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Roy Williams (14:52)
JOHN GERDES (NCAA): We’ll ask the coach to make an opening statement and then we’ll open it up to questions.
ROY WILLIAMS: It’s a fantastic time to be a college basketball player and a college basketball coach. The excitement of being at the Final Four with your team, it’s what you work for year-round, not just during the season, but it’s what you work towards in the off-season as well.
Q: Roy, Tom Izzo said he learned a lot about pushing the team up the floor from your days at Kansas. How much did you actually help him? What do you see from this team as far as that for tomorrow night?
ROY WILLIAMS: They may do it better than we do at times. That’s what I’ve learned. Tommy is a great coach, a great friend, a guy that I respect immensely. I love the way they’ve defended - from his team several years ago to right now. I love the way they emphasize the rebounding part of the game, which I think is the most important. They all say if you rebound and defend, you always have a chance. You can add a third thing. If you rebound, defend and you play for Tom Izzo, you always have a chance. I’m not trying to color it up, that’s exactly the way I think.
His club is maybe the fastest, most athletic that we faced all year long. It’s going to present a challenge to us. We’ve been pretty good running the ball up and down the court. We’ve led the nation in scoring and assists. In half the games, people have tried to control the tempo on us. Tomorrow we’re going to find out how well we run back. I think that’s a big challenge for us.
Q: Have you changed your approach or routine for the team in this trip to the Final Four than some of your previous trips with your Kansas teams?
ROY WILLIAMS: Not really. I think what I try to do is have a sense of what the team can handle, what the team wants to do. I’ve had teams that were very focused and very tight, close-lipped. I’ve had some teams that came in with the video camera going into practice this afternoon in front of the public, trying to show how many people were there.
I think to me, you need to try to set a mood that your team feels comfortable in and not put them in a scenario where they’re not comfortable.
Q: You had a couple of narrow escapes last week. Has that been official or did you see stuff that you were concerned with going into this weekend?
ROY WILLIAMS: I think it was helpful to us, but, you know, when you get to 16 and 8, I think all the games are fairly close. Teams are really good at that point. Our first two games, first round and second round, we had a pretty big working margin. People asked me if I was worried about that going into the next round. I really wasn’t because we had played a lot of close games in a very competitive league. So we had been there before.
If it helps us play better tomorrow night, I think that’s fantastic.
Q: Do you have a set philosophy if you’ve got the ball at the end of a game, if the clock is running down, to call timeout or let things go? When there is a timeout, it’s a last possession, either offense or defense, how much of it is kind of a guessing game, chess match?
ROY WILLIAMS: We try to practice late-game scenarios that if I don’t have a timeout, which most of the time I am going to have one, I’ll probably retire from coaching with the most timeouts in my pocket of any coach in history. But we’re going to work on those situations where that if I stand up and call barnhouse, all right, we’re going to know what the dickens we’re doing, so we can do it without having the timeout. If you have a timeout, then we just review everything and put it down on the chart and make sure everything knows what we’re talking about.
I do have certain principles that we coach because I don’t want the kids, something to happen, them look over to me and try to decide what they’re supposed to do. That’s the reason -- that’s what we practice for. Certain time on the clock, we’re going to call a timeout. Certain time on the clock, we’re going to try to foul. Certain time on the clock, we’re not going to call a timeout.
Q: Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo have talked about savoring this Final Four more than they did the other ones. I’m wondering how you are approaching this compared to the other ones?
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, the big thing is they’ve already gotten one of those big trophies on Monday night, so they savor it perhaps in a different way. But I’m not positive that they do that because I think I’m trying to savor the moments myself. Each morning I’ve been out for a little walk with my wife, nice restaurant to eat last night. When we go into our team meeting, we’re extremely focused. We’re going to go out on the court today and we’re going to work when we’re out there.
But I do believe, it’s written, and you guys have to write it, and it is a story, I understand that. But 15 years from now, if I’m still sitting up here answering questions, and one of the questions is asked, “Well, Roy, you’ve never won one,” if I’m still sitting up here, that means we’ve won a lot of games, and I’m going to enjoy that part of it and I’m going to enjoy the relationship with my players.
Oh, yeah, there’s no question, I’ve said it this way, I’ve got more desire in my little finger than any North Carolina person alive or dead, okay? But at the same time you can only do so much. I don’t short change anybody. Anybody that’s ever worked with me, that I’ve worked for, I don’t short change ‘em. I don’t take days off, I don’t try to take an easy way out. I’m hopeful that that will continue.
And if we do happen to get lucky one year and win one, I’m not going to quit the next day. So it’s not going to change my life either.
Q: Did your Athens experience help you as a coach?
ROY WILLIAMS: No question, Larry Brown, Greg Poppovich, Oliver Purnell, other coaches we competed with at the Olympics. Larry, Pop and Oliver. And seeing how different people handle very talented individuals, not just the stuff on the court, but away from the court was beneficial to me. The way I looked at it, it was 36 days this summer, 31 days last summer, or last summer and the summer before last, that was devoted strictly to basketball. I felt like I gained a great deal with that.
Q: When you got to North Carolina, some of the guys, can you talk a little bit about their mentality and also the steps, especially guys like Jawad, Melvin, Jackie have taken to get from 8-20 to now at the Final Four?
ROY WILLIAMS: Well, they’ve worked exceptionally hard. When I got there, I thought they were really good kids. But they had had some turmoil, during that turmoil I think it’s human nature to try to grab onto something that you can be a little more successful with. A lot of times in basketball, that’s an individual thing. So primary focus for us was to be focused on that name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back, the name of our team. And the kids, again, they were not bad kids. It was just human nature that something had happened. We had to get them to focus on that team aspect of it.
The kids that were 8-20, Jackie, Melvin and Jawad have been marvelous this year. I think it’s something they learned from what we tried to do last year. They and the other teammates worked extremely hard in the off-season to be better players, to fit into our style of play even better. I couldn’t be more proud of Jackie and Jawad and Melvin for sticking with it because I’ve always been a North Carolina fan, even when I was coaching at Kansas.
I would get those scores, and it would make you feel great or it would make you feel awful. When Matt Doherty was coaching there, it was other guy that meant a great deal to me. I knew what was going on. Those kids that went through some tough times, I’m very proud of them.
Q: Following up on the Rick Pitino question, he looks more relaxed. Is it going to be fun for you this week or is there just too much pressure, too much involved?
ROY WILLIAMS: The pressure, I honestly don’t feel the pressure from anybody except what I put on myself. I felt like that when we played Oakland in the first game. To me, the stress is going to be internal, what I’m going to put on myself. The atmosphere, the pageantry, what we go through with this, I’m not going to say it’s fun to meet with you guys and have a chat every day and things like that.
But what this is is just part of it. I don’t let this part of it bother me. You know, we’re going out there and practice. We really are, we’re going to get after it for about 50 minutes. When we finish, we’re going to talk to the guys, make sure they’re going to have a nice dinner, tell them we’ll meet them at 11:00 at night, then we’ll talk some more basketball at that time.
I am enjoying the experience. I hope that my kids are. Today I looked out the window, we’re staying at the Adam’s Mark, I looked out the window, I can see the Arch, I can see the river. I said, look out there, there’s five or six of my players throwing the football in a grassy area out there. I love that. This is college athletics. I knew who it was because I could tell who were the bad passers and the bad catchers, that kind of thing. But I thought that was fantastic, a fantastic scenario.
If the legitimate fans were the only ones around the hotel as opposed to people trying to collect autographs to sell, my players would hang out with them even more because they were enjoying the moment. Those people are just trying to sell things, they make it so bad for everybody.
Q: Perhaps because his father played on a national championship team, does Sean May seem motivated to you in different ways than other players you have?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yeah, it is a unique scenario. There’s no question about that. But he’s lived through that for his entire 20, 21 years. I think he might even be more excited about the possibilities at what could happen. But that’s also been a scenario for him his entire life, that his dad is one of the most famous basketball players in the state of Indiana ever, and goes on to a successful pro career. Sean has just done a marvelous job with that. His dad is pretty doggone special, too. He’s not just concerned about how Sean is doing; he’s concerned about how Sean’s teammates are doing. I think that’s a very unique quality and one I admire a great deal.
Q: A lot of three-point shots in the regional finals last week. As the games get tighter, tougher, more meaningful, do we see three-point shots go up? What’s going on with that? Do you expect to shoot more here?
ROY WILLIAMS: I would expect to see about the same amount we’ve been shooting, but yet I forget which game it was, maybe Villanova, I think we shot 16 in the first half. That’s way more than we normally shoot. We addressed that at halftime and took fewer in the second half.
I don’t have a perfect number because it depends on how quick the tempo is. If there are a lot of possessions, you’re going to shoot more threes.
But I think we’ll shoot about the normal amount. If we’re making them, I’d like us to shoot a little bit more. If we’re missing them, I’d like to shoot less.
Q: Have you spit in the river yet? If not, anything else superstitious you’ll do?
ROY WILLIAMS: I’ve made it down to the river. Haven’t taken my team yet. Haven’t made the final decision if they’re going to expectorate, is that the right word? I don’t know if we’re going to spit or not (smiling).
You never can tell. We try to do some things to have a little more fun.
Q: Considering Marvin’s chances for the NBA and stuff, do you look at him as whatever time you guys have with him is a bonus almost because of what he does have ahead of him?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yes. But I do that with all of our guys. I enjoy my relationship and treasure that part of it all the time. I think the experience of leaving Kansas a couple years ago has made it even more so, that you don’t know what’s down the line.
I know I’m not leaving. I know that much (smiling).
Q: Can you put a value on having a junior/senior team at that stage?
ROY WILLIAMS: I think you look around, and that the basically what you have, is almost four of those here. That almost answers your question. Fab Five did a good job. Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse, but they had more experienced players there, not just him. I think guard play and experienced play, especially if it’s talented, is by far the common denominator.
If you have guard play and experience, but they’re not very doggone good, you’re not going to be here.
Q: Basically you went home two years ago. After two years with this team, back in the program, do you feel more comfortable now? Do you feel more at home?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, I think -- I felt at home the entire time, but it was just how emotional it was for me to leave a place that I loved and still love and leaving players that I loved and had recruited, had been with for a long time, to go to a school or home with players that I did not know. That was the emotional part of it. It was and will be difficult for me to handle for quite a while.
But, no, I went to school there. My wife went to school there. Our son went to school there. Our daughter went to school there. You know, it is home. I love Lawrence, Kansas and will till the day I die. Lawrence, Kansas was special to me because of the basketball and the people. I didn’t feel that much attachment to the dirt or to the bricks or anything like that, but the people were just fantastic, then the players. And the people’s passion for the game of basketball was something that I grew -- or it grew to a point where it was extremely special to me.
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):Thanks, coach. Good luck.
ROY WILLIAMS: Thanks, guys.
Sean May & Jawad Williams (11:58)
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):We’re joined by Sean May and Jawad Williams. We’ll open it up to questions.
Q: For those of us who haven’t watched you game in and game out, how many teams this year have really tried to run against you? What have you seen from Michigan State on film? What do you expect from them as far as the running game?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: Not many teams have tried to run with us all year. Some teams have. We were able to handle it. Michigan State is a very talented team, they have a lot of players like ourselves who can go anywhere and be stars.
They’re a great team in the transition. Sprinting back both ways is going to be very key.
Q: Sean, I understand since the tournament started, you’ve had the 1976 championship game tape in your bag. You vow to watch it if you made it to the Final Four. Have you watched it yet?
SEAN MAY: No. It’s in my bag, it’s in my backpack in the locker room right now.
I’ve had some mixed feelings about it. Granted, if we play well tomorrow, I’m not sure if I’ll show it because sometimes we go through a routine. You don’t want to break that routine. If I feel guys want to watch it, that’s why I brought it.
I’m definitely going to watch it just because it brings inspiration to me. The game of basketball has changed so much since that time, you know, I don’t know if the guys will really respect what they see. Really I just want to show them that last five minutes and the celebration that my dad’s team had at the end. We have a chance to do that this weekend.
Q: If you could talk about what you’ve seen in terms of Roy’s mood these last couple of days? Has he seemed relaxed, uptight, anxious to get this thing going?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: It’s been the same Coach Williams, if you ask me. Not much has changed. We’re still doing the same things we were doing at the beginning of the year: focusing on little things. There’s no pressure or anything like that. He’s just same old Coach Williams.
SEAN MAY: I agree. I think more than now, more than ever, he’s preaching, you know, things that we’ve done in the past, you know, the mistakes that we made. We can’t have that.
I think he’s the same. To tell you the truth, he’s not happy or just satisfied with being at another Final Four. You know, he wants us to win this. He feels that we have an opportunity to do that if we play well. But for us, we’re going to take it one game at a time. We have a huge obstacle ahead of us in facing Michigan State.
Q: What would it mean to each of you to win a championship for Coach Williams, who has been here obviously before, has had a lot of close calls, but never won one as a head coach?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: Well, for me personally, I don’t think we’re trying to win a championship for Coach Williams, we’re trying to win a championship for ourselves. It’s something we haven’t done either. Hopefully we can meet halfway and get this thing done together.
SEAN MAY: For me it’s something I think about at night. You know, coach has been through a lot. I respect everything that he’s done. You know, I want to be on that team when he says 20 years from now, talking to, you know, everybody when he’s getting ready to retire, you know, thinking about the things he’s done in his career, I want to be on that 2005 team that he thanks for finally getting him that first championship.
Q: Talk about the importance of being experienced, juniors and seniors, and if Jawad could give us a feeling on how you’re feeling?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: As far as us being an older team, it’s very important because we’ve been through tough situations and we know how to handle it. Our young guys will rely on us during the game. I’m fine. I’m just about a hundred percent right now.
SEAN MAY: I agree. I think being through this process this year, going to the NCAA tournament, we were satisfied with just being here, being a part of the tournament, and now this year, we’ve had some ups and downs. We played well; we didn’t play well in the ACC tournament. But we’ve done enough to get us here.
For us we need to peak at the right time, which is now, and put everything together and really show people that talent is not all that we have, that we are one of the best teams in the country.
Q: A lot of attention this week has been paid to the outstanding three-point shooters that have performed so well throughout the tournament. This week as a post player, is there anything you can do or plan to do to sort of put the emphasis back on the paint?
SEAN MAY: I just plan on playing the way I’ve played all year, feeding off my teammates. I think you have to have both to be a really good team. I think the team that’s going to win this thing is going to have shooters who shoot well and have great inside play, whether that be, you know, from guards getting to the paint, scoring inside. You got to have some paint work at some point.
I think, you know, for me playing the way I’ve been playing all year is all I’m going to do. I’m not going to try to out do myself and demand the ball more than what I have.
Q: Sean, is it going to be strange to play against Doug Wojcik?
SEAN MAY: Coach Wojcik is a great friend. He’s taught me a lot about life, a lot about the game of basketball. He was really that person I went to when I struggled my freshman year in terms of breaking my foot and just dealing with issues on and off the court.
It will be tough at first, right before tip-off, you look over there, you’re going to see him. Throughout the game, he’s not the head coach, so you’re not going to see him up on the sidelines.
You know, hopefully for all of us, we won’t pay too much attention to it. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll go over and give him a hug, I’m going to wish him the best of luck in his new job.
Q: Sean, over the years, how many stories have you heard from your dad and brother about getting to the Final Four? What advice, if any, have both of them given to you now?
SEAN MAY: I’ve heard a lot. My brother just tells me, and my dad, you know, back then when they were playing, there weren’t fans allowed to come watch practice before. He said you’re going to be nervous. There’s a lot more going on now than when I played. But at the same time it’s just another game. You know, especially that first game of the Final Four. Now, when you get to the national championship, if you’re able to get there, we’ll sit down and talk about that after that first game.
They both just tell me, hey, you just got to go out and play and treat it like it’s another game, block out all the outside distractions. This is a great show that the NCAA puts on. There are a lot of distractions out there.
Q: You mentioned that the game of basketball has changed quite a bit since that film that you have in your back. It looks like tomorrow night is a little bit of a throw back situation in the low post, two big guys going at each other. Have you studied some of these big-man match-ups of the past, watched them? How do you see tomorrow night’s match-up?
SEAN MAY: I think I have a fairly good grasp on the history of basketball. Back then, the game was played through the post. I think now, as basketball has -- the evolution, it’s gotten more with guard play. Tomorrow night I think it will be a battle of the bigs. Paul Davis is a tremendous player. I think we both have an old-school type game. We’re not really high-risers, both kind of a laid-back attitude. We just approach the game in probably the same type of way.
I played with Paul, seen him play a lot. He’s very talented. I think tomorrow the game will be played through the post. So it will be kind of like a throwback situation.
Q: Sean, it seems like you developed quite an affinity for Coach Williams over your time there. What word would you use to describe when you’ve heard the number of questions he’s gotten about never having won a national championship, how does it feel not to win a national championship? What word or words go through your mind when you hear those questions?
SEAN MAY: It’s unfair to put a stamp on somebody’s career just because they didn’t win a national championship. You know, just like Eddie Sutton, he’s a great coach. Coach Williams is a great coach. He’s even said that winning the national championship will not put a stamp on his career. He told us a story about when Coach Smith won his first one. He said he went up to coach and said congratulations. Coach Smith said to him, “I don’t think I was a better coach four hours ago than I am now.”
Just because he gets a national championship isn’t going to, you know, put a definition on his career, a stamp or closing to his career. As long as he sees his players succeed, he sees them grow into men, grow in terms of on the court and off the court, that’s what his job is about, is seeing us develop as young men.
Q: You mentioned your knowledge of the history of college basketball, especially big men. Is there someone you like to pattern your game after? Your double-doubles, is it your size and strength that has allowed you to do that?
SEAN MAY: I think getting the double-doubles, it’s all about pride. For me to play this game, you have to be good at certain things. I try to be good at a lot of things. Coach Williams, you know, told me when I first -- when he first got here that I’m a jack of all trades but master of none. I needed to try to make my niche rebounding the basketball. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I pride myself going out and trying to get 10 rebounds a game.
In terms of who I try to pattern my game after, probable an Adrian Dantley, undersized power forward at played at Notre Dame. The old Charles Barkley back in the day when all he could do was shoot jump shots off the glass.
Q: Can you talk about Paul Davis, the way he’s brought his game up the last couple weeks, what challenge you have against him.
SEAN MAY: He’s playing well right now. That’s the hardest part, is playing somebody who has been criticized. He got criticized all year for not being intense and not playing the way that people thought he should.
Now he’s doing that. Now I have to face him. For me it will be an extremely hard challenge to be productive on the offensive end and try to make him not productive on the defensive end. You know, he’s good. He’s got range, can step out. He has so many skills. He can run the floor, can finish with both hands, tall, athletic. So for me it’s approach the game as I always do and just try to play to the best of my ability.
Q: Now that North Carolina is back in the Final Four for the first time in a couple years, how much pressure are you feeling to finish the job?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: There’s no pressure on us at all. We haven’t been here before. In the past, past teams have been here, we haven’t. We just need to go out there and play basketball, worry about ourselves, and then hopefully everything will take care of itself.
SEAN MAY: Yeah, I feel that there’s not any pressure. I think if we approach the game the way we have been, sharing the basketball, playing with each other, I think our talent and the coaches that we have and the way we work, everything will take care of itself.
Q: Jawad, how do you see this game? What do you think are the most important elements of it?
JAWAD WILLIAMS: Guys being willing to play defense. We need to sprint back both ways. We going to sprint to the offensive courts, but we need to be able to sprint on defense, get our match-ups. I think we have a lot of weapons, but so do they. It’s all going to come down to who plays the hardest and who plays the smartest out there.
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):Gentlemen, good luck.
Tom Izzo (13:37)
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):We’re joined by Coach Izzo.
TOM IZZO: It sure is great to be back here. Last time was in ‘99. It was a special weekend for us. I think not many weekends will be more special than this one with the group of players I’ve had. It’s been an interesting year, one that I think our players are very deserving of being here because of the road they took, and I think they’re very excited being here, and that’s all that really matters to me.
We know we’re playing not a good team but a great team. North Carolina is a very well-coached team. I had a chance to play Roy’s team a couple times at Kansas. There’s no question that he’s moulding this North Carolina group into a definite championship team and program. I’m going to hope to hold that one more year.
We’re excited to be here. We’re proud to be here. We’re glad to be here.
Q: Drew Neitzel, can you tell us what went into the decision to make him a starter back in February? Final Four is a pretty big stage for a freshman point guard. Do you have any qualms about him?
TOM IZZO: Sure (laughter).
You know, my decision to start him was more due to trying to help Chris Hill out, to be honest with you. Drew has deserved some things. He’s the truest of point guards that we have, no question about it. In all honesty, when I first changed the lineup, it was to try to take a little pressure off Chris and to try to get him to relax a little bit. He’s a great shooter that just wasn’t shooting well. Then things started going okay. We started playing better. It was because of our point.
I think our rotation was different. Bringing those two guys, Torbert and Hill off the bench to play with some other guys that maybe aren’t quite as experienced I think helped. It’s just worked out for us.
Q: The last few years in the Final Four, we’ve seen where it’s Juan Dixon or Okafor, how important is it to have a player like that? Do you have somebody that could accept a role like that this weekend?
TOM IZZO: Probably not. We’re probably the one team that’s not one-player-on-their-back type of team this year. I tell you what, we got a hell of a collection, and a collection that has given up, sacrificed a lot, done whatever it takes. Of all the teams I’ve had, there’s no question this team looks at it as a Michigan State Spartan basketball team. There’s guys that have given up a lot for this team - none more than Torbert. At times it bothers me we don’t have a -- Alan Anderson is emerging as one. On the other side of it, we’ve won a lot of games this year that way. Why change now?
We’re not going to beat North Carolina with one player or two players. We hope to do it with a committee of players.
Q: You talked the other day on the teleconference about savoring this one more than the other three. I wonder if that’s in part because you have a win in the Final Four or are you a different guy now than you were when you were grinding for those our three?
TOM IZZO: No, still grinding (smiling).
You know, I think a lot of people think -- it’s like when somebody dies, you say, “I know how you feel.” If you haven’t gone through it, you don’t really know how they feel. If something serious happens to somebody, I know what you’re going through, you don’t really know what they’re going through. A lot of people think they know what this team has gone through, but I do know what they’ve gone through.
I’ve had my moments being frustrated with some of it. But I shared my moments now, I’m proud and excited for them that they stayed the course, weathered the storms. Lo and behold, here we are in St. Louis playing for a national championship.
When I say I appreciate this one a little bit more, it’s really hard. You know, my first one that we went to was awesome. When we won it, of course, it was phenomenal. To return the next year and try to repeat is something special. But this one is not for the program, the coach. I mean, it’s not even for the university and the fans. This one is for the players. I can only tell you, they deserve to have that as front and center foremost.
Q: Can you assess the Davis-May match-up? Also talk about how difficult it’s been for you to pull Davis’ talent out of him throughout his career?
TOM IZZO: I think the Davis-May match-up is a key one. No doubt, I think Sean May is playing the best basketball he’s played since he’s been there. At the same time I think Paul Davis in a different way is playing some of his best basketball.
They both rebound the ball pretty well. What May has is incredible hands. What Davis has is more size. I think it is a critical match-up on who can run the court the best because we’re going to try to run them, they’re going to try to run us. He gets phenomenal position down there, if you let him get there early.
As far as getting things out of Paul, you know, it’s just taken some time. He’s a very young junior, could be a sophomore. It’s just taking some time. Yet it’s been an enjoyable ride to a certain extent when you see what happens at the end. Never when you’re going through it, but as you see him grow. I said the last month, month and a half, he’s been a different player, a better player, but more importantly, he’s brought a different demeanor to practice every day and to games. That’s makes it easier on me.
Q: What is this team doing better than it was a month ago?
TOM IZZO: Believe. You know, I think they believe they can win. I think they thought they could win. A month, month and a half ago I think they started believing they could play with anybody. I think we started, you know, we had the different meetings where you have to face up to reality. I think they faced up to who they are, what their strengths were, what their weaknesses were, deal with the weakness instead of hiding from them. I think that’s helped us a little bit. I think we’ve made some progress.
I mean, yeah, we’re running a little better, we’re defending a little better. Some guys are shooting it better. We definitely were rebounding better. But I think if I had to put the main reason, it would be because I think we believe in each other a little bit more and they believe in each other a little bit more.
Q: What you just said about this appearance here not being about the coach, the program, the president, the university, the world, about it being about the players, have you had a talk with them since they cut down the nets about this is their ride and about enjoying the journey?
TOM IZZO: Yeah, I really have. I’m thankful for one thing at Michigan State. I’ve had a lot of former players call back and tell them that, too. I think that’s the difference in our program that I really appreciate. I mean, I can tell them a lot of things. But I think when it comes from people that have been there, you know, I’ve been there as a coach, I’ve never been there as a player.
I have talked to them about, you know, trying to take a moment. I said it. In Austin, Texas, I did something I didn’t do with the other three teams when I went to the Final Four, I told them to take a moment on the floor to really think about and appreciate what they’ve been there. It was kind of fun, kind of enjoyable. I told that story to them, to hopefully make sure they capture some of these teams. Including at halfcourt just now, I told them to look around, enjoy the scenery, because the next time you’re here, it’s going to be a little more intense than it is now.
Q: You were mentioning the Sean-May match-up a moment ago. Rashad is a pretty good scorer and can play defense. What worries you most about him in that match-up?
TOM IZZO: What worries me most is all seven or eight guys they got in Roy. That’s what worries me most. It’s hard to pick an individual that worries me. You’re right, McCants, a year ago everybody is talking about him maybe leaving. Then Jawad Williams at the beginning of the year might have been the best player on the court. It’s like pick your poison, which way do you want to go, lethal injection or electric chair?
I don’t know. There’s a lot of different people in that team that can hurt you, but at the same time I think we got some people that could hurt them a little bit, and I do think we have some depth, and I do think we have some experience.
Q: As you go through, there’s plot lines in every Final Four. This year you have sentiment with Illinois, Coach Williams. You guys are a little bit of a spoiler. Do you mind that role at all or pay any attention to it?
TOM IZZO: You know, I felt like we’ve kind of had to apologize for being here sometime, and yet I still think that we arguably beat two of the best programs in college basketball and two of the best coaches in Duke and Kentucky. But I don’t look at myself as a spoiler. I think we’ve been here enough where we can come in. I do think we can play with anybody in the country. I’ve always believed that.
Yet there’s no question, I’m a huge Illinois fan because they’re a Big-10 team. I have had a great appreciation for Roy and all he’s done. He deserves to win a national championship. I’d like it to be when I’m sitting home watching and I can applaud it instead of going against him. That’s the only thing.
Q: Do you get the sense from your guys after what they did last weekend, beating those two teams, all the questions that were hanging over their heads, that there’s some sense of a weight that’s been lifted? Do you like where you’re at right now as far as being confident, yet not coming here with all the pressure?
TOM IZZO: Yeah, I mean, we’re still flying under the radar. I think there’s definitely some more pressure on other teams.
If the weight has been lifted off their shoulder, I’m going to jump back on it. I think we should feel comfortable, as you say, confident, not cocky. You know, we still think we have other things to push for. I’ve sensed in practices that they do, too. I don’t think there’s any feeling of, “Let’s take the world off our shoulders and sit back. Let’s enjoy the ride.” I haven’t seen any of that. It’s, “Hey, let’s try to do what some of our other guys have done, let’s try to go win a championship.”
Q: You’ve been involved in this business for such a long time. As an assistant you’ve seen lots of kids. Do you think as this tournament has gotten larger, the NCAA has done a good enough job in terms of funneling resources to players? Does that maybe have to be the next frontier?
TOM IZZO: You know, I’m not sure I ever believed in paying players. But I do get frustrated at this time of year when parents and families should be enjoying these incredible moments with these players and sometimes don’t get the opportunity to. I wish there was a way their families could get flown here. I wish there was a way we could pick up their hotel rooms. I wish some of those things could happen. I don’t understand all the dynamics of it. It is opening up Pandora’s box.
I think if we stick to what we say for the betterment of the student-athlete, I think we owe ourselves to look into how we can improve and bring it to an even playing field of the enjoyment of what they get to do. We talk about the journey, we talk about the experience, we talk about the memories. It’s hard to have memories of something if the most special people in your lives aren’t there. The most people special in your lives are usually your family, your parents, things like that.
I guess if I had to be honest, I’d like to see us be able to look into that more and more.
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):Thank you, Coach. Good luck.
TOM IZZO: Thank you.
Alan Anderson, Paul Davis & Chris Hill (10:06)
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):We’ll open it up to questions, please.
Q: Paul, did you and Sean May ever cross paths before college?
PAUL DAVIS: The only time we were together was at the McDonald’s game, I had a broken foot, I didn’t play. We got to know each other pretty well. Playing him is going to be one of those games where you got to play all 40 minutes every time you’re in there.
I’ve seen him get better and better each year over his career. Right now he’s playing as well as anyone in the country. It’s going to be a tough task. But I think if we try and keep him off the boards, keep him away from the basket, we’ll be all right.
Q: Coach Izzo was talking about he thinks this Final Four is for you guys because of what you’ve been through. Can you fill some of us in on what you have been through and what it means to be here?
CHRIS HILL: As a senior class, we came in right behind four Big-10 championships, three Final Four appearances in a row. The expectation level for the Michigan State basketball program was extremely high. You know, we had those same expectations for ourselves also. You know, we had a tough time, especially early on. Over the course of the years, we’ve come very close to winning Big-10 championships. We got to the Elite 8, but we were never really able to fulfill all the expectations and kind of pressures that everyone had put on.
We’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout the years. We finally reached the Final Four in our senior year.
Q: One of the thing that jumps out at coaches watching you play is, it seems that coach really demands a lot from the seniors to take ownership of the team out on the floor, be coaches on the floor. Can y’all talk about that whole process, how a bigger role that might have played in you getting this far?
ALAN ANDERSON: It’s a big role. Coach Izzo can’t be out on the court at a time when you got a turnover or something like that, and the team is breaking down. Guys, especially the veteran guys, pull each other in, tell them, “All right, calm down, it’s time you need to get a stop.” It just plays a big role. I think that’s what helped the Illinois team out, especially them, they got like a Dee Brown or something like that that helps them out.
But, I mean, that just helped us out a lot more with having guys, whether it was Chris or KT, myself, even Paul sometime, when things ain’t going right, we bring each other into the huddle and tighten things back up.
Q: Chris, Coach Izzo said he wanted this championship for you guys. I was curious if part of you wants to win one for him, it would establish him as one of the few coaches with more than one title.
CHRIS HILL: Yeah, no question. Getting this Final Four definitely puts him in elite company. You know, winning a national championship would put him with a very select few that have won more than one. We know how important that is to him. It would, it would mean as much to us to win one for us as it would for us to win one for him. I think he knows that.
Q: Your team’s success in the tournament coincides with Paul stepping his game up to a consistent level. Can you discuss what he gives you when he’s playing well and how much more difficult you are to beat with him at that level?
ALAN ANDERSON: Just Paul his-self, just been a lot more aggressive, you know, trying to get the ball. Then when he has the ball, just attacking the basket. When he does that, like I say, team have to double him, and it opens it up for our shooters. That makes like five threats on the court.
Then you take somebody who double teams him, you just open a wide open man. You have cutter. He’s a great passer. That just shows his versatility some more.
Q: I was wondering if you could talk about the time, I think it was on Selection Sunday, when Coach Izzo used a sledgehammer to smash a couple videotapes of the Penn State game and the Iowa game in front of you guys. What was the reaction of the team? What kind of message do you think he was sending with that?
CHRIS HILL: Uhm, I think that the overall -- I mean, I think people are making a pretty big deal out of the actual sledgehammer. I think, you know, the biggest thing was his point, you know, what happened in the past, we had a tough loss to Iowa in the tournament, you know, came up a couple games short in the Big-10 season. His point was there’s nothing we can do about those, and those are put behind us, kind of just signified that, you know, we had a fresh start. He put in another tape that showed all the good things that we did and what we had accomplished. We’re going to take that with us and move forward.
Q: Alan, you were talking about Paul bringing up his level of play. You also were asked about seniors taking ownership of the team. Did the seniors give him some encouragement that might have helped out along that line?
ALAN ANDERSON: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, whatever it is, I mean, like we see him fading or something like that, we just try to tell him, he’s a listener. He take it in and try not to do it the next time. That goes back and forth. I mean, if he sees us doing something, he’ll tell us. We did a better job, just listening to each other.
Q: Coach Izzo talked about sort of the three giants here, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina. What would it mean to you guys personally, what do you think it might mean to the Michigan State program if you’re able to pull off that hat trick that no one has ever done?
PAUL DAVIS: Yeah, well, the Duke game was obviously something special. After that game, we felt we were on Cloud 9, then we were right back to work. After the Kentucky game, you know, it was one of those unbelievable feelings you can’t describe. You know, we knew we had a week to get ready for North Carolina.
Tomorrow, it’s here already. We got to take advantage of it. If we do get all three games done and get to that national championship game with everything we’ve been through together, it’s going to last a lifetime.
Q: This will not affect you, Chris, since you’re a senior. Some of the coaches are talking about wanting the three-point line moved back in college basketball. Considering what that shot seems to mean every year in March Madness with all the upsets, do you think it’s good for the game, bad for the game, or if it’s nine inches it’s not going to make that much of a difference?
CHRIS HILL: Uhm, it’s tough to say. You know, I think, you know, obviously the three-point line has great significance, especially during tournament play, you know, because that’s one of the key recipes for an upset.
But I honestly don’t think it would have too much of an effect. Although, I mean, an inch here or there can decide the difference in a game, as we found out against Kentucky. But I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I personally would say keep it where it is, but that’s not my choice.
Q: Alan, it looks like you’re going to be going up against Jawad and Marvin Williams a lot tomorrow. What problems is that going to present to you? Vice versa, what problems will that present to them?
ALAN ANDERSON: For me, it’s just, you know, another bigger person that I face down in the low post. But, like I said, they like to be on the perimeter also. That could play to my advantage.
But for them guarding me, they have to move their feet, you know, more than what they’re probably used to in their conference play. But, like I said, Marvin Williams in particular, he’s very good with the ball, I mean, especially for his size. I mean, he’s probably used to having smaller guys guarding him.
It will be different.
Q: There’s been a lot of focus on the seniors, but will you comment on the play of the underclassmen, particularly Maurice and Shannon, what that means to your prospects?
ALAN ANDERSON: They’re a big key to our success. Not just offensively, but, you know, defensively. When they get steals, that leads to dunks and that brings intensity up. I mean that gets our rhythm and our confidence, you know, a booster. I mean, y’all see it. It’s incredible.
I mean, I’ll put them against any other wings in the country, no doubt. They just do a lot for us.
JOHN GERDES (NCAA):Thanks a lot, gentlemen. Good luck.