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Oct. 18, 2010
We've had five practices in 49 hours; we went Friday night, two on Saturday, two on Sunday. We had excellent energy. The guys seemed to pick things up pretty well - the new guys. No one else got hurt, so it was a positive weekend for us and we'll come back today. Then the guys are off tomorrow, and then we'll get back at it Wednesday morning. We've had a very productive weekend. New guys are trying to blend in and trying to pick up and learn as quickly as they can.
Q: What are the four and five spots looking like without Sasa now and whom do you think are going to fill those spots?
A: Right now Billy Oliver, Drew Jones, D.J. Jackson and Jeff Brooks are all playing up front along with Jon Graham, the young freshman. There are times without Sasa now that we'll have to play a different style of lineup, maybe with two forwards instead of a natural center. We're hoping Billy Oliver can continue to get better. He's had a nice fall and he's been headache free. We hope Jon Graham can continue to come on and help us. That will be a situation where we'll play how we have to play to be successful in the league and have a great year. I can't say this guy is going to be a five man, a four man - we might play a little differently. That's forced our hand a little bit, we wanted to up-tempo, we wanted to try to press a little more so this will allow us to play a different kind of lineup.
Q: Now that you have the benefit of hindsight a little bit, I was wondering if you could take a minute and look back at last year at what happened and the biggest lesson you can take from it into this season?
A: We've looked at it a lot. We've watched a lot of tape. I think the biggest thing for us is if I go back two years, we won a lot of close games. I think we were 12-2 the year before on games under five points. Maybe I got that a little wrong, but it's pretty close. Last year we lost 11 games by six points or less and when you lose a lot of close games, you end up where we were. I think we need to find a positive end to those. What does that mean? It means let's make it one more play. That's been our theme throughout the summer and the fall- we have to do one more play. Whether it's get the rebound, someone has to make a big basket, get a big defensive stop at a crucial time to win those games. The league is very, very good and our nonconference schedule is very good and we've got to be ready to make the plays when they're there for us to be made.
Q: In the time that you have seen Taran and Talor practice together, what is their communication sound like together on the court different from the other players?
A: Fight. And I say that because they're brothers. They are very, very competitive when they guard each other because they're two brothers and that's what brothers do. My brother and I always got into little ruckuses here and there because that's just the way it is. I think that has been kind of an interesting dynamic to watch when they're guarding each other- they get after each other pretty well. But, other than that, that's really been it. They're teammates like the other guys on the floor.
Q: Beyond Talor where is the leadership going to come from on this team?
A: I think we have a couple of guys. I think Talor has done a nice job. I think D.J. Jackson has done a nice job. I think Steve Kirkpatrick, our guy who walked on for us and is a senior, has done a nice job as well as Drew Jones. I think we've got more of a team leadership thing this year with some other guys in the forefront. I think more importantly, we've got guys who are willing to follow and that's important. You can have all the leadership in the world, but if some guys aren't willing to follow, if they want to do their own thing that's not very good, it doesn't work. So, I think we have good leadership. We've got seniors and I think they want to do something special so they are committed to that. I don't think they're going to let anything stand in their way.
Q: What's the mood this year and how's it different from last year when you guys were coming off the NIT championship?
A: We've had good practices and good spirit. That's what we were trying to get. We had a great summer and a great fall. Our summer was outstanding and our fall was very, very good as well. The guys really spent a lot of time together off the floor. That's something I think we were lacking last year. The team didn't spend a lot of time off the floor together last year. That's something we as a coaching staff tried to foster and nurture that atmosphere and being together. Our guys have done a great job this year. We spent a lot of time this summer eating meals, going to the Pollack Dining Commons eating together, going to Redifer Commons eating together, eating here in the arena, bringing in some pizzas and hanging out, watching some T.V. and socializing. I think that was missing the year before. It doesn't sound like much, but that's all about guys being on the same page and spending time with each other. It's very critical.
Q: You talked about leadership. In retrospect, do you guys think you were lacking leadership on the floor last year as you look back?
A: Yeah, I think it was a problem. I think it was a problem in practice and in games at times. We weren't always looking for guys that could score when we had Jamelle (Cornley). He could score. So, that kind of leadership on the floor was lacking without a Jamelle Cornley inside. Overall, it was also in practice and in the locker room. Sometimes for a guy, when it's his last go around, he wants to make sure there are no distractions and there isn't a guy pulling another way. I think at times we had that in a sense as the guys didn't spend time with each other and hang out with each other. I think the locker room stuff and off the floor stuff was more evident last year.
Q: Do you see that senior year mentality coming through with Talor yet?
A: Absolutely. With him and the other seniors. The team meeting was very spirited the other day. It was one of the more vocal team meetings we've ever had with those guys talking and communicating to me what they want to do for their season. They came up with goals as a team rather than "Hey coaching staff, come up with goals." We know what we would like to do, but it's more important if they believe it and they come up with goals and expectations they have for the season. Those guys did that in their team meeting the other night.
Q: Who are some guys you are looking to free up on the perimeter this year and come off the screen?
A: I think Tim Frazier has improved his shooting tremendously. He has spent a lot of time in the gym. He has really concentrated on shooting the basketball. I think he has very much improved. I think Taran (Buie) can make baskets from the perimeter. Tre Bowman can make baskets from the perimeter, he is a very good shooter. (Cam) Woodyard did not shoot the ball well last year, but I think he has made a conscious effort, saying that's what he does. Jeff Brooks has shot the ball very well in practice from the perimeter and from three. D.J. Jackson has improved his three-point range. So, I think we have some guys that can make some shots. Time will tell if we can do it consistently, and I think we've got some guys that are capable.
Q: The rest of the Big Ten seems challenging this year. How do you go about presenting that to the guys telling them they can compete with the rest of the conference?
A: Well, I think we lost a lot of close games last year. We can compete in this league and we're going to compete. That's not going to be an issue for us. We're going to be competitive and we're going to be good. I think our guys believe that and we as a staff believe that. The league is very good. The league is the best in the country. We'll have four or five teams ranked in the top 20 at least. So, night in and night out, it will be tough. But, that's where the separation comes. We talk about losing close games. We have to find a way to win those close games. If you look at the margins with points that separate teams, it was very, very small last year. We'll figure that out as a team.
Q: You mentioned that you were thinking of pressing more this year. What things last year prevented you from doing that which might allow you to do that this year?
A: Well, I don't know if it was something we did or didn't do. I think we just have some guys that are allowing us to play a little differently. We need more possessions offensively. We averaged 53 shots last year in the league and we have to get it over 60 shots a game. It was turnovers, lack of confidence, guys not wanting to shoot the basketball. I think we have to get some easier shots. I'm not sure if we can just play man-to-man defense and grind it out for 40 minutes every night. I think we need to get some easier baskets and a way to get those is pressing somewhat. So, we want to add that to the package and see if we could focus on it earlier and see if it could help us. When we lost Sasa (Borovjnak) last week, we were heading that direction. Then when we lost him it caused us to do it even more because we are now going to be playing with a different group of guys maybe. We are going to have to play two forwards and three guards a lot and play an up-tempo game some more.
Q: We know what to expect from Talor. What do you expect to see from the other three, Brooks, Jackson and Jones?
A: Well, I think D.J. Jackson was a guy that scored 6-8 points per game in non-conference and over 11 points per game in the Big Ten. D.J. has to shoot the ball more. He has to be more aggressive. We have talked about that all fall. He is shooting the ball very well in practices and workouts we've had. I think he needs to get more shots. He needs to look for those. So, we are trying to put him in a position where he's going to get the ball and he's going to have to shoot it. Jeff Brooks, the same thing with him. I think offensively he has improved his perimeter shooting and he's gotten stronger and more confident. His numbers need to improve along with Drew Jones's. If I can get Drew Jones back to what he was in the NIT run, then we've got some solid play in the middle as well. I think those three seniors have to step up and have to increase their productivity. I think they are all very capable of it. Jackson has improved his three-point range. Jeff Brooks has improved his three-point range. Drew Jones is not a 30-35% free throw shooter like where he was last year. He felt embarrassed about that. He has been working extremely hard all fall. We've had five practices. After every practice he has stayed and shot extra from the free throw line. I like this team spirit. I think the seniors know what they have to do. Now, they have to go out and perform and do it. I know they can.
Q: You have five seniors and five freshmen, with only three combined juniors and sophomores. Is that a level of concern for you?
A: It is what it is. I can't change it. We have four young kids committed. We'll add to that class whether it's this fall for next spring. We have some injuries like Sasa, so he will be re-classified as a sophomore. Billy Oliver has red-shirted for a few years. So, this is like his first run at it. But, all these guys can compete and play and do what they need to do. I don't think it matters what letters are next to their name.
Q: How has the freshmen class adjusted to the college game and what do you expect from them this year?
A: I think the freshmen have done well. This is a really hard weekend for them because they have never practiced five times in 48 hours and we go hard all the time. The challenge for them is they come into practice today and it's going to be very competitive and tough for them. They were here yesterday morning at 10 until 12:30. They lifted, had a quick lunch, came back at five and worked until seven, had a piece of pizza and study hall eight until 10. That's the type of day those guys had and they have to come back and do it again today. I think it's just a whole different scenario for those guys. They've never had that type of day. I think basketball wise, they are adjusting. They are trying to balance everything academically.
Q: Do you see similarities between Taran and his brother in that he wants to shoot the ball in the big moments?
A: Well, it's a little easier to do in practice rather than when the lights go on in front of 15,000-16,000 people. He has the ability to do that. Let's wait and see what happens when the game's on the line and everyone's there. Then we'll see who wants to take the shot. I know No. 12 does. Hopefully, Taran will get to the point where he is one of those guys too in that pressure situation that can take that shot and make that big play.
Q: If Talor gets 20 and five guys get seven and you win, is that okay with you or would you like to see guys score 10-12 points a game and get more well rounded?
A: I think our team has put their egos out the door. I don't think we care who scores. I don't think Talor cares who scores either. We won a game on the road at Northwestern where he didn't score that much. He just wants to win. Our kids want to win and I don't think it matters to them who scores. That's not an issue.
Q: Have you seen Talor push it at another level heading into his senior year?
A: I think leadership wise he is at a different level. I think he's taking that part on his shoulders as well. He has always been a competitive guy and has always wanted to do well. I think he doesn't want any distractions in his way. He is competitive and always communicating. I think that's a step up.
Q: Now that Talor is a senior, how many pounds of potatoes do you think he can fit in a five-pound sack? Do you think he will try to do too much?
A: I hope he's got a bunch (laughter). I think he is going to have a great year. He had a good summer. He understands now that he can only do so much. We've had stuff over the summer and the fall where he has realized that. We had an exercise this fall. We brought in a group of marines, two Special Forces guys to develop some leadership. It's called "The Program." The leader of the group, Eric Kapitulik, the captain of the group and a Naval Academy grad, he was in a training mission with his group off the coast of the Pacific heading back to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. The Helicopter they were in crashed on the side of an aircraft carrier. The helicopter went into the ocean and half his force was lost at sea. He got out of the marines and started "The Program" where all the money he makes goes back to the families of the lost marines so they can use the money for their children to go to college. We brought these two guys in to work with our team on leadership and communication. I thought they needed a different thing, a different voice. One of the leadership things was they ask guys to do certain things. Talor in one of the exercises tried to do too much. I can't remember which one. I think it was holding a huge ball that weighed a lot out in front of you and the guys were supposed to take turns running up and holding the ball. That ball was our season. Every other guy he (Talor) was running up. Finally the guy says, "You know, you are going to get your troop killed doing this. You have to let these other guys carry the ball." After that conversation, I think a light went off for him. So, to answer the question, no I don't think he is going to do too much. He wants to win and he is going to do whatever he can do to win like the other guys. He is a special kid and a special player. He is going to put his best foot forward.
Q: Eight of the first nine games are at home. What are your thoughts of the schedule this year and how important is it to start off on the right foot?
A: I think the schedule sitting here today is a very challenging one. We are going to have to play well early because we have good teams coming in here to play. It's a very challenging non-conference schedule. We've got teams in the SEC, the ACC. We've got teams like Lehigh who is picked to win their league and had the player of the year and freshman of the year. We have Fairfield who is picked to win the MAC coming in. It's going to be a very challenging non-conference season for us.
Q: A lot of the fan base was very critical last season of the job you did. Do you have any message for those folks and do you feel more pressure because of that?
A: You feel pressure every year. This year the job is what it is. It's a very high-stress, high-pressure job. I put the pressure on myself. We want to win. Is there going to be more pressure this year than last year? I feel pressure every year. You are as good as your last game. It's just the way it is. I don't think about that. I don't lay awake thinking this year is so much pressure. We're trying to help our kids win and prepare them to win the best we can. They want to win, we want to win, so be it. There is always going to be critics out there. I'll say this, if they are going to criticize me, I completely understand that. But, we have a football coach that will go down as the greatest football coach of all-time. And we've got people that criticize him. So who in the heck am I?