Cornell-Missouri Quotes, March 19
March 19, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and take questions for the Cornell student athletes.
Q. Louis, can you talk about what Mike Anderson said that he knew of you and talked to you a little bit out of high school. Talk about what you know about him and that kind of thing.
LOUIS DALE: Well, coming from Birmingham, UAB is basically the basketball school for us. Mike Anderson was there and it was a lot of excitement about the solid play, the style of play, and that's what fans wanted to see. And he recruited me a little bit in high school. I liked the solid play they played. Pressing defense. And I just kind of talked to him every now and then about possibly attending UAB to play basketball.
Q. Louis, and any of the others, Missouri's defense starts with Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller. Have you faced that kind of intensity that will pick up at half court if not beyond?
LOUIS DALE: When we played Minnesota I think they pressed us pretty well. We kind of got used to that playing against a pressure defense.
And I think that will help us.
We haven't played against Missouri, obviously, but we'll see what happens.
ADAM GORE: I think we have played a pretty tough preseason schedule with Minnesota and Syracuse, teams like that. So I think just playing that type of talent has prepared the guys to face Mizzou. Like Louis said, we haven't actually played or probably seen a pressure like they're going to bring, but that's pretty hard to simulate and I think we have done the best we could in practice and with our preseason schedule.
Q. A lot of teams practice against six and seven guys to try to simulate that. Have you guys done any of that?
ADAM GORE: Yeah, we have. We have thrown the sixth guy in on the half court and stuff like that just to kind of simulate their athleticism, their length and stuff and the pressure. So we actually have been doing that this week.
Q. Coming in as an underdog what do you do to prepare mentally against a team like Mizzou, not only for the game but also for the hype surrounding them?
JEFF FOOTE: Coming in, we were here last year and we kind of let all the surrounding environment kind of play into that. I think the experience this year we have been more focused mentally. We have a couple weeks off because we don't have a conference tournament. So we were using that more to focus on looking past all the stuff, the extracurricular stuff and then just really focusing on our opponents.
RYAN WITTMAN: I don't think we go into the game worrying that we're the underdog. I think that we just got to go out there and execute our style of play.
I know Adam mentioned it earlier, we played a pretty challenging preconference schedule. We have got to use that experience to help us play against this type of athleticism that we're going to see on Friday.
Q. For Louis and Adam, how did you do when they threw the sixth man on the floor?
LOUIS DALE: I think we did pretty well. We just got to be ball tough and execute passes and come meet the ball. I think that we can do a great job if we just make sure that we do those things and not turn the ball over.
ADAM GORE: I think we did a pretty good job all week. I think it's a focus that we just have to make sure that we don't play into their hands of speeding ourselves up and rushing our style of play. I think we just kind of need to play at our own pace and realize that if we do that we'll be okay.
Q. Ryan, last year against Stanford you kind of had a tough shooting day. What kind of motivation does that bring and was it just a case of nerves or something Stanford was doing?
RYAN WITTMAN: Yeah, obviously they're a great defensive team last year. That probably had something to do with it. Sometimes you just have those days. Obviously the excitement probably played into it a little bit. I think I remember my first shot almost broke the back board. So I think maybe the experience will help out a little bit this year. Going into the game we're going to not be quite as amped up.
We're going to try to use that excitement to help us.
Q. Can you speak about your connection with Coach Anderson and how it's going to feel to play against a coach that was recruiting you at one point?
LOUIS DALE: It will be exciting, it will be fun to play this game.
It's a challenge for our team to come out and be the, quote, unquote, "underdog" and play against a great team like Mizzou. Coach Anderson, we just, he recruited me in high school and we talked about me joining the UAB team. But it's over now. I don't know what else to say.
Q. Do any of you guys watch "The Office"?
RYAN WITTMAN: Yes.
Q. Have you seen the Cornell episode?
RYAN WITTMAN: Yeah.
Q. Just what did you guys think of that episode? And I guess the question that was sort of brought up in that show is: What does it mean to be a Cornell man and like can I wear a Cornell T shirt if I want?
JEFF FOOTE: I'm kind of new at "The Office." I just started watching it. Andy is the guy's name, I think he's hilarious. The creators of the show are from Dartmouth, so obviously Cornell gets a little zing from that. But I think it's just kind of funny that they play off of that and play off on the Ivy League reputation.
Q. Anybody else?
THE MODERATOR: I think they're taking a pass on that.
Q. The whole Ivy League thing, in the tournament, you know, just like the guy in "The Office," we see the Ivy League team come in and it's kind of a fascination. What's the academic pressure like or would you say you have a basketball experience that's pretty close to what everybody else is doing?
RYAN WITTMAN: I think that the transition to college is tough for anyone. I think just like any other program out there it takes some time to adjust and to get used to college and succeeding in the classroom, I guess.
So I'm not really sure if it's that much tougher at Cornell or anything, but because I haven't been to any other college, I think it's an adjustment for anyone.
ADAM GORE: Basically what Ryan said, that's kind of my opinion also.
I don't really have any opinions on any other schools, I never been there. So the classroom and the ball experience, I think, would probably be pretty similar to most places. I think we should put in the same kind of work on the basketball floor that the other teams do and I think the classroom is something that we focus on quite a bit, but I don't think that distracts away from the level of basketball we're trying to play.
Q. A follow up to that, when they found out that they were playing you guys, one of the Missouri freshman, and you know it had to be a freshman, comes out with the idea that, yeah, in four years we're probably going to be working for those guys, but we may have to beat them while we can. Do you get that a lot, that kind of stuff?
LOUIS DALE: I guess so. Coming from an Ivy League school we kind of have that label as being really nerdy kids or smart kids. So I'm sure that a lot of people think that or say those type of things. It just comes along with it, I guess.
Q. You guys all went through this last year and not only the game, could you talk about going through the media attention, the practices again and what experience that's going to give you helping you ultimately trying to pull off this upset.
RYAN WITTMAN: Obviously experience is going to help us. I think last year we might have got caught up a little bit in that. We heard a lot about how it was the first time Cornell had been to the tournament in 20 years, I think. This year I think we're a little more focused. But on the other hand our experience alone isn't going to win this game.
We still have to come out and we're going to have to play really well if we're going to win. We're going to have to execute, going to have to take care of the ball. And experience can help us do that if we use it in the right way. But it is not going to win the game by itself.
Q. Can you recount a little bit your journey to Cornell. I heard a little bit of it but sort of how you ended up here.
JEFF FOOTE: I was, you know, recruited out of high school by any Division I's and I walked on to St. Bonaventure after I met Coach Jason G. I was there for a year, I was red shirted and then, you know, Coach G was kind of my mentor there and he left. And so I was kind of out in no man's land and Khaliq Gant had his accident where he was nearly paralyzed. And right after his accident when he was in the ICU, my mom was his nurse. And she got to know Coach Spiker, she got to know a lot of the guys on the team like Conor and Adam. And she just like when I decided that I was going to transfer, she kind of gave Cornell a big push because she knew the guys on the team, she knew the coaches.
And after that I started talking with Coach Spiker and things looked really good. I couldn't pass up an Ivy League education. And it seemed like a place that I would really fit in. So it really kind of worked out very well for me, so I ended up here.
THE MODERATOR: We thank Cornell student athletes. We'll now take questions for Coach Donahue up in a second. We'll take questions for Coach.
Q. I wonder if you can talk about your use of the sixth man to simulate their defense. What you were able to accomplish and how it worked out.
COACH DONAHUE: I guess you're referring to trying to simulate Missouri's athleticism and length and there's really no way to do that except add bodies. And that's what we have done.
Over the last couple weeks we have done that. And I sense that we would get, we would get a team that we would play, since we run good offense and we have good shooters, that someone that's going to try to take us out of our offense, full court press, good long athletes. And so we took that week that we had, because we have no league tournament, and just really worked on the press, thinking that we would get somebody.
Sure enough, you get somebody not only that does it, does it for 40 minutes. So I think that's helped us. That being said, as I said, it's very hard to simulate just the pace of the game that Missouri presents itself. It's extremely difficult to do that.
The other thing I think we have, we have a lot of guys on our team in general, we carry a lot of guys at the Ivy League level, we have a couple transfers, a kid named Marc Van Burck that played at Kentucky last year and some good length and athleticism really in our second group. And I thought our white team really bought into trying to make it hard for our first team to run offense and simulate as best we can.
And now we have done it for 10, 12 days. It's actually been interesting to watch it develop, to watch the development of it.
Q. Foote was talking about it when he was here but can you talk about how Jeff and Khaliq and their roles on the team and how it ultimately brought Jeff to Cornell?
COACH DONAHUE: Yeah, you're referring to when Khaliq was hurt and obviously a very difficult time in our program. I told this story a lot, but it's worth saying again. That was a very difficult time for me personally. We hadn't had a winning season at Cornell at that point and Khaliq was playing a great deal for us and suffers that serious injury in practice. And all during that traumatic experience we meet a woman named Wanda Foote who mentions her son, a 7 foot basketball player at St. Bonaventure, really didn't think more of it than that.
But what impressed me is that she called later and said how impressed she was with our guys, and just how they cared about Khaliq and what he was going through. And loved her son to consider Cornell.
Obviously it's something great that came out of that whole situation. Two things, Khaliq is doing terrific, he's got a great life ahead of him, he's a normal college student, although he won't play college basketball and I think Jeff Foote has flourished in our system, all due to his hard work. Where he's come from, and he's not even close to where he can be, but where he was and where he is now is incredible due to his work ethic.
Q. For those who are not as familiar with Khaliq, how he got hurt, can you briefly tell us.
COACH DONAHUE: Absolutely. Khaliq was a day after a Monday after we practiced or lost at the buzzer to Columbia, our arch rival. Remember I went red eye back to New York and walk in a night practice and it's a difficult game for us. We don't have any league tournament, you lose to your arch rival so the intensity of that practice was up and I probably was more into it than I ever have been, set a couple rebounding drills. And the ball's thrown up, two guys collide, that I watched, hit heads and I see blood. I'm like, oh man, can't believe this. And then sure enough to the right is Khaliq's down on the ground laying on someone's legs. And what happened was someone's chest crushed his neck into his chest. He laid motionless to the point where you know right away something is seriously wrong.
From that point on I think we handled everything incredible. Kid that he was laying on doesn't move. Ryan Rourke, which prevented any additional damage. Trainer's 10 feet a way, medical staff's there 20 minutes getting steroids in him. He's air vaced to a medical center.
And then later down to his home down of Atlanta. Doesn't really have any movement for about two months. And a miracle, he starts working through it and eventually walks out of that facility in four months.
Just a remarkable young man and what he went through and watching our team go through it, and I say this all the time, it changed me definitely as a coach, but as a father and as a man to watch that what we went through and as I said, I didn't really care what happened that year, and sure enough we have our first winning year and I think I'm a better coach because of it.
The way you handle things, small things don't bother me any more. It is way more about the bigger picture and having the guys enjoy their experience and I think you end up getting more out of kids and producing more off the court as well.
Q. One guy on your team that didn't go through this last year was Chris Wroblewski, can you talk about how he's handling the pressure and the role he's going to play in tomorrow's game, especially with all of the press that Missouri puts on?
COACH DONAHUE: I think you're referring to, we were here last year, fortunately, and we had basically five sophomores start. Those guys are all juniors, one exception is Chris Wroblewski, who was our Freshman of the Year in our league in a league that had very good freshmen this year.
What happens was Adam Gore our starting guard tears his ACL in September, decides to take the operation and come back. And in the meantime we lose our starting point guard, Louis Dale for the first ten games of the year and we have to start a freshman and we're playing him 37 minutes a game. And we're playing the likes of Saint Johns, Siena, Syracuse, Minnesota, Indiana, Saint Joe's, La Salle. And I thought the kid was tremendous from the start. What I'll say to you is I think those 10 games that we'll prepare much better than if we had Louis and had Adam. Chris, he's had three turnovers in the last 120 minutes of play in our league. I have great confidence in him. I think he's as good as we can have out there versus Missouri. Going through that experience, I think he's ready to play this game, seems like nothing really bothers him poise wise. He never seems to lose his composure.
Q. Can you talk about Jeff Foote and sort of kind of coming out of nowhere and then what he's meant to your program?
COACH DONAHUE: Yeah. Just to give you an idea, he played in our gym I think in a high school playoff game his senior year. With a lot of Division III schools in the building. Not one thought he was good enough for a Division III. And I thought, to be honest with you, I didn't think he would ever be able to play at this level. He was very thin like 160 or 170, six nine, six ten. And I go he goes on an academic scholarship to Bonaventure and really never plays college basketball for two and a half years. Because he red shirts there, he then transfers and sits out for us and plays the second semester of last year. And by that time I think there's two and a half years, obviously put on a great deal of weight, grew to seven foot, and what he does is he just really works on his game all the time. It's a simple thing that players do that are good. Great skill, if he was six seven right now he would be a good player. That he's seven foot makes him special. Led us in assists for most of the season. Just really seized the floor.
I think he's not even close, I think three or four years down the road he's going to be making a great deal of money at this game because I know how hard he's going to work. And at that size it's rare to see a kid that is that skilled, runs that fast, has that kind of work ethic.
Q. Missouri seems to come up with nicknames for a lots of its players. Carroll, the junkyard dog, and they call Tiller the Tasmanian Devil and of course they play 40 minutes of hell, so what do you call the practice of putting seven guys out on defense against your offense to try to prepare them for all that?
COACH DONAHUE: I wish I had a cute nickname for it. But it's fear, you know. You practice and you watch Missouri's stuff and I say this a lot to a lot of people, you can go clips of 10 minutes at a time and think, well, you know, it's not that devastating. And then you just watch and all of a sudden that affect plays on teams. And a lot of it is unforced stuff. Kids just get fatigued and they kind of throw the ball away and really without a trap. And it's so different than everybody else plays now days.
I think we tried to, I think we got to that point a couple times in practice. We do, we did a lot of stretches where I didn't blow the whistle, did not stop it, it got very ugly. Like things that I would really would not want to happen in a game. But I don't know if you're playing into their hands if you don't try to take advantage of that.
That to me is a key. If someone is going to try to take advantage and gamble and you're not using that as part of your attack, I think you're in trouble.
You start thinking and we're not that type of team, to be quite honest. We share the ball, based on what the defense does. I don't have an offense that runs for 30 seconds straight and calculate these guys. I try to teach them how to play basketball against what the defense does. So we're going to have to take advantage of that.
And at times we're going to have to put it on our hip and make them guard us. And it's going to have to be the players understanding when to do it and when not to do it.
Q. Could you speak to Ryan Wittman's importance to your team and maybe also touch on what happened to him last year in the NCAA tournament. How you think he'll rebound from that?
COACH DONAHUE: Ryan's has developed his game and it's been immense over each season. Again he was an unrecruited kid. Reason we got him was because no one else wanted him. We worked hard for him and I appreciate him coming to Cornell, but if people knew how good he would be, he wouldn't be here.
From a freshman, when he most of his, 75 percent of his baskets were threes until now it's under 50 percent. He's almost a 2 1 assist to turnover. One of our better rebounders, defenders. I think last year he's developed so much more of his all around game.
I think last year it was a three or nothing. Now it is way different. I also feel that the preseason schedule that we played without Louis Dale, to be honest we would not be in those games if he doesn't get 25 to 30. And that's, he knew that. And I felt that part of his game really developed during that stretch. So now he's played almost a hundred college basketball games, probably 25 against teams like Missouri, just much more confident in going against that kind of athleticism now than he was last year.
Q. A lot of talk has been about how you're going to handle the Missouri pressure, but what's the plan on the defensive end about how to control their offense?
COACH DONAHUE: That's a great question because I think it's as important, like I think people look at what they do on defense, they're a terrific offensive basketball team. Their assist to turnover numbers are staggering. Just tremendous.
They assist on almost 70 percent of the baskets. We're going to have to guard and you're going to have to limit them to one shot. We can take care of the ball all we want and we don't guard in the half court, and we don't limit them to one shot, we're in trouble.
We have been focused on that as much as anybody, but it just doesn't get as much publicity, because you watch them play and you don't sense that they share the ball as well as they do. They don't move without the ball as well as they really do. Those things Coach Anderson does with his team, that's the thing that amazed me. There's a lot of teams that try to press you and then they're so unfundamentally sound on the offensive end you can hang in there. It's not the case with Missouri.
They do it on both ends.
Q. Talk about how Missouri the way they played that defense is different than anybody else. Why is it different, why don't other people do it more what are the challenges you think of coaching that way?
COACH DONAHUE: I think there's a couple key things that make it's extremely difficult. You have to have kids just buy into that type of thing. And now days at that level my sense is that kids want to go to that level and play in the NBA. And what I think he has if you look at it, he's got kids that were kind of under recruited, transfer from Delaware, his nephew buying into it, like all those kids are just buying into it right now. You really, it's hard to sell kids that you're going to only play 24 minutes a game, we want you to play full court defense, we don't want you really to think about yourself, that's it in a nutshell at that level.
I think that the teams want to get marquee players at the highest level and this isn't a style that necessarily plays into that and I think it's a credit to those kids that he has. Especially the kid Carroll, I think he's as talented as there is and I know he has a junkyard dog, I'm more impressed with his just feel for the game of basketball. It comes so easy to him. He just gets baskets in so many different ways. He moves the ball, he rebounds, he defends, he just does so many other things. But I do think it has lot to do with the unselfishness of buying into that and not thinking about your stats.
Q. This time of year the Ivy League team always seems to capture a little bit of America's imagination because we want to know what it's like to be in that kind of an atmosphere. Is there any way a kid can sneak a good basketball player can sneak through the academic side at a place like Cornell? Could you just describe what the academic challenges are?
COACH DONAHUE: You mean sneak through in terms of not doing his work and play?
Q. Anyway you want to answer it?
COACH DONAHUE: I'll say this, the Ivy League is so legitimate in terms of academics at all eight of our institutions. And I've been at Penn State for 10 years and this is my ninth year at Cornell. I think about the players in our league, we have had academic All Americans, I talk to my colleagues, Joe Jones at Columbia, James Jones at Yale, Tommy Amaker at Harvard and all the guys, Terry Dunn at Dartmouth, we talk about the load that these kids have academically. And you wouldn't imagine it. We don't miss much at the school. Our kids miss three days of class in a second semester. That's all.
Our practices are set up to be successful in the classroom. Our game schedule Friday and Saturday is set up to be successful.
There's nowhere to hide, there's no joke courses, these kids have so much on their plate academically and I'm in tune to it because I've been around it for 19 years and sense when it's too much to put in maybe on a Wednesday we look, I have four guys with mid terms and I can see that they're done. And we can't go any longer. All those things are within our world and are very difficult if you want to compete at the highest level.
And if you saw these four guys, all of these guys right now can play, I feel, for any school in the country. But what they do is they achieve such great an academics and they have overcome so much, and still have a dream of playing after college. And it's just a credit to them in all the workload that they have and I mean that at all eight of our schools. I sense that this is a huge challenge for these kids day in and day out to want to compete at the highest level basketball and achieve great things in the classroom.
Q. Following up on that, what has it meant to you to be at the Ivy League for 19 years to coach at it, what has that meant to you?
COACH DONAHUE: I feel extremely privileged to coach the group of young men that I have always said and this quote is I think we're the best coached league in the country and it has nothing to do with the coaches it has all to do with the players. You tell them one thing, they do it. They don't necessarily care how it gets done. These kids all buy into the roles. They're not worried about the next level and all those things. So when you go to Columbia or you go to Dartmouth, those kids know your stuff inside and out. They're going to follow the game plan that the coach says. They're not going to deviate from that.
All those things are there.
The other thing is I talk to my colleagues in the business and I know what goes on off the court. To be honest with you, I don't have a lot of rules off the basketball court about my team. There's a great deal of trust that I have with my players. But I still 19, 20 year old kids and they will be knuckleheads sometimes like all of our kids will be. But in reality they really just care about what they're doing, they have much more focused goals in their life than the typical 19, 20 year old kid does. And as a coach it's just makes it so much easier to coach basketball that way.
Q. A lot of talk about Missouri's style of play. Obviously we haven't seen you guys play a lot out here. What should people expect out of your team?
COACH DONAHUE: I think the thing that sticks out if you haven't seen us play is that we play fast. We're trying to my thing in basketball is always been is be the aggressor. And obviously within your physical capabilities, but I think the thing that makes us good is that we're able to play fast and still be skilled. Still be fundamentally sound.
We're the leading scoring team in our league by a long shot. We have been. We're going to move the basketball, someone's open, and he's a shooter, he shoots the ball. We just try to play fast, share the basketball, make teams guard us right away, and then obviously we're trying to limit the opponents. We'll mix up our defense, we'll play different ways, try to prevent them from getting good shots. Not necessarily taking them out of their stuff, but more staying in front, limit them to one shot, keep them out of the lane, contest them hard, and all those things that are within our physical capabilities.
Q. Last year was the first Ivy League title for Cornell in 20 years and this year is the second. So a lot of the guys have experience from last year of all of this. So how does that experience help them concentrate on the game and the task at hand and less on all of the attention from the media?
COACH DONAHUE: That's obviously that's a huge point that we mention.
I think a couple things: One, I say that I noticed a difference right after we won it this year. That that week we had off last year was incredibly like a circus. And I sense we probably got caught up in it.
Young kids who had no idea what just hit them. And we were so different.
This year we were very excited, but it's more like this job's not done. Let's go to work. We had tremendous practices over the last two weeks. Really focused. Less worrying about where we're going and then the other thing is I think that that taste in your mouth after you are so disappointed, not just that Stanford beat us but we didn't play well. We were very disappointed and in our performance. I think for our team's sake and our fan's sake and our alumni's sake and our league sake we want to prove that there is good basketball in the Ivy League level and just really show better than we did last year. I think that's a great motivating factor.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you coach.
COACH DONAHUE: Thanks, guys.
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