March 18, 2009

 

TEXAS QUOTES

AMY YAKOLA:  We're joined by Texas student athletes:  A.J. Abrams, Damion James, and Dexter Pittman.  Let's start with questions.

 Q.  Has it been your experience that in tournament play you have a little bit more freedom because you're finally seeing some teams who don't know every sign for a play and what you're going to do at every moment?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Yeah, I think that helps quite a bit, actually.  You know, going through conference play you pick up on every detail that every team runs.  So we're playing somebody new that hasn't really watched us.  I think we can execute some plays that are more difficult to execute during the conference season.

 Q.  You had a chance to watch the film of the Gophers.  Can you talk about what you've seen so far?  Also, Lawrence Westbrook, their top scorer, what you think of him?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  I think they're a great defensive team, and they've got a great coach.  They're tough on going to the glass and rebounding.  And we're also like that, too, because we're in the Big 12, and I mean, that's what we live off of.  So it's kind of identical.
 DAMION JAMES:  You know, we know Coach is a great coach.  Coach Smith.  And he's really going to make them guys come out and play hard, like Dexter said, play great defense.  And they really crash the glass, and they really like to get the ball in transition, and like to get at a run and get easy baskets.  So we're going to have to come out and match their intensity.
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Pretty much like these two guys said.  We're going to have our hands full because they're coming to the glass hard.  We've got to make sure we're blocking out because they're going to make the second effort.
 We've been talking about it from watching film.  That's going to be a big part of the game just making sure we run down the long rebounds and we're blocking out.

 Q.  I heard you were working out late last night.  Is that still a regular routine?  How often do you do it and for how long?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  I mean, it wasn't really like a workout.  It was just to get open, get my body open because of the long flight.  I have to readjust my hips and back.  I mean, I do it before every game.  And every road trip.  Or if we're at home, I do it in our weight room.  So it's something me and Coach started to do all the time.

 Q.  Did you have a chance to look at Lawrence Westbrook at all, their top scorer?  A.J., I think you'll be matched up with him, probably.  And your thoughts on him and his game?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Yeah, just watching him on film.  He's a very aggressive player.  He looks to attack the basket pretty hard.  So, you know, we're going to have to play a good help defense, and just be a solid defensive game overall for everybody.
 You know, they have a lot of sets that we need to guard.  But him as an individual, he can break out and go one on one.  So if I'm matched up with him, I'm going to have to try to stay in front.

 Q.  With Dexter coming on as an offensive factor late in the season, it obviously helps you a little bit.  Do you think it helps maybe Damion more and maybe he benefits as much?  Because you're obviously going to get a ton of attention, still?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I think with Dexter coming on the way they did in the past tournament, in the Big 12 Tournament, I think it's going to help not just me and Damion, it's going to help the whole team.  We can play off him.  He's going to get his inside looks.  And by doing that, he's going to open the floor for everybody.
 So if he can continue to play hard, and finish the run on the basket, It's going to benefit us.

 Q.  Minnesota plays up to 11 guys a game.  Do any of them stand out to you?  Did any of them catch your eye when you're watching film?
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  I mean, all of them to me could play.  They wouldn't be on the team if they couldn't.  So it really doesn't matter.  It's just all about us going out there and playing hard, and throwing our bodies at them.  I mean, it's just like a war, you've got to go out there.  That's the main thing.
 DAMION JAMES:  I think Damian Johnson, he's a pretty good player.  You know, from just watching him on film.  He likes to draw the ball, drive bigger guys.  If you've got a smaller guy on him, he likes to post up.  I think he's a pretty good player.
 We've just got to come, like Dexter said, it's about us right now.  We've got to come out and secure that game plan and play hard and match their intensity and just see what happens.
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I think their depth is key for them.  I think they pretty much used it all year.  So playing 11 guys, they're going to be fresh.  Like they said, we have to focus on our game plan, and you know, just worry about us.
 For the most part, I think they're going to use everybody, and we have to know the scouting report and who to play.  That will be a key factor for us.

 Q.  For all three of you guys, would you just talk about what you're pleased about with this team and frustrated about?  What has frustrated you during the year, and if you're confident you can make a nice run through this thing?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  We've had our ups and downs this year.  But we've had to play a lot of different styles.  We've had to play through our big men, play through our guards.  Had to switch up styles of play.  Doing that is going to benefit us for this tournament.  Seeing all those different types of defenses, it makes you better, even though you might struggle in the beginning.
 But I think we're a really confident bunch.  We know what to expect from the tournament.  We pretty much have a lot of experience.  So it's going to come down to executing our game plan and staying focused.
 DAMION JAMES:  I'm just really happy that we just continue to play through the struggles.  You know, we get frustrated because we can be one of the best teams and we're struggling at the beginning.  It made me realize that it's not us because we can beat all the good teams, the Villanova teams and we can beat them teams.  And we came out in a new season, and we're really looking forward to starting and getting it on the road again tomorrow.
 DEXTER PITTMAN:  I think that we got better as the year went on.  And I think we're better than we were at the beginning of the year and the middle of the year, too.  The thing about our team is we don't let anybody play harder than us.  I mean, that's what we thrive on.  I mean, we know when we go out there between the lines we're going to give it our all and not let anybody play harder than us.  If that means six guys playing against 11 guys.  So, yeah.

 Q.  You're playing a young Gophers team, two guys that haven't been to the tournament in four years.  Can you talk about what factor you think experience will play in tomorrow's game?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Experience goes a long way.  You really can't teach that.  I think that what we have going for us, we're bringing back a lot of guys that have a lot of tournament experience.  I don't think we're that wow factor, we don't have that.  We're just taking it as one game.  We have Minnesota ahead of us, and that's what we're focused on.

 Q.  I heard mainly coaches say that you got really hot early in the season before people game planned November and early December.  Did you find people weren't game planning for you specifically as much when you were playing some of those teams like UCLA and Villanova when you were getting some shots?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  I mean if they didn't, you know, I guess you saw that it benefited me and it helped us get wins.  But I think the more the season goes on, people are going to make adjustments, and you're going to watch more and more film.  So they looked at what we were doing and trying to take away our strengths, so we had to counter that.

 Q.  You guys have played so many people this year, it seems like a lot of teams shorten their bench during the postseason.  Do you think that's something that would help you guys?  To play fewer guys or do you like the depth you have?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  No, I definitely like the depth we have.  Especially inside.  I think we can wear people down.  Our guard play is good, but if we can continue to use all the players that we have, that can take a toll on our other team.

 Q.  How important is pace in this game tomorrow?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  How important is what?

 Q.  Is pace and dictating pace?  And would you like to get running so you can score up higher than Minnesota's used to?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Our game plan, we've got to like always get out and run.  We want to get as many easy buckets as we can.  And playing against the set defense is really hard to get points off.  So any chance that we're good, we're going to try to push the tempo and get the game playing in our hands.

 Q.  Rick was saying the other day that as he has gained experience as a NCAA an NCAA Tournament coach, he's backed off in his career, not making it like it's the end of the world.  Have you seen his approach change at all during your time with him, and he just preparing you and saying, hey, guys, go play?
 A.J. ABRAMS:  Yeah, definitely.  At this time of the year, he lets us play.  I mean, we're still practicing hard, but they're not as long.  I think he does a good job with that because it keeps us fresh.  But I can see the change as far as from the beginning of the season to the end.  Because like I said, the practices aren't as long, and it's more of a mental game right now, if anything.  So I think he knows that, and he's instilling in us as far as watching film and making us watch the details of the game, and letting them go out and play.
 AMY YAKOLA:  Thank you.
  .
 Joined by Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes.
 COACH BARNES:  It's good to be home today.  It's been a long time since I've been here at the coliseum.  But as far as the game goes, I've known Tubby Smith for a long time.  We were actually talking today about the first time I ever saw him.  He was a senior at High Point College, and came into Lenoir Rhyne College, and held the ball for 18 minutes as a player, and the score at halftime was 5 2.
 But I've known Tubby for 30 of something years now while he was an assistant at BCU and I was at George Mason.  And we spent a lot of time, and a lot of the same gyms over the years.  I'm not sure there's a more respected and more humbled person than Tubby.
 When you look at his teams, hard nosed.  Defensively rebounds the ball.  They're not going to give you much.  But from our point of view, we're excited to be back in the tournament and hope that we can play well.

 Q.  Can you talk about growing up in North Carolina, and basketball, who you followed early on, and how you followed them?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, what I can most remember, I think it will be back in the early 60's, watching the ACC basketball.  You know, seeing and the pilot and all that.  But what I remember most back then, it seemed like North Carolina was always on TV.  And Duke, during the days with Bob Cremins and those guys, and I remember the Larry Brown years.  Then became a fan of South Carolina, believe it or not, when they got good.  I just kind of followed the whole league.
 I can remember when Terry Holland went to Virginia after he left Dave, and went to Maryland.  Also, remember coming near 1977 into this building.  At the time I was trying to get into coaching, but I did want to be a high school coach, and a PE teacher and couldn't get a job.  I was working at UPS in the mornings and substitute teaching after that.
 A friend of mine, Paul Avid, invited my wife, Candy, and I down to the ACC tournament.  And I remember leaving that day saying to her that's something I'd really like to do.  We started writing letters, and I was fortunate that actually I went up to Boone, North Carolina.  A friend of mine, Andy Anderson, got me an interview with Bobby Cremins.  And Bobby was coaching up there.  And he had an assistant, Kevin Kentwell who y'all will remember.  And I said how do I get into this?
 And they said you'll probably have to volunteer because you don't have a lot of contacts.  And Bobby said to me, you can come up here, but I don't know if anybody will see you up here on the mountain.  And a couple of weeks later, Eddie got the job at Davidson, and the same guy that brought me to the tournament got me an interview with him, and I got lucky that Eddie let me come and be his volunteer coach.
 But unless you've grown up in this state, I don't know if you understand how big it is.  I've told all the coaches just what it's like, what the ACC tournament was like here.  Not only as a kid, but also then having a chance to coach in it.    Greensboro is a special place.  There are certain things that should always be left alone, and I always felt like the ACC tournament should always be in Greensboro.  I always felt like that because of the way the city adopted it and made it such one of the great events.  I can remember every session was always sold out, and that's the way it should be.

 Q.  Can you talk about the lineup you're going to use tomorrow or probably use?  Also, is it difficult to game plan for a Minnesota team that uses so many guys, but you never know from one night to the next who is going to step up for them?
 COACH BARNES:  We're kind of the same way.  In some ways our teams mirror each other.  I remember this year we were playing a game, and afterwards we    we were    I mean, to be honest with you, I wasn't sure what we had done even after the game was over with.  And I didn't feel like we had had done the things we talk about.
 But we had 11 different lineups on the floor during a 40 minute game, that's hard.  So I understand a little bit about it.  But I think because of what we went through, and I think Minnesota's done the same thing where they've evolved to where they are today that they can play a lot of different people, a lot of different ways and do some different things.
 But again, we're at a point now where we think that we can play different ways.  Because we play teams that refuse to guard us.  We play teams that basically played box and one on A.J. Abrams.  And teams that have put two guys in the lane and dared guys to shoot it.  We play teams that get out and pressure us.  So I don't know anything else that can be thrown at us that we can't handle, hopefully.
 In this game, in particular, I think It's going to get down to rebounding the ball.  They do a tremendous job of doing that, getting second and third opportunities.  But, again, I look at their team and think it's very similar to where we are.

 Q.  What do you suppose it was within the two of you that made you and Tubby become friends?  And has enabled your relationship to flourish over the years?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, one thing about Tubby I can tell you is he's never taken himself too serious.  He's always been a really hard worker.  You know, when I was at George Mason and he was at VCU we were the new kid on the block.  Mason had just gone to Division I a year before.  I was the first full time assistant coach ever hired at George Mason.  And Joe Harrington was the first full time head coach.
 Tubby, and J.D. Barnett had it going pretty good at VCU, and VCU and Old Dominion and James Madison were the big guys on the block.  And Oliver Purnell was actually the assistant coach at Old Dominion.  We seemed to be always around each other.  All three of us.
 And I say the same thing about Auburn.  Those guys never made me feel like I didn't belong.  And believe me, George Mason hadn't done anything up to that point.  We were really trying to build that program.  But the thing about Tubby, he's never met a stranger.  He's a great story teller.
 We've always kidded and picked at each other.  A couple years ago we were in Kuwait together.  There's not a better    Tubby's one of those guys when he tells the joke, it's hard for him to get the punch line out because he's already laughing at his own joke before he gets it out.
 But we were on the trip with the Nike Coaches Association, and we were riding rapids.  And the boat that he was in was Coach Smith and some other people.  At the very end he asked the guy to get up on the front of the boat, the raft and hold on.  They called it riding the bull.
 So I saw Tubby do it.  So when he did it, I did it right behind him.  And I don't know what possessed me to do it.  But when I got through and Tubby was still sitting on that boat, I took a running start and grabbed him and tackled him, and we went in the water together.  Funny thing was when I came out of the water, the first person I saw sitting right here was Dean Smith.  And he said, Rick, that could have been dangerous.  And it could have been, because I had actually hit a rock when I dove in.
 But two nights later, we're out there having another thing with the event, and I'm casting the fly fishing and I'm dressed for dinner.  And out of nowhere, Tubby comes and tackles me into the water.  And so here I have to sit at dinner    and he was wet, too.  But that's the thing.  He's never taken himself too serious.  He's always fun.
 I don't know that there's a more well respected, well liked person than Tubby.

 Q.  You mentioned different ways people guard your team this year.  Some of your guys have not shot the ball as well as they have in the past.  Have you figured that out at all.  Does it have that much to do with D.J. not setting them up?
 COACH BARNES:  We're going to shoot it well tomorrow.  We've weighed in.  Yeah, you can't take that factor away.  I was asked about D.J. today.  And obviously, D.J. was the guy when things weren't working, he could make something out of nothing.   But the fact is, I yeah, D.J. made people around him better, that's why he is where he is today.  But we knew coming in we were going to have to work some things out with this team.
 Overall, at times with people backing off certain players and players having to learn to handle that individually, and we had to learn it as a team.  It can be frustrating.  I think we've seen that because as you he said, we've seen guys this year have a tough time shooting the ball, and a year ago they shot it well.
 As a coaching staff and as a team, every game you're hoping maybe this is the time we're going to do it.  And that's what we're hoping for right now.

 Q.  You mentioned about how you've learned not to overprepare for NCAA Tournament games over your career.  Do you feel the guys have bought into that and feel the same way in terms of not getting too high?
 COACH BARNES:  Yeah, I think they do.  They understand.  They know what's here.  Everyone knows what this time of year is about.  So we, again, they've worked hard to get her.  They've gotten to enjoy it.  But winning makes you enjoy it more.  But still they've got to go out and they've got to play.
 So we just try to keep them focused on what they have to do without overselling it, and hope that we can go out and execute.

 Q.  Can you talk a little about Lawrence Westbrook, sort of what he adds to this Minnesota team?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, he's explosive, and he does a great job, I think, in transition he gets out on the open floor.  He's a guy that will pull up and shoot it in transition.  He does a great job getting the ball to the basket.  I think he's very important to him.
 And a person that we obviously have to game plan for and know that we're going to have to get him under control as much as we can in transition.  And on the other end, you can't give them much separation.  You've got to certainly hope that you can have the ability to stay in front of him.  Because he does a great job in creating things.

 Q.  On the one hand, you're a native of this area.  On the other hand, you're a competitive guy who coached at Clemson against two Giants who have teams here.  How do you think you'll be treated by the Carolina and Duke fans?  Or fans in general?
 COACH BARNES:  Oh, they love me.  Both of those fans love me.  You know, I actually    obviously, I have great respect for ACC basketball.  Certainly unbelievable respect for Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.  And I actually interviewed for a job with Mike, I want to say 19    I think it was at the end of Tommy am acer's freshman year, whatever year that would be.  And Mike treated me tremendously.  He always has.
 But you look at those two guys and what they've done, not only from ACC basketball, but for basketball in general.  And it is competitive.  There is no doubt about that.  Everybody wants to beat each other.
 You know, part of it are the fans.  Because the fans have such great passion and great love for their programs.  But regardless of who wins the game, I would imagine if we win the game that Carolina's going to pull for Texas.  Because I think they dislike Duke more than they dislike me.  And if Tubby Smith wins the game, I think they're going to be a lot of Carolina fans that are going to pull for Minnesota, if Duke does their job and gets there.
 So fans are loyal.  I can't imagine them sitting there and being quiet.  But who knows.

 Q.  Can you talk a little about you and Dean?  Is this the first time you've been back since that quarterfinal?  And if so, how did you guys work through that?  Are you a different coach emotionally, intensity wise, today than you were back then?
 COACH BARNES:  Yeah, if I could go back and change that, I definitely would.  But I remember sitting right here in this same spot discussing that after that game period.  I said it then, and I really believe it's just two teams being very competitive.  Really going at it.
 When you're in the heat of battles, some things happen.  But the thing that I most regret about it is I would not want anybody to ever think I disrespect Dean Smith.  Because, again, I grew up in this state.  You ask about ACC basketball.  That was the first team I can ever remember pulling for.  So, again, I hate that it happened.
 I mean, again, I'm not sure how it all happened, to be honest with you looking back.  I think it was a spontaneous type reaction that I have.  But I'd like to think that I've matured a little bit more, yeah.  I would.  Would I do it different today?  I think probably, I would.  But, again, the whole thing could be done over, I would probably like to do it over in a different way.

 Q.  Do you recall you two getting together the first time after that?  I mean, I assume you feel things if you're rafting together?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, I'm going to tell you a great thing.  We ended up having to come to Greensboro and having a little conversation with Gene Corrigan began that cost us both a little bit of money.  But the day that he quit I'll never forget, my daughter was in the fourth grade.
 When I actually told candy, I said Coach Smith is quitting.  And my daughter said, he can't.  I looked at her and said what do you mean?  She said he can't quit.  Why is he quitting?  And I said I don't know.  My wife said why don't you write him a letter and ask him.  And she wrote him a letter, and about a week later she got a great letter back from him.
 And he was kind enough to say some nice things about me.  That's a true story.  He wrote her right back and told her that it was just his time and time for him to move on on.  But said your dad's got a great future left in this game.
 But I thought it was nice of him to do that.  But, again, I just wish the whole thing would have never happened the way it happened.  But to answer, I think I answered your question.  We definitely had to get some things worked out, and I think we got it worked out.

 Q.  Do you have to game plan for any individuals on the Minnesota roster?  Is there anybody who worries you offensively?
 COACH BARNES:  When we do game plans, most of it is towards personnel.  We feel like at this time of the year we've seen most action that we're going to see for the most part.  So it really does get down to personnel.  We'll obviously put an emphasis on their key guys.
 But, again, that's a big part of what we do is personnel.

 Q.  Anybody in particular?
 COACH BARNES:  Westbrook is a guy that's very important.  They're big guys inside.  You've got to be aware of the fact that they get their hands on a lot of balls and keep a lot of balls alive.  They do a great job of coming to the glass.  So, again, we game plan for all of them coming for the rebound.  They do as good a job as anybody we've seen.  We haven't been very good in the last two games in terms of keeping people off the glass.  But Westbrook's a guy that you've got to give him some attention, obviously.

 Q.  Covering Binghamton, a team with a lot of newcomers to this stage, I was wondering if you could reflect back on your first trip to the tournament, and the number one challenge you faced or number one thing you were struck with leading the team on to this stage in this tournament?
 COACH BARNES:  Yeah, the first time it happened, there's no doubt I did a poor job looking back where I got our guys so excited about it.  And acting as if it were    I'm not sure we did it the right way in terms of changing everything that we've kind of done.  Trying to keep everybody away.
 So, yeah, at that point in time there was no doubt that I was still overworking teams.  I don't think we came into the tournament as fresh as we needed to be mentally and physically, because I felt like we had to work, work, work.  So, we kind of came in where we were grinding a little bit too much.  I think that over the years we've learned or I've learned to taper it back, and hope that this time of the year guys are really excited about playing and looking forward to competing every time.

 Q.  You've been going with the young point guard as well.  It's Balbay.  Can you talk about what impact he's had on the team, and in the last 11 games that he's played?  And whether or not you might use Gary Johnson against this Minnesota team in your starting rotation?
 COACH BARNES:  Yeah, well, does is the only player I've been around in my life that doesn't want to shoot the basketball.  I would assume, you know, one day he said to me Coach, my job has always been to set up other players.  I said it's hard to set up a guy when your guy's guarding him, too.  So you need to make people guard you.
 He's a terrific player.  Very fast, and he can shoot the ball, believe it or not.  He just doesn't want to.  But he can really defend.  Very athletic.  Makes some terrific plays for you.  Offensively he can do some things.  He sees the floor well.  If he'd just shoot the ball a little bit more, people would respect him a little bit more that way, he'll be that much better, which I know that is something he'll continue to work on.  You asked me about Gary Johnson?

 Q.  Yeah, in the starting rotation.
 COACH BARNES:  We're not going to change our starting lineup.  We're going to play the way we play.  We've never been big on who starts in a way.  If we had to sub ten seconds into the game we'd do that if we thought that was necessary.  Again, Gary Johnson's important.  I look all the way down our bench, we're going to need help from everybody.

 Q.  A follow up on what you were talking about the changes you've made coaching in the tournament over the years.  Actually, a two part question.  What difference can a coach make?  And a separate question, is there somebody here not on Minnesota or your team that you're excited to watch play?
 COACH BARNES:  Well, yeah, I think coaches can obviously make a difference.  They need to make a difference at times.  But sometimes your players, I've said before, I've never coached a guy that changed me more than T.J. Ford.  He taught me a lot in terms of making me understand.  He used to say to me if you'll let me, I'll make you look good.  And I said, well make me look good.
 So I think at times when you're younger, you want to be the guy that thinks you can control everything.  And trust your players, let them play, if you've done your job you've got to believe so.  T.J. has always had a fact that he wanted to be fun, and when the lights came on, he was a guy that believed me.  He was better at 7:00 o'clock than he was at 2:00 o'clock.  When the lights came on, he thrived.  So I think as a coach, I've learned to let players probably a little bit more tolerant.  So, we've tried to do that.  What was the second part of your question?

 Q.  Is there anybody not Minnesota or Texas, somebody not in your game that you're excited to see play here?
 COACH BARNES:  Here?  I'll be honest with you I'm the worst in the business with keeping up with college basketball throughout the year.  When I went to the meeting today I had to look down to see who all was here because I've yet to look at a bracket to know who all is here.
 But you look at the teams that are here.  You've got to be excited for teams like Radford and Binghamton, and teem teams that are here to play.  We obviously get to see Duke and North Carolina throughout.  How can you not impressed with the job that's happened at Butler.  It just keeps going.
 If you're in this tournament, believe me, you have no idea how hard it is to get in this tournament.  It's not something you ever take for granted.  Getting here, obviously we want to be here every year, but we expect more than to be here.  It would be a major disappointment not being here.  But it's obviously a major disappointment if we don't do well.
 It's going to be a great tournament.  I look at some of the seeds.  I was talking the other day.  I was doing my last radio show.  You think about Washington this year, they have an incredible year where they win the Pac 10, and I think they end up with a 3 seed or something.  They had to open up with Mississippi State.  That tells how hard this thing is.  Win the Pac 10 and that's your first round opponent.  And it's hard.  It really is.
 But the fact of the matter is when you get here, it's something you should be proud of.  We're all here now.  We get greedy.  We want more. 

MINNESOTA QUOTES

AMY YAKOLA:  We're joined by the Minnesota student athletes:  Jamal Abu Shamala.  Damian Johnson, and Lawrence Westbrook.  Questions, please.

 Q.  Can you just talk about the overall experience of the first NCAA Tournament for you guys?  And just what it's been like leading up to this point?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  The experience has been kind of crazy, because I have a lot of family here and they're excited for me to play.  And this is something that I've dreamed of since I was a little kid and wanted to play in the tournament.  See all the teams that you see on TV.  Just play under the big lights.  So I think it's really exciting.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  Yeah, it's definitely a great experience right now.  I mean, our whole team, it's our first time being here.  The guys are very excited.  I mean, everyone dreamed of being here.  Coach Smith has been really laid back right now, so I think everything's going well right now.
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  Yeah, just to go off what they were saying, it's just everyone's first time.  It's really exciting to just see what the atmosphere's like.  We're all really excited.  And you know, it's kind of cool to be in the middle of the basketball, like the heartland.  So to be here in North Carolina.

 Q.  You were over at Tubby Smith's alma mater today practicing.  Can you give us a sense what it was like to be at High Point, and tonight, how is it different than any other night before a game?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  I think the first difference is that we came here on a Tuesday, so we have two days before the game.  But I liked going to High Point.  It was a really nice university.  We got to go over some things that we didn't get to cover in Minneapolis, along with that we got extra shooting.  So it was cool to see where coach played, and we met one of his former coaches.  So I'm just taking everything in and enjoying it.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  I mean, I think High Point was a really nice campus.  They've got a lot of new buildings, and we got a chance to ride around a little bit and see a couple of things.
 I think tonight, it may be a little different because a lot of guys may be a little nervous.  I mean, this is the big dance.  Our whole team's experiencing something new.  I think guys focus will be a little different compared to other games like we had during the big 10 schedule.
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  Yeah, it was kind of cool when we got there.  They had a nice little set up and reception for us.  Had a Welcome Home, Tubby signs all over.  And they had music playing.  So it was kind of fun to see that.  But then we had to get down to business and started preparing for Texas.  You know, like they said, it was a very nice university, and they were very welcoming.

 Q.  I know when Coach Smith decided to come to Minnesota a couple years ago it caught a lot of the nation by surprise.  I was wondering what your immediate reaction was when you found out Coach Smith was coming?  And what specific things did he do to change the atmosphere around Minnesota and create a winning culture?
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  When we first found out, we were all kind of shocked.  We were like one of the legends in the coaching business.  He's really, he's won a National Championship that everyone tries to reach.  You know, to have him come, the first thing that he changed was the mindset and attitude of the team.  Really he wanted us to have a championship attitude, and just have faith and believe in each other that we can achieve big goals.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  When I first found out I was in my room just getting out of class.  And I walked in and put it on Sportscenter, and first thing I saw Tubby Smith to Minnesota.  I was just in awe.  You know what I mean?  I called everyone and started saying we got a new coach.
 And I was going kind of crazy, because at the time he was coming off a 9 22 season, worst season in school history.  And Coach Smith came in and just wanted to implement a winning mindset.  And I think a lot of guys caught on to it really quick.  We won 11 more games last year.  We're in the NCAA this year.  And I think things are just going to get better from now on out.

 Q.  Just what he's done to change the culture?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  I was there.  We were just really excited.  Like what Damian said.  It was kind of a shock that we got such a big named coach.  And like they said, he changed the mindset, gave us a lot of confidence and brought a lot of notoriety to the program, which is good.

 Q.  Tubby said on Sunday that he was going to try to minimize the distractions of the NCAA Tournament.  What has he done between now and then just to kind of make things as normal as possible and try to minimize those distractions of what goes on here?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  Like Damian said, he's been really relaxed.  Yesterday we saw a movie as a team, which is something we don't usually get to do.  He's been really laid back.  We have a lot of time to rest, and everything's just been really chill.  So I think he just wants us to be as comfortable as possible playing in the biggest game of our lives.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  Yeah, exactly what Westbrook said.  I think he's trying to keep guys to remember that it's a business.  It's all business, and he wants us to focus.  But at the same time he doesn't want us to be too tense and too overanxious.  I think he's just doing different things like having us go to the team movie, and visiting High Point, checking out the campus.  That's something we probably would have never done any other time.  So I think that was pretty big.
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  Yeah, it's been pretty similar to a lot of our road trips with the preparation.  But he's really, like they've said, he's tried to stay really positive and keep everyone on the same page.  Just trying to enjoy the experience as much as we can.

 Q.  Can you talk about coach's demeanor specifically?  Just how it's changed maybe this year, making the tournament and coming back to the NCAA Tournament?  I know you guys are used to seeing him here with Kentucky.  But how has he been acting ever since you guys arrived here?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  Coach Smith has always been a demanding coach.  You know, but that's good because he expects a lot out on of you.  I think that if your coach expects a lot out of you, you can reach your full potential.  So he's just done the same thing to us this year.  He expects a lot out of us, and we don't want to let him down.  So we try to continue to work hard to improve every day so we can, you know, be as good as we can be.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  The last couple of practices he's been more focused on improving on our areas that we've been struggling in, like rebounding and turnovers.  He's having us do a lot of drills and stuff to help take care of the ball.  I think that's going to be huge in the game in the NCAA.  Because every possession counts as your last possession.  So I think our team not turning the ball over is going to be huge.
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  Ever since we got here he's been really positive.  Really encouraging.  It seems like really just trying to emphasize to enjoy the experience.  Because no one    I think Jonathan Williams is the only guy on the team that's been to the NCAA Tournament.  He just wants everyone to enjoy it, and keep positive spirits going into, like they said, the biggest game of our career.

 Q.  Would you talk about what you've seen on tape of Texas' Dexter Pittman?  And I understand you've got a guy on your team that approaches him in size and how working against him may benefit y'all tomorrow night?
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  We have three big guys inside that I feel can do    they're all really good defenders.  I think two, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson are up there in blocks in the big 10, same with Damian.  But we know Texas is a very good team inside.  They have some big guys inside that can really hurt the other team.  Then they have some good shooters on the outside.
 So just we've been trying to simulate that in practice as much as possible with Jon Williams inside.  You know, being a similar size to Dexter Pittman.  So to kind of have that gives us a good feel of what we need to do to stop him.

 Q.  What confidence do you think Hoffarber and Nolen have at this point in the season?  Do you sense they've had the kind of seasons they've want to have?
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  Blake and who?

 Q.  Nolen and Hoffarber.
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  I think they're confident.  They're the visual players.  And you know, it's a team game.  So they're part of the team.  It's our job to help out our teammates, and maybe not shooting like they normally would.  They're fine.  I know Blake and Al are excited for this chance.  And I think they're going to do really well when we play tomorrow.

 Q.  What is the most important thing Coach Smith has brought to instill a winning culture in Minnesota?
 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA:  You know, the first time we met with him, he said you've got to walk, you've got to act, you've got to have confidence in your ability and act like a champion.  I think that's something that everyone took.  I mean, having a coach that's won a National Championship, you know, he's just brought confidence just by that.
 So we all really believe in his coaching and what he can do and achieve for us.  We all just took that and kind of kept building confidence off on of that.
 DAMIAN JOHNSON:  I think he also brought a defensive mindset.  I mean, very intense on defense.  We have a great full court pressing team.  And I think he brought that in, and he instilled it.  And I think everyone bought into it from day one.  And that's been big the last two years.
 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK:  I think that Coach has brought and instilled a lot of toughness, because people don't look at basketball and say it's a physical sport, but it actually is.  And I think sometimes he wants to put on the uniform and jump out there.  I've seen him like play one on one and stuff with guys.  He throws elbows and he acts crazy sometimes.  So I think just the toughness that he brings to the team.  We've got to match Coach Smith's intensity and we'll be all right.
 
AMY YAKOLA:  We're joined by Minnesota Head Coach, Tubby Smith.  Opening comments from Coach.
 COACH SMITH:  Thank you.  We're first we're excited to be participating in the NCAA championships.  It's good to be here in the Greensboro area where we have spent time in the past.  Having gone to school at High Point University, a lot of friends and people we know in this area.  But this is, again, a wonderful opportunity for our team.  I'm really happy for our players and the University of Minnesota to get this chance to participate.

 Q.  If you could endure one more Rick Barnes question?
 COACH SMITH:  Please, do I have to (laughing)?

 Q.  What do you suppose it was in Rick and maybe in yourself that first attracted you two to each other, and has enabled that friendship to grow throughout the years?
 COACH SMITH:  I don't know.  Me and Rick and I go way back.  You're right, we're good friends.  I know there is nothing that I wouldn't do for Rick.  I know there is nothing that Rick wouldn't do for me.  That's why we've done absolutely nothing for each other ever since we've known each other (smiling).
 I think it's similar backgrounds.  When I say that, upbringing, common folks, where we're from.  I'm from Southern Maryland, big family.  I know he's from the Carolinas here, and not from major metropolitan.  Both went to schools of similar size and philosophy.  He went to Lenoir Rhyne, I went to High Point.  I think those are things we have a lot in common along those lines.
 And probably learning the game of basketball from some outstanding coaches.  Saw Coach Hodges here earlier who he played with at Lenoir Rhyne.  Jerry Steele, and J.D. Barnett, and Bob Vaughn, I ran off three coaches.  He was able to keep one.  Actually two, I guess.
 Those are the things that we have in common.  We talk about our roots and our basketball background and philosophies.

 Q.  How did your meeting or your visit with Jerry Steele go today?  Could you just sort of summarize your relationship with him?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, Coach Steele is from this area.  He built an outstanding program at Guilford.  His reputation as a player when he was at wake forest and playing for Bones McKinney, some of those things.  And that's the good thing about having played for a guy like Coach Steele for one year, at least.  I wish I'd played for him longer, because he's a very charismatic and funny guy.
 But our visit today went well.  He's gone through some health issues, but he's doing better.  He was at our practice today at High Point.  You know, it lasted 31, 32 years and been in this business a long time.
 It was good to see him moving around.  The last time I was with him he was barely able to get around.  So I'm really pleased that he's doing better.  He visited with our team for a little while.  Gave some advice, and I appreciate him doing that.

 Q.  Their three guard lineup, obviously guard play is going to be important.  Can you talk about Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen and their level of confidence after they've had somewhat up and down years    
COACH SMITH:  Well, we hadn't really particularly shot the ball well.  Though we haven't shot it poorly in the last few games.  You're right, in Texas, Balbay and Abrams and Mason, they're very talented.  They come off the bench.  Texas does come off with some other outstanding players.
 We play a lot of guys in the back court, Devoe Joseph plays, and a lot of them have quality minutes.  Certainly we're going to need that.  This is a very good guard oriented team.  We're going to go with Jamal, Abu Shamala.  And Al Nolen, and Lawrence Westbrook.  But you're right.  We do feel like we have to do it that way.
 We really don't have someone, other than Westbrook, that can really go get his own shot.  You know, I think we've really    that's going to be the key for us is being able to match, especially a young man like Abrams who can shoot the ball from anywhere, and will shoot it from anywhere.  That's going to be a real challenge for our players defensively to keep him under control.

 Q.  Do you expect Hoffarber to play a lot, too?
 COACH SMITH:  Yes.

 Q.  You've had success in the NCAA Tournament, specifically in the first round.  What do you attribute the success in the first round?  How does it translate to the Gophers this year?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, I think a lot of it has to do as you're coming off the season, and coming off, usually tournament play, Big Ten play.  And I think this time of year it's a matter of just focusing on the fundamentals.  Obviously, the match ups, the teams you're playing against.  We really haven't had a chance to play the teams from other conferences.
 But kids watch you play, and the good thing about it we did watch because Texas played two other common opponents from our league, Michigan State and Wisconsin.  But what we try to do is go back to the fundamentals.  Make it fun at this time of the year, because this is sort of the icing on the cake, and the reward for playing well the entire season.  That's sort of the way I approach it.  It's exciting, and just focus on having a good time and enjoying this experience.

 Q.  Can you just talk about the whole experience of being back here at the NCAA Tournament for yourself?  And there was a year hiatus there since you were in Kentucky?
 COACH SMITH:  Yeah, that group last year    no, they were good guys.  You know, I'm excited for all the young men I've ever had a chance to be around.  That's what this is about.  It's not about me.  It's about the culmination.  Because the good thing about it is you hear from players you haven't heard from in a while.  They're excited for you, and they're pulling for you.  And that's what it does.
 I think this tournament and for me being back in the NCAA Tournament sends a message to our players and to our team that we're building, we're moving in the right direction.  That they can see the progress that we're making in the program.  And that makes it exciting for future potential Gophers as well.  There's a lot that helps.  And our fan base, the Gopher Nation hasn't been in the tournament for a while, so it's good.
 But for me, again, to measure yourself against the best teams out there, and to be considered a top 65 team is a real    and to see those teams, and see how players respond the way they did and react the way they did when their name came up on the board, so we appreciate the selection committee giving us the opportunity.

 Q.  Could you please tell us a little about Ralph Sampson's season, and did you know his dad before this?
 COACH SMITH:  Yes, well Ralph Sampson III is really one of the bright surprise    I can't say surprises.  Because the expectation was he would play.  We knew we needed front line help immediately, and both he and Colton Iverson as freshmen have done as well as we could expect.  And he's growing and improving every day.  And Ralph Sampson II, his dad was very instrumental.  And his mom as well.  And wanting him to be a part of the Golden Gopher Basketball Program.  So I had the good fortune to coach against Ralph Sampson when he was at Virginia, when I was at Virginia Commonwealth University with J.D. Barnett back in the early '80s.  I coached against him three times.  I don't think I ever seen a greater athlete as far as in college basketball than Ralph Sampson.  His agility, he was just graceful.  At that size, 7' 4", to do the things he could do.
 And Ralph Sampson III, not as tall.  About 6' 10", 6' 11", but he has good basketball skills.  A great understanding, good understanding of the game.  You know, it's going to take time as he matures and the body starts to develop in the weight room.  He's going to be something special.

 Q.  Couple of years ago Minnesota's coming off a 22 loss season when you took over.  What was it you saw in Minnesota that made you think this was a place that you could turn things around?  What was it that appealed to you about the job?  And how much different is the NCAA Tournament experience being here with Minnesota than maybe when you were here with Kentucky all those years?  Is?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, it's, you know it doesn't get any better.  The excitement around it, and your juices get flowing, your energy level is up.  You focus because you're excited for, again, to as I said before, it's a journey, and the culmination of the season to kind of put    you never want to end it.  Only a few teams in with wins in the season with the win, and that's usually the team that wins the championship.
 So we know to have that opportunity and to have another chance for another season to come.  And that's what it is, really, another season.  When you get into postseason play.  And that's how we approach it.
 But the NCAA is really important in a lot of ways, and we can talk later.  But the appeal of Minnesota was that it was I had been there a number of times recruiting.  The Twin Cities is a great region.  One of the best places in America to live for many reasons.
 But, again, it always comes down to people.  Dr. Bruening is our president, has a vision for the University to be a top, in the top 5% or the top 5 in the country in all aspects, and certainly athleticism is a big part of that.  And Joel Maturi, our athletic director who coached basketball, and has had a great reputation, those are the kind of people you want to be around.  And their vision is my vision.  We want to be a part of it.  And it excites you.  It excited me when I was able to visit with them and talk about where they wanted this program to be and where they wanted it to go.

 Q.  Did you have any particular feeling about Kentucky not making the tournament this year?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, disappointed.  A lot of those young men are young men that we recruited.  You want to see them do well.  They lost some talent off the team last year, but they have a lot of young talent, much like we do.  You know, the SEC was a league that really struggled in some areas this year, and had a problem that hurt their chances.  Their rating wasn't as high as a lot of the other BCS conferences.  And I'm sure that had something to do with them not getting a bid.

 Q.  When you're at High Point, could you talk about the changes in the university since you've been there?  And this is sort of tongue in cheek, but do you have any interest in the vacant head coaching job?
 COACH SMITH:  (Laughing), yeah, I've got a lot of interest in that vacant job.  You know, I have three sons that are now in the coaching business.  One was born in North Carolina, when I was coaching at Hoke County in Raford, North Carolina.  But that being said, Bart Lundy did a good job.  And any time you have to take a program from one division into Division I, it's tough.   And very few coaches last.  So I just wanted to say that I was impressed with the job he did.  I was always impressed with the way his team has played.  But usually teams the minute there's a change in philosophy and direction, that sometimes happens.  But he's an excellent coach and we wish him the best.
 Having said that, the changes there that Quibain, the president who I had a chance to go to school with at High Point, so remarkable where that program, where the university itself and how they've established themselves as one of the, I guess, when you look at small universities, which they are relatively small in numbers than a school like Minnesota.
 We've got 50 plus thousand students.  They only have 2,500 or 4, 000students there.  So they've done a fantastic job with the landscape, the buildings.  Obviously, the academic part of it has really grown by putting more degree programs.
 Just going around the campus, the buildings, it's phenomenal how fast.  But if anybody can do it, Nido Quibain has done it.  He's a great spokesman, great salesman.  I know he's hit me up some.  So he's done a super job.

 Q.  Kind of along those same lines, you've been in a situation where before where your name has come up in other coaching vacancies when you're coaching in the tournament.  Your name has recently come up.  How do you handle that especially in a week like this where you're at the tournament?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, I'll focus on my job.  I have a job.  I have a great job.  We're enjoying Minnesota.  We have no reason to be looking at anything else.  And I'm very happy where we are.
 So it certainly is flattering sometimes, but it can be a distraction.  The thing is we've gotten our recruiting done early, and that, hopefully it's good to be wanted.  But it's more important to be needed.  I feel like I'm not only wanted in Minnesota, but needed there as well.

 Q.  Can you talk about what you've learned over the years about what a coach can do to elevate his team's play during the tournament?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, I don't know.  Every team is a little bit different, so you have to approach it differently.  You have young teams, you have experienced teams, for now, this team is still learning.  So the thing about coaching this team is that every day we have repetition that's important.
 So we have to constantly    and they're still growing.  That is the good thing about hitting this.  We haven't peaked yet, and that's good.  We have a lot of growing left.  Hopefully we'll have longer in the tournament that we can play.
 But we know Texas is a team that we've focused on.  As I said before, we don't really, this time of the year you want to sort of lighten up because they're already excited.  Their adrenaline is flowing.  So we want them relaxed and playing to their full potential.  So I think my demeanor has been to make sure we keep them to be serious minded about our work, about what we have to get done.  Also know that let's enjoy the moment.

 Q.  Can you talk about when you got to Minnesota, and obviously, they were coming off a six win season.  How you turned things around, and do you have a system, a belief in how to rebuild a program?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, they had nine wins.  And the guys there, Dan Munson, and Jim Mallory, who was the interim coach, you know, they had some good kids in the program.  Guys like Dan Coleman, Spencer Thompson, Lawrence McKenzie who graduated last year.  Ryan Saunders.  They were the back bone.
 So when you take over a program you've got to make sure that they appreciate it.  Because they chose to come there, and they're giving their best effort.  So I think the returning players see that and appreciate that coach is going to give me a chance, you know, I'm not coming with any preconceived    as I told them all.  They're all going to start on ground one, and we'll evaluate you from there.
 And that's an honest    that's honestly what we've tried to do wherever we've been.  And to instill some trust and some build some goals.  They all want to be the best.  They all came here because they love the U.  And so it's a matter of them helping me adjust.  And I usually tell them, I need your help.  And that's the way I approach it.  I'm here to help them, and they can help the program and themselves.
 Most of the time when you take over a program that's struggling, they're eager to be a part of it.  They've seen the success that you've had, and they just want to be led the right way.  And it's pretty easy, to be honest with you.  And it's very fulfilling when you see them    when you see the players and the program, and the people grow and appreciate the hard work that they've put in.

 Q.  With the group full of guys that haven't gone through anything like this NCAA Tournament before, how do you feel they've handled it so far?  And what have you done to help them handle it?
 COACH SMITH:  Well, I try to remain the same.  By that I mean realizing that fellows, we prepare this.  We prepare the same way we would if we were preparing for Michigan State in a tournament or Northwestern.  Because you want to keep everything as same as you can.  You don't want to get, because now if there are a lot of distractions, you already have the media or the hype around you.
 You have fans that are patting you on the back.  You have relatives that are wanting tickets.  So, we try to remain the same and try to keep things as calm and control those things that we can control as far as the proper rest, proper diet.  That's basically the way we've handled it.
 But you know, it's a change, too, because you've been playing games every two days.  Now you've got    say you lose Wednesday, so Friday.  Now you've got a long time to practice.  Probably the longest practice period they've had in some time.  So you have to be careful that you don't go too hard.  That's a real balancing act especially for a young team as well.
 
     FastScripts by ASAP Sports

MINNESOTA QUOTES

AMY YAKOLA: We're joined by the Minnesota student athletes: Jamal Abu
Shamala. Damian Johnson, and Lawrence Westbrook. Questions, please.

 Q. Can you just talk about the overall experience of the first NCAA
Tournament for you guys? And just what it's been like leading up to
this point?

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: The experience has been kind of crazy, because I
have a lot of family here and they're excited for me to play. And this
is something that I've dreamed of since I was a little kid and wanted
to play in the tournament. See all the teams that you see on TV. Just
play under the big lights. So I think it's really exciting.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, it's definitely a great experience right now.
I mean, our whole team, it's our first time being here. The guys are
very excited. I mean, everyone dreamed of being here. Coach Smith has
been really laid back right now, so I think everything's going well
right now.

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: Yeah, just to go off what they were saying, it's
just everyone's first time. It's really exciting to just see what the
atmosphere's like. We're all really excited. And you know, it's kind
of cool to be in the middle of the basketball, like the heartland. So
to be here in North Carolina.

 Q. You were over at Tubby Smith's alma mater today practicing. Can
you give us a sense what it was like to be at High Point, and tonight,
how is it different than any other night before a game?

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: I think the first difference is that we came
here on a Tuesday, so we have two days before the game. But I liked
going to High Point. It was a really nice university. We got to go
over some things that we didn't get to cover in Minneapolis, along
with that we got extra shooting. So it was cool to see where coach
played, and we met one of his former coaches. So I'm just taking
everything in and enjoying it.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: I mean, I think High Point was a really nice campus.
They've got a lot of new buildings, and we got a chance to ride around
a little bit and see a couple of things.

 I think tonight, it may be a little different because a lot of guys
may be a little nervous. I mean, this is the big dance. Our whole
team's experiencing something new. I think guys focus will be a little
different compared to other games like we had during the big 10
schedule.

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: Yeah, it was kind of cool when we got there. They
had a nice little set up and reception for us. Had a Welcome Home,
Tubby signs all over. And they had music playing. So it was kind of
fun to see that. But then we had to get down to business and started
preparing for Texas. You know, like they said, it was a very nice
university, and they were very welcoming.

 Q. I know when Coach Smith decided to come to Minnesota a couple
years ago it caught a lot of the nation by surprise. I was wondering
what your immediate reaction was when you found out Coach Smith was
coming? And what specific things did he do to change the atmosphere
around Minnesota and create a winning culture?

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: When we first found out, we were all kind of
shocked. We were like one of the legends in the coaching business.
He's really, he's won a National Championship that everyone tries to
reach. You know, to have him come, the first thing that he changed was
the mindset and attitude of the team. Really he wanted us to have a
championship attitude, and just have faith and believe in each other
that we can achieve big goals.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: When I first found out I was in my room just getting
out of class. And I walked in and put it on Sportscenter, and first
thing I saw Tubby Smith to Minnesota. I was just in awe. You know what
I mean? I called everyone and started saying we got a new coach.

 And I was going kind of crazy, because at the time he was coming off
a 9 22 season, worst season in school history. And Coach Smith came in
and just wanted to implement a winning mindset. And I think a lot of
guys caught on to it really quick. We won 11 more games last year.
We're in the NCAA this year. And I think things are just going to get
better from now on out.

 Q. Just what he's done to change the culture?

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: I was there. We were just really excited. Like
what Damian said. It was kind of a shock that we got such a big named
coach. And like they said, he changed the mindset, gave us a lot of
confidence and brought a lot of notoriety to the program, which is
good.

 Q. Tubby said on Sunday that he was going to try to minimize the
distractions of the NCAA Tournament. What has he done between now and
then just to kind of make things as normal as possible and try to
minimize those distractions of what goes on here?

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: Like Damian said, he's been really relaxed.
Yesterday we saw a movie as a team, which is something we don't
usually get to do. He's been really laid back. We have a lot of time
to rest, and everything's just been really chill. So I think he just
wants us to be as comfortable as possible playing in the biggest game
of our lives.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, exactly what Westbrook said. I think he's
trying to keep guys to remember that it's a business. It's all
business, and he wants us to focus. But at the same time he doesn't
want us to be too tense and too overanxious. I think he's just doing
different things like having us go to the team movie, and visiting
High Point, checking out the campus. That's something we probably
would have never done any other time. So I think that was pretty big.

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: Yeah, it's been pretty similar to a lot of our
road trips with the preparation. But he's really, like they've said,
he's tried to stay really positive and keep everyone on the same page.
Just trying to enjoy the experience as much as we can.

 Q. Can you talk about coach's demeanor specifically? Just how it's
changed maybe this year, making the tournament and coming back to the
NCAA Tournament? I know you guys are used to seeing him here with
Kentucky. But how has he been acting ever since you guys arrived here?


 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: Coach Smith has always been a demanding coach.
You know, but that's good because he expects a lot out on of you. I
think that if your coach expects a lot out of you, you can reach your
full potential. So he's just done the same thing to us this year. He
expects a lot out of us, and we don't want to let him down. So we try
to continue to work hard to improve every day so we can, you know, be
as good as we can be.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: The last couple of practices he's been more focused
on improving on our areas that we've been struggling in, like
rebounding and turnovers. He's having us do a lot of drills and stuff
to help take care of the ball. I think that's going to be huge in the
game in the NCAA. Because every possession counts as your last
possession. So I think our team not turning the ball over is going to
be huge.

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: Ever since we got here he's been really positive.
Really encouraging. It seems like really just trying to emphasize to
enjoy the experience. Because no one I think Jonathan Williams is the
only guy on the team that's been to the NCAA Tournament. He just wants
everyone to enjoy it, and keep positive spirits going into, like they
said, the biggest game of our career.

 Q. Would you talk about what you've seen on tape of Texas' Dexter
Pittman? And I understand you've got a guy on your team that
approaches him in size and how working against him may benefit y'all
tomorrow night?

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: We have three big guys inside that I feel can do
they're all really good defenders. I think two, Colton Iverson and
Ralph Sampson are up there in blocks in the big 10, same with Damian.
But we know Texas is a very good team inside. They have some big guys
inside that can really hurt the other team. Then they have some good
shooters on the outside.

 So just we've been trying to simulate that in practice as much as
possible with Jon Williams inside. You know, being a similar size to
Dexter Pittman. So to kind of have that gives us a good feel of what
we need to do to stop him.

 Q. What confidence do you think Hoffarber and Nolen have at this
point in the season? Do you sense they've had the kind of seasons
they've want to have?

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: Blake and who?

 Q. Nolen and Hoffarber.

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: I think they're confident. They're the visual
players. And you know, it's a team game. So they're part of the team.
It's our job to help out our teammates, and maybe not shooting like
they normally would. They're fine. I know Blake and Al are excited for
this chance. And I think they're going to do really well when we play
tomorrow.

 Q. What is the most important thing Coach Smith has brought to
instill a winning culture in Minnesota?

 JAMAL ABU SHAMALA: You know, the first time we met with him, he said
you've got to walk, you've got to act, you've got to have confidence
in your ability and act like a champion. I think that's something that
everyone took. I mean, having a coach that's won a National
Championship, you know, he's just brought confidence just by that.

 So we all really believe in his coaching and what he can do and
achieve for us. We all just took that and kind of kept building
confidence off on of that.

 DAMIAN JOHNSON: I think he also brought a defensive mindset. I mean,
very intense on defense. We have a great full court pressing team. And
I think he brought that in, and he instilled it. And I think everyone
bought into it from day one. And that's been big the last two years.

 LAWRENCE WESTBROOK: I think that Coach has brought and instilled a
lot of toughness, because people don't look at basketball and say it's
a physical sport, but it actually is. And I think sometimes he wants
to put on the uniform and jump out there. I've seen him like play one
on one and stuff with guys. He throws elbows and he acts crazy
sometimes. So I think just the toughness that he brings to the team.
We've got to match Coach Smith's intensity and we'll be all right.

AMY YAKOLA: We're joined by Minnesota Head Coach, Tubby Smith.
Opening comments from Coach.

 COACH SMITH: Thank you. We're first we're excited to be
participating in the NCAA championships. It's good to be here in the
Greensboro area where we have spent time in the past. Having gone to
school at High Point University, a lot of friends and people we know
in this area. But this is, again, a wonderful opportunity for our
team. I'm really happy for our players and the University of Minnesota
to get this chance to participate.

 Q. If you could endure one more Rick Barnes question?

 COACH SMITH: Please, do I have to (laughing)?

 Q. What do you suppose it was in Rick and maybe in yourself that
first attracted you two to each other, and has enabled that friendship
to grow throughout the years?

 COACH SMITH: I don't know. Me and Rick and I go way back. You're
right, we're good friends. I know there is nothing that I wouldn't do
for Rick. I know there is nothing that Rick wouldn't do for me. That's
why we've done absolutely nothing for each other ever since we've
known each other (smiling).

 I think it's similar backgrounds. When I say that, upbringing,
common folks, where we're from. I'm from Southern Maryland, big
family. I know he's from the Carolinas here, and not from major
metropolitan. Both went to schools of similar size and philosophy. He
went to Lenoir Rhyne, I went to High Point. I think those are things
we have a lot in common along those lines.

 And probably learning the game of basketball from some outstanding
coaches. Saw Coach Hodges here earlier who he played with at Lenoir
Rhyne. Jerry Steele, and J.D. Barnett, and Bob Vaughn, I ran off three
coaches. He was able to keep one. Actually two, I guess.

 Those are the things that we have in common. We talk about our roots
and our basketball background and philosophies.

 Q. How did your meeting or your visit with Jerry Steele go today?
Could you just sort of summarize your relationship with him?

 COACH SMITH: Well, Coach Steele is from this area. He built an
outstanding program at Guilford. His reputation as a player when he
was at wake forest and playing for Bones McKinney, some of those
things. And that's the good thing about having played for a guy like
Coach Steele for one year, at least. I wish I'd played for him longer,
because he's a very charismatic and funny guy.

 But our visit today went well. He's gone through some health issues,
but he's doing better. He was at our practice today at High Point. You
know, it lasted 31, 32 years and been in this business a long time.

 It was good to see him moving around. The last time I was with him
he was barely able to get around. So I'm really pleased that he's
doing better. He visited with our team for a little while. Gave some
advice, and I appreciate him doing that.

 Q. Their three guard lineup, obviously guard play is going to be
important. Can you talk about Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen and their
level of confidence after they've had somewhat up and down years

COACH SMITH: Well, we hadn't really particularly shot the ball well.
Though we haven't shot it poorly in the last few games. You're right,
in Texas, Balbay and Abrams and Mason, they're very talented. They
come off the bench. Texas does come off with some other outstanding
players.

 We play a lot of guys in the back court, Devoe Joseph plays, and a
lot of them have quality minutes. Certainly we're going to need that.
This is a very good guard oriented team. We're going to go with Jamal,
Abu Shamala. And Al Nolen, and Lawrence Westbrook. But you're right.
We do feel like we have to do it that way.

 We really don't have someone, other than Westbrook, that can really
go get his own shot. You know, I think we've really that's going to be
the key for us is being able to match, especially a young man like
Abrams who can shoot the ball from anywhere, and will shoot it from
anywhere. That's going to be a real challenge for our players
defensively to keep him under control.

 Q. Do you expect Hoffarber to play a lot, too?

 COACH SMITH: Yes.

 Q. You've had success in the NCAA Tournament, specifically in the
first round. What do you attribute the success in the first round? How
does it translate to the Gophers this year?

 COACH SMITH: Well, I think a lot of it has to do as you're coming
off the season, and coming off, usually tournament play, Big Ten play.
And I think this time of year it's a matter of just focusing on the
fundamentals. Obviously, the match ups, the teams you're playing
against. We really haven't had a chance to play the teams from other
conferences.

 But kids watch you play, and the good thing about it we did watch
because Texas played two other common opponents from our league,
Michigan State and Wisconsin. But what we try to do is go back to the
fundamentals. Make it fun at this time of the year, because this is
sort of the icing on the cake, and the reward for playing well the
entire season. That's sort of the way I approach it. It's exciting,
and just focus on having a good time and enjoying this experience.

 Q. Can you just talk about the whole experience of being back here
at the NCAA Tournament for yourself? And there was a year hiatus there
since you were in Kentucky?

 COACH SMITH: Yeah, that group last year no, they were good guys. You
know, I'm excited for all the young men I've ever had a chance to be
around. That's what this is about. It's not about me. It's about the
culmination. Because the good thing about it is you hear from players
you haven't heard from in a while. They're excited for you, and
they're pulling for you. And that's what it does.

 I think this tournament and for me being back in the NCAA Tournament
sends a message to our players and to our team that we're building,
we're moving in the right direction. That they can see the progress
that we're making in the program. And that makes it exciting for
future potential Gophers as well. There's a lot that helps. And our
fan base, the Gopher Nation hasn't been in the tournament for a while,
so it's good.

 But for me, again, to measure yourself against the best teams out
there, and to be considered a top 65 team is a real and to see those
teams, and see how players respond the way they did and react the way
they did when their name came up on the board, so we appreciate the
selection committee giving us the opportunity.

 Q. Could you please tell us a little about Ralph Sampson's season,
and did you know his dad before this?

 COACH SMITH: Yes, well Ralph Sampson III is really one of the bright
surprise I can't say surprises. Because the expectation was he would
play. We knew we needed front line help immediately, and both he and
Colton Iverson as freshmen have done as well as we could expect. And
he's growing and improving every day. And Ralph Sampson II, his dad
was very instrumental. And his mom as well. And wanting him to be a
part of the Golden Gopher Basketball Program. So I had the good
fortune to coach against Ralph Sampson when he was at Virginia, when I
was at Virginia Commonwealth University with J.D. Barnett back in the
early '80s. I coached against him three times. I don't think I ever
seen a greater athlete as far as in college basketball than Ralph
Sampson. His agility, he was just graceful. At that size, 7' 4", to do
the things he could do.

 And Ralph Sampson III, not as tall. About 6' 10", 6' 11", but he has
good basketball skills. A great understanding, good understanding of
the game. You know, it's going to take time as he matures and the body
starts to develop in the weight room. He's going to be something
special.

 Q. Couple of years ago Minnesota's coming off a 22 loss season when
you took over. What was it you saw in Minnesota that made you think
this was a place that you could turn things around? What was it that
appealed to you about the job? And how much different is the NCAA
Tournament experience being here with Minnesota than maybe when you
were here with Kentucky all those years? Is?

 COACH SMITH: Well, it's, you know it doesn't get any better. The
excitement around it, and your juices get flowing, your energy level
is up. You focus because you're excited for, again, to as I said
before, it's a journey, and the culmination of the season to kind of
put you never want to end it. Only a few teams in with wins in the
season with the win, and that's usually the team that wins the
championship.

 So we know to have that opportunity and to have another chance for
another season to come. And that's what it is, really, another season.
When you get into postseason play. And that's how we approach it.

 But the NCAA is really important in a lot of ways, and we can talk
later. But the appeal of Minnesota was that it was I had been there a
number of times recruiting. The Twin Cities is a great region. One of
the best places in America to live for many reasons.

 But, again, it always comes down to people. Dr. Bruening is our
president, has a vision for the University to be a top, in the top 5%
or the top 5 in the country in all aspects, and certainly athleticism
is a big part of that. And Joel Maturi, our athletic director who
coached basketball, and has had a great reputation, those are the kind
of people you want to be around. And their vision is my vision. We
want to be a part of it. And it excites you. It excited me when I was
able to visit with them and talk about where they wanted this program
to be and where they wanted it to go.

 Q. Did you have any particular feeling about Kentucky not making the
tournament this year?

 COACH SMITH: Well, disappointed. A lot of those young men are young
men that we recruited. You want to see them do well. They lost some
talent off the team last year, but they have a lot of young talent,
much like we do. You know, the SEC was a league that really struggled
in some areas this year, and had a problem that hurt their chances.
Their rating wasn't as high as a lot of the other BCS conferences. And
I'm sure that had something to do with them not getting a bid.

 Q. When you're at High Point, could you talk about the changes in
the university since you've been there? And this is sort of tongue in
cheek, but do you have any interest in the vacant head coaching job?

 COACH SMITH: (Laughing), yeah, I've got a lot of interest in that
vacant job. You know, I have three sons that are now in the coaching
business. One was born in North Carolina, when I was coaching at Hoke
County in Raford, North Carolina. But that being said, Bart Lundy did
a good job. And any time you have to take a program from one division
into Division I, it's tough. And very few coaches last. So I just
wanted to say that I was impressed with the job he did. I was always
impressed with the way his team has played. But usually teams the
minute there's a change in philosophy and direction, that sometimes
happens. But he's an excellent coach and we wish him the best.

 Having said that, the changes there that Quibain, the president who
I had a chance to go to school with at High Point, so remarkable where
that program, where the university itself and how they've established
themselves as one of the, I guess, when you look at small
universities, which they are relatively small in numbers than a school
like Minnesota.

 We've got 50 plus thousand students. They only have 2,500 or 4,
000students there. So they've done a fantastic job with the landscape,
the buildings. Obviously, the academic part of it has really grown by
putting more degree programs.

 Just going around the campus, the buildings, it's phenomenal how
fast. But if anybody can do it, Nido Quibain has done it. He's a great
spokesman, great salesman. I know he's hit me up some. So he's done a
super job.

 Q. Kind of along those same lines, you've been in a situation where
before where your name has come up in other coaching vacancies when
you're coaching in the tournament. Your name has recently come up. How
do you handle that especially in a week like this where you're at the
tournament?

 COACH SMITH: Well, I'll focus on my job. I have a job. I have a
great job. We're enjoying Minnesota. We have no reason to be looking
at anything else. And I'm very happy where we are.

 So it certainly is flattering sometimes, but it can be a
distraction. The thing is we've gotten our recruiting done early, and
that, hopefully it's good to be wanted. But it's more important to be
needed. I feel like I'm not only wanted in Minnesota, but needed there
as well.

 Q. Can you talk about what you've learned over the years about what
a coach can do to elevate his team's play during the tournament?

 COACH SMITH: Well, I don't know. Every team is a little bit
different, so you have to approach it differently. You have young
teams, you have experienced teams, for now, this team is still
learning. So the thing about coaching this team is that every day we
have repetition that's important.

 So we have to constantly and they're still growing. That is the good
thing about hitting this. We haven't peaked yet, and that's good. We
have a lot of growing left. Hopefully we'll have longer in the
tournament that we can play.

 But we know Texas is a team that we've focused on. As I said before,
we don't really, this time of the year you want to sort of lighten up
because they're already excited. Their adrenaline is flowing. So we
want them relaxed and playing to their full potential. So I think my
demeanor has been to make sure we keep them to be serious minded about
our work, about what we have to get done. Also know that let's enjoy
the moment.

 Q. Can you talk about when you got to Minnesota, and obviously, they
were coming off a six win season. How you turned things around, and do
you have a system, a belief in how to rebuild a program?

 COACH SMITH: Well, they had nine wins. And the guys there, Dan
Munson, and Jim Mallory, who was the interim coach, you know, they had
some good kids in the program. Guys like Dan Coleman, Spencer
Thompson, Lawrence McKenzie who graduated last year. Ryan Saunders.
They were the back bone.

 So when you take over a program you've got to make sure that they
appreciate it. Because they chose to come there, and they're giving
their best effort. So I think the returning players see that and
appreciate that coach is going to give me a chance, you know, I'm not
coming with any preconceived as I told them all. They're all going to
start on ground one, and we'll evaluate you from there.

 And that's an honest that's honestly what we've tried to do wherever
we've been. And to instill some trust and some build some goals. They
all want to be the best. They all came here because they love the U.
And so it's a matter of them helping me adjust. And I usually tell
them, I need your help. And that's the way I approach it. I'm here to
help them, and they can help the program and themselves.

 Most of the time when you take over a program that's struggling,
they're eager to be a part of it. They've seen the success that you've
had, and they just want to be led the right way. And it's pretty easy,
to be honest with you. And it's very fulfilling when you see them when
you see the players and the program, and the people grow and
appreciate the hard work that they've put in.

 Q. With the group full of guys that haven't gone through anything
like this NCAA Tournament before, how do you feel they've handled it
so far? And what have you done to help them handle it?

 COACH SMITH: Well, I try to remain the same. By that I mean
realizing that fellows, we prepare this. We prepare the same way we
would if we were preparing for Michigan State in a tournament or
Northwestern. Because you want to keep everything as same as you can.
You don't want to get, because now if there are a lot of distractions,
you already have the media or the hype around you.

 You have fans that are patting you on the back. You have relatives
that are wanting tickets. So, we try to remain the same and try to
keep things as calm and control those things that we can control as
far as the proper rest, proper diet. That's basically the way we've
handled it.

 But you know, it's a change, too, because you've been playing games
every two days. Now you've got say you lose Wednesday, so Friday. Now
you've got a long time to practice. Probably the longest practice
period they've had in some time. So you have to be careful that you
don't go too hard. That's a real balancing act especially for a young
team as well.

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