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April 3, 2014

Billy Donovan

Kevin Ollie


THE MODERATOR:  We'll get started with an opening statement from both coaches and then take questions.
COACH OLLIE:  I guess the rookie goes first.  I'm fine with that.
But we're happy to be here.  Happy to be at AT&T Stadium.  It's a great accomplishment for our student‑athletes and we want to go out and play our best basketball here.
COACH DONOVAN:  I think just to echo what Kevin said, most exciting time in college basketball.  It's a great opportunity.  We feel very, very fortunate and privileged to be here.  Excited about playing a great UCONN team on Saturday and looking forward to a great challenge.
THE MODERATOR:  Take questions, please.

Q.  What kind of a weapon is Michael Frazier for the Gators and what was your team able to do to limit his effectiveness the first time so well?
COACH OLLIE:  He's an outstanding weapon.  He creates so many spacing challenges for us on the defensive end where we have to guard him.  They do a wonderful job, Coach Donovan does a wonderful job with his pick‑and‑roll schemes where he spaces the court out.  You have Young diving, Wilbekin coming off, there's so many threats out there.  We're going to have to make sure we communicate and talk at a level five, so we can make sure he gets covered.  Then also in transition we have to get back and locate and identify where Michael Frazier is at at all times.

Q.  Billy, you talked in Gainesville about giving the guys two days to get their personal stuff out of the way.  You guys have been good all year about putting stuff behind you.  Can you talk about the distractions in dealing with that and how well you think they dealt with it.
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, for Kevin and I, it was a little bit different.  I believe their original game was on Sunday, ours was on Saturday.  So we were able to take a day on Sunday as the tournament was still playing and the Final Four was set.  Then obviously, Monday was a day we kind of got back together and tried to regroup and go forward.
But I do think what ends up happening is when you get to that point in time, there are a lot of demands on the players, from their family, their friends and those kind of things.  We just tried to set aside some time for those guys to take care of their personal business and their families in terms of coming here to watch them play.
I think for the most part they have done a good job.  Done a good job of handling that and we were able to get back to work this week and try to get prepared and ready to play on Saturday.

Q.  Billy, what inspired you to take two road games early with teams that would be ranked?  What did you get out of it?  How has it contributed to your consistency over these last 30 games?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, the second game of the year, we went to Wisconsin, a very, very difficult tough environment to play in.  I think when you play in those situations, you learn about yourself.  Relatively soon after, right after Thanksgiving we traveled to Storrs and played UCONN, and it was a great game.  Again I think we learned a lot about ourselves.
That early in the season, we're all trying to get to know our team better, to see how we respond against high level competition.  You're also trying to get somewhat prepared for your league play because you know you're going to go into some difficult places to play.
So for us those two early road games at UCONN, at Wisconsin, I thought they were really helpful to our team moving forward and in terms of where we needed to improve and get better.

Q.  Kevin, did that win over Florida do anything special for your team?  Was that a turning point of any kind?
COACH OLLIE:  No, we were playing good basketball before that win.  But we have so much respect for the program of Florida and how hard we have to play to get a victory like that.  It really helped going forward playing against a different scheme and playing against a pressure that they apply each and every play.  It really allowed our team to understand what level we have to play and compete to ultimately get to a Final Four.
They have been on a great roll since that time in Storrs and we respect their program immensely.  For us now, it hasn't done anything.  Coming out with the victory, that's four months ago.  They had a different team.  We're a different team.  They had some players hurt at the time, now they're back in the rotation with Kasey Hill and Chris Walker now.
So we're going to have to play at a level five.  We're going to have to play with the energy and passion and we're going to have to play together to hopefully continue to play on until Monday.

Q.  For both of you guys, just considering three of the teams here are destined for the same fate as the rest of the field.  Why do you think the Final Four has become a benchmark of success in the sport?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, I said this in Memphis.  I'm not so sure that there's ever an easy exit out of the NCAA tournament.  I think that we come up with a lot of these neat catchy phrases like Sweet 16 and Elite8, Final Four, but ultimately there is a perception that when you get to this point, it's kind of the pinnacle, and it is.  There's only four teams left playing for a National Championship.  So it is important.
But I think as a coach, and I think Kevin would agree, when you're putting all this time and energy in with your kids, I'm not so sure that at any point in time this late in the year losing is always an easy thing, because you know the investment that we have all made to get to this point.
COACH OLLIE:  To echo what Billy has said, it's a great time for these student‑athletes to have a goal that they set out for back in May.  We started in May with drills and getting them in the gym and focusing on what we have to focus on and trying to get better each and every day.
For them to play in the Final Four, it's a great accomplishment.  But if you lose, I mean it's still going to hurt.  But you got to understand that it's a great journey and you did it together.  I think that's the most important thing, and that's what we strive to have is toughness and be together.  No matter if we lose, no matter if we win, no matter if we have a tough loss against Louisville or a great win early in the season, as long as we do it together and we try to improve as human beings, that's the best thing.
I think our kids are really doing that and it's great to see them in a Final Four and see our logo up there.  I'm not going to get it misconstrued or anything, it's great to see that.  But our job is not done yet.

Q.  For both coaches, the depth perception out there on the court a little bit different than it is normally in college basketball in the Arena because of its size and configuration.  Did both you guys feel that your players are adjusting to that depth perception problem that that court might give you?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, the NCAA's given every school an opportunity to get multiple practice opportunities here from today for an hour and a half.  Tomorrow there will be an open practice as well.  Shoot‑around times the day of the game.
We had the opportunity last year to play here, so for some of our guys, it is a familiar place.  But I think there's enough time to get ready and play in this kind of venue, because it is a little bit different.
But everybody here's dealing with the same thing.  We have all been given the opportunity to come out there and shoot and see what the building's like.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, same.  I really appreciate the NCAA giving us this opportunity.  Back in 2011 down in Houston, we didn't have a 90‑minute practice.  It was the open practice that we're going to have tomorrow and then the shoot‑around.  So this really allows our players to see the ball going in.  We always want to see that.  Just seeing them get used to and relaxed and shooting in a venue like this is a great opportunity for us.

Q.  Kevin, would you share with us what it's been like to have your mother, with all she's been through, along for the ride with you and now here at the Final Four.
COACH OLLIE:  Yeah, it was wonderful.  Yesterday she got cleared to fly and that was great news.  I have her back in Connecticut with me, she's been going through chemo with me at home.  And my wife has done a beautiful job taking care of her and being there when I was able to continue to do my job.  Just to see her get cleared, and she can come back home.  She lives in Plano here, and to come back home before her next surgery has just been a wonderful thing.
It's going to be great to see her.  She wanted to come down to Madison Square Garden, but I was, like, No, save up your energy for the Final Four.
So it's great to have her come down and she's going to come down with my wife today.

Q.  Billy, like Kevin, you both played and were an assistant under a Hall of Fame coach.  Could you talk about what was most beneficial that you took from each as a player and as an assistant from under Rick Pitino?
COACH DONOVAN:  Yeah, I was exposed to a lot, and Kevin probably can speak more to Coach Calhoun and how he set it up with his assistants.  I just know with Coach Pitino, we were exposed to a lot.  We were forced to coach, we were forced to teach.  We were forced to break down film, individual instruction.  We were forced to make decisions, preparation, all sorts of different things.
I didn't feel like when I became a head coach that there was any aspect of coaching that I wasn't forced or wasn't thrust upon me that I had to deal with, and I'm always thankful for that.
Because at a young age, in my early 20s, getting an opportunity to coach, I think I was exposed, one, not only being around a great Hall of Fame coach, but I was also exposed where I had to do a lot of different things.
I hear some assistant coaches say they never even have a voice in practice.  They just stand on the sidelines and maybe try to encourage a player.  It just wasn't like that for me, and I'm very, very fortunate that I was under that kind of mentoring and tutelage at a young age, because it definitely prepared me for the next step.

Q.  For both coaches, all four teams have terrific back courts.  Is that a reflection on the old saying that it's a guards' game and is that what it takes to get to this level?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, I think that when you get to this point in time in the season, you have to have everything.  Certainly Connecticut's got a great back court, but they have also got a really, really terrific front court.  When you look at the way Daniels has improved and Brimah and Nolan.
So, yes, there maybe is a lot of attention on the back court players, and rightfully so.  They're great back courts.  But I don't know if you can just get to this point in time in the season unless you're really a complete team, and you have everybody filling their roles and doing their jobs.
COACH OLLIE:  That's the word I believe in.  Filling your roles and having your identity and understanding when you get to this point, don't go off script.  Don't try to be something that you haven't been the whole season.  You definitely want to take advantage of different things and different matchups, but at the end of the day, you want to play hard and you want to play for each other.
Shabazz will be the first person to tell you that he can't do it without his teammates.  He can't do it without Phillip Nolan setting a screen for him to come off a screen and roll and get a wide open look, wide open shot.  He can't get an outlet to start a fast‑break if Amida don't block a shot or get a crucial rebound like he did in the St. Joe's game where we were down by three and he got an and‑one.
So we rely on the team.  It's not an individual.  But Shabazz is a great player, a great leader, and that's the one thing I see, he's an extension of me.  I asked him to do a lot.  Not only be a facilitator, but score out of necessity when we get down to the thick of the thing, the thick of a moment when he needs to make a play.  He does a great job of that.
But it's all about a team and he'll be the first one to say that.  He's a humble kid.  Ryan Boatright is a humble kid and they know how much they're able to do their job because of the other guys playing their role and doing it at a great place.

Q.  Billy, you were talking about Coach Pitino.  What do you remember about him originally advising you not to take the Florida job?  Do you ever call him up and say, Nice advice?  Why did you go against that advice?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, first of all, he didn't know how desperate I was to get out of Wall Street, because, one, I wasn't very good at it, and, two, I really didn't know what I was doing.
I think more than anything else I think he wanted to see how committed I was to really wanting to coach.  So I think when he said, No, you don't want to do that, you don't have the personality, the type for coaching ‑‑ oh the Florida job?  Oh.
I think what he was concerned about at that point was the fact that there was a very, very heralded recruiting class coming in.  They had signed six guys.  Coach Pitino didn't think it was a very good class being in the league.  He thought the team was a long way off.
I think his main concern was just Jeremy Foley, what was his awareness of expectation of where the program was at.  I think once I sat down with Jeremy, and obviously a long‑term commitment, and he was very aware of where things were at that point in time and very supportive.  I just felt like I wanted to be around somebody like that that you could try to build something together.  That's what ultimately I think he said, This probably is a good move for you if you feel that strongly about it.  But in the beginning he was not that way.

Q.  Billy, is it different at all for you to coach at a school where the fans maybe in November and December aren't obsessing and overanalyzing every win or loss because football is so much on their mind?  And if you were at a school like say Kentucky, do you think you would have to approach things differently from coaching, scheduling, that kind of thing?  Team building?
COACH DONOVAN:  Yeah, I don't know.  I think we're all dealing as coaches with the distractions.  I think with social media and Twitter and different things that these guys are dealing with, it's always a challenge.  But I'm pretty much really just trying to evaluate my team and coach.  I don't get wrapped up in a lot of other stuff around there.
I think as a coach and as players, we all can get distracted on different things.  So if football season is going on, that doesn't have any impact on me and what I'm doing.  I'm going to do the same thing whether it's at Florida or somewhere else.  I'm going to try to be locked in to figure out how can we get better in the weight room, individual instruction, coaching, what do we need to do.
So I don't know if that necessarily has changed anything that I would do differently.

Q.  Billy, what's it like to coach against a shot maker like Shabazz Napier when you know that you can maybe play the greatest defense in the world and he can just negate that sometimes.  Then for Kevin, what's it like to coach a guy like that?
COACH DONOVAN:  Well, he's obviously a terrific player.  But I think that the other thing, too, you got to realize, and Kevin touched on this, there's two things:  One, they do a good job of their team filling roles.  He's really smart, he knows when to go, when to pass.  I think he understands the length and time of a game.  He's played a lot of minutes over his career.  He's been in big events and big venues.
But I also think that Kevin really puts him in some very, very unique situations that he can do the things that he does.  Because he can beat you with drives, he can beat you with shots, he can beat you from behind the line, and he can also beat you passing the ball.  I think with the way UCONN runs their offense and the situations Kevin's put them in, it makes it even that much more difficult dealing with him.  Because you can run and just go trap him, but he's going to go find one of those guys, and you're going to leave someone open for a three.  You can try to cover the three and someone's going to be rolling to the basket.
So I think Kevin has done a great job with his team putting all those guys in position to really be successful and play at the level he's been able to play at.

Q.  Billy, I was going to ask you about Shabazz and what makes him such a special player, and you answered that a lot, but does he remind you at all of you as a senior at Providence, what you did that year kind of leading a team to the Final Four, and do you see any similarities at all?
COACH DONOVAN:  If I reminded myself of him or him of me, I would not be in coaching right now.  I would be playing in the NBA right now.  I think when I played, it was a different time because it was the inception of the three‑point line.  I'm not so sure a lot of coaches around the country were as advanced in dealing with it as Coach Pitino was because of his NBA background.
But Shabazz to me is as good as any point guard in this country.  I got a lot of respect for his leadership.  I got a lot of respect for his competitiveness.  The confidence that he gives the rest of those guys, his willingness to take big shots and make big shots.  His willingness to be unselfish and to play the right way.  He is a heck of a player and a heck of a talent, as good as anybody in the country.

Q.  Kevin, Ryan was saying the other day that couple weeks ago you guys watched the Florida game again.  I was wondering when that was, what was your reason for showing it and what do you think that your team got out of it going on to this run?
COACH OLLIE:  I really thought that they got at what level of intensity we got to play at.  It's been written, we showed it after the Louisville game, and they thought I was going to come in and show that tape.
But I have so much respect for Florida and what they did throughout this whole year and being on this streak and the consistency.  That's what I love.  They play one way and one way, that's it.  They don't play another way.  They play hard, they play together, they are unselfish.  I just wanted our guys to see how we were rotating, how we were playing, how we were challenging them and that they can have that same experience again and play that same type of way.
Florida's No. 1.  We competed at a high level against them.  Don't think that losing to Louisville that we all are going to stay here.  We're going to move on.  We're going to get better from it.  I think that through struggle, you get progression.  And that was a struggle for us.
But if you don't stay there and you keep believing in yourself, that this might happen.  Guys believed that and we had the team I wanted to put it in.  It wasn't no big thing.  We just showed a couple plays and we got to work and we got back on the practice court and we let everything happen that was going to happen.  But we were going to build off of it.
I think everybody was looking at the 33‑point loss as a problem.  We were looking at it as a possibility for us to get better as a team.  I think that's the kind of mindset that we have to overcome different distractions that we have been having, not the Louisville game, for two years now.  Being band, not being able to go to the post‑season last year.  They always had the next play mentality.  I think it's great for a team to always have that mindset that can you get better from any distraction and it's not going to stop you from your destiny as a team.

Q.  Kevin, twice you've mentioned how in this game Saturday your guys are going to have to perform at level five.  I wondered if you would define level five.
COACH OLLIE:  It's just a championship mentality.  It's playing together, playing unselfish, playing as five and not just one.  Because sometimes you get to this stage and you want to play as one and you want to go off and be an individual.  But that's not going to work.
The whole of our team is better than the sums of its parts.  We know that.  The only way that we can get here and perform at the best possible way is for everybody to be focused in on us.  And that's our ultimate goal each and every day is, us.  How can we improve as a team.  Hopefully we can do that Saturday night.

Q.  Billy, in the past you've had some guys who left early.  Have you changed your mind about those kind of guys?  Do you feel differently about them now and how much do you love the seniors?
COACH DONOVAN:  I get asked that a lot.  Just different things.  My recruiting philosophy has not changed.  It's kind of we're going to try to get guys that fit our philosophy, our style of play and how we would like to play.  Couple years ago we had Bradley Beal, who left after one year.  I really am not bothered with it one way or the other.  We're looking for people that would fit how we want to play.
I think in recruiting, as coaches, we lose a lot more than we sign.  We hear a lot more nos than we do yeses.  So I think again, the fit for us and what we're looking for is what is important.  But I haven't changed in terms of, well, I'm not going to recruit this guy because he may only be in college for a year or two.  If it's a fit for us, I look at it as a blessing, you've had him for a year.  If it's a guy like Patric Young who has elected to stay for four years, it's a great thing for us as well.
So more the fit is what I'm interested in.

Q.  A question about DeAndre Daniels for both of you guys.  Billy, what have you seen from him in the past couple games that he really seems to have stepped it up and become an offensive force for them more so than earlier?  Kevin, was there a light that kind of went on with him recently?  He's really stepped it up in the past couple games.
COACH DONOVAN:  I think that Kevin would probably answer more than I can.  I would say this:  We recruited DeAndre some coming out of high school.  I was always impressed with his length, his offensive ability.  It looked like earlier on, and Kevin can probably talk to more to it, just struggled to find his way.  I think he's probably come to grips with who he is as a player and how he needs to play and how Kevin wants him to play to impact his team.
But to me, he's really become extremely versatile.  He posts up, he shoots threes, he's putting it on the floor, he can start the break, he passes, he rebounds, he's playing really hard for their team.  I think watching UCONN now and getting prepared for them in December, there's no question he's really continued to progress and grow.

Q.  Billy, you yourself were a very good college player.  With so much attention right now on getting to the NBA, have we lost sight of appreciating a college player for just being a really good college player?
COACH DONOVAN:  Yeah, I think that Kevin and I both were fortunate enough to play in programs in the Big East and those times were really special.  I saw an article, was really sad, it was about kids that had stayed in college for four years and had unbelievable careers, deep runs in the tournament, Final Fours, and I don't know all the players it mentioned, but they were not in the NBA.  They were overseas.  They viewed themselves as failures.
You wrote that?
Okay.  I mean, I found that very sad.  That's kind of maybe a societal issue where we start to deem what success is for a lot of these kids.  And if they don't make it to the NBA, then their college career means nothing, is nothing.  I feel bad that a lot of kids walk off a college campus if they have been there for four years and view themselves as being anything less than successful.  Seriously, it bothers me when I hear stories like that.

Q.  For both coaches, with all the talk happening in college football about a possible union that may be developing, I'm wondering as far as basketball is concerned, if you feel like players deserve more benefits than they're already getting.
COACH DONOVAN:  I think the players do deserve more things.  There are certain things that I think are outdated and don't make sense in a lot of ways.  What those things are, should they be paid?  I don't know what it is.  But there needs to be more done for the student‑athletes, in my opinion.
They make an incredible investment.  They obviously are generating a lot of dollars on college campuses, and I don't know what the solution is.  I do know that there needs to be a better way to take care of them in a way that maybe would not jeopardize or violate them being considered professionals.  I think there's ways that we can do that.
The idea that a kid can't get a free hamburger somewhere, it doesn't make any sense to me.  What's the big deal?  How is that hurting anybody.  I get, Well, then it leads to this and this and this.  I get some of those thoughts.  But there's some common sense things I think that we can do to insure that from a normal student activity life they can have money in their pocket and be able to do things.
COACH OLLIE:  For me, pretty much the same thing.  Just think the game has changed.  This venue has changed.  I remember when I was playing in college when we went to the tournament, we wasn't playing in venues like this.  Everything has changed and evolved and in some way, somehow, the student‑athlete, that dynamic has to evolve and change.
Like I don't know which way is going to lead, but some way, somehow we're going to all make a sacrifice and get in a room and see how we can make a change for the student‑athlete.  Just like Billy said, not flying the parents up to see a game.  And they allow their kids to come to the University of Connecticut all the way from LosAngeles, California, which I came.  Some things like that has to change.  Hopefully we can do that.  Hopefully we can keep the integrity of the NCAA and the student‑athletes, but everything in life is always evolving.  I think we have to get to a point where it's evolving.
I love to see the student‑athletes when they graduate have some kind of medical benefits or something out there to give them a leeway until they're able to get a secure job with health benefits.  Just something like that or along those lines I would like to see that happen.
THE MODERATOR:  All right.  Thank you.

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