good coach, these other people, it's their caring and love for people. To me, my satisfaction from coaching is trying to help people teach them what it is to be successful, how to compete, how to win, so when they leave the University of Florida, they're prepared to take on challenges in life.
To me, nothing gave me more pleasure than to sit on that floor knowing that we were going to have an opportunity to go to the Final Four and see a group of kids get to a point in time as a team that they never have been there before. To see a guy like Larry Shyatt, who has been in this business for 32 years, never participate in the Final Four, to see him emotionally crying on the floor, that is where I get my pleasure from.
Outside of winning a national championship, individually personally, I played in the Final Four, I got drafted, played a cup of coffee in the NBA, been an assistant coach in the Final Four, been a head coach in the Final Four. Outside of winning a national championship, God has blessed me with so much that I realize it's not about anything personally for me. It's always about giving. I believe that's my job, my responsibility, is to give to other people based on the experience that I've been blessed to have a chance to go through.
Q. Somebody asked you yesterday about sleeping. You said you don't sleep, you probably drive your wife crazy. Is that because you're so wound up in the game of basketball, your mind is always thinking? If that's not the case, how do you relax away from the game?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: I would say I think my mind is always racing. I'm always thinking about basketball. I love basketball. It's my passion. I just love the game. I love watching tape. I love thinking about new ideas, try to do new things with our team.
I think because my mind is racing, I don't sleep very much. I just don't. I wake up. I get up. I go back to sleep. I wake up. It does drive my wife -- I think one of the things I've had to learn, when I was playing, everything was a total commitment by myself to trying to become the best player I could become. Even when I first got married, it was a total commitment to trying to become the best coach I could become.
As I've gotten older, have a child 14, another one 12, another one nine, another one four, you realize the time and energy you put towards your job has a direct reflection on your family. The biggest challenge I've had in my life is being able to balance that. It's been very, very hard for me because I would say that I'm very, very much a tunnel vision person, very focused person. But I've also realized now that my children and my wife, as much as I'm trying to teach my basketball team things, I've got to be able to balance those things.
I think probably between coaching and basketball and so much on my mind, I just don't sleep that much. For me, thank God, I think adrenaline carries me through. But I love what I'm doing and I love the game of basketball, I love my family. I think for the most part every day I'm pretty excited about getting up and taking on a new day.
Q. What do you think on the whole mid-major thing this year. Is this something that you think would become a regular occurrence in future NCAA tournaments?
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think what George Mason has done this NCAA tournament has been a milestone and a breakthrough in college basketball. There's been so many programs that have been close to getting to that Final Four stature when you talk about maybe a Kent State when Stan Heath was there, got to the Elite 8, Gonzaga, Xavier a couple years ago. I just think my opinion right now, when you talk about the word "mid-major" or you talk about the word "major," there's no more of that to me. I think those days are over with. That's why I've said all along, when you get into this tournament, play at a neutral site, you're playing against good coaches, good teams, good personnel, they play together, anything can happen on any given night.
I think it's just -- if you would have gone back 20 years ago, okay, probably highly unlikely. It was generally -- you knew the teams that were going to get to the Final Four, you knew the teams that had the best chance. It's not like that any more. Everybody has a chance. I think for George Mason, believe me, I can understand it, because I was always as a player an underdog type of guy, maybe a step slow, a little more unathletic than athletic. All of a sudden it's people like -- teams like George Mason that give so many people hope in your life, just seeing what great things can be accomplished.
I hope our team is the same way. We were a team that started off unranked this year. No one talked about us. Some polls, we weren't ranked in the top 50 schools in the country. Some polls, we were finishing fifth on the east in the SEC. I hope our school is a source of inspiration for people, look what a young group of kids can do that play together, play unselfishly, play as a team, go out there and compete as hard as we can.
I hope we represent what college basketball and what life should be all about in terms of when you do the right things and you're unselfish, that good positive things can happen. I think George Mason is another sign of that as well with what they've been able to do.
DAVID WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Donovan. Congratulations. Safe travels, good luck this weekend.
COACH BILLY DONOVAN: Thank you. Look forward to seeing you soon.
DAVID WORLOCK: We have Coach Larranaga. Congratulations on a great season. We are pressed for time so we want to get right into questions. We're ready for questions for Coach Larranaga of George Mason University.
Q. Could you give us a little background into your whistling, who taught you, how long have you been using it as a coach, and what do your players think of it?
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: What I think is hysterical, I've read some articles where some of my friends from the Bronx are taking credit for teaching me. When I was reading that, I really had to crack up. I learned from my father when I was four, five or six years old. He never whistled with his fingers or anything like that. He just learned how to whistle and taught me how to do it.
I've taught my son John. One of the things that frustrates my oldest boy Jay is he can't whistle, never really learned. It just started because I lived in an apartment complex known as Park Chester. My father was a big believer in safety. He installed alarm systems into our apartment. It took forever to get if in with your key. As I would walk by our apartment, it was on the main floor, it was a seven-storey building, as I would walk by, I would whistle to my mom to let her know I was home. It was a very distinct whistle. She would yell out of the window, "Hi, Jim," come and greet me at the door. I didn't have to go through the hassle of going through all the alarms.
Q. When you play at a place like Providence where it's the only show in town, how has the experience of being up there prepared you for what you're going through now down at George Mason?
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: I don't know if I've ever looked at it like that. I will say this. My experience at Providence has helped me tremendously as a head coach because I played for two of the best college coaches of all times, Joe Malaney and Dave Gavitt. I learned a lot of things from both of them. Coach Malaney was someone, like I mentioned in one of my interviews, he never swore or anything. He was a very poised individual. I never really saw him get upset. The worst thing he ever said to me was, "You're killing me, Jimmy." That was because I took a bad shot.
Coach Gavitt was a little bit different. He really has helped me with my entire career. I don't know if I've ever gotten a job without his help. He spoke to Terry Holland on my behalf, got me my first assistant coaching job. He talked to Milt Pepel the AD at AIC. On that recommendation Coach Pepel hired me. I know Coach Gavitt was instrumental in speaking to Jack Gregory, the athletic director at Bowling Green, helping me get my first Division I head coaching job. When I came here to George Mason, Coach Gavitt helped me here with Tom O'Connor, the athletic director.
My experience at Providence mostly as a player, mostly from the things I learned from Coach Malaney and Coach Gavitt are the things I've applied in my coaching career.
Q. Four head coaches, only one has been in the Final Four as a head coach. How can you take that experience and how do you think that will translate into the Final Four this time around?
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: Well, I certainly think it has helped because I've been on both sides of the fence as an assistant coach. When I was an assistant at Virginia in 1981, '82 and '83 with Ralph Sampson, we were the No. 1 seed. Everybody expected us to win the national championship. I could observe in everyone the amount of pressure that we all felt trying to get to the Final Four, then even more trying to win the national championship.
That completely changed in 1984 when our Virginia team was not supposed to even make the NCAA tournament. Not only did we make it, but we beat Arkansas in the second round, No. 2 in the country, and Syracuse and Indiana in the regionals to get to the Final Four. I remember the coaching strategy that we employed there, remembering how much stress we felt as the higher seed, Virginia, Coach Holland, who never played zone in his entire career, we employed a zone in the tournament, throughout the tournament. It was a huge help in helping us get to Seattle that year because people just did not shoot the ball well because their players were just uncomfortable with all the pressure of having to move on. We were able to take advantage of that.
I've told my team that story. We actually put in the same 1-2-2 zone that we used back in 1984 the week between the CAA tournament and the selection show. I told the guys, if we get in, we may need this. My George Mason players, "Coach, we're not a zone team." "Yeah, but in the tournament, there are certain circumstances where we might want to use it." We did very effectively against North Carolina and against Connecticut.
Q. I read where you asked some reporters whether George Mason was a small private school or a state university. No one seemed to know the answer. Could you elaborate on that, maybe give another anecdote or two about the anonymity of George Mason.
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: One of my concerns when I came to George Mason was what kind of identity problem we would have, not just the conference, the Colonial Athletic Association kind of plays in the shadow of the big boys on the East Coast, the Big East and the ACC, even the Atlantic-10. Then George Mason was being confused with so many other different schools. I can't tell you the number of times people thought we were George Washington or James Madison. A lot of times we get that James Mason or George Madison. It cracks me up because it's something we can't change. It's just something that's out there, unless you get to the Final Four (laughter).
Now, it's unbelievable how the exposure has created interest in who the man was, George Mason, the statesman, the first governor of Virginia, the gentleman who is responsible for the Bill of Rights. Also the university was an extension of the University of Virginia originally. It broke off from Virginia about 35 years ago and became George Mason University, a university that stood on its own.
It has grown from a small commuter school of about 2000, 3000, to now a beautiful school, gorgeous campus, great facilities, fantastic faculty, and the student body is now almost 30,000 students. We're located in Fairfax, Virginia. Beautiful rolling hills of northern Virginia, 20 miles from Washington, DC, the capital of our nation.
My staff and I went about trying to recruit mostly local kids because they could identify with us a little bit more. They knew a little bit more about George Mason. Their families could get a chance to see them play.
I think now with the exposure we've gotten nationally, more people will be finding out more about George Mason University.
Q. Could you talk about when you -- going from Bowling Green to George Mason and maybe some of the similarities or differences you faced and the challenges at those two schools.
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: Well, I thought the conferences were very similar. I was at Bowling Green for 11 years. The competition in the Mid-American Conference was a super high level. In fact, if you ask me, back then, when only one team was getting into the Big Dance as the automatic qualifier, there were two or three teams sitting at home or going to the NIT that were every bit as deserving. I felt there was at least three teams, four teams when I was coaching at Bowling Green, that was good enough to play with anybody in the nation. We beat teams like the Big-10 champion Michigan State two years in a row.
There was a major difference when George Mason opened up and I did inquire and was interviewed, found out some of the things that we have in place that Bowling Green did not. The first thing is we have a beautiful home court. The Patriot Center seats 10 thousand, all chair back seats, beautiful locker room facilities. The budgets here at George Mason, I was shocked, the travel budget was more than twice what we had at BG. The salaries for the assistants was more than twice the amount I was being able to pay my assistants. Our recruiting budget was three times the size of Bowling Green. George Mason did not have football or hockey to drain it financially. So the men's basketball program obviously was very important to the university. The support that I felt we would get from our president, who actually wanted to interview me himself, I went and talked to him. He told me what a commitment they would make to the men's basketball program, that it was important to the university to have a good image. He felt we could earn that through basketball.
Q. You obviously have a team that knows how to play the game, but most of the kids are local and were not recruited by the so-called big schools. Where does talent fit in the general equation of getting to this point?
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: You know, they're all different kinds of talent. This is something I talk to my team all about. I have a very close friend by the name of Dr. Bob Rotella. Dr. Rotella is a sports psychologist, world renowned, works with 17 of the top golfers on the PGA TOUR. What Bob always refers to as talent is not the same as other people.
It's very obvious to see if a guy is very tall or very fast or quick or can jump extremely well. You can oftentimes tell if a guy is really strong. We tend to think those are the talent areas. You can also recognize someone who has great skills of a game. In basketball, dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding, shot blocking. Those are all great skills. Probably the most important talent you can have is the ability to focus, concentrate and try to do the best you can at what you're trying to do, and to do that consistently day after day, week after week, month after month. That's a great talent. Most people are very inconsistent. Even a lot of very good players, you watch them one day, they look great. You watch them the next day, they don't look the same. They don't shoot the ball the same, they don't work as hard. There's a lot of inconsistencies in young kids.
One of the strengths of this team is we have been extremely consistent from early December up until this day. That's the talent that we're stressing. The talent of being smart enough to prepare well enough for every opponent no matter what that opponent does.
DAVID WORLOCK: Thank you, coach. Congratulations on a great season. Safe travels here to Indianapolis and best of luck this weekend.
COACH JIM LARRANAGA: Thank you.
DAVID WORLOCK: We'll get right into questions for Coach Brady.
Q. Can you talk about the similarities between your team and UCLA as far as defense. You both play hard defense. You both have a bunch of underclassmen starting for you.
COACH JOHN BRADY: I think that's the real similarity, is on the defensive end. I think they're very good defensively. I think they guard the ball extremely well. They do different things to the best players on the other team in terms of double teams, helping extremely well.
There as sound a defensive basketball team as we're going to face. I know they start some young players that are very talented. They have a couple of seniors on that basketball team, too, that are quite good, provide them some leadership. I think they've got a good mix of players.
But certainly from a defending standpoint and a solid good rebounding team, we're going to have to execute a little bit better than we have in our previous four games. I think the best defensive team really that we've played this year was Texas A&M. UCLA, from what I can tell on tape to this point, is every bit as good.
Q. Could you comment on the impact you think the 19-year-old age limit will have beginning next year. Good, bad, indifferent for the game?
COACH JOHN BRADY: I think it does nothing. I think it's window dressing. I don't think it affects anyone. They're either going to come to college for a year or go to prep school. How many high school players really got drafted anyway? A handful? I don't think it is a significant deterrent whatsoever. I don't think it does the college coach any good or helps his situation out at all.
Q. I was curious, could you maybe expound on your sophomores, Tyrus included, being a redshirt freshman, just when you take a look at Florida's rosters, the impacts that sophomores have had on the SEC?
COACH JOHN BRADY: I don't have but one sophomore. I don't know what you're talking about. Glen Davis is the only sophomore I have to comment on. Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas and Temple are freshmen. I don't think the redshirt freshman parallels with a sophomore because they didn't play. This is really their first year to play.
I think Glen Davis is the only sophomore I have, and I think it's obvious the impact that he's made in the league being the MVP of the lead, second leading scorer and leading rebounder throughout the 16-game schedule.
I do think what I said earlier about the Southeastern Conference this year, people are saying it's not this, it's not that. What the Southeastern Conference did have at the beginning of the season was a very, very good collection of young talent. Yes, our league took some hits by guys, underclassmen, going early. We took a hit by Brandon. Certainly with young talent, coupled with what I think are some outstanding coaches in this league, you saw the conference improve as the year went along. I think it was evident to everyone with good coaching and excellent young talent that all the coaches in this league improved their teams.
I think now with two Southeastern Conference teams in the Final Four, that proved to be the case. I'm as happy for Billy, not quite as happy as I am for my own team obviously, but I'm excited and happy for Billy, his team, the development they've shown. But still I think this conference has some outstanding coaching in it. That's why you saw young teams get better as the year went along.
Q. Three of the four coaches involved have never been a head coach in the Final Four. For you personally, are the nerves starting to run and do you think that will help that you're not going up against coaches that have had so much experience coaching those games?
COACH JOHN BRADY: Well, I don't know about that. I thought there was a lot of pressure on our team when we played Duke and Mike Krzyzewski, the Sweet-16 game. He's probably the most experienced coach in the country in that particular situation, and without question the most successful present-day coach in that particular situation, with a Duke team that was 32-3, had two of the best players in the country on it, maybe the best player in the country on it in JJ Redick. Our team handled that pretty good. Our coaching staff handled that situation pretty good. I think that was a good I don't want to say training ground or good situation for us to experience, to put us in a position where we're playing in a Final Four.
I think once the ball is thrown up, I think you can kind of forget that it is a Final Four possibly and you're just coaching that particular game, that particular moment, doing everything you can to win it. That's how the game became with Duke. Early on going into the game, there was a lot made of it, a lot made of the Duke team, how good they were, how well-prepared, coached they would be, which they were. But after the ball was thrown up, my players went up and down the floor a few times, it became a basketball game on which team could execute the best the longest. That was the team that was going to win it.
So I think our team will be okay there. I think our coaching staff will be okay once we get to the game and the game is actually being played.
Q. Could you talk about, who is the biggest influence on you? Is it Coach Floyd? Have you talked to him at all? He's the last one to beat UCLA.
COACH JOHN BRADY: I've talked to Tim several times, but certainly our conversation doesn't include much about UCLA because UCLA is in their league. I don't want to put Tim in a position to really talk about UCLA at length. That's not the nature of our call. Our call was more personal and congratulatory, on a friendship basis than on a business basis.
Tim had a great influence on me. There's several coaches. Obviously, my high school coach, and I'm bringing my college coach at Belhaven College on the trip, Charlie Rugg, Jackson, Mississippi, because the influence that he had on me. And Bob Boyd, who was the head coach at Mississippi State that I worked for, had as much impact on me as a coach as anyone. If anybody knows the UCLA days when Bob Boyd was there, that team was as well-coached as anyone in the country. The only problem is he finished second to UCLA a couple years in a row in the final AP pole. At that time, only conference champions went to the NCAA tournament with 32. He probably had a couple years maybe the second-best team in the country that nobody ever knew about much because he didn't have the opportunity to play any farther.
Charlie Rugg at Belhaven and certainly Tim, Richard Williams, who I worked for at Mississippi State, Bob Boyd. Those guys really have had an impact on my philosophy of defending, rebounding, getting back in transition defense, and running good halfcourt sets.
Q. This is the 30th anniversary of Indiana's perfect season. Do you think we'll ever see another undefeated national champ?
COACH JOHN BRADY: I hate to say never but it would certainly be awful difficult. That Indiana team was extremely talented, but also it was really probably one of the better teams that ever played. Obviously, it was extremely well-coached. Everybody had roles, they shared the ball. I remember that team quite well.
This day and age, with mid-majors being very talented, the NBA taking players from the high major programs, scholarship limitations, I think everybody's got pretty good players. Particularly mid-major schools sometimes can throw two and three seniors at you, and in some cases a couple of fifth-year student-athletes at you. I've never had the luxury to coach an outstanding senior at LSU, the outstanding ones are usually gone after their freshman and sophomore year. We have to kind of start over every year with young talent.
I think in this day and age it would be very difficult for any team to go undefeated through a college basketball season today.
DAVID WORLOCK: Thank you, Coach Brady. Congratulations on a great year. Best of luck this weekend.
COACH JOHN BRADY: Thank you.
DAVID WORLOCK: Coach Howland is on the call. Congratulations on advancing to the Final Four. We wish you the best of luck. We'll jump right into the questions.
Q. There's a lot of youth in this Final Four, only six senior starters, three of them on George Mason. Does that surprise you that teams with such youth, particularly your team, got this far, or is that the way college basketball is these days?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I think the most important thing is talent. There's a lot of young talent out there as you look around the country, not just with the four remaining teams, but a lot of the other teams, that participated in this tournament. You look at the Sweet-16.
But you also see, and I think John just alluded to that, a lot of kids that do so well their freshman and sophomore years oftentimes get gobbled up at the next level so you're kind of starting over. I think that's part of the reason that you see teams, if I'm not mistaken, George Mason has three seniors and guys that are redshirted, some are fifth-year seniors, which is such an advantage. I didn't know it, that Tyrus Thomas is a redshirt freshman. Redshirting, getting stronger, practicing every day, another year of maturing, getting older. They do it in football all the time. It's great to develop. A lot of players that have redshirted over the years for me in other programs I've been in, and obviously that helps.
But, no, I'm not surprised. You look at the talent, you look at LSU's talent. Tasmin Mitchell, Thomas, Davis, these kids are very, very young. Temple is an outstanding player. We have very good players in Afflalo, Farmar, Mbah a Moute, Collison, et cetera. There's a lot of young good players. No question.
Q. This is the first year since 1980 without a No. 1 seed in the Final Four. Is there a favorite in this or is this more uncertain or same level of certainty in your experience?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: You know, what I told my team when this whole tournament started, after it was seeded, after we were placed into brackets, where if you won this game, you played the winner of these two teams, doesn't really matter. I think George Mason really is a testament to that. That's the parity in college basketball now. Seedings, throw them out, means nothing. I don't think this will be as uncommon as we think it is.
Yes, the No. 1 seeds, the committee does a great job, and typically you're going to have one of them make it because those are typically the four top teams. This year, it just worked out that way. Obviously, they're close games. That shot there by UConn at the end, that could have gone, there's no question, the shot by Brown. Incredible games throughout the country. That's why this is such a great event, a great tournament. There's so much parity.
The margin of error, the margin of difference is so slight between teams.
Q. What were the influences, whether coaches or other people, that shaped you as a defensive-oriented coach and player?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, I played for a lot of good coaches. My high school coach, Coach Ian Desbro (ph), Cerritos High School, really emphasized defense. My junior college coach, Ed Delacey (ph), as well, who I also worked for. Neil McCarthy (ph) at Weaver State, who I played for. Great defensive coach. He did it different ways. When I was a player, we played primarily man-to-man. When he was at New Mexico state, that 1-1-3 match-up, the amoeba. He really tweaked it. Many of you remember, they had great defensive teams. Jerry Pimm, who I worked for for many years at Santa Barbara did a great job in that respect.
As a head coach, when I started my own job 12 years ago at Northern Arizona, I really had the fortunate opportunity to become good friends and close friends with Rick Majerus. I really learned a lot from Rick about defense. He's a great student of the game. He allowed me to get close to him, his program, study and learn. I had a lot of influence from him, I would say. You're always trying to learn from others. You continue trying to get better and improve as a coach, just like you expect your players to do.
But the bottom line at the end of the day, it comes down to you better have good players that can get out and are athletic, do the things. You can have all the great techniques, teaching them. If they don't have the ability, it doesn't really matter.
Q. Especially in Southern California, it seems in some aspects of the media the perception is that you really don't pay that much attention to offense, it's almost like a nuisance for you. Somebody wrote Final Bore instead of Final Four. How that is a misperception in terms of your philosophy?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: We want to push the ball. We opened up the game against Memphis, we had them on their heels when they tried to come in and press us, up 10-2, really pushing it down hard, especially when they were pressing, got a couple dunks early.
I think we're going to continue to evolve that way as a program. For those that don't know, my teams at Northern Arizona where I started led the country in three-point shooting percentage three years in a row. It's the only program in the history of Division I where we led the country in field goal percentage and three-point percentage in the same year.
So I love offense. The first thing you look for is a guy who can put the ball in the basket. We lead the PAC-10 in field goal percentage offense. We're getting better. If we actually would have made our foul shots the other night, we would have had close to 70 points. Disappointing there sitting and watching us miss so many foul shots.
The reason I emphasize defense first, as do most coaches that have a lot of success, is because at the end of the day even when your offense isn't going well for you, you still have that defense to rely upon, you have that defense to be a constant, steady, consistent thing for you to rely upon night in and night out.
We're going to have to obviously do a better job offensively to have a chance against LSU. LSU is so terrific. They block eight plus shots per game. They're allowing their opponent 33% from the field in the four tournament games they've played thus far, which is incredible. Even on the year, it's below 40%, 39%. They've done a great job getting to the line more on their opponent. They've attempted 250 more foul shots than their opponent on the year. That's one of the things you always look for, is a team that has that strong inside attack like they do.
I think that Davis is terrific inside. Obviously, he's SEC Player of the Year. Thomas is very good. But this Lazare kid, boy, is he a talent. They have a lot of guys that can play. We're going to have to play well and be able to make some shots, be able to hold our own on the boards. We're getting out-boarded in the four games overall in the tournament. We're a team that's going to be really pushed to try to give ourselves a chance on the boards against a team like LSU that is such a good rebounding team, that crushes people on the glass. That's going to be a big challenge for our players.
Q. Does NAU seem so long ago, you talked about the offense that was so strong, but all of a sudden you're a defensive coach, is it kind of playing to what you have?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: You know what, when I went to the University of Pittsburgh, at NAU, which is a low mid-major league, the Big Sky, no offense to all my Big Sky friends out there, but it's one team that gets in the tournament, Montana went in as a 12 seed and won this year. I was happy for Montana. Larry did a great job.
Up in Flagstaff, we had to figure out who we were going to be able to recruit, get. I looked for guys that were shooters. We didn't have great athletes. We had good athletes. At Pitt, it's different. We were able to get a higher level athlete. Bottom line, when you move up the ladder here in the food chain of the level of talent, the athletes are so good, you've got to be able to defend. You go look at the PAC-10, the best two teams in terms of programs over the last decade have been Arizona and Stanford with Lute Olson and Mike Montgomery. Unbelievable jobs. Every year their teams were right there in field goal percentage defense, rebound margin, one and two. That's what Michigan State. Tom has done an unbelievable job. That's what Majerus did at Utah with all those dominant years in a row. You go to UConn, what Calhoun has done consistently. Boeheim, he plays the zone. Everybody is under 40% against Syracuse. Look at the last 10 years or Duke, Carolina, Kansas, what they do. It's all consistent.
I'm looking forward to where we can put it all together and play great defense and great offense. I think we'll get better and better. We're still evolving as a team. That's one of the things about this team being so young, if you go back and look at the timeline, we've had so many injuries, we've been thin throughout the year. This is actually the most depth we had all year. Mata came back from his broken leg where he was out for two months after starting for us. Hollins has been out, missed three weeks during the season. Fey missed two months. We've had a lot of guys miss a lot of time. Josh Shipp missed a whole year but four games. Ced was out eight games. We've been piecemealing this thing trying to hold it together to get to this point. We're feeling good that we're about as full strength as we've been. We'd love to have Josh Shipp healthy. That hasn't worked for us. He's one of our best players. He's there behind his team and teammates 100%.
Q. Do you think coaching experience makes that much difference in a Final Four? We have three rookie coaches, Coach Donovan being the only one there before. Do you think that makes a difference?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I echo John's sentiments. You try to get advice in terms of the peripheral stuff for taking a team to the Final Four, all the -- like, for example, right now I'm sitting here talking to you. My whole team is waiting on a plane right now. As soon as I get off this, we're going to leave. Normally I wouldn't have that issue at any other time of the year. There's a lot of things that are a little different with the Final Four that may not hold true for the rest of the year.
I talked to Jim about that, I talked to Calipari about that. A few other coaches have taken teams to the Final Four. We had an issue last week where we had autograph seekers knocking on our players' doors at midnight the night before we were playing Memphis. There's things like that that you want to address.
Actually in terms of preparing a team, getting ready to play a game, I think it makes very little difference.
Q. You spent 13 years as an assistant. Were there times back when you were an assistant that you thought maybe you'd never have a chance, Pitt, UCLA?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: I've been so lucky, I've been really blessed for all of my opportunities in coaching. First of all, with Ed Delacey (ph), who was my JC coach. I should say before that, Jay Hillock (ph), my best friend, hired me 25 years ago to be the GA at Gonzaga. I was there one year with Jay. Jay is now the head of pro personnel for the Chicago Bulls. Then I was hired by my former JC coach who was at UCSB in his last year, gave me a chance to get my foot in the door. It was going home, that's where I'm from. Jerry Pimm, who I played before, retained me. I was very fortunate, indebted to him. I worked for Jerry for 11 years. I loved being there at UCSB. That was home. That was a great experience for me. I was very fortunate that Dr. Clara Lovitt hired me at Northern Arizona. I was begging for that job. A one-year contract. There was one-year contract, $60,000 a year. I couldn't wait to sign up. Steve Peterson took an unbelievable chance on me, the AD at the University of Pittsburgh, who is now the athletic director at the University of Nebraska, a close friend, a great person, great athletic director, taking a coach from the West Coast and bringing him out east. He was actually mocked and laughed at. I'm always going to be indebted to him because that was the first obviously major program. Then to be hired here by Dan Guerrero, Pete Blackman, Chancellor Carnesale, it was a dream for me to be here at UCLA.
I've always been fortunate. We don't have real jobs in coaching. I always try to encourage our players to plan, when you're done playing basketball, find something you really love to do. So few people out there in the real world actually enjoy and love and have a passion for their job or their profession. I think it's really important to have a full and productive life when you can do that.
Obviously, not everybody can do that. I've been there, too, living month to month for year after year.
Q. If you go back in time, what is the most nerve-wracking game or biggest game you've ever coached previously?
COACH BEN HOWLAND: Well, I guess it would be Memphis last Saturday. Two days before that against Gonzaga. This is the furthest I've ever been in this tournament as a coach. That's what it's all about, this tournament. That's why being at UCLA with the history and tradition, which is the all-time greatest ever. This is true, the best indicator of the future for a player when you're looking at evaluating players' jobs is the past. John Wooden set the table and made this program what it is at UCLA, just like when you go back to Notre Dame, look at Knute Rockne, look at the great programs. Once you've won and you've won big, it's always I think easier to capture that and get back to it than it is to start from scratch and build a program the way you've seen other school do it. That's what Calhoun has done at UConn. That's what essentially Boeheim has done at Syracuse, Lute has done at Arizona. I'm just the caretaker of this program. This will always be John R. Wooden first and foremost here at UCLA. It's been special.
DAVID WORLOCK: Congratulations, coach. Safe travels. We'll see you this weekend. Best of luck.
I want to thank everyone in the media for participating. If you are not in Indianapolis for Friday's press conferences with all four head coaches and the student-athletes from each of the teams, you can listen in on that. There will not be any questions, but you can listen. That wraps it up. Thanks, everyone.
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